‘He had a smell and that is with me to this day. I’ll never forget it.’
In the early 1940s, Vern was sent to a Catholic boarding school in New South Wales because he’d been such a good student that his parents thought the prestigious private school would further advance his education. At 12 years of age and in his first term, Vern was repeatedly sexually abused by another student who threatened him not to say a word or make a noise.
‘I feel sick in the stomach now actually. I was scared because he was a bigger bloke than me and I submitted every time to him.’
Media coverage of the Royal Commission’s work led Vern to ring and ask if the abuse he’d experienced fitted within the Commission’s remit. He was 83 years old and it was the first time he’d ever disclosed it. ‘I never told a soul right through to this year’, he said. After the telephone call he told his wife and his son and daughter who were all visibly shocked. ‘They didn’t ask questions. They just listened to me and accepted it. Whether they speak to each other about it now or not, I don’t know. I just said, “I don’t want to talk about it”.’
He said he felt ‘freer’ now that he’d told them. ‘But I’m down on myself because I think it affected my future it’s as simple as that.’
Vern told the Commissioner that in looking back he thought the abuse had a major impact on his life. He’d become hesitant and withdrawn, and had lost all confidence in himself. He’d failed the following year of school, repeated and passed, then failed the Intermediate Certificate.
After leaving school, he travelled throughout Australia and though always employed, felt he let opportunities pass him by. ‘I didn’t marry till I was 34. I just went off my tangent I think. I didn’t want to know people.’ He said he drank a lot, ‘but maybe that was half my trouble’.
Vern wasn’t sure if the boy had abused others at the school, but thought it likely with ‘that type of bloke’. There was no point, he said, in making a statement to New South Wales Police either then or thereafter. ‘I don’t think I could because one person against another person, no, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it, not now surely, and I wouldn’t even know whether this person was still around or what’s going on. No, I think it’d be pretty frivolous to start making reports now. The horse is gone. But it hasn’t gone completely because I’m able to come in and speak here and clear my conscience a lot.’
‘All I wanted was to tell my story. I’m shaking and I don’t normally shake. I haven’t had a smoke or drink for close on 35 years. I have too much coffee.’