‘I found the place was strange. It was hard to fit into that culture. There were two reasons: one I wasn’t Catholic; and two, I didn’t really know why I was there.’
Shayne was placed in a boys’ home in Sydney after his mother died and his father’s heavy use of alcohol made him unable to care for the family. Shayne’s older sisters had very different memories of their father because they knew him ‘when he wasn’t an alcoholic’. For a brief period Shayne and another sibling lived with one sister but she was newly married and the house was crowded so at 13 years of age, Shayne was placed in a New South Wales boys’ home run by the Marist Brothers.
He arrived in the mid-1970s and found himself among a crowd of 200 boys. While most of the Brothers were ‘good people’, some he knew to avoid. One was dormitory master, Brother Harvey, who’d ‘wander up and down and leer and make little comments’ while boys were in the showers.
One night in the dorm, Shayne ‘felt hands under the cover’ going up his legs. He woke to find Brother Harvey fondling his genitals. He closed his eyes hoping the Brother would go away.
Harvey’s behaviour continued although Shayne noticed that abuse was directed most often towards younger boys. The second time Shayne was abused he again awoke to find Brother Harvey sitting on the side of his bed.
‘He was fondling my genitals and I pushed him away: “Go away”, and he put his finger to his mouth and went “Ssh”, and this is in the semi-dark, it wasn’t pitch black. And I told him to piss off and he sort of went away. Nothing happened for a few weeks after that. I thought the abuse had stopped after that, even though I didn’t use that term. I was pretty angry at him and tried never to be in his company.’
A few weeks after the assault, Shayne was called into Brother Harvey’s room. ‘He sat on the bed and started rubbing my leg and tried to kiss me’, Shayne said. ‘I wasn’t a little guy. I picked him up and threw him against the wall. He was a big guy. I think he got the hint then that I wasn’t going to tolerate much. He said he was sorry for what he’d done. Then he started rubbing my leg again. Anyway I turned around and said basically, “I’m going to tell Brother Peter”, who was the director… and he said, “You say anything and you’ll be kicked out of the home”. And for me that meant I had nowhere to go. Full stop. That was it.’
Shayne knew of several boys who were abused in the home by other Marist Brothers as well as Harvey, but none of them ever spoke about it. ‘The context of the time was these things never happened and you never talked about it.’
During the two years he was in the home, Shayne went to Mass along with the other boys, and one day a Brother commented on him not going to communion.
‘I said, “I’m not Catholic, Brother. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing”. He just went bright red and said, “You see me when you get out of here”. As I walked out of the chapel I was grabbed by the ear and slammed against the wall and, “How dare you say that at mass!” Dragged me off to Brother Peter’s office and I got bounced around there a little bit and I said, “Phone my sister”, so they did and found out I wasn’t Catholic. Then I was told I had to become a Catholic and I said, “If you asked, I probably would have, but you telling me, it’s never going to happen”. That caused a lot of problems with certain Brothers.’
On one of his weekend visits, Shayne told his sister about Brother Harvey’s abuse. She rang Brother Peter and though nothing was ever said, Shayne’s mail was thereafter intercepted and censored.
After the disclosure to his sister, Shayne didn’t speak of the abuse again for decades. He said he felt sorry for his first wife for having to put up with his shift work and heavy drinking and being ‘not a good person’.
‘She got a lot more than she bargained for’, he said. ‘She was never told what happened and the anger and the doubts and the isolation.’ He’d become estranged from his two children, and had only recently reconnected with one daughter. His second wife knew only that ‘things happened’ in the home.
After contacting the Royal Commission, Shayne rang the local Catholic Archdiocese office and requested a meeting with the bishop. He was contacted by someone who introduced himself as a priest but who Shayne later found out was also a lawyer. That person recommended the Towards Healing process, but Shayne wasn’t interested.
‘I said, “Isn’t that the reason you have a Royal Commission? If you think I’m chasing money, you’re wrong. I want to sit down and talk to the archbishop”. And that probably would’ve been the end of it. “Oh, we can’t do that” … “Talk to us instead”. I said, “I’m not going to sit down with a priest who’s a lawyer with a roomful of lawyers sitting behind him. That’s not honest or proper”.’
Contacting the Royal Commission had been difficult, Shayne said. ‘I was fine till your damn Royal Commission came. Sorry. I came to eventually an internal acceptance of [the abuse]. I know another guy that went [to the home] many years before me and he said something, that pretty much the work the Catholic Church does is far and above what happened to us individually, and we just looked at ourselves as a bit of collateral damage on the side. I’ve made mistakes in my life. I can’t say it’s because of the Marist Brothers. I can only give you that one example … Whether what happened has coloured things, I can’t turn around and say this, this, this and this. I can’t say that and I won’t. I survived, survived fairly well.’