Australian politics

Nov 14, 2012

“A sense of unease and misgiving” – abuse and the Catholic Church on the Tiwi islands

"They used to go up to him and sort of play with him, wanking him, some of the kids used to suck him off. And I was one of them. There was a lot of others kids too that sucked him off and wanked him.”

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Twenty years ago a young man gave his evidence to Northern Territory Police investigating allegations that the principal of his school had systematically abused children on the Tiwi Islands just to the north of Darwin.

Ten years later that evidence – supported by his oral evidence in Court and a further supporting affidavit – was recalled in his application for compensation under the Northern Territory’s criminal compensation legislation.

The evidence, which related to events when he was about ten or eleven years old and a primary school student at the St. Xavier Boys School at Nguiu was harrowing and graphic:

“In or about 1985 I went to Francis Xavier College for year 6. This assault occurred approximately one month after I commenced year 6. Brother Hallett stripped and walked naked down to the water. There were about three or four boys including myself that were near him. I saw the others begin masturbating Brother Hallett and I became curious and went over to see what was happening”.

“I remember at this time that Brother Hallett was staring at me. He then motioned to me and I went over and masturbated him for a while. I remember that Brother Hallett never said anything he would just smile and lean back.”

“I went down to the beach and I remember that Brother Hallett was with some of the same boys as from the first incident.”

“Brother Hallett again was staring at me and I once again felt out of place if I did not join in. When I touched him he smiled and I masturbated him. I remember at one stage a coastal plane came over and Brother Hallett ran up to the Ute and put his clothes back on. It was at this point that I became confused because I felt that if he was hiding what was happening then perhaps it wasn’t the right thing to do. I recall that after the coastal plane left Brother Hallett again stripped down and came back to the beach. Brother Hallett again looked at me and I knew that he wanted me to continue masturbating him and so I did. I specifically recall on this occasion that Brother Hallett ejaculated once.”

“They used to go up to him and sort of play with him, wanking him, some of the kids used to suck him off. And I was one of them. There was a lot of others kids too that sucked him off and wanked him.”

Dismissing the young man’s application for compensation the Magistrate concluded that:

“This Court, albeit with a sense of unease and misgiving … must find that the Applicant has not discharged the burden of proof incumbent upon him.”

Eight years earlier Brother John Hallett had been found guilty by a Darwin jury of two counts of committing an act of gross indecency with a male, one count with the aggravating circumstance that the victim was under the age of fourteen years. The alleged offences were said to have occurred between 1989 and 2003. On 25 May 1995 Hallett was sentenced to five years’ jail on one count and three on the second, to be served concurrently and with a fixed non-parole period of two years.

Five months later Hallett’s appeal of his conviction was heard by three judges of the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal.

That appeal was successful and Hallett’s convictions were quashed.

The allegations against Brother Hallett emerged in 1993. As Chips Mackinolty and Gay Alcorn reported in the Fairfax press at the time:

At least 40 children on the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, have claimed they were sexually abused by Brother Hallet over a period of three to four years while he was principal of St Xavier’s Boys’ School on Bathurst Island. The boys’ school is next to a co-educational Catholic school … The Christian Brothers order has run the boys’ school at the community of Nguiu on Bathurst Island since 1977. There are 94 children now enrolled at the school.

Commander Terry O’Brien, of the NT Police Crime Division … said that as part of their investigation police would examine instances where people might have failed to report suspected cases of child abuse. Under Northern Territory law, such reports are mandatory. Police and welfare workers investigated last December allegations of sexual abuse made by a teacher, but did not find any evidence of abuse. Commander O’Brien said police resumed the investigation in July following another complaint.

He said that language problems had made the initial police investigation difficult. “There was no hard evidence from anyone that this had been occurring. We tried to talk with children, rumours were circulating, we tried to pick these things up but we didn’t,” Commander O’Brien said. “Aboriginal children are traditionally shy. While we may have the statements from them, they would not necessarily be in a position or be willing to give evidence in court.”

The centrality of the Catholic Church –  which in 2011 celebrated 100 years of mission to the Tiwi – to life on the islands was confirmed by the then Vicar-General of the Northern Territory Catholic Church, Father Tim Brennan, who said the majority of people on the islands were baptised Catholics.

“The church is part of their world. For the majority of people there, their whole life has been lived with the Catholic Church as part of their community.”

