Whit never knew his mother. By the time he found her whereabouts she had already passed away. But he knows she must have been a beautiful soul because of the stories told about her by the students she taught while she was a nun.
‘At the age of 15, my mother was put in a convent. She was there for 18 years as a nun … When her father died, she then left the convent. Two and a half years after that, I appeared. She was not married. She had a girlfriend … I may not have gotten the love that I wanted from a mother that I should have, but the love that the students got from her was enough for me to share it around.’
Whit was born in the 1940s in Melbourne and his unwed mother gave him to the nuns at a Catholic convent. He said the nuns were beautiful people and, although he knew nothing about his life, he couldn’t complain.
When he was eight, he was moved to a boys’ orphanage run by the St John of God Brothers.
‘Reverend Brother Gilbert started to take me into his bedroom late at night to have sex. He would touch my penis and make me play with his penis. He also did this in other places such as toilets and showers. I’m not sure how often it happened, perhaps once or twice a week.’
Whit was also abused by a young man who had been a former resident at the orphanage and was now boarding there. First he took Whit into his bedroom and showed him magazines and gave him lollies. Then he fondled him and rubbed himself against Whit until he ejaculated.
‘The worst night of my life was the night when he came to my room … I threw my blankets over my head, held myself together. He ripped those blankets off me, jumped into bed, put his left leg over me and he said “Whit, don’t scream, don’t scream”. He held my mouth the whole fucking time, he covered my mouth …
‘The things he did to me in that bed – it stayed with me all my life, and I still have nightmares about that. My wife has got upset with me from time to time, because I’m having these nightmares through my life. We don’t sleep together because she feels a lot safer.’
Despite his terrible experiences, Whit wanted to make it clear that there were some wonderful Brothers at the orphanage and he has many happy memories of sports days, camps and holidays. One particular Brother, Brother Potts, was especially kind to him and the other state wards, making sure they had holidays and celebrations on their birthdays.
Twelve years after leaving the orphanage, Brother Potts phoned Whit and asked him over to dinner. He gave him an album of photographs from his time at the orphanage, saying ‘You’re going to need this one day’. Whit didn’t understand what he meant, but he was thrilled to have the album and kept it safe.
Whit never told anybody about the abuse. One night in the early 2010s, his brother-in-law saw something on the news about the orphanage and asked Whit to talk about it.
‘I thought maybe it’s time. I’ve held it for over 60 years … It took me over an hour to get it out but I told him … He was horrified with what he heard.’
A few months later, Whit received a phone call from police. His name had come up in reports others had made about abuse at the orphanage and the police wanted to take a statement. Whit was able to give them clear details about what had happened, and they were very grateful for the old photo album which helped identify a number of Brothers. The men who abused Whit had died, but the investigation against other Brothers continued.
Despite keeping the abuse hidden all those years, Whit has been very resilient and has an incredibly positive outlook on life. He has strong and close relationships and still works hard.
‘I am strong, and it’s the animals that I’ve worked with, it’s the animals that I love so much that helps me when I’m down. I go to my dogs, I go to my horses, and I’ve had a lot of horses in my day. I’ve had a lot of dogs in my day. I read them and they talk to me.’
As a boy, Whit had been told that both his parents were dead, but after everything came out, a support service for Forgotten Australians helped him trace his mother. He now feels blessed and happy to have a photo of her and to be finding out about his family history.
‘I will say this to the children of today and the children of tomorrow, I hope that they will find these stories of ours and be able to learn from them – these mistakes, this torturing, this cruelty that has been brought to us, be noticed, so that they can learn the signs that are out there. That’s one thing I wanted to say.
‘The other thing is there were beautiful Brothers in that orphanage. And I think, with all the media reports that are going out into the papers, I think they’re forgetting that. There were beautiful Brothers. God bless them, because they gave us a lot of things that a lot of people are forgetting.'
‘I could imagine – I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong – the good side has not been heard much in this room. And there is a good side. This is what people don’t realise.’