When his wife died of cancer in 1969, Syd became a single father to three boys, and said her death had a particularly harsh effect on his youngest son.
He told the Commissioner, ‘Shane was only three when she died, it was very hard on him. He’d always worry when I dropped him at school and be so pleased to see me when I picked him up’.
In 1978 when Shane was 12, Syd placed him at a St John of God special school for boys with behavioural disorders, based on the recommendations of a psychologist. Shane lived at the school through the week, returning home to his father each weekend.
‘He had a high IQ but had behavioural difficulties and bipolar which was relatively undiagnosed at that time, so putting him in that school was a medical decision rather than a religious one.’
Syd recalled that Shane would often complain of being ill when it came time to return to the school, and similar to when he was a young child, would beg his father not to leave him there each Sunday night.
‘When I’d walk him to his dormitory, he would say, “I don’t want to be here Dad”, and he would tense up, I could feel it. Sometimes after dropping him off I’d drive a few kilometres away and just wouldn’t be happy, and I’d turn around to go and get him, but there’d be a Brother there who’d say, “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of him”, so I’d leave. I wish I’d taken him home.’
Years later, Shane told his father the Brothers would punch him and other boys in the stomach to stop them from telling anyone about the sexual abuse.
‘But he was so pleased when you picked him up, he wouldn’t display anything you could pick up that he was not well.’
In 2007 when Shane was 46 he told his father about the ‘terrible things’ he endured while boarding at the school, including being raped over 200 times by Brothers who worked at the school, and by other students.
‘Shane told me one of the Brothers would encourage boys to push each other down and rape each other in front of 10 or 15 of the boys, and three or four other priests. They’d try and fight them off, some of the boys were bigger, and with three or four of them, there was no way in the world you were going to fight them off. They engaged in group sex, and child-on-child sex and the priests would encourage it.’
For two years, Syd believes Shane suffered regular and severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those charged to provide him with care and protection.
Syd reported the sexual abuse to police within six months of Shane’s disclosures.
‘It took them three years to listen, they said he’ll have to report the abuse himself and that took some time. I went to the St John of God Order and met with a Bishop who offered what I thought was a pretty insincere apology and Shane’s since received $230,000 from the Church.’
As a result of the trauma, Syd said Shane’s education suffered and he failed to complete his higher school certificate. Syd said that the abuse clearly increased Shane’s problems.
‘He said he didn’t tell me at the time because he was ashamed and embarrassed. I used to think I’d failed because a mother would start asking more questions. He’s taken cocaine to ease the pain. I’m not making excuses, but that’s just the way it is. He’s in jail at the moment, he’s serving an eight and a half year sentence.’
Regarding the impact on himself, Syd said he was grateful for the support of his other sons and close family friends.