‘My first memories were of being raped by my eldest brother.’
Rowan and Max’s much older brother sexually abused both of them over a long period of time. Because of the abuse Max ‘stood in front of a car when I was about six or seven to get killed … and that’s when [my brother] brought over his mate and they both took me to the toilet and raped me’. Max tried to take his own life again, when he was nine.
Rowan and Max grew up in regional New South Wales. Their father was very involved with the Anglican Church, and had a close friend who was a Catholic priest. In the mid-1980s, Father Peter Doncaster began sexually abusing the two brothers.
The abuse went on for a couple of weeks, but to Rowan, ‘it felt like a long time’. It occurred in Doncaster’s house and Rowan recalled that the priest promised to give him a large stuffed toy that he really wanted, if he didn’t tell anyone.
‘I was being groomed. I wouldn’t have known that was happening back then … I wasn’t the smartest kid.’
Max does not recall Doncaster being at family events after the abuse stopped. ‘He distanced himself really quickly after the fact.’
Rowan now struggles with counselling after he approached his school counsellor. ‘I mentioned back then to my counsellor … and it was slipped under the carpet basically. He talked about … my reading [difficulties] … So I talked to him about this minister that had done something, but it was sort of swept under the carpet.’
Max told the Commissioner, ‘It has been covered up for way too long’. After the two boys had been abused by their older brother and his friend, Max told Father Doncaster. This was when the priest began abusing the brothers.
‘I couldn’t handle it … I wanted to die because I didn’t feel right within myself. Like when you’re six years of age and you’re putting your own bum back in because it’s coming out and you can’t tell anybody and … your eldest brother tells your mother that you fell over a fence, and that’s why I had tissues up my bum …
‘And then with Doncaster turning around and saying, “You’ve just got to deal with it, and clean yourself up because that is what you are made for”. That’s horrific … I’ve relived that every night since I did my statement [to the police].’
Max originally tried to tell his father about the abuse when he was about 18 or 19, but his father didn’t believe him, especially when Rowan denied that it happened. Rowan recalled, ‘It’s come up in the family a few times and I’ve always just denied it because I’ve always kept it bottled up’.
Rowan believes that if the school counsellor had helped him, things might have been different. ‘In hindsight, it would have been good if he listened to me and didn’t talk about [other issues] … Maybe something could have happened then and I guess the breakdown with my brother and I … is just because I did keep things swept under the carpet.’
Max told the Commissioner, ‘I battled my whole life to be heard. My father convinced my family that I was basically making things up all the time’. After his attempts at taking his own life, his parents told him that he was an embarrassment to the family.
His father said, ‘“Think about the rest of the family. You’ll be an embarrassment to the rest of the family. Think about everybody else”. And this is basically … what my abuser said to me. I am nothing. For many years I truly struggled and I was a pretty violent guy, especially towards men. It’s only [recently] that I could have friendships with males’.
Max has spoken ‘to other victims over my life and other kids that were actually brought up within the Church … The most common denominator we all had was the fact that our parents wanted to protect the Church’.
Max recalled getting into trouble in Year 7 at school for writing in a report that Michael Jackson was a paedophile. ‘How dare I say a … star could be a paedophile? It wasn’t the fact that, “Hey, this kid is talking about paedophiles”. There was none of that … I was told, “Shut up. Your point of view means nothing”.’
During his late teens, Max took a lot of drugs, but he stopped when he had a serious accident while playing sport. After he recovered he moved to a different region of the state, and began seeing a psychiatrist. This was when he began to recall the abuse from his childhood that he’d blocked out.
Rowan never turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with the memories of the sexual abuse, but ‘because I’ve just blocked it out of my head. I guess every now and then I would pretty much get emotional … go somewhere by myself … just go and put headphones on’.
Instead of abusing substances, Rowan became an adrenaline junkie and took a lot of risks. ‘Not to the point … I’d never think I want to commit suicide or anything like that … because you’re leaving people behind … and I’m a dad [now].’
Max believes that he ‘sets things up in my life to fail … I don’t believe I’m good enough. I’ve got to suffer. And that’s what I’ve got to deal with every single day. I’m working through that now.’
Max experiences night terrors. ‘I wake up crying, just sheer terror. I wake up in a child’s body and … then I hurt myself physically to snap out of it. I’ve dislocated fingers, broken ribs … I see a [psychiatrist] every week.’ It became too dangerous for Max and his wife to sleep in the same bed. Max also has trouble interacting with his children, and that concerns him.
Rowan told the Commissioner, ‘My brother and I don’t get on very well. We don’t talk at all. I don’t even think we’ve talked about this case’. The two of them are aware that they have both made statements to the police about the sexual abuse. Doncaster was arrested and they are waiting to hear about a trial date. At some stage, Max would also like to see his older brother charged.
Rowan told his ex-wife about the abuse but most of the time, he’s ‘bottled it up until it gets too much and then I … probably go off the rails a little bit … [and] things go bad for me. I’ve been married twice and I think it’s due to the fact there’s no communication and I just couldn’t be bothered … I don’t want to face it. So this is a really big thing for me to [do]'.
‘My new partner … said, “Do it. You’ve got to look at it not for you, but for others and you know, tell your story and it might help somebody else. And it looks like it has because I believe somebody else has come forward now and he’s been charged with that as well.’
Rowan’s biggest fear is that Doncaster is ‘going to get away with it, like half the stories that people get away … He’s agreed that everything happened, except for the sexual abuse. And I think, “Well, who’s going to make up a sick story like that anyway?” I guess there are people out there that do it, but …’
Rowan isn’t interested in compensation. ‘I really only want an apology and him locked up. To me that would be a bigger thing than any payment … It’s hard to put a monetary figure on my life … on anyone’s life.’ Max added, ‘As far as I’m concerned, my main reason for taking him to court is to make him lose everything’.
There are so many questions Rowan would like answered. ‘How long is this going to take? How much are people going to know? How long before I start to have a normal sleep? Or how long is it that I don’t have to worry about going to see counsellors? How long before I know that he’s away, that he’s got what he deserves …
‘I struggle with that because I don’t want to live it. I know I’ve been living with it for 30-plus years, but I don’t want to have to live it for another two years or three years … I’ve come out. I just want it finished now. I just want it to end.’
Max told the Commissioner, ‘I wanted to yell out as much as I can. I don’t want to be a survivor that turns out and says, “I survived. Pat me on the back”. I want to fight. I don’t want to be that statistic. I want to turn around and get other blokes out there and say, “Look, you gotta stand up”. I don’t want to keep … [putting] it under the carpet … I think there’s too much of that’.