‘There were rumours among the students about Brother Rupert. But as a nine-year-old, I suppose you don’t believe it.’
Rupert had been Vaughan’s gym instructor at his Catholic high school in South Australia in the 1960s for two years and nothing like the rumours had occurred. Besides, as he explained, ‘I was brought up as a pretty strict Catholic, and as a result you had a lot of trust in the clergy. I was in the choir and an altar boy. And Mum really drilled it into us about respect.’
One night after gym class, Brother Rupert kept Vaughan back.
‘He grabbed me, stuck his hand down my shorts and grabbed my genitals. And with that I just took off, I didn’t hang around; I knew what was going on.’ He went home ‘but I didn’t say a word. I thought, “Well, who’s ever going to believe me?”’
Within a few weeks Vaughan and his classmates were due to move to a new complex with a different gym instructor. But the abuse had only just begun.
‘My class teacher was Brother O’Donald, who was the school idol, the coach of the football and cricket teams. And he started picking on me. I got strapped to buggery, plus all this other stuff I couldn’t get my head around – because I knew I hadn’t offended or done anything.
‘And that year my dad died, though he was only in his 40s.’
One day Vaughan was late back from watching a cricket match. In the classroom O’Donald was furious. ‘He dragged me down to a little storeroom, giving me this lecture all the way. Then he said, “Drop your pants and bend over the desk”. He belted me a couple of times on the bare bottom, then held me up, embraced me and sort of half-kissed me.
‘Then he bent me over and raped me.
‘I’d trusted the bloke, that was the hardest part of all. There was a lot of confusion around his behaviour but I still trusted him.
‘I ran back into the classroom howling – and all the other kids thought it was just because I’d been belted.’
Two days later, in the bathroom with his younger brother, Dougal – ‘We used to shower together, bath together’ – Vaughan noticed the same strap marks on his buttocks. ‘And that threw me into mass confusion: I figured that the same thing had happened to him.’
But still Vaughan couldn’t seek help. ‘I couldn’t say anything to Mum. Dad had just passed and even though I was only 11, I still had a fair idea that this was going to distress her deeply.
‘And also, I didn’t know how to put it into words what had happened – I mean, I’d kissed a girl but that was the only thing I’d ever seen.’
This left O’Donald free to strike again. ‘He came to our house – I can’t remember why – and Mum adored the bloke. He’s talking about Dad being missing and Mum’s saying, “This man thinks about you all the time, he’s so caring, and his dad died when he was young …” Which was rubbish, I found out later; it was just part of his grooming process.
‘Anyway, after a while Mum took off to the races, O’Donald said “Let’s go to your room and look at your cricket photos” – and he raped me again.’
O’Donald left – ‘I was lying there crying my eyes out’ – but he repeated the threats he’d made before. ‘He started with the “This is our little secret” stuff, but then it became “Don’t say anything, no-one’s going to believe you, I’m a Christian Brother”. He gave me that whole litany.’
Vaughan was trapped. ‘The weird thing was I knew it was coming but there was nothing I could do about it. Feeling so powerless was even worse than what happened.’
Curiously, from that night O’Donald stopped the sexual abuse, though Vaughan ‘still got belted regularly’.
He finally managed to get away when he started high school.
‘And on Friday nights, I used to play handball after school. I went into the change rooms one night, got undressed – and bingo! There was Brother Rupert.
‘He cornered me in the shower block, I couldn’t get out – but somehow I grabbed my clothes, ran out, and got dressed in the school yard.’
This time Vaughan decided to tell his mother. ‘Mum said, “Okay, that’s disgraceful”. And the next day, I was called out of class to the principal’s office, and there was Mum and the principal said, “You’re leaving the school and transferring”.
‘I went “Hallelujah!” And about three weeks later, I saw some of the boys that used to be in my class. They said Brother Rupert had put it about that I’d been expelled for stealing.’
Vaughan suffered no further sexual abuse at his new school, but damage had been done. ‘From 17 to, say, 23 was probably the worst time in my life. I went to jail – 12 months for theft.’
He twice tried to end his life. Eventually, he moved interstate, married – ‘We had two beautiful boys’ – and attempted to get his life on track. But although he was a successful provider, Vaughan was erratic.
‘I probably had 30 jobs in 20 years … My wife just couldn’t understand it when I threw away a sales manager job one time to be a bartender.’
The marriage ended and, when Vaughan moved back to South Australia, the ghosts were waiting. ‘Within a matter of weeks I was off the rails again, just not coping. I’d find myself parked at 11 o’clock at night outside the school. All the memories were coming back … I had a nervous breakdown.’
Vaughan had never sought counselling. ‘There wasn’t any at that time – and anyway, I was a bloke. From a young age you were taught to roll with it: not to cry, to keep your pain inside, to put it all away.’ But finally he found someone to talk to, and with such success that he has become a counsellor himself. He and his brother also successfully gained compensation from the Christian Brothers, though the process was tortuous and protracted.
‘I’ve moved on, well and truly’, Vaughan said. ‘I still have my moments but I’m not going to sit there and dwell on what I’ve experienced.
‘But my brother hasn’t … he’s very fragile.’
And not all their fellow victims survived. ‘I look at my school magazines regularly – there are five guys from my class who suicided. Five guys I know for a fact O’Donald had been with.’