‘How could I tell my father that the priest was trying to touch me up? Dad would have killed him stone dead!’
William’s family had migrated from the UK to Melbourne in the late 1960s when he was six. Even as a child, William suspected his father, an alcoholic and a sometime professional boxer, might react violently to news someone was attempting to molest his son. ‘And where would we have been with my dad locked up for murder? Had to keep me mouth shut.’
Confiding in his mother was also a challenge. ‘Mad as a cut snake! She’d had a nervous breakdown, she’s been in and out of psychiatric units even to this day.’
So William kept quiet – and things got worse. Apart from the priest with the roving hands, the Catholic primary school had some brutal staff. ‘From the age of eight, I was systematically tortured – floggings, dragged around the playground by your hair, lashing your legs with a prickle bush.
‘One woman put me in hospital … And if you asked, “Miss, can I go to the toilet?” she’d make you stand in the corner all day until you pissed and shat yourself.’
Home offered no solution, so William, now 12, and his younger brother Tom decided to escape: ‘We couldn’t stand all that abuse, so we ran away.’
But this desperate move proved disastrous. Soon caught after stealing food, the boys were remanded to an institution for children in state care.
‘They put us in handcuffs, gave us a beating and then a strip search – and I mean a cavity search. Then one of the warders grabbed each of us – by the scrotum – and marched us up the hill to the cells.’
Another warder took a violent interest in William. ‘It only happened when I was naked, in the shower, but nearly on a daily basis. He would kick the shit out of me – and then he’d piss on me. That’s how he got his rocks off – and if that ain’t sexual abuse, what is?’
The institution was supposed to hold only children, but the brothers found themselves locked up with near-adults. ‘I was with a guy who was 17. Come the middle of the first night, I wake up and there’s a naked body in the bed beside me – this guy was trying to hump me.’
As with the school priest, William wouldn’t go quietly – ‘There was a row as big as a fight! The screws came, so he never raped me.
‘But my brother wasn’t so lucky.’
Tom’s luck would run out when the brothers ended up in another juvenile detention centre.
‘We were in the first place for a couple of months, then we went to court and they released us into our mother’s custody. But my mum’s a raving lunatic by this stage, and we were afraid of her – so we ran away again.’
This time the brothers didn’t even wait to be caught: ‘We handed ourselves in to the police because we were starving – and they sent us to the second centre.’ This facility wasn’t as high security as the first home, ‘but inside it was the same sort of deal’, William said. ‘There were these gangs, and they tried all sorts of stuff on us.’
As the son of a prizefighter, William had been encouraged to fight from an early age – ‘I was doing judo competitions from age six’. Though small in stature he didn’t take a backward step: ‘I stood up for myself … but Tom, he was a pacifist. And they got him’.
The two recreation rooms were connected by a servery window. ‘I was in one, he was in the other and suddenly I saw him at the window, hanging on for dear life, and he shouted, “Help me, Bill, help me!” They were trying to gang rape him; the terror on his face was unbelievable.
‘I tried to take them all on, but the screws came and flogged me, locked me in solitary.’
And while the brothers were languishing in remand, their parents split; their mother decamped back to the UK, followed soon after by their father. It was left to their brother Michael – ‘he’s four years older than me’ – to rescue William and Tom.
William struck out on his own at 16 and learnt a trade. He had marriages and children, but ended up alone each time.
He’s not seeking to have his life repaired. ‘It’s too late for counselling: I’m 52, single, can’t have my family, can’t have a normal life because I’m dysfunctional.’
What drew him to the Commission was his deceased brother’s suffering. ‘To be frank, I’m not here for me: this little session hasn’t helped me at all, it’s made me very angry.
‘I’m here to speak for Tom. If Tom were here now, he’d say, “Get the bastards. They may all be dead but at least people will know what they were”.’