After his parents separated in the late 1950s, Ronald was sent to a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia. He was eight years old and he remained there for two and a half years.
At this home, Ronald and the other boys were subjected to extreme physical, emotional and sexual abuse. ‘It was mental torture. It really was. I don’t know what they were trying to achieve. Just … seeing the breaking point of a human being. I just can’t believe anyone could be so ruthless.’
Brother Patrick began grooming Ronald soon after he arrived at the home. The sexual abuse began with hugs and cuddling, and soon moved on to stroking his legs outside of the blanket when Brother Patrick sat on the end of Ronald’s bed at night.
In a written statement provided to the Royal Commission, Ronald wrote that when Brother Patrick began stroking his upper body and bare chest, ‘I was extremely uncomfortable with what he was doing and there was nobody I could tell about what was happening to make it stop’.
The abuse continued over a number of weeks and included digital penetration and masturbation. ‘I would be too scared to go to sleep because I didn’t know when he was going to turn up. His abuse of me continued almost nightly for the duration of my stay.’
Ronald wasn’t the only boy who was sexually abused by Brother Patrick. ‘You were in a dormitory … and you knew exactly what was going on. I mean, Patrick’d leave my bed and go to the next … you know what I mean … You could hear boys crying … It was just a horrible thing.’ Patrick recalled that many of the boys wet their beds from ‘sheer fright’ and ‘of course, they’d cop a beating’.
Ronald did not realise at the time that what was happening to him was a crime. ‘I knew it wasn’t right, but then, after two years … you start to wonder whether this is the norm. I mean, I was eight or nine years old … I didn’t know it was a crime. I knew it was wrong but you don’t think about going to the police about it. I mean, that’s the last place you’d probably think of, really.’
Ronald told the Commissioner that after his father came and took him out of the home, if he ‘had’ve had someone from the government come and see … I mean, perhaps I may have said something then. Like I would’ve perhaps thought, “Well, this person cares”, you know what I mean? Who knows at the time … My father, I mean, I brought it up with him and he just laughed it off. He … just “It can’t be true”’.
The boys at the home were also subjected to physical and emotional abuse. They were often made to stand bare-footed on burning hot sand or bitumen, causing their feet to blister. Boys who gave in to the pain and moved were strapped. One small boy who was terrified of mice was locked in a room filled with the rodents. Another boy was beaten for being unable to perform on the pommel horse in the gym.
Ronald told the Commissioner that boys were put into teams and made to collect manure from the paddocks with their bare hands. The team who made the tallest pile would receive a bucket of peanuts. ‘When I look back on it, we got paid peanuts.’
Ronald’s schooling suffered because, ‘You went to a classroom, but there was every excuse to get you out of there to beat you … so you were too scared to answer any question … just in case you got it wrong’.
Ronald left the home and went to live with his father and stepmother. He had problems with his stepmother, so he was sent to live with his mother, who went from one abusive relationship to the next. Ronald told the Commissioner that when he was 12 he hit one of his mother’s boyfriends over the head with a bottle. ‘How I never killed him has got me beat.’
As a teenager, Ronald began stealing, getting into fights and all sorts of trouble. Although he ended up in court a few times, and was made a ward of the state for about a year, he was fortunate not to be sent to a juvenile justice centre.
The abuse Ronald suffered at the boys’ home has affected his adult life. He has suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks in crowded places, and trust and relationship issues. He finds it hard to show affection. ‘I just don’t cuddle people … I guess I’ve run out of love … I probably didn’t want to get hurt again.’ Ronald also has very few male friends.
Ronald told the Commissioner that ‘There’s almost not a day that you don’t think about it and there’s all sorts of triggers that bring it up … If I see a priest … If I see a nun … If I see a church. A stained glass window … to me, it’s a church window. You know, all these triggers … it’s just a horrible thing. I think I’m surviving better than some other boys that I’ve heard about … I think we can all control it a little bit differently, each individual’.
Ronald came to the Royal Commission because, ‘I guess I want to be a small voice in amongst that … I just want to see it stopped … I thought if I didn’t come, you know, I’m not going to be a voice and I just wanna be a voice for these little fellas, well, anybody, really. I mean, I don’t care. It’s just a horrible thing and yeah …’