Wilt Henry's story

‘The thing that pissed me off the most about all of these things was that [Brother William] used to send home bottles of sweet sherry to my mum via me, just to keep her happy. She was a down-and-out drunkard. A bitch. And he used to ply us with bags of lollies and sweets of all [sorts] … and slices of fruit cake and packets of biscuits. Leave it under your pillow if you’d been good …

‘If you weren’t, you didn’t get that. You got some other harsh treatment. That’s the thing that irritated me the most. I rebelled against a lot of that after I’d finished in the institutions and it took me until I met [my wife], it took me quite a few years to actually get that streak out of me. But yeah, I’m happy to say, I haven’t been in trouble … for a long, long time.’

Wilt and his siblings were taken into care in the mid-1950s. Their father had left the family and their mother was ‘drinking to excess and neglecting her children’. In court, the judge noted, ‘Mrs Shelton is a quick-tempered, rather impulsive woman who does a lot of yelling’. Wilt commented, ‘And that was putting it politely’.

Wilt spent four years at a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia, before being sent to a second Christian Brothers home, for a further four years. He was physically and sexually abused in both institutions.

The first home ‘was a shit of a place … We were cold. We were beaten. We did all sorts of chores that we weren’t supposed to do and a lot of us were sexually assaulted’.

There were two Brothers at the home ‘that caused the most of the issues for me … every sort of punishment you could think of. There was hoses. There were straps. There were canes. There were slaps around the head, kicks up the arse. Just generally, you know – you didn’t stand in line properly, you got whacked. But you know, we were always told it was part of growing up’.

Brother William and Brother Travis would often stand outside the dormitory door, ‘pushing and shoving about who was going to get access to particular kids in the dorm … You’d get tapped on the shoulder at two o’clock in the morning and [he’d] say, “It’s your turn”. That’s what happened …

‘They had their own sets of people in the dormitories … and if there was any crossing of the line there was discussion between the two of them.’

The sexual abuse continued for the four years Wilt was in the first home. ‘The first year … you were subject to quite a lot of intense, for want of a better word, bastardisation, and then it was a regular basis after that. As a young six and seven-year-old, you don’t remember how many times it was, but it was a bloody lot of times.’

Wilt told the Commissioner that he reported the abuse to his mother. He asked her ‘was it right that Brother William was allowed to play with my doodle and she said to me “It wouldn’t happen. They’re there to look after you, blah, blah, blah” and I said, “But it did happen” and she got a big hunk of wood and beat the shit … out of my back. I had welts over my back for days’.

A couple of days after he returned from the weekend at home when he’d told his mother, an older boy pushed him off the top of the slide on the oval at the home, saying, ‘That was from Brother William’. Wilt’s arm was broken in a couple of places.

‘It was the worst thing that could have happened to me because I couldn’t shower with everybody else and feel protected. I always had a plastic thing over my arm and I had to get dried and while you were getting dried, things happened to you.’

Wilt was also abused at the second boys’ home. When he tried to tell one of the Brothers that one of his brothers had been sexually abused at the first home, the Brother ‘told me in no uncertain manner that: “It’s not true. It never has been true” and I was subject to quite a lot of physical abuse because of that’.

When Wilt was made to work in the dairy and pig sty, the Brother in charge ‘would masturbate in front of you, ask you to join in and when I said, “No”, he’d get his cane out and whack you across the front and across the back’. The Brother would also ‘have someone pull him off’ in the front seat of the van when he and any of the boys were in the home’s truck.

Wilt ‘never gave in to him and because of that, I suffered quite a lot of physical crap’.

Wilt applied for compensation through a state redress scheme and was eventually awarded $28,000, for ‘second grade’ abuse. One of his other siblings got the same amount and three more got $15,000 each. ‘It was a pittance. It was a really miserly pittance. If they’d stuck to the original agreement at 80, or 60 … I wouldn’t have worried.’

Although he received little education, Wilt has done well and went on to study and establish a good career. He’s been with his wife for over 40 years and although he ‘doesn’t show all that much affection to my kids, they understand that I’m a bit different to other people. But it’s never worried them and it’s never worried me’.

Wilt has occasionally suffered from depression and a sleeping disorder but he doesn’t believe that counselling would help him.

‘I’m quite happy just getting on with life as it is. It’s not going to make any difference to me … I don’t need a 20 or 30-year-old telling me what to do. It’s just not me.’

There were two reasons that Wilt came to the Royal Commission. ‘One is that my brother … said it was a good experience. He wanted some support for his application. And the second one is that I think that justice needs to be done to the Catholic Church in terms of bringing out all this thing into the open about what actually happened to us.

‘It’s just a pity that, you know, it’s taken so long and the fact that all the pricks involved are all dead.’

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