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The Desert of Redemption?

Keith Davis Vs The Catholic Church

In early April 2019 I jumped in my venerable X-Trail and headed west and alone into the Australian desert. After the finalisation of my case against the Catholic Church I needed clear air, I needed blue sky, I needed wider spaces, I badly needed a gallon of the finest shiraz, and I desperately craved a sense of redemption. It ended up being, to my surprise, a 7000k long journey.

It became a road trip of unfolding thoughts and imaginings. Near Kata Tjuta (known by some as the Olgas) in the Northern Territory, just slightly further out than Uluru, I dug as deep into the red sand as my hands were capable, and threw into that hole a lifetime’s worth of hate and bitterness and loneliness and sorrow. I covered that hole and walked away. Ha, the author of that particular self-help book has long banked my money, but it was certainly worth a try.

Unknown by me at the time, the planning for this desert journey started 61 years ago, in 1958. I was 5 years old. That year, because of a family breakup, I was passed along into the untender care and unmercy of the staff of St. Vincent’s Catholic Orphanage in Nudgee, Queensland. Over the course of my life, until recently, I felt that after 1958 the essential who-ness of me, and whatever future potential I may have had, was beaten bloodily into the dirt.

From what little I can glean of my life before St. Vincents, apparently I was a reasonably smart, if somewhat precocious, child. Perhaps so, perhaps not, I’ll never really know. Then other things happened. Oral and anal rape. Humiliation. Mental cruelty. Physical assault. All of those things leave a future legacy in the life of a young child. They led to a stunted life for me, a life of unrealised potential. There is no point in labouring the point, that life has been lived. There is only now.

A friend asked me if the journey into the desert furnished me with a greater understanding of the meaning of my life than the cherished term 42 ever did. Perhaps, but not in any way that I would have expected.

I expected the holy grail of forgiveness for the perpetrators, redemption of my soul from the razoring of horror, and the regaining of a long-lost sense of calmness, a freedom from the yoke of anxiety. Naturally enough, none of those things happened, for that is the beauty of the folly of that thing called expectation.

During the journey I really did expect, that at some point, I would pull off onto a side track and get out of the car and scream my heart and soul out into the vastness of the desert. After all it could be argued that I had just cause.

My case was finalised just before Xmas. The payout cannot legally be talked about, there was no apology offered, no remorse shown, and no remedial therapy was offered. I was done over like a dinner and then some. But I did not jump out of the car and scream my guts out.

The journey of a lifetime is just that, it is the journey of a lifetime, and the value of it cannot be undervalued and frittered away by some angsty dramatic theatrical shout into an empty desert.

So, the desert journey. Any lessons?

Firstly, it taught me that any older person, male or female, need not be ‘adventureless’ in their later years. Who’d have thought that at 66 years of age I’d embark on a 7000k road trip that would make Thelma and Louise’s effort seem like nothing more than a short doddle to the local store. Gosh … there are some tales I could tell!

The journey taught me that we live in a country so huge that the very word huge is nowhere near huge enough to describe it all. It also made me reflect upon what a small-hearted country we are turning it into because of aspirational greed, lack of social justice for the disadvantaged, and a pretense of care for the environment and climate.

It taught me also that there is more than one form of desert. There is the desert of red sand, and red rock, and blue sky. A desert of unparalleled beauty. There is also the desert of the heart.

Some of us, we who are known as ‘survivors’, and that is a term not of our choosing, were desertified against our choice. Our hearts were exploded out and dried into barrenness by other human beings who were supposedly our carers.

All I can say is that at some point in the desert journey I began to feel the slightest of hints that moisture was re-entering my heart. That might not sound like much of a redemptive experience to you, but to me, and to many of my compatriates who had similar childhood experiences to mine, it is the stuff of life itself. It was worth the drive.

So. The Trip. What else came out of it?

Well, I would love to say that I have forgiven the Catholic Church for what was done to me. If I could say that I would probably feel wonderfully good about what a wonderful person I have turned out to be. But I cannot say it.

They abused me when I was a child, and they then turned around and abused me again with the terms of their legal Settlement. That’s how it is, and despite the grand PR words the Church spreads about in the media, that’s what they did to me and that’s how the case played out. Once I emerge from the second round of abuse-recovery I might be in a position to consider forgiving them for the first round of abuse.

I certainly learned that I have many things in my current life that I am grateful to have. I have love and friendship in my life. I have humour in my life. Those things remain beyond the reach of the Catholic Church.

I am grateful for something the medico-legal psychiatrist on my case said to me. He said ‘you are one of the few I’ve known who has emerged from such an experience with your personality intact’. That meant a lot to me. Despite all, my who-ness managed to squeak through. My quirkiness is truly my own, how bloody amazing is that!

Through the playing out of my case I also learned that there are, yes there really are, some good and loving hearts in the legal profession.

Lastly, in the most serious vein, the trip taught me that being stranded in the desert is not necessarily a death sentence. The heart can re-grow. Evil’s legacy can be turned away. Love is all. I earned the right to say these words.

Keith Davis is a citizen journalist. He is an implacable foe of social injustice, and he is a strong believer in the inevitable implementation of a Universal Basic Income in Australia. He has a varied background, including print media publishing, not-for-profit group administration, and Indigenous sector project management. He fully supports the notion of Treaty. He writes from the heart, believes that whimsy and thoughts out of left-field have at least as much power as logic and reason, and does not limit himself to any one particular topic or theme.

