Sydney met Chip Lennon in the early 1970s when he was in First Form. His school in south-west Sydney was run by the Patrician Brothers, but Lennon was a lay teacher.
Lennon lived in a rural area where he would host school camping trips. When Sydney was around 13, he attended one of these camps.
One night the boys’ tents were wrecked by some cattle, and the boys were forced to sleep inside a house. ‘He got groups of us to come in [to his bedroom] at a time, and he molested us. More like masturbation.’
Sydney was subjected to this abuse at several other camps he attended on the property, but not all of them. ‘Certain things stick with you now. I still remember the smell of his bedsheets, which haunt me. I suppose it turns you off sex a bit, when you get older.’
There were four or five boys, including Sydney and his friend Luke, who became ‘very close’ as a result of being abused by Lennon together. ‘It was the same people, all the time.’
Eventually, ‘We’d get into a situation where we’re doing it to each other ... Our gang is doing it to each other, because it’s sex, obviously it’s sex’.
Sydney once accompanied Lennon and some other boys on a trip to regional New South Wales. ‘His favourite penchant to always have a boy next to him, sitting in the front seat of course, so we could fondle him.’ When they reached their destination, Lennon introduced the boys to a young man around 18 years old.
‘Whether he was showing off his new boys, or whether the fellow he met up with was introducing him to some boys, I don’t remember.’
Sydney and his friends were made to fondle this man, taking it in turns ‘putting our hands down his pants, and stuff like that’.
Lennon also abused boys at the school. ‘His other penchant, was to watch boys fondle themselves in the back of the classroom during class’ but this was not something Sydney’s ‘gang’ did.
Reporting the abuse at the time did not seem like an option for Sydney. He didn’t want his father to think he was gay, or to distress his devoutly Catholic mother, and he thinks ‘they would have blamed me’. ‘There’s no way. If I’m homosexual, he’d kill me himself.’
At the end of third form, Sydney attended a retreat organised by the school. The purpose of this gathering was for the boys to consider joining the priesthood. This was where Sydney first met Father Cecil Lawrence.
Luke was there too, and told Lawrence about being abused by Lennon. Lawrence said that this was normal behaviour for a man.
During the retreat, another member of their ‘gang’ indicated Lawrence had sexually abused him in the showers. Sydney and Luke had a wrestling match with Lawrence ‘and I remember him fondling me then’.
Lawrence also took Sydney and Luke away overnight, and three of them shared a bed together on this trip. Lawrence made the boys masturbate, and perform sexual acts on him. He attempted to penetrate them a number of times.
Sydney and Luke had a sexual encounter by themselves once after this, but Sydney realised that he preferred women. He was, and still is, concerned people would think he was gay because of the abuse by Lennon and Lawrence, and his ‘experimentation’ with friends.
‘My biggest thing was, I’m not homosexual. And I’m painting the picture that I’m homosexual.’
Sydney finished Year 10, and starting working. Whilst still in his teens, he began abusing drugs and alcohol. The police contacted Sydney in the mid 1990s, as Luke had reported the abuse by Lennon to them.
Although wanting to support Luke, he said that ‘I wasn’t ready’. Sydney lived in a small town at the time, and ‘the system back then was to go to a local police station and make statements’.
Sydney personally knew the police officers so telling them details of the abuse ‘was never going to happen’. He was also concerned people might suspect he would abuse children himself, because of his experiences: ‘Victims become paedophiles. That was always in my head’. Now he considers that he let his friends down by not making a statement back then.
Sydney has been married for more than 20 years. ‘I still haven’t talked to my wife about any of the incidents. I just say, "I’d rather not". I still think she’ll think I’m queer, she’ll think I’m homosexual – and I’m not.’
He did not allow their children to attend Catholic schools, and tried to limit their exposure to scenarios where they could be abused. ‘I suppose I secretly monitor those situations without anyone else knowing.’
In some ways, he still feels that he is to blame for the abuse – ‘for putting yourself in that situation. Then you just go, "Well, I actually probably enjoyed it at some time", and then you go, "Well, it’s not right. You shouldn’t enjoy it".'
Sydney always feels like ‘I’ve got a secret’, and that he is ‘stranger than the average bear’. ‘I think I can manage it, but it’s always there. Not one day do you not think about it ... I think the more I’m talking about it, the better I am.’
Still, he has never had counselling or professional support. ‘I’m embarrassed – you’ve got to get over that embarrassment.’