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Ted James's story

Ted’s childhood in 1950s Queensland was pretty tough from the outset. His dad was an alcoholic. ‘He’d go away for days … and we’d have to try and run the place with Mum.’ Consequently Ted didn’t get to do much of the fishing he liked so much. He had to spend a lot of time working on the family farm.

Ted’s oldest brother bore the brunt of his dad’s wrath when he was drunk and Ted would often step in and take beltings for him. When Ted was 11 his mum got him into the local Catholic boarding school. ‘At first I was happy there because my brother was there but after about six months things started going pear-shaped.’

Ted said he could still draw an exact picture of the school dormitory. ‘It was just a big room and all the beds were in lines and my bed was in the second line … not far from where the Christian Brother that ran the dormitory slept.’

Brother Dooley, who ran the dormitory, started asking Ted into his room to join him in prayer. These evening prayers soon turned into sexual abuse, including anal rape a number of times. Ted is certain that he wasn’t the only boy being abused – he watched Dooley call other boys into his room as well.

Ted didn’t tell anyone. If his mother hadn’t been such a devout Catholic, Ted thinks he would’ve said something but he didn’t – something he now deeply regrets. The other reason was that his family were way behind with their school fees. Dooley threatened to have all three brothers expelled if Ted said something.

Ted threw himself into sporting activities, just to be able to steer clear of the school. He just wanted to be away from ‘all the drama’. His school work suffered as well. ‘I became very isolated. I still am. I put everything I had into sport.’

Ted kept quiet and submitted to the abuse until he was about 14. But then he’d had enough. One night in the dorm, after Brother Dooley slapped him across the face, Ted hit him back. He was expelled immediately.

His brothers stayed on at the school but they were not molested, Ted believes.

His anger at what he was forced to endure has stayed with him all his life, deeply affecting his health and his connection with other people. If anyone steps out of line, he pulls them back in quick smart, he said. Ted went to Vietnam and he remembers how angry he was there.

Constantly masking his emotions led to two health crises for Ted. After the second one he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Ted thought he could control the stress but the one thing he couldn’t do properly was sleep. ‘I used to work three jobs just so I didn’t have to sleep.’ But it caught up with him. He ‘crashed’ and ended up in a psych ward.

Ted is currently in jail. He’s ‘not proud or happy’ about the crimes that led him to prison but he’s completed some programs recently that have helped him understand his life a lot more.

Ted said his greatest psychological problem was that he felt shame, loneliness and unloved. He hadn’t disclosed the fact that he was abused until he was in his 60s. Now he realises ‘the quicker you say something, the quicker the feeling ends, and others don’t get victimised as well’.

It worried him that people might think he’s at fault somehow for not reporting it earlier.

‘But probably mainly because I just felt dirty … You always feel like you allowed it to happen. And you should have done something about it.’

Ted told the Commissioner it was his understanding that if he accepted compensation from the Christian Brothers he would no longer be eligible for his veteran’s pension. As well, he said he’d been told by the government that if he took money from the Church, he would have to repay all of the pension money he’d already received.

As a result he’s received no compensation or apology from the Christian Brothers and Ted feels like he hasn’t got closure.

‘That shattered me. Because I fought for this country, put my life on the line for it and I’ve been abused as well. And yet I can never get an apology from the Christian Brother involved because apparently he’s dead. And basically I’m left with just, “suck it up and get on with your life.” That’s what I’ve come down to.’

On a more positive note, Ted feels like he’s more emotionally open than he was. ‘I made a conscious decision to get everything out on the table. At my age I don’t have much to hide … It’s best to just open up … Open the flood gates to try and clear my mind and hopefully the rest of my life I’ll be content.’

Ted told the Commission he thinks all priests and Brothers should be taken out of boarding schools and children’s homes.

‘There’s just not enough checks and balances that make sure those kids are going to be safe. They [the clergy] only look after themselves, as far as rules and regulations. The kids are secondary, from what I could see … A lot of us felt like cattle at times.’

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