Ronnie was raised in a ‘broken family’. He said that at that time, in the 1950s, having separated parents was ‘unusual and difficult’. His father returned from the war ‘a damaged man’, and remained in a regional town of New South Wales, while Ronnie, his mother and siblings moved to a suburb of Sydney.
From the age of eight until he was 17, Ronnie attended a Christian Brothers boarding school in Sydney. He said he felt a little ‘out of place’ in the disciplined environment, but that the school ‘looked after you’.
In the mid-1960s when Ronnie was nine, his dormitory master was Brother Kendrick. Kendrick liked to hug the younger boys and was a little ‘touchy-feely’, but Ronnie thought he was a ‘good man’ who looked after the boys.
One day, Kendrick asked Ronnie to come to the dormitory.
‘I thought: have I left something out or have I done something wrong? Am I going to get the strap? I went up there and he was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, which for a Christian Brother was unusual, you never saw these guys dressed in mufti. He said, “Oh, I just got up here to have a wrestle”. As a nine-year-old, it was unusual but he’s your dormitory master. … You don’t challenge the priests or Brothers.’
Kendrick wasn’t wearing underpants and Ronnie said that Kendrick was ‘excited’ in the course of wrestling around, rubbing himself against Ronnie several times before he ejaculated. Ronnie left the room feeling confused. This type of abuse occurred at least three times over a two-year period.
As a bed wetter, Ronnie would get up during the night to clean himself up and Kendrick ‘got into the habit’ of giving him a bath, fondling him each time. He didn’t know what to do because it didn’t feel right, but he didn’t understand what was happening.
He didn’t tell any of the Brothers or discuss the abuse with his peers. However, he was approached by two older residents who asked him to ‘fondle their apparatuses’. Ronnie said these two boys were ‘nasty and bullies’ and he refused them. He recalls them begging him to do it by saying ‘Brother says it’s okay’. In hindsight, Ronnie believes there may have been an ‘association’ happening within the school.
The abuse stopped when Ronnie was 10 years old and changed dormitories. As he moved into high school, he didn’t experience any more sexual abuse. He did, however, receive physical abuse from a new teacher, Brother Eric, when he was 13 years old. He said Eric was an ‘aggressive, vicious person’, who often changed his behaviour.
‘I got called to the [classroom] and he asks me, “Where have you been, son?” I said that I was at band practice and he said, “Don’t you tell me that. You don’t go to band practice”. Bang, knocked me out cold in the middle of the [classroom].’
Ronnie was never sexually or physically abused after that. He did whatever he could to stay out of trouble and in the early 1970s when he was 17, graduated and left the boarding school. He took up work in another state and he never saw Brother Kendrick or Brother Eric again.
Throughout his adulthood, Ronnie has had problems trusting people. He looks back on his experiences and imagines his children in that position, which angers him. He told the Commissioner that he has dealt with the abuse by ‘not focusing on it’. He chose to leave the Catholic Church in his 20s because it was ‘too much’ for him.
In the early 2000s Ronnie disclosed the details of his abuse. The Catholic Church were having a ‘moratorium’ on child sexual abuse and were asking people to come forward to talk about their experiences. The moment he heard this on the radio, Ronnie called them and organised an interview.
‘I sat down and told them the story. He said, “Why don’t you write it all down and send it off to the Christian Brothers?” So I did just that … I got a letter back from the head of the Christian Brothers and it was a fairly bland response … I just wanted them to clean up their act.’
He never reported his perpetrators to the police or engaged in civil action against the Catholic Church. He came to the Royal Commission to share his story and to increase public awareness of child sexual abuse and its consequences. He believes that more coverage of child sexual abuse needs to occur because he doesn’t want children to be in the same position as he was.
‘My motivation for being here is nothing to do with either retribution or trying to hold particular people accountable … My request is that you can do something so that it doesn’t happen again.’