Walter’s stepfather ran a hotel. Walter’s mother didn’t think a hotel was an appropriate place for her boy to grow up and so sent him away to boarding school. Between the ages of seven and 12 Walter went to a Catholic college run by the Salesians of Don Bosco.
He was not visited often by his mother and usually spent the holidays at the school rather than going home. Brother Joshua was in charge of his dormitory and Walter described how the Brother would go to boys in bed, pull their pyjama pants down and hit them on the bum with a rubber strap. The boys called this being ‘got’ by Brother Joshua.
Walter told the Commissioner that in the early 1960s, when he was about 10, Father Jack suggested that he come to his room to help him with exam papers. Father Jack’s room didn’t have a door, just a curtain across it. Walter was flattered at being asked to help. Father Jack fondled his genitals through his pyjamas and kissed and cuddled him, saying to Walter, ‘This is what true love is about’.
Walter was confused and angry about what had happened and his grades at school plummeted. He just wanted to get away from the school, he hated it with a passion. When he was 11, he ran away and lived for a week in a wooden box behind a service station. The school took him back because of his mother’s situation but he was only there for another 12 months or so.
His mother had a bad heart and knew that she was dying so she arranged for Walter’s father to have custody, and Walter went to live with his father in New South Wales.
Walter has struggled with anxiety, depression and panic attacks throughout his life and has had great difficulty relating to males.
‘I was afraid of men in early adulthood. I overcame that as my children grew up, I started to mature with them and I realised that they’re not all bad ogres.’
Walter found it helpful to concentrate on his studies during his 20s and to throw himself into his work – as a distraction from the memory of the abuse.
He married at 19 and disclosed the abuse to his wife when he was in his 20s and going through a difficult patch. About 15 years ago he told his half-sister and she spoke to the police. Walter didn’t want to take it any further. He said, ‘I probably didn’t feel like going through court proceedings or anything like that in relation to something that had happened so many years ago. I thought it was futile’.
Then his half-sister followed through by ringing the Catholic Church and he was contacted by a senior priest in the Salesian Order. The Church did not offer any further help or counselling but did suggest that Walter might want to contact the police. Walter received some comfort from this ‘sort of’ admission of wrongdoing. However, as time went on, Walter became angry as he heard the Church denying on a wider scale what was happening.