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  1. Perkin Wetkecks

    A sad but uplifting tale. I am glad you found redemption, at least as a human being. As for the church(es), I am the product of a mixed marriage, Liverpool-Irish Catholic mother and Liverpool-Irish proddy father. And I grew up thinking both sides were dickheads. I never understood how rational people could swallow the tale of a God who made man in his image and then sent his son to humans to torture.
    Although the beauty of Notre Dame is undoubted, let the Vatican repair their own effing church – they have enough loot.

  2. Josephus

    A moving tale. I am sorry no kind family member took you in as a child.

    I imagine that you gazed upward at the huge firmament unpolluted by city light and wondered at the countless stars overhead. All those worlds, barren, dead, glowing hot suns or asteroids. (Pity about the man made junk up there… )

    Much sympathy for Perkin’s comments. A virgin gives birth, her dead son wafts up to heaven; later so does his Mum, both of them for ever circling some distant star, I used to ponder with amusement. I would watch the rice paper wafers that somehow became Godlike when a magic- man whispered a few words over them- abracadabra.

    I imagine that you escaped all imprisoning superstitions as you looked up into that desert sky.

    The birds and animals of Australia are the true miracles – I have watched a roo mother repeatedly caressing her half grown young one’s face with her paws. Love isn’t just human.

  3. Perkin Wetkecks

    Have you ever seen elephants grieving and comforting a dying baby or other herd member? Very deeply moving, each of them stroking the dying animal, staying until it dies.
    I always think that if God made man in his own image, then God is a vindictive arsehole, and probably American.

  4. Keitha Granville

    Thanks for the moving tale. Definitely not to older persons having an adventure, we are planning a similar trek next year, and are most certainly old 😋

    There is nothing can be said by anyone that redeems the church, and the perpetrators of abuse, nothing. No amount of cash makes it better, although they should be made to pay massive amounts of cash.

    Keep on adventuring, keep on writing, keep on healing, if that’s possible. You are certainly a survivor, and so much more than any of those who profess faith in a church that allowed such terror and horror to exist.

  5. wam

    A tale reminding me how I hate my taxes paying for indoctrination of the kids trapped in thetiny catholics school the church built with money stolen from the stimulus funding.
    I drive from Darwin to Yarrawonga twice a year and see the st marys mackillop, our lady sacred heart, holy family and dozens of other christian installations
    I have no understanding of how priests brothers and women could be such viscous abusers of children but I am forever grateful for my dad taking me with him when the monthly travelling priest came leaving the girls to his wafer and wine.
    But can understand the power of the desrert.
    We drove to adelaide most xmases from the late 60s till the end of the 80s we stopped when tired and camped. The girls on a mattress in the back and the boys on the roof mattress. From the marbles to lake hart is peace every night. The stars put everything in perspective and show how insignificant the god of Abraham or any other of man’s religions is.
    It is so tragic that these white men and women did so much evil to white kids what chance did Aborigines have then or now?

  6. Perkin Wetkecks

    Tax the churches. They are corporations anyway, with grasping middle managers exploiting a naive CEO who thinks that mankind is full of the milk of human kindness instead of pricks like Pell, Trump, Putin etc.

  7. Mary Mannison

    You may find Raven, a six-episode story (SBS On Demand) from Poland of interest.

  8. Alcibiades

    Keith, always so very hard to tell the tale. Well done. They did not break you, you survived. Grasp & enjoy all that you may to the end of days, in defiance. Wishing you all the personal serenity & joy you may find & more, limitless internal strength & resilience to endure recurring trauma, now knowing full well there truly are good & decent people you can trust, who are there for you in time of need.


  9. Baby Jewels

    Thank you Keith. Your words described better than any others I’ve read, the devastation of lives, this despicable conglomerate, the Catholic Church, (and others) caused to so many. Heartbreakingly so. Stomach churning, when I look back on my poor but safe and loved childhood growing up in NZ while this abomination was being inflicted on other children. Still, people will attend this church over Easter, seemingly forgiving, perhaps ignoring, what this church has done over many decades. I don’t get it.

  10. paul walter

    Baby Jewels, don’t comments on this issue invoke the sense of a deep cringe, sort of like ducking when a grenade explodes, when the suffering element is recalled a little and nausea begins to set in.

  11. Sarah Corbett.

    So glad that you have finally managed to put this to rest, and still remain relatively mentally healthy.

  12. Kaye Lee

    You do not have to forgive. Some things are beyond forgiveness. Just take your life back from them. (Easy for me to say…but your words give me hope that maybe you can. You’re a damn fine writer)

    I have also found that dwelling on whether ‘justice’ has been served can be soul-destroying. Those with the most power and money control the legal system. It is never about real justice.

    I think your trip sounds amazing. You understand what has happened to you, you understand it wasn’t your fault, you understand that it nevertheless still affects you, and you did not let that stop you from a journey of discovery – whether that was of nature or people you met or yourself is immaterial.

    All experiences in life, good and bad, teach us things. They make us the unique individuals that we are. The words you have written here are honest and hopeful. Here’s to that healthy heart pumping strongly as you embark on the next stage of your life. We people in our sixties have a real role to play in using what we have learned from our past to help make a better future.

    The courage of you and others has made a real difference and saved others from suffering.

    Thank you.

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