Arriving from Europe by ship in the 1950s, Roddick and his mother and brother were met at Fremantle dock by a group of Christian Brothers. As arranged previously, Roddick’s mother was directed to waiting transport that took her to a job in a girls’ boarding school. She was permitted to take her youngest son, but not 10-year-old Roddick, who was deemed too old to live within the grounds of the girls’ school. Without time to say goodbye, Roddick was separated from her, bundled into a truck and taken off to a Christian Brothers boys’ home.
On his first night in the home, Roddick wet the bed and was punished by being made to walk around with wet sheets round his neck. There was little schooling in the home, and boys were put to work tending livestock and building a new school wing and premises for the Brothers. Corporal punishment was meted out daily and it was impossible to escape the Brothers’ leather and cane straps.
‘At night time you had to go around and talk to [religious] statues’, Roddick said. ‘If you didn’t, you’d get a flogging. I got in trouble for calling them stupid.’
Roddick told the Commissioner that he was sexually abused by three different Christian Brothers in the home. ‘One of them says, “It’s time for you to blow the Angel Gabriel’s horn”, and that was oral sex.’
Brother Gregan used his position as choirmaster to isolate and sexually abuse many boys, including Roddick, who had joined the choir because he hoped the excursions might bring him into contact with his mother. ‘I’d do anything to see her.’
At 12, Roddick was moved to another Christian Brothers’ home where he was sexually abused by Brother Raphael. Like the other Brothers, Raphael told Roddick the abuse was his fault.
‘You’re well groomed, and you learn to do as you’re told and not ask questions. [They said], “Go to confession and ask God to forgive you”. Twenty Our Fathers, a hundred Hail Marys and about 20 Credos – you know the “I believe” sort of stuff. I wasn’t allowed to take communion for a year as part of my punishment for being sexually abused.’
In the second boys’ home, Roddick told one of the nuns about the abuse. The following day he was called to see Brother Raphael who gave him ‘a hell of a flogging’ and put a plate of faeces on a table in front of him and told him eat it. ‘He said, “You got me in the shit. Now eat it”.’
Roddick said he thought most, if not all, the approximately 300 boys in the home were being sexually abused. ‘It was common knowledge. You knew it was going on because you could see the look on their faces. Or they’d hide or be quiet. You see it in their eyes, a dead look, like a dead man walking.’
At 14, Roddick disclosed the abuse to his mother. ‘I told her and she said, “No, you’re lying. They wouldn’t do that”.’ His mother recounted the story to her then boyfriend who told her she had to get Roddick out of the home. Soon afterward Roddick was reunited with his family, but said they barely knew each other.
When Australia entered the Vietnam War, Roddick enlisted for national service and was deployed for nearly three years. ‘I felt safe’, he said. ‘You’re with [your mates] 24 hours a day, safety in numbers. You’re like brothers-in-arms. It was part of the healing.’
In the 1980s, Roddick told a priest whom he’d befriended that he had been sexually abused as a child by the Christian Brothers. ‘He was a nice bloke and he’d married the wife and I. He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t really believe you”. He said, “I want to, but I can’t”. It’s ingrained in them. That’s it.’
Roddick said the thing he found most difficult was forgiving himself. ‘I look at myself and see a male whore. It’s ingrained in your mind: “It’s your fault”, “You’re a dirty bugger”, “You’re causing us to do this”.’
At different times throughout his life, Roddick had contemplated suicide. On one occasion he veered his car into the path of a semi-trailer, changing course only at the last moment to miss it. “I thought, “What are you doing, stupid?” and stopped.’
He attributed the breakup of his first marriage to his constant feelings of shame that manifested in arguments and difficulty communicating with his wife. He’d never used physical discipline on his children, because it reminded him too much of the home. ‘My wife would tell me to chastise them and I couldn’t. I used to take the strap and put it on the bed and tell them to yell.’
For many years he’d worked in various community support roles, helping young people in trouble and staffing a late night telephone line for distressed callers. One of his ways of coping, he said, was to surround himself with positive people. He encouraged others to do the same.
Roddick told the Commissioner that his faith remained important. ‘I like reading the Bible. It’s strengthened my faith. It’s not [God’s] fault, it’s their fault. [God] gave us free will and we’re free to choose what we will. That’s helped me. I treat others the way I like to be treated. Religion is man’s way to God but Christianity is God’s way to man. I don’t want to sound like a Bible basher, but that’s kept me sane.’