Growing up ‘tough’ in a small country town, Wendell was ‘always the black sheep, the round peg in the square hole’ and ‘bullied mercilessly’ by other boys. He averaged ‘nearly a fight a day’ at primary school, and was ‘flogged’ by the nuns. ‘It was nothing to come home after receiving 34 cuts for the day.’
Wendell’s family had migrated to New South Wales after World War II. He would often arrive home from school to more violence from his army veteran father, who also beat his mother and siblings.
Wendell was sent away to a Marist Brothers rural boarding school in line with his father’s ‘motto’ that children should be seen and not heard. On his first day he received the cane from one of the Brothers over a minor incident.
‘That was the start of it. They were just vicious.’ The Brothers caned heavily, even breaking boys’ fingers. The headmaster ‘hated kids, hated the world’ and once caned Wendell on both sides of the face for speaking during study.
Dinnertime was fraught as well, with ‘all this violence and threats and damage to your body’ due to assaults by other students, and Wendell never got enough food.
Wendell was sexually abused in his first year there by a ‘mad’ Brother, Freddy Fenester. ‘I think everyone sort of knew Fenester was a child abuser.’
‘The summons’ from Fenester often came via another student during study after dinner, with the Brother luring Wendell into his room with food. Fenester would also slip into boys’ beds and grope them. He would bat his eyelashes against Wendell’s cheek with his ‘butterfly kiss for boys’.
‘You just used to freeze. You didn’t know what to do ... You lived in fear.’
Wendell remembers he was ‘as naive as naive’, and even today is ‘still waiting for the birds and the bees talk from Mum and Dad’. Other Brothers seemed to know what was going on, as they would tease Wendell about having ‘sexy’ or ‘special’ time when Fenester called him.
‘The thing that still makes me feel sick in the stomach is that the other Brothers knew what was happening to me and made fun of me. They protected the bastard that was abusing me by making me feel that I was the person causing the problem.’
Correspondence to his family was censored by the Brothers. After his first term at the school Wendell tried to tell his parents about the cruelty and physical abuse. His father ‘scoffed’ and his mother accused him of having ‘a vivid imagination’. He ‘couldn’t’ tell them about the sexual abuse. ‘What do you say?’
Often Fenester would leave Wendell hot drinks, and sometime biscuits and love notes under his pillow, most of which he threw away.
The boy were rationed to one-minute showers in the open shower block, and the Brothers would clap at them when it was time to stop. ‘I remember when he [Fenester] was on he would stare at you and leer at you and after he started interfering with me and it was my shower time everyone knew.’
Wendell believes Fenester had many other victims at the school. ‘He must have had a lot of boys. My parents found a note he had written, but it was to my brother … he basically wanted to have a relationship with my brother.’ Much later on Wendell’s brother denied being abused by Fenester.
At one stage Wendell was hauled to the new headmaster and asked – in front of his parents – if he had been molested.
‘And I said, “No” … I thought years later it was my own fault I didn’t say anything back then. But it’s too hard to explain. It’s shame, it’s guilt and I didn’t want anyone to know.’
Fenester continued to abuse Wendell for the rest of the year. The abuse was worse during football season when Fenester would search him for injuries, and his hands ‘always end up at your groin, of course’.
The following year, Fenester had left the school and the ‘Brotherhood’. He turned up unexpectedly at Wendell’s home while he was travelling, and was put up for the night in Wendell’s bedroom.
Wendell woke in the middle of the night and Fenester ‘was masturbating me and I remember punching him as hard as I could’. ‘I belted him … next day he had a black eye which I was so proud of.’
When Wendell refused to say goodbye to the ex-Brother his parents chastised him for being ‘a bad-mannered child’.
In the years after the abuse he didn’t study much at school, concentrating instead on doing everything he could ‘to piss the Brothers off’. Despite this he managed to pass his final year exams and become a teacher ‘protecting and looking after boys in this [public] system since I started’. He believes mandatory reporting from schools is ‘a must’ but can be a problematic process when it’s ultimately left up to the principal to decide whether to report sexual abuse allegations.
The sporting field ‘became my safe place’, where he knew the rules, everyone was equal and ‘I could prove who I was’. There, he found his ‘hate and anger’ were redirected. He excelled in a variety of sports and coached for years.
Wendell always wanted to be a doctor, and feels ‘I am the big family under-achiever’ in a family of siblings with higher-flying careers. He still has ‘ongoing problems with people in positions of power’, particularly teachers and executives who sometimes trigger his ‘anger issues’.
Now in his 60s, Wendell helps young boys empower themselves with knowledge and always protects the underdog. ‘If nothing else I’m resilient,’ he said, admitting he has been ‘anxious’ and ‘a different person’ since the abuse.