In the early 1950s, when Stuart was seven and a half years old, he was placed in a regional Victorian boarding school run by the Salesian Catholic order. At the time, he was the youngest boy in the home.
‘For me it was like … indefinite detention with no reason … There was absolutely no support.’
A matter of hours after he arrived at the home, Stuart was beaten by a group of older boys. This was his introduction to the violent and abusive culture, with ‘indiscriminate’ acts of violence, from both the Brothers and older boys, occurring daily.
‘The sexual abuse was horrific. It was painful, it was traumatic. It was terrible. And the fact that it happened twice was inconceivable. But it was just a chapter. For me the whole experience I had in that place was of abuse at any stage, physical abuse, beatings, indiscriminate beatings. I was so traumatised. I was so scared.
‘I was in the classroom and I pissed my pants in the classroom and I got dragged out to a room at the back and beaten with a cane until I bled. So, the very people you could go to in theory, were the perpetrators so I had no one to speak to.’
To escape, Stuart constructed a cubby house away from the main residential and school buildings. ‘I built a little shelter out of branches. I was really trying to build a place of safety. A refuge.’
It was here that an older boy found him and raped him.
‘I was bleeding. I had no one to speak to. I just went back to school … just carried on. I couldn’t even cry because if I was caught crying I’d get another beating.’
Stuart continued to go to his hideout but one day the boy returned accompanied by another boy. The two of them raped him. Stuart never went back to his refuge again.
Stuart’s schooling suffered because of his fear of attack and reprisal. He stayed at the school for some years and ‘believed myself to be completely dumb’. He returned to his family and continued in school until Year 8 when his parents made him start work.
‘When I started work I was a very disturbed young lad [with] untreated depression. GP sent me to a psychiatrist. I couldn’t afford it. Had one session. I was socially isolated. I did nasty things with air rifles … I shot animals. And I understand what happens when people do what they do to other people. There’s a sense of numbness you have.’
Stuart soon realised that he had to make changes in his life.
‘At the age of 16, I realised this is hopeless … I just … wrote myself an agenda. All right, I’ll commit myself to being fit, a good diet, this, this and the other. I just set my course. That was life. It’s only now I realise that there was nothing in there about … ensuring my psychological development or socialisation ... But it worked.’
Stuart studied and became successful in his career. He married and had children.
‘I managed to stitch together a pretty successful life. I did some good things … I’ve been, on the surface, a person who has done some good in the world and succeeded. But I simply haven’t been able to fully deal with the home.’
Stuart kept busy and participated in competitive sport so as not to think about his experiences.
‘I had to keep busy. If I’m being productive … it recedes … when you are sick or when life circumstances erupt it’s a terrible situation … Without [sport] I’d be in trouble. And as I slowed down a little bit, it’s a worry … There [are] still some things that are … false wiring. The self-nurturing doesn’t really work.’
Stuart retired and began doing ‘some really crazy things’ which resulted in his decades-long marriage dissolving. His ex-wife, though, is still very supportive of him.
Stuart gradually began to open up about the physical, emotional and psychological abuse he experienced in the home but he has ‘never been able to speak about the sexual abuse’. He wasn’t able to include the details of it when he went through the Towards Healing process to seek redress from the Catholic Church and he wasn’t able to talk about it with private lawyers.
‘So far there has been no way of validating my experiences. I even went back to the home to try and track down records of being there. No records seem to exist. That whole question of validation is in stark contrast to the Towards Healing process … where I ended up feeling worse. I didn’t tell them the specific details of the sexual abuse … I was so shocked by the treatment in that interview that I couldn’t … I was still wallowing in the shame of it all.’
Stuart feels that the Towards Healing process ‘more than minimised’ his abuse in the home. He came to the Royal Commission to be heard and believed and to reveal the specifics of his sexual abuse for the first time.
‘Despite all of it, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve managed to do in life and I’m extraordinarily moved and gratified by this [Royal] Commission. It’s amazing what you’re doing.’