Thomas was in jail when he saw his abuser on the nightly news.
‘I was shocked … and I switched the Channel 10 news on and he was on TV … I told my sons about it … They gave me an ultimatum, “Get off the drugs, Dad … and do this Royal Commission thing”.’
When Thomas came to see the Commissioner he was feeling very despondent because of recent sexual offences he had been jailed for. ‘The last couple of years have been the worst in my life. I went off the drugs and stuff because I had to look after my kids but once the boys moved out of home I went off the rails again … I’m just ashamed of my life and the things I’ve done.’
In the 1970s, Thomas was placed in a Catholic orphanage for a short time before he was five years old. In the orphanage, a Brother coerced him into an act of bestiality, something he had never told anyone about before speaking to the Commissioner. When he was about eight or nine years old and living back with his family in Queensland, Thomas came to the attention of his Catholic primary school principal, Mr Rush, a former Christian Brother.
‘I don’t know what age I was when it [sexual abuse] all started. I’m thinking Grade 4, maybe Grade 3 … and it went on until I left primary school and maybe a little bit afterwards …
‘I got sent to the office one day by my teacher … and Mr Rush had the cane [as a threat] … He’s like “Oh look at you, you look a bit scruffy, let’s tuck your shirt in a bit” and then he’s “Oh, what’s this down here?” That’s how it all sort of started from there. I remember that day because it happened that often after a while that I forget a lot of the times.’
Rush was so manipulative and the abuse so frequent that, ‘It was a normal thing for me … I knew it was going to happen and it’s just something I went along with … It wasn’t so much that I consented to it … it would become normal’. Thomas was often abused with another boy. Rush would make them perform sex acts together, ‘More him getting us to do things so he could watch … joining in sometimes’.
Thomas was groomed and bribed by Rush with cigarettes and alcohol, ‘I was given that much free range. I was smoking cigarettes in front of him … I smoked pot in front of him’.
Thomas was also committing serious offences, including arson and theft. Rush would turn a blind eye to Thomas’ behaviour as long as Thomas told no one about the abuse. But when Thomas was about 11 years old and still at primary school, Thomas did report the abuse to a teacher at the school, a nun. He had been introduced to her on a trip Rush had taken Thomas on in the school holidays, a trip where Thomas was regularly abused.
‘I always had this feeling that she knew what was going on. And I just needed to tell someone because I didn’t want it to happen anymore … I couldn’t tell my parents … because they thought the sun shone out of his arse. Not only that … if I told them they would’ve believed me I think, but I remember my parents were having … troubles … and you don’t want to put extra worries on them.’
The nun dismissed his claim. ‘I didn’t even get it all out of my mouth. She said, “Don’t you dare”, and she said I had an evil mind and I’m just an evil boy … I never told anyone ever again.’
The abuse stopped soon after Thomas transferred to high school. When Thomas was in Grade 10 the police asked him to be a witness against the man in court.
‘I was just shocked. Shocked that they knew … I was in two minds. Are they trying to get information about him or are they quizzing me and I’m going to go down for some things that I’d done? So, I told them only the minimal. I didn’t tell them about anal sex, I didn’t tell them about oral sex.’
Rush was jailed but appearing in court had significant repercussions for Thomas.
‘It was a terrible day because he was pleading not guilty to it … I looked at him … and he was looking at me … and I suppose [he] scared me … I felt like a hypocrite to be dobbing on him, thinking, well I was doing it too.’
His schooling suffered because of his court appearance. ‘Some parents didn’t want their kids to talk to me because I’d been abused … I know a lot of people knew that my name was up and going through this court thing … The worst thing was teasing at school by other kids … “Mr Rush’s Bum Chum” and things like that … [saying] “That’s Mr Rush’s little mate”.’
Thomas couldn’t handle school anymore. ‘After the court case I was just very depressed … I used to get this feeling ever since I was a young kid, ever since this started happening, it was like an emptiness. I used to think of it as the “nothing feeling” where nothing could make you happy …
‘Less than a year from [the court case] I ran away from home and then I was in jail … I had my 18th [birthday] in jail.’
Thomas is guilt-stricken about the things he did while under the manipulation of Rush. ‘It’s just stuff that stays with me for the rest of my life and I’m just ashamed of it … I think what [he] was doing to me affected me … I’ve been on drugs most of my life … Most of my life I’ve thought about it every day anyway. There’s not many days when I don’t think about it.’
Thomas approached the Catholic Church for redress over 20 years ago but they refused any financial compensation. He is now keen to pursue the Church for compensation and assistance. Thomas has never been offered counselling or psychological support and despite his challenging life he raised his sons by himself.
‘My sons are amazing. They don’t get in trouble with the law. They … work. They don’t do drugs or anything … The only thing I’m proud of in my whole life – my sons.’