Art teacher and boarding house master Bruce Kelly’s approaches to Shay started with interest in the 13-year-old’s welfare. Shay had recently arrived at the Catholic boarding school in New South Wales and was missing his family. ‘I was upset and he took an interest in me and consoled me. He put his arm around my shoulders and his hand on my knee. Then it became a bit more than that.’
Every Sunday night during first term, Kelly would ask Shay how he was going and invite him into his room for a chat. The following year Shay went into Year 8 and one Sunday evening Kelly put his hand on the boy’s groin and then apologised for doing so. A few weeks later Shay was told by Kelly to fondle his own genitals and as he was doing so, Kelly did the same to himself. The sexual abuse escalated to Kelly forcing Shay to perform oral sex and then anally raping him.
In addition to teaching duties, Kelly was discipline master and he freely used the cane on boys for minor or invented misdemeanours. As well as sexually abusing Shay, Kelly started caning him daily, threatening that he wasn’t to tell anybody about the abuse and that no one would believe him if he did.
One evening Shay noticed his friend, James, crying and the two boys disclosed Kelly’s abuse to each other. They made a pact of mutual support and Shay told James he’d look out for him.
Shay told the Commissioner that for two years he was sexually abused and lived in fear. On visits home he’d beg his mother not to send him back but she always insisted he return. He didn’t tell her about the abuse but thought she should have trusted that if he didn’t want to go to school he shouldn’t have had to. At 15, he ran away to live with an aunt and uncle and cut all ties with the boarding school.
When Shay told his mother about the abuse in the early 2010s, she was shocked. ‘I know it’s not her fault but I haven’t had a relationship with her since high school ... She should have just accepted I didn’t want to go back. I haven’t forgiven her. I hope some day I will.’
In the decades that followed leaving school Shay suppressed memories of the abuse and told no one. He felt ashamed and dirty. In an attempt to manage intense feelings of anger he played football and joined the armed forces. ‘The Gulf War was on and I wanted to go and hurt people. I got myself trained in how to use weapons and hand-to-hand combat and all that so that when I got my chance I could kill people.’ It was Kelly, he said, he wanted to kill.
After leaving the armed forces he drank excessively, smoked marijuana and had difficulty keeping a job. He was often in trouble with the police. The suicide of his friend James, at 19, has stayed with him. He felt responsible that he’d abandoned his friend and hadn’t been able to protect him.
Shay said a large part of his reason for coming to the Royal Commission was to tell the story on behalf of James. ‘I lived and he didn’t and I still blame myself for that.’
In the early 2010s, a work colleague noted Shay behaving oddly and asked if he was on drugs. Shay replied that he wasn’t and suddenly disclosed the abuse. His colleague took him to a support agency and from there Shay started making plans to report Kelly to the police.
His police statement, and the reports of other ex-students, resulted in a taskforce being set up to investigate numerous allegations against Kelly. At the time of Shay speaking to the Royal Commission a court date had been set to hear dozens of charges.
After years of keeping the sexual abuse to himself, Shay was now speaking with a counsellor. ‘There’s only three people in the world I trust now and that’s because they know all my dark secrets. I’ve never had anyone care for me before.’
Although he’d never told his wife about the abuse, Shay hoped that one day he’d be able to. His marriage had broken down before the disclosure to his work colleague and he wanted to repair it. ‘[The abuse] has cost me my family. I want my wife and kids back. I just want to be normal.’