Vern was placed in a government-run children’s home in New South Wales in the late 1940s, before being transferred to a boys’ home run by the De La Salle Brothers.
‘Only found out yesterday that it was through my mother. [I] kept running away from the environment that Mum was living in. There was fights all the time about alcohol … and domestic violence and that, and because of running away and that … when they found out that my mother was [inebriated] nearly all the time … they asked her would she okay it for me to go to … [the boys’ home]. She didn’t want the responsibility because I kept running away.’
When Vern first went to the home, ‘it was when the De La Salle Brothers were running it and that’s the only time that the sexual abuse happened’. The boys at the home went to bed one night and in the morning got up to find that the place had been taken over by the Salesians of Don Bosco. ‘We didn’t know anything about the changeover or anything.’
Discipline at the home was harsh under both the De La Salle Brothers and the Salesians, ‘and if you went up to one of the Brothers and you complained about something, you usually got a whack across the ear … [It was always] my left ear, and through getting whacked across there so many times, I’ve had to have [over 10] operations’.
The operations have cost Vern a huge amount of money, and when he approached the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process recently, they asked him if there was anything he would like to be compensated for. He told them he’d like to be reimbursed for the thousands of dollars ‘that I spent over what I was given back through a medical fund’.
So far, Towards Healing have not agreed to his request, and he believes that this is because he has not reported the abuse to the police. Vern told the Commissioner, ‘I’m still frightened that [the police] won’t believe me because it’s [over 60] years ago when it first happened’.
Vern was sexually abused on a number of occasions by one of the De La Salle Brothers, Brother Graham. The first time he was abused was when he was eight years old.
‘When it first happened, I went to a couple of the older boys and they took me up to one of the other Brothers. One of the boys turned me around and he said, “Look at that” and [the Brother] said, “What’s happened?” One of the boys said, “Brother Graham has done this to him” …
‘The Brother just pushed the other boy around and turned me around and he said, “Are you saying that Brother Graham did this to you?” I said, “Yes” … and he just said, “You blinking liar” and then slapped me across the ear. And then he said to the two boys that bought me up, the older boys, to take me to the amenity and get me clean clothes and that … and that was it.’
Vern didn’t try to tell anyone else about the sexual abuse, because ‘You’re not believed by the other Brothers’.
Vern was discharged from the boys’ home when he was 15 and was sent to work on a farm, which he hated. He ended up in Sydney and, after an apprenticeship, established a successful career over the next decade.
After the love of his life died, Vern couldn’t cope with remaining where he lived and worked, so he quit his job, moved to a different state and looked for different types of work. He married twice but both marriages broke down because of the difficulties Vern had with his sexual performance, which he attributes to the abuse he experienced at the hands of Brother Graham.
After being physically and sexually abused at the boys’ home, Vern had little time for the Catholic Church.
‘I had hate for so many years and I despised priests and Brothers and everything.’
It was only when his second wife asked if he wanted to go to church with her that Vern found a group of people ‘so friendly, so accepting’. He has remained with this church for nearly 40 years.
Vern had some counselling through a counsellor at his church, but he didn’t tell her everything that had happened to him. ‘I couldn’t with her, because I knew her personally as well, and she’s a fantastic counsellor. I’ve got nothing against her. I just couldn’t open up properly.’
It was through his church that Vern has made some wonderful connections over the years, including his friend, Mavis, and his support person, Sandra. The two women accompanied him to his private session at the Royal Commission. ‘I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them.’