Maltese child migrant tried killing himself, Australian commission hears

Child migrant sent to Christian Brothers in 1960s was victim of frequent violent sexual abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse conducts a public hearing of victims of Christian Brothers sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse conducts a public hearing of victims of Christian Brothers sexual abuse.

Echoes of the violent world of child migrants, amongst them Maltese emigrants, entrusted to the Christian Brothers back in the 1960s are reverberating inside Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The evidence makes for harrowing reading, as a survey of the Australian press shows.

A child migrant identified as ‘VG’ who says he had been raised “in a loving and close family in Malta”, told the commission that reporting violent sexual assaults to priests in confessions only led to more brutal beatings and punishment at the Christian Brothers’ home of St Mary’s Agricultural School in Tardun, a small town in Western Australia.

VG was reported to have revealed “painful details of repeated assaults, neglect and cruelty” during the second day of the commission’s public hearing into the experiences of boys at four Christian Brothers orphanages.

VG was testifying with his wife at his side for support.

After the death of his father, he was told he would be going on an “adventure” when he was sent to Western Australia.

VG told the commission that there was no education at the school.

“Instead he was put to work, beaten with leather straps and sexually abused. The man described seeking solace in a confession to a Maltese priest after he resisted a violent sexual assault and was beaten so badly he was hospitalised for weeks.”

He also reported the physical and sexual assaults to staff at the nearby Mullewa hospital, “but this led to a summons to Brother Simon’s office and yet another brutal beating.”

VG said that Brother Simon, whom he described as a “huge man”, called him over to his ‘lion’s den’ – he told the hearing that Brother Simon pulled down his trousers then shoved his finger up his backside.

He then pushed him down on him. “I felt an agonising pain in my backside, then I realised that it wasn’t just his finger. He was hurting me and squeezing my hand to my chest. I somehow managed to get free and got hold of a chair and hit him with it.”

VG said he was then hit by a strap across his head. He next woke up in Mullewa hospital with a needle in his arm and bandages over his head.

He also remembers his backside hurting.

Later he learned that Matron Barden was the sister of Monsignor Barden, who used to visit Tardun regularly. Upon his return to Tardun, Brother Simon beat him so badly that he could no longer feel the lashes against his skin.

VG’s experience at the agricultural school got progressively worse. Besides the constant abuse by the brothers, at 16 he was essentially ‘pimped’ out to a local farmer, who was a friend of Brother Simon.

VG said at first he thought this would be a reprieve from the life he had endured but in reality it was worse. He was stuck on this farm with a man who tried numerous times to rape him.

“It seemed suicide was the only option,” VG told the hearing. “I had already planned how I would do it. I jumped from a trailer with a rope around me neck, but the rope was too long.”

VG also told the hearing that he was involved in the class action instigated by law firm Slater and Gordon and claimed he was never told how the process worked.

He was disappointed with the payment which was around $6000.

He said he was also upset about the $45,000 payment he received from Redress WA.

But the real “issue” for him was to “punish those who are responsible”.

“I lost my childhood, lack of family life, lack of education,” he told the hearing. “I am self educated. I only finished primary school. I don’t believe in God anymore which is difficult because my wife is very religious.

“I have been driven to suicide around the Senate inquiry, cut my wrists, overdosed. I have nightmares that don’t go away. This trauma has taken my life.”

The hearing, which is examining the responses of the Christian Brothers and successive WA governments to allegations of child sex abuse at Bindoon, Clontarf, Castledare and Tardun institutions, continues.