Walter John's story

‘I just all through life had hassles. Just around society, and people’, Walter told the Commissioner. ‘I’ve had a history of over-drinking alcohol and stuff through life, and trying … to get over stuff that happened to me as a kid.’

One thing he’s still trying to get over is his experience of sexual assault. When Walter was in Grade 8 or 9 in the late 1970s, he was abused by the physical education teacher at his school. The school was a Catholic college in a Queensland regional city.

The teacher, Brother Jansen, made the boys in the class get on their hands and knees and organise themselves into a human pyramid. Then he’d molest Walter. ‘He was coming up behind me and putting his hands up the back of me shorts, and touching where he shouldn’t.’

Physical abuse was also common at the school. ‘There’s a lot of heavy handed ones there that was using their hands and their fists to hit me with.’ Walter was strapped on his hands so many times he was left with lasting damage to the joints in his fingers. ‘I was subjected to that, I was subjected to physical hits – punishments, bashings … I was wrecked, man. I was shattered.’

He wasn’t the only child being abused, he said. He remembers one boy in particular – Bobby Martini: ‘Bobby copped a lot more than I did.’ But years later when Walter encountered Bobby again, neither of them spoke about what had happened.

Walter was eventually moved from the school, to one in another Queensland town. ‘It was great. There was none of that sort of stuff happening to me.’ He left school at 16 and found work at the mines. He has worked in many different parts of Australia since then, but staying employed hasn’t always been easy.

‘I tried to work hard all my life … The jobs they gave me, I did the work. The foreman of the crew that I was on didn’t have a problem with me. And then I was called into the office one day by the maintenance manager and he said “We got no work for you, you’re being put off”.’

He’s had some issues getting on with his workmates, he said. One problem is he doesn’t like being around crowds, so socialising is difficult.

‘When I was on site I’d like to just do the work for the day and then go back to me room and clean up and relax. [The other workers] were saying “Why doesn’t he come and have a beer with us? What’s wrong with him?”’

As well: ‘I wasn’t confident. I had dramas with confidence. When someone’s bigger than me and they’re around near me or get too close to me I just get a really horrible feeling.’

Now unemployed and broke, Walter feels his ex-colleagues and others in the town where he lives have turned on him.

‘Everywhere I go they hassle me and they’ve all got together and spread lies and gossip around the town’, he said.

He has started receiving counselling through Relationships Australia, and his religious faith is also a comfort to him. ‘Just as I was about to walk away from any belief in any God or creator, I seen him. This appeared to me. He came.’

He believes a court case against the school may be underway but had not had contact with police about it himself. He had been in touch with a lawyer to explore the possibility of a civil claim against the Church, for the long-lasting damage he suffered as a child.

‘It’s pretty wrecking as a kid. It can sorta cause a lot of hassles through life, which it’s done with me’, he told the Commissioner. ‘If I’d never gone near that school, I’m pretty sure life would have been a lot different for me.’


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