When Rodger’s father died and his mother remarried, a whole world of grief opened up for him and his siblings. Constant punishment from his stepfather led to the older children running away. Rodger was the only one left to cop the constant floggings.
A pattern set in. His stepfather would come home after two or three days away at work, his mother would complain to him about Rodger’s bad behaviour, and then Rodger was put in the bath and caned once his skin was wet. If he still didn’t toe the line, his stepfather would get the cat-o’-nine-tails out and ‘give me a whack with that bastard’. This happened in the early 60s when Rodger was eight or nine.
Rodger bore as much as he could for three of four years, and then ran away for good. He stole lollies and some money from a cinema and was arrested. ‘I never went back home from that point on.’
His stepfather knew all the important men in town – and for that one misdemeanor he made sure that Rodger was classed as ‘unruly’ and made a ward of the state of Western Australia. He was sent to a ‘holding tank’ for juveniles before ending up in a youth detention centre. ‘I felt like I had no control over anything. I ended up in the borstal for boys.’
Rodger was the youngest boy in the centre, and was bashed regularly. ‘I learned to protect meself there, man … I had to. It didn’t seem to deter me. I had nowhere else to go. That was the only home that I thought I could go.’ Rodger became a recidivist and was ‘in and out of jail, in and out of this borstal’.
The police accused Rodger of crimes he hadn’t committed. ‘Every time you open your mouth, the cops are feeding’ you full of, “You done this, you done that”. And if they wanted to clean up their books, then you wore everything that they wanted.’ If he didn’t agree with it and didn’t sign statements, he got a beating. ‘That was the way it was. Very hard. Very hard.’
In his mid teens, Rodger was sent to a Catholic boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. ‘You’re living in a big room with a hundred boys and beds. You’re pissing your bed because you’re shit-scared the guy’s gonna take you … and give you the extra “tuition”.’
Sexual abuse was rife in the home, and Rodger ran away several times. ‘I told the social workers what was happening, and just got told to shut up and keep your mouth shut.
‘In the long run, I was just passed from parcel to post to people’s houses that didn’t want you in it anyway. They’re fostering you out. They show the social worker where you’re sleeping and then bring you in and show you. But when you go to bed, your bed’s not there. It’s in the shed … So I’m off again.’
Every time he ran away, the hole just got deeper and deeper. ‘I started running and I never stopped running. I ran all my bloody life.’
About a year after he was sent to the home, Rodger was sentenced to time in adult jail. He broke down when he talked about what that was like. ‘The things I’ve seen in jail, no person should see.’
When Rodger got out of prison, he hitched from state to state. After doing time in a Queensland jail, he was released with just a few dollars to his name. ‘Where’s $38 going to go? Nowhere … I had no clothes, nothing.’
Rodger therefore did what he knew best, ‘which was to rob whatever I could rob … It never stopped. It just never, never stopped’.
Rodger moved overseas in his 20s, and visited a sibling who didn’t want to know him. ‘I messed up. By this time I’m drinking. Heavy, heavy, heavy drinking. Doing speed, doing whatever I could get at the time.’ He ‘ran amok’ until he was in his 40s, shunting back and forth from jail and running with gangs.
Eventually Rodger got married and moved back to Australia. He was overwhelmed by having kids of his own, as well as stepkids. ‘I didn’t know how to be a father. I didn’t know how to pay bills … It was just too much. I tried to hang in but … I couldn’t hold a job. Couldn’t do anything other than thieving.’
Rodger’s life of crime came to a halt when he became ill. Now he’s trying to rebuild the relationship with his children.
When he heard about the Commission’s hearing into the Christian Brothers, Rodger thought ‘enough’s enough. It’s time for me to say my piece and how I feel about it’.
‘I don’t want any kids to go through what I’ve had to go through because it’s not right, it’s just not right … I was just a piece of meat with a number, and I was chucked about. And I felt like I was getting put into an enclave of paedophiles.’
Rodger has started his life over a few times, but this time he’s doing it with support from a psychiatrist. ‘This is the last time ... I’m at the point now where I can’t afford to lose what I’ve got.’
Rodger told the Commissioner that the government has to realise that children need 24-hour care, not just 9-to-5 care. ‘It might take 10 people to look after one kid ... so what? As long as he’s getting looked after … and not being forgotten about.’
Rodger had a very clear message for the Christian Brothers. ‘You’re supposed to be religious leaders of the world. You’re supposed to be God’s men. You weren’t. You were a bunch of paedophiles, the whole lot of youse.’