Winstan’s parents separated when he was seven years old in the late 1950s. Initially he and his siblings were placed in a Perth orphanage, then less than a year later Winstan was moved to a children’s home run by the Christian Brothers while his siblings went elsewhere. ‘I would have been eight. And I wasn’t too impressed at first sight, but anyway, no choice.’
Upon arriving at the home, Winstan’s belongings were removed and he was immediately put to work. ‘Basically you were forced out straight away, picking up cow poo, working in chooks, pigs, the whole thing. It was a working farm. We were just put to work virtually straight away.’
Winstan found that the food he and his peers were given at the home was barely edible, and since the pigs were being fed much better, he would pick through their food scraps ‘for the good stuff’.
The Brothers who ran the home were cruel disciplinarians and would hang leather straps to their belts which they belted the boys with for the slightest misdemeanour. Winstan quickly learned that ‘the only way to survive this hell hole was to lay low and keep out of the Brothers’ way and say as little as possible’.
One of the teachers, Brother McKelvey, used to take the boys down to the jetty for swimming lessons. Winstan’s first swimming lesson consisted of McKelvey instructing the boys to remove their clothes and asking who among them could swim. The boys who could swim were then told to jump in the river and tread water. Then the boys who could not swim were also told to jump in the river, and were only allowed to be given assistance from the other boys ‘when we had nearly drowned. This was my introduction to swimming. Thankfully I got the hang of it. I think fear had a fair bit to do with it. One thing I couldn’t understand was why we always had to be naked for our swimming classes’.
One afternoon Winstan was called to McKelvey’s room. Upon arriving, McKelvey asked Winstan if he was enjoying his swimming lessons, to which Winstan replied yes. McKelvey then asked Winstan if he liked seeing the other boys naked. Winstan told the Commission that at this point he became terrified and doesn’t recall what his answer was.
‘What he did next I didn’t really understand. I just stood gripped with fear as he undid his trousers, removed his penis and masturbated in front of me. He asked if I liked what he was doing. I don’t recall what I said. Everything just went blank.’
After that incident, McKelvey started paying special attention to Winstan. He would observe him when he showered and would be sitting on the end of his bed when he tried to go to sleep at night. ‘I think that’s when I started blocking things out of my mind. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing I’m not sure. Deep down I really don’t want to know what happened to me.’
After two years Winstan’s mother remarried and took him out of the home. Because he had not received any schooling on the farm, his education had suffered.
‘I was there two years and I never set foot inside a classroom … which affected me later on when I did eventually get out there with my schooling, because I was so far behind. I was kept down a couple of years.’
Winstan tried to tell his family about his two years of hell but no one would believe him. ‘Nobody would believe an organisation like the Catholic Church could be capable of such behaviour.’ Winstan reacted by rebelling and was never asked why.
‘They just sort of put me down as a troublemaker because I was virtually wreaking havoc. I just couldn’t get over what had happened … I was seen as naughty and my stepfather didn’t appreciate it very much. So I was copping it off him then.’
At 15 Winstan considered school ‘a waste of time’, so he left and started a trade. Later he married and tried to tell his wife about the abuse but she, like his family ‘just couldn’t believe that that would happen, you know. So you just sort of in the end give up’. The couple eventually divorced.
Winstan’s bad behaviour continued into adulthood. He drank heavily and got into trouble with the police, narrowly avoiding a prison sentence. When he was 21 he went back to the home to confront McKelvey ‘because I was pretty angry’, but found he had been moved on.
Winstan has never sought counselling, choosing instead to ‘fix myself’. About 20 years ago he became involved in a class action against the Christian Brothers. Although dissatisfied with an outcome of $3,000 compensation and no apology, being able to connect with other survivors was therapeutic for him.
‘I always thought it was just me. I never realised that so many people were affected by it … It was good because we all got together and exchanged stories. And it was quite amazing how they were so similar.’
Winstan later remarried, this time to a woman who was supportive and understanding of his history. He is protective of his own children but doesn’t want them to know about the abuse he experienced. He has maintained strong relationships with his siblings and parents, however they still won’t discuss his time at the home with him.
‘People don’t realise what it does to you over a long period of time … Unfortunately I couldn’t talk to people about it, and nobody wanted to approach me about it … After so many years of trying to tell people and then they just dismiss it, you don’t really want to talk about. Just shut it down.'
‘It shouldn’t just go away. It should be recognised … It’s got its place in history.’