Vernon attended a Catholic primary school in Sydney. The nuns who ran it were from the Sisters of St Joseph, and ‘were the greatest bunch of bastard women that the good Lord put on this planet. Frustrated, angry, ugly, vicious … They used to have a 15-inch ruler, wooden ruler with the steel edge. Knuckles. They wouldn’t let you out of class to go to the toilet.’
Vernon wasn’t the only student in his classroom to wet or soil their pants. ‘When I wet myself, Mum come in, and this happened to other people too, the head nun and the class nun would gather together and they would yell and scream at that person’s mother until she went away crying. I have not got one good word for ‘em.’
When it came time for high school, Vernon spent his first year at a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers. He only went there for 12 months because ‘they did Latin, business and bookkeeping and we were a working family, tradesmen’. But during that year the Brothers ‘flogged us … to bloody death’ with leather straps.
For his second and third years Vernon transferred to a school run by the Marist Brothers. He went there because they offered ‘metalwork, woodwork and tech drawing, and us being working men, that’s what we wanted’.
Brother Theo, the head teacher, ‘was the greatest bastard of a man the good Lord ever put on this planet … His weapon [was] a bit of bamboo cane … That hurt … and he would flog us for the slightest thing.
‘He was a filthy bastard. He was a perv. Used to perv on us in the toilets … There was a small window [in his office] … The number of times you’d get in there, when you were using the urinal or in the cubicle … [He’d be looking down]. All the time.’
Brother Theo would call boys into his office. ‘I was one of the boys he called in. He’d start talking about sex and … what you do if you play with your penis. We were 15 … and he was masturbating under the desk … He did that in front of three other kids on separate occasions.’
Vernon knows about the other boys because they talked amongst themselves. They didn’t tell anyone else because Brother Theo threatened, ‘If I repeat this conversation to anyone, I’ll be expelled and in those days … kids shut their mouths, because they weren’t game to open their mouths. And if they did open their mouth, they weren’t believed’.
Vernon did tell his parents a year after the sexual abuse occurred, and his parents immediately went to confront Brother Theo. ‘He yelled at them. Basically threw them out of the school.’
The school was shut down not long after this and reopened in regional New South Wales. Many years later, Vernon was talking to a mate and comparing schooldays. It transpired that his friend had been taught by Brother Theo at this new location.
Vernon’s friend told him that Brother Theo had made the mistake of flogging a ‘big kid’ in front of the whole school, and the student ‘flattened him’. The boy was expelled, ‘but the whole school cheered’.
Vernon told the Commissioner that Brother Theo is deceased. ‘I hope he suffered. I hope it was long and painful. If I knew where his grave was, I’d defile it.’
In the mid-2010s, Vernon began writing letters to the schools he attended. He wanted to access his old records, but was told that they had all been destroyed. He also began thinking that something needed to be done about how the children were treated at these places.
‘What sparked me into action was this Royal Commission and all this stuff that had been sitting in the back of my head, since I was at school, and by the way, I didn’t go crazy, whacko or anything like that, but it was in there and if I spoke to someone about school, it would come out.’
Although the trauma of his abusive schooldays did give Vernon some sleepless nights, it hasn’t caused him too much stress. ‘I’m a big, strong lad and when this Commission started, I thought, “You bewdies, buddy. It’s time to get in there and kick some arse. Get even”.’
Vernon wanted to tell his story because, ‘The more that goes out, that’s told, the happier I’m going to be … I want it to be made public … I want arses kicked and I want ‘em kicked big time. I want it made public that what they did to us, how they treated us, how we were stood over, how our parents were stood over … The viciousness of ‘em, and everything that goes with it, is bad’.