By 1999 the Tiwi Islands were in the grip of a suicide epidemic. As Heather Stewart reported on the ABC’s 7.30 Report from Darwin in August that year:

HEATHER STEWART: The Tiwi Islands, 80kms north of Darwin, are home to a proud and vibrant Aboriginal community. But despite this idyllic setting, the islands of Bathurst and Melville are the scene of a mysterious tragedy.

DR CHRIS HARRISON, RESIDENT MEDICAL PRACTITIONER: In the last few years on the Tiwi Islands there have been over 100 attempts at suicide. This equates to an overall incidence of approximately 1 in 16 to 1 in 20 people on the islands actually attempting some form of suicide.

Stewart spoke to Bernard Tipiloura, a deacon in the Catholic Church whose 19 year old nephew died committed suicide the year before. Bernard Tipiloura suspected that sexual abuse may have been a contributing factor in his nephew’s death. He told Stewart that his nephew was:

” … very ashamed to live after what he has gone through in the school … we think that’s part of the European brother, you know, having sexual with these young people, because they are in their early 20s now. I think that’s part of it. And also when they get caught in no-man’s land, they can’t go the Europeans’ way or they can’t go our way and they end their life.

The Catholic Church was having none of that. Then Bishop Ted Collins told Stewart that:

That alleged abuse was quite a few years ago now, not just a couple of years ago. At the time, there was counselling that went on and I just wonder whether this is an excuse for the abuse of alcohol and smoking marijuana that’s going on … I think they’re trying to put the blame somewhere outside the people rather than acknowledge that it’s happening within the people. Maybe that’s what all that is.”
Whether the recently announced Federal Royal Commission into institutional abuse will uncover what happened on the Tiwi Islands remains to be seen. While any comprehensive review of past events and allegations would be widely seen as necessary and valuable, there are real concerns that including allegations of past institutional abuse in the as-yet vague endeavour proposed by the Federal government won’t inspire much confidence that relevant issues will be appropriately and constructively addressed.

Trying to record reliable testimony from victims of sexual assault back in the mid to late-1990’s was hard enough. Doing it now would be nigh on impossible, a task was made all the more difficult by indications of abusive behaviour by some of the victims themselves and by others not the target of any investigation at the time.

Whether the recently announced Federal Royal Commission into institutional abuse will uncover what happened on the Tiwi Islands remains to be seen. While any comprehensive review of past events and allegations would be widely seen as necessary and valuable, there are real concerns that including allegations of past institutional abuse in the as-yet vague endeavour proposed by the Federal government won’t inspire much confidence that relevant issues will be appropriately and constructively addressed.

If there is any lesson to be learned from the way the Nanette Rogers dossier and the Mutitjulu child sex allegations led to the Little Children Are Sacred Report and then to the NT Intervention, it is that when politicians get the opportunity to make a grand statement of principle in relation to evil of child sex abuse everyone usually loses – including the victims.

One view expressed by a local lawyer with long experience in sexual assault cases in the NT is telling.

“If what was proposed by the Federal inquiry was a single term of reference devoted to exploring the extent to which churches have been involved in deliberate cover-ups over many years I think my view would be a bit different. Applied to the Tiwi islands situation, that would enable evidence to be extracted from the Church which might reveal whether or not the Church had been in possession of incriminating information which was not made available to the Northern Territory Police and Director of Public Prosecutions at the time.
But as to the utility of some kind of roadshow in which adult Tiwi victims would “tell their story” there is the very real sense that the only ones to benefit would be the lawyers – and the media.

Following the NT Police investigations in Darwin in 1993 Brother Hallett moved voluntarily to a retreat and later to Brisbane’s Nudgee College, where he worked in the property and services department, a role that did not involve contact with students. Yesterday Crikey contacted Brother Hallett and the Christian Brother’s Professional Standards unit for information on Brother Hallett’s movements in the years since the Court cases discussed above but that office declined to provide any information, considering the matter closed.

Brother Hallett did not respond. Crikey understands that Brother Hallett is currently employed by a Church-related business in Queensland.

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9 thoughts on ““A sense of unease and misgiving” – abuse and the Catholic Church on the Tiwi islands

  1. Danny Haszard

    Jehovah’s Witnesses hit with $28 million sex abuse settlement Oakland,Calif.-Google it.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have many issues with sexual molestation of children.The religion and its members are more concerned about protecting the group image than the victims.

