Wesley was in his early teens when he unwittingly got in trouble with police, for a crime he did not realise he was committing. His very poor, devoutly Catholic parents were upset and asked the local Salesian Brothers for assistance. The rector, Father Milton, attended Wesley’s court appearance and testified that the Brothers would take him on to assist the family. ‘Basically, that’s where my nightmare started’.
This assistance meant, from the early 1970s, Wesley was enrolled at the Salesian Brothers’ college in suburban Adelaide without paying fees. Just before school started Milton invited him to attend a camp with a number of other boys.
On the first night Milton made a bonfire. He coerced the boys to remove their clothes and run around naked, but Wesley refused.
On the second night the rector took Wesley aside and told him ‘You’re not fitting in, you’ll have to take your clothes off’. Reluctantly Wesley complied, as he felt he had disappointed his parents already and did not want further trouble. ‘I thought, right, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here with this man.’ Wesley found it humiliating.
‘There I was stark naked with this man basically perving on these little boys. Some of the boys were as young as maybe 11 ... I was going through puberty at the time.’
Later that night when he was asleep, ‘I could feel somebody tugging the blankets, like they were inside the blankets. It was Father Milton’. The rector claimed he was fixing Wesley’s bedding and left. Wesley knows now that he had a lucky escape.
When Wesley first began at college Milton called him into his office, asking if he’d told his parents about taking his clothes off at the camp. Wesley replied that he hadn’t, and Milton said this was good, as if he disclosed the school would no longer cover his fees.
From that day on Wesley was subjected to physical and psychological abuse by Milton, who constantly strapped and whipped him. At times Milton would pull down Wesley’s pants and underpants, then strap him in a frenzy ‘for trivial matters’. His father once saw the welts on his legs, commenting that ‘you probably deserved it’.
Wesley witnessed other boys being whipped and beaten, too. ‘I tried anything and everything to get out of that place, away from that man. I think what people don’t really understand in all this is, when these men come after little boys, it’s the most frightening thing.’
He became good friends with one of the other students, Ethan, who boarded at the school. Ethan told him that Milton would come into the dormitory at night and just take boys out of their beds, and referred to Milton ‘bumming’ them.
Living in constant fear prevented Wesley from learning. ‘For me personally it was all about survival, nothing else … My mind was preoccupied about avoiding this man, what his next move was, when was he going to send for me.’
Failing academically, Wesley left school as soon as he could. He moved from one place to another, finding it hard to settle down. He drank heavily, and had periods of suicidal ideation. ‘What happens to you in those really formative years ... is such a critical part of you as a person later one.’ He still trusts ‘absolutely no one’.
For many years Wesley kept silent about the abuse, only very recently telling his wife and family. His mother said that they had wondered at the time why his behaviour had changed.
He spoke to the Royal Commission to share his own experiences, but also on behalf of fellow students – including his good friend, Ethan – who had suicided since leaving the school.
Wesley has never made a police report because of his trust issues, and he has not spoken to the college. He is convinced that the Salesians and others in the Church would have known boys were being severely physically and sexually abused at the school.
‘These men basically did what they wanted, and I can’t believe that nobody in authority knew about it ... I think the Catholic Church is just beyond redemption.’