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Walt Henry's story

Walt was nine years old when Brother Tomlins started grooming him for sexual abuse. Tomlins’ technique was simple: he bashed Walt regularly and brutally over the course of about two years.

It began in the mid-1950s, shortly after Walt arrived at a Christian Brothers’ school in regional Victoria where Tomlins was the headmaster. Walt’s parents had emigrated from England, which meant that Walt ‘talked like a pom’. For that he was targeted by a gang of boys in his first week at the school.

‘Three of the boys grabbed me and put me in the toilet. Put me head into the toilet bowl and pissed on me. But I come out and the guy said to me “You’re one of the boys now” and they give me a high five and I felt pretty good about it, actually. I did, because I was frightened.’

Walt then washed the urine from his hair and rushed off to join the ‘Monday parade’. Brother Tomlins was there, inspecting the boys. ‘He said “You’re not supposed to be on the parade ground with wet hair. I’ll see you in the music room after school”.’

The music room was a secluded spot with frosted windows and a door that could be locked from the inside. Upon arriving, Walt got six cuts of the cane on his hand and then one on his backside. The beatings only got worse after that.

‘I took all the beatings for a long time. And he put me in the hospital twice. What happened was he punched me in the jaw with his fist like this, and I went home and I couldn’t eat me tea. And Dad said to me “Come on, eat your tea”.

‘And Dad was very strict. I said “I’m not hungry, I can’t eat it”. And so he come behind me and belted me, cuffed me round the ears. Then I broke down and told him that Tomlins had hit me. And Mum took me to hospital.’

Walt’s dad assumed that he’d done something to deserve the beating, and so took no action against Tomlins. Walt began to suspect that there was no point calling for help, but he gave it one last go.

‘I was leaning over the fence – because I was a loner, especially when I first started school. And the postman come along and he’s pedalled his bike, like they did in the old days, and he said “Are you having a good day at school?” And I says “No”. I says “We get belted here”. This is when I only got belted. And he rode off and I watched him go past and I said “Geez, I wish I was him”.’

One morning when Walt was 12 he joined some of his friends who were playing with a balloon outside school. When the friends saw Tomlins coming they handed the balloon to Walt and took off. Walt didn’t know that the balloon was, in fact, an inflated condom. Tomlins caught him with it and told him to show up at the music room that afternoon.

Walt knew he was going to cop a fierce beating. So did his friends. They advised him to put a book down the back of his pants to try and dull some of the impact of the cane.

‘Stupid me I put a book down me pants, and he found it. He found it by hitting me. So he told me to drop me pants and then he started telling me about condoms and what they’re for, and he said I’m going to give you sex education lessons, and this is when the abuse started.’

The Brother’s ‘sex education lessons’ consisted of forcing Walt to masturbate him. This continued on a weekly basis for about a year. Another part of the abuse was the way Tomlins always offered him a ‘choice’: masturbate me or get belted.

As a result of this manipulation, Walt still feels that he ‘more or less asked for it … I’ve still got this in the back of my mind that I was the guilty one because I said “Yes, I will masturbate you because I’m sick of getting belted”’.

So Walt added guilt and embarrassment to his list of reasons never to talk about the abuse. This mindset left him vulnerable to other predators like the ‘dirty old man’ that Walt worked for after school. ‘He started feeling me up and down and then he asked me to masturbate him and I thought “Well, I’ve done it at school”.’

At 13 Walt scored a scholarship to another school. At last it looked like he would be able to escape his abuser. Then his friends mentioned one day that Brother Tomlins was about to transfer to that same school. Immediately Walt abandoned the scholarship and his only chance at continuing education. He left school at 14 and started work, and has struggled ever since.

‘I had problems with the foremen or bosses. I was frightened of getting told off or belted or whatever it was. I was always frightened of it. And if I felt threatened I’d just give up the work, give up the job.’

‘I’m still drinking heavily. When I do drink I pass out drinking. And I take codeine.’

‘I’ve been on me own for a long time … I’ve always had trouble with relationships. I’m going to die a lonely man, unfortunately.’

In his 60s Walt started counselling through the Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault. Aside from one brief drunken confession to his wife many years ago, this was the first time he had ever mentioned the sexual abuse to anyone. He said that the counselling ‘hasn’t taken the hurt away’ but it’s still been helpful.

‘I’ve been hurting myself and I tried to suicide once and I did this and that and the other and [the counsellor] sort of got me out of that. Got me out of this cutting me arms and scrubbing meself with steel wool and suicidal things.’

Walt is determined to keep working on himself, trying to get better. ‘I’ve got to get this out of my system. I can’t go on hating people for the rest of my life.’

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