Education helped Bruce come to terms with his abuse

Bruce Fitzgerald. Photo supplied.

Education was the key to unlocking a positive outcome for childhood abuse survivor, Bruce Fitzgerald.

Growing up being told “you’re ugly” by members of his family left Bruce Fitzgerald struggling to believe in his worth. The torment of mental abuse was made worse by the severe physical and sexual abuse he was subjected to, all of which added up to create a childhood made of nightmares.

Mr Fitzgerald endured a childhood that many would have struggled to survive. But he has overcome the trauma to realise his dream of a university education.

He recently graduated from Australian Catholic University (ACU) with a Bachelor of Arts after first completing the Certificate of Liberal Studies through Clemente Australia, an innovative university pathway program that empowers people experiencing social isolation and multiple disadvantages.

Clemente Australia students are often dealing with complex social issues, such as mental illness, disability, addiction, unemployment, homelessness or family breakdown that can make studying difficult.

By focusing on the humanities, the Clemente Australia program supports students to re-engage with their community while enabling them to see themselves as agents of change. Student benefits include increased self-esteem, improved social connections and more structured lives.

Mr Fitzgerald now wants to use his university education to help others realise new possibilities and life choices.

“The worst part of my childhood was the mental abuse. Being blamed for everything that was wrong and then constantly being told how ugly I was,” he said.

Mr Fitzgerald was a bright child and did well academically in both primary and high school, despite his difficult home life.

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“I did well in form 5 (now year) 11. My marks were as follows, 90 per cent for accounting, 89 per cent for economics and 87 per cent for legal studies,” he said.

“The only subject I failed was English – 47 per cent. But I was expelled for non-attendance so I went to work.”

Most of his working life involved heavy labour in the metal industry. It was during this time that he began to suffer mental health issues that developed into injecting drug use and a heavy drinking problem. The drug use left him with serious health issues, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

“In 2011, I was put on the pension which meant I was able to start the Hepatitis C cure. It was 12 months of pure hell. I was very unwell but now I am free of the disease,” he said. “It was after I finished treatment and feeling at a loose end that I started the Clemente Australia program.”

ACU first introduced Clemente to Australia 15 years ago and variations of the program are now run through all campuses of the University. Clemente Australia’s National Leader ACU Associate Professor Peter Howard has been there from the beginning, leading the establishment of Clemente Australia in 2003.

Professor Howard said, “Clemente Australia is all about bringing people together. Clemente is a program that is transformational – it creates new opportunities for people.”

And the results speak for themselves. The program has produced hundreds of graduates with many choosing to undertake further studies, including Mr Fitzgerald who went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts at ACU.

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“Clemente Australia opens doors to new opportunities. Everyone is always helpful – there was always support available from the staff,” he said.

“The best way to battle mental illness is to keep doing things. Getting involved and learning new things such as philosophy and sociology.”

And the best is yet to come for Mr Fitzgerald. After a competitive interview process, he has commenced working for ACU, as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Graduate. The Program provides a two-year, broad-based employment experience across two ACU directorates, Student Administration and Community Engagement.

Source: Australian Catholic University.


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  • Monica Phelan 5 years

    What a great story ! Congratulations Bruce Fitzgerald on overcoming such undeserved adversity. You should be very proud of your achievements. All the Best for your new employment? I am sure you will do well.
    As a Vinnies volunteer I often inform people of the Clemente programme but do not know if they take it up. So it is heartening to hear of your success.