‘I don’t remember my life before boarding school. I can remember from then on but I don’t have any life before 12. I don’t know where I went to primary school or anything like that. I can’t remember a thing.’
When reports of sexual abuse at a Catholic boarding school in Victoria surfaced in the media, Roddy was asked by his sister what his experience as a boarder at the school had been like. In response he asked her why she thought he ran away so much. ‘It wasn’t a pleasant environment’, he said. ‘It wasn’t a place where you felt safe. I never felt safe. I was scared all the time.’
In his first week as a boarder, Roddy had boxing gloves put on him and was matched to fight a bigger, stronger boy. Boxing matches were organised by the Brothers on a regular basis and took place in front of the whole school.
Most boys returned to their homes on weekends, but because his parents didn’t own a car, Roddy usually stayed on school grounds. ‘I was basically at school a lot’, he said. ‘A lot of the other kids would go home. On weekends the place was fairly well deserted.’
Roddy told the Commissioner that during one of his weekends alone in the school he was sexually abused. He couldn’t recall exact details of the abuse but remembered being in a room with two men, one of whom was wearing black robes and blocking the doorway. The other one put his hand on Roddy’s leg and started rubbing the front of his pants.
‘I didn’t know anything about those things. I didn’t know what was happening or anything like that. I’m not very clear about a couple of things, but when this person was doing this I remember looking and I saw somebody at the door in black and I still see him. … When this person walked towards me the other person left and went back near the door and the other person was behind me.’
Roddy said he didn’t go back to his bed that night and doesn’t know where he slept. He remembered ‘hurting’ and said it ‘went further’ and that he was ‘a bit numb’. ‘I didn’t know what was going on at all. I didn’t understand anything about these things.’
Thereafter, Roddy started absconding from school but he was brought back each time and punished with the strap. He wanted his parents to ask why he was unhappy but they didn’t, and he couldn’t tell them. When they eventually allowed him to stop boarding he thrived in the local school near home.
The feelings of isolation he’d felt as a child continued, he said, into adulthood. ‘It’s affected me in a lot of ways. I’m not good at relationships. I’m divorced. I’ve got three kids. I had bowel problems my whole life. … Even now I keep a watchful eye on people. I’d like to be a good parent, but I feel like I’ve let the kids down by having this secret; it’s not a secret but it’s something hanging over me.’
He’d talked with his doctor and a counsellor about the abuse and hearing the media reports about abuse at the school had made him feel less alone. Being able to tell his story at the Royal Commission was also a relief, he said.
‘There were two things when I came in today: I thought you’re not going to believe me, and I’m the only person telling this story. They’re both gone. … I don’t think I went to boarding school. I went to hell. I’ve lived with that all my life. I appreciate you talking to me and being so kind. I feel like I’ve had a good hearing.’