    TWO WITNESSES required.
    The Jehovah’s Witnesses require ‘two witnesses’ to a crime or it didn’t happen,you are supposed to ‘leave it in
    Jehovah’s hands’ wait on the lord.
    How many pedophiles allow an eyewitness?
    These people engage in a door to door ministry, possibly exposing children to pedophiles.
    The Watchtower corporation has paid out millions in settlement money already.

    Danny Haszard *tell the truth don’t be afraid*

  2. Bob Gosford

    As I’m reminded by a response a few years ago here by Kevin Naughton and this morning by Wendy Carlisle “The Bro Hallett story was broken by Wendy Carlisle and Kevin Naughton in ’92 on AM. Dave Nason had a splash in Oz.” I’ve yet to locate those sources and will update as needed. Thanks to Wendy for reminding me … BG

  3. donald blowers

    What Good Men Do?

    What makes a man want to deny his heart,
    the chance to join with another?
    Why would a good man deny his part,
    in a life with a girl like his mother.

    Why would a man want to deny his blood,
    the chance to flow through the ages.
    At some point in life it will rush like a flood
    and stain all the good bible pages.

    Some innocent people are caught as a child,
    they are lied to, abused and blamed.
    Then life is a struggle, forever wild,
    unstable and always ashamed.

    What makes a church turn a blind eye,
    while monsters are granted respect.
    What makes a good man stand and deny.
    What would their Jesus expect?

    I know some good men, they’re never afraid
    to stand up and look in the mirror.
    We don’t have to show them mistakes they have made.
    When a mother is crying, they hear her.

    Why tell a priest that he must not express,
    what he needs, that he’s somehow above it?
    His heart must deny the joys of the flesh.
    Although it’s a lie, he must love it.

  4. Bob Gosford

    From the Darwin ABC website this afternoon:

    People can decide on child abuse inquiry: Bishop
    By Anthea Kissell
    Updated 4 hours 6 minutes ago

    The Catholic Bishop of the Northern Territory says the people of the Tiwi Islands should decide if a Royal Commission is to revisit an alleged child sexual abuse case.

    Brother John Hallett was accused of systematically abusing boys at the Francis Xavier Boys School at Nguiu from the mid-1980s to 2003.

    He was found guilty of a number of offences by a Darwin jury but his convictions were later quashed on appeal.

    At least forty children had claimed they were sexually abused by Brother Hallett.

    Territory police in 1997 said that language problems had made gathering evidence difficult during their initial investigation.

    Bishop Eugene Hurley says he would welcome a commission investigating the matter if the Tiwi people supported that.

    “That is entirely up to those people,” he said.

    “Some may want that to happen and I would certainly support it if they do that, if it was up to me,” he said.

    “But I’d want to listen really carefully to what they want and not just go barging into their lives on the grounds that we think it is a good thing.”

    Bishop Hurley says removing the sanctity of the confessional would deter potential child abusers from seeking help.

    Federal Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne says priests have a responsibility to report crimes to police, even if it means breaking church rules.

    Bishop Hurley says a person who confesses child abuse to a priest would be advised to go to the police and be given counselling.

    He says priests, like lawyers, should uphold their responsibilities.

    “It is something I would die for,” he said.

    “As a priest you are required never to reveal what you have heard in confession.

    “People making these sorts of glib statements don’t understand.”

  5. Grover Jones

    Every day I hear these stories, I thank (whomever) that I grew up in a stable home with two parents who loved me, and never laid a hand on me or my siblings.

  6. wamut

    Thanks for this post Bob. I wasn’t aware of any of this. It’s important for Territorians to know that we are not outside of this matter. (And for the rest of Australia to realise that it’s affected Territorians too).

  7. Liz45

    What to say! Just appalling. If any of the victims have read this article, I’d just like them to know how disgusted I feel by the way they were treated – including the injustices in the judicial system. I feel for them! I hope they get a chance to tell their stories if they feel strong enough to do so! I commend their courage!

  8. Fnarf

    Do you know how Brother Hallett got to the Tiwi Islands? Because this sounds very familiar to a case here in the US, wherein “problem priests” accused of sex abuse in populous parts of the lower 48 were shipped off by Church officials to remote Native villages in Alaska, where they were able to continue raping children for many years. This appears to have been standard Church policy, or at least Northwest Jesuit policy — don’t investigate, just ship them out to the boonies where no one can see. Certainly never, ever let the case be handled by the police or other authorities; it’s Church business, none of yours. There are many similarities between the treatment of our Native peoples and your Aboriginal peoples, of course.

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