Roderick described his upbringing as staunchly Catholic with seven aunties who were nuns and an uncle and two cousins, priests. An only child, he lived with his parents on a remote cattle property in northern New South Wales, hours via dirt road to the nearest town. When it came time for school in the mid 1950s, Roderick was sent to the city to board, initially with the Sisters of Mercy, and then later with the Marist Fathers for high school.
‘I found the Sisters fairly harsh – got belted across the face a number of times for doing various things. A fairly harsh regime shall we say, but it wasn’t too bad.’
In the Marist Fathers school, Roderick was very unhappy, particularly because it was so regimented. He felt lonely and had great trouble adjusting. ‘I was interested in shooting, horse-riding and those sorts of things which I could do at the primary school with our friends who had small properties round-about sort of thing, while when I went there it was all flaming football, and I loathe football with a passion – still do. So it didn’t fit well.’
Dormitories in the Marist Fathers School were comprised of rows of double decker beds. Roderick was in his first year and sleeping in the top bunk one night when the dormitory master, Father Walker, woke him, started talking and touching him and then convinced him to go to his room.
‘There basically he continued to touch me, then attempted to have sex with me’, Roderick said. ‘I was crying hysterically by that stage and he basically got me to breathe in and slow down and sort of tried to settle me down. Then he said, “Look you mustn’t tell anybody about this”. This I do remember. I can’t remember all the things he said while I was there, but he said, “You mustn’t say anything about this, you’ll get into trouble”, and “It won’t look too good”, sort of thing.
'Finally I think he got me calm enough to send me back to bed. So he attempted to have sex with me, but he wasn’t successful. Sorry, but even now it’s a bit difficult to talk about.’
Roderick told the Commissioner that he didn’t report the abuse, in part because he’d been present when Walker had made jokes about another boy who’d been removed from the school. The strong inference was the boy had made sexual abuse allegations and Walker was encouraging a group of boys to laugh about it.
‘I gradually withdrew further and further from any contact with students’, Roderick said. ‘I was very much a loner. I did play some sports but not very well sort of thing, and as the years went by I stopped playing even those. I used to spend most of my time just sort of reading books in the library. The reason why I didn’t say anything was there didn’t seem to be any platform to say anything, and for a young kid with that experience, and also witnessing the sort of derision of another child who’d obviously had maybe a similar experience – I don’t know the exact details – I wasn’t in a position to say anything.’
Roderick’s one aim in the four years he was at the school was to get out. At 16, he left and thought once he was away everything would be fine, but he soon realised, ‘it wasn’t that simple’.
Returning to work on the family property, he started to show signs of increasing anxiety. He lost weight, had severe sleep disturbance and was ‘disturbed and irrational’. At the same time as his parents took him to a doctor and he was referred to a psychiatrist, Roderick revealed to his parents that he’d been sexually abused by Walker. They were horrified.
His mother got on the train and went to the city to see the rector, Father Kelly and his deputy, Father Thompson. She told them what Roderick had told her, but they refuted the claim and accused Roderick of lying. Thompson confirmed however, that other abuse allegations had been made against Walker and he’d been moved from the school. As an aside, he told Roderick’s mother to tell her son that he admired his courage.
Roderick said his life picture included recurring periods of anxiety and depression, during which he’d attempted suicide twice, consulted numerous psychiatrists and been prescribed myriad anti-depressant medications. He worked on various properties and later moved to Sydney so he could be around more people.
A successful business life was interspersed with ‘nervous breakdowns’ every two to five years. He married in the mid-1980s and said his wife was the reason he was still alive. She knew he had ‘a bad time growing up’ but not details about the abuse.
‘She knows that something happened’, Roderick said. ‘I don’t feel the need to burden her with it because, dear God, she’s had enough.’
Roderick said he was glad he had two ‘beautiful kids’ but regretted that he’d been a ‘fairly remote parent’.
When in his late 30s, Roderick saw a new psychiatrist, one he credits with turning his life around. ‘He was kind and compassionate and he was the only one who actually twigged as to what was happening with me. He changed my medication … and it is amazing, the change in my life after that point in time. He was the only one who had the compassion to really say sort of, “Look, we’ve got to stop digging all this stuff up. We’ve got to find a way to make it settle down so that you can get on with your life”.’
Roderick didn’t report the abuse to police. He’d recently sought legal advice about claiming compensation from the Catholic Church. ‘My initial disclosure of this to the Commission was nothing to do with compensation’, he said. ‘It was to provide information that might help someone else. And also the firm belief that the only way you can defeat this type of thing is everybody who can, comes forward and the various institutions … are made fully aware of their fault in this. When it comes to compensation, I’ve no idea … I believe these people need to be made to hurt. That’s the only way they’re going to get the message.’