by Mary W Maxwell
Today was the first session of hearings regarding Defense Force participation in the practice of sexual abuse of minors. This is “Case Study 40” of the Royal Commission. It will be live-streamed every day until July 1st and deserves your attention.
In this article I will present the testimony of two victims, and in a later article look into the complicated issue of statutory compensation and civil lawsuits.
This segment of the RC’s hearings differs from ones about the church, or boarding schools, or Boy Scouts. In those cases, the focus was on the masters in charge who heard about an individual pedophile running rampant and did nothing to stop it. Today’s testimony was about boys on board the HMAS Leeuwin who were violently dealt with by older boys.
I was really shocked by what I heard from two of the men who were there around 1972, being cadets of age 15 or so. They reported to the HMAS Leeuwin in West Australia for a one-year training and were raped and beaten. Following that, there was the usual story of officials standing in the way of making the facts known.
First Testifier — June 21, 2016, around 11.00am
I arrived with other recruits by bus. We were shouted at for money and cigarettes. We were told to speak to the Leading Seaman if we had any problems. Our commander said “Don’t stuff up or you’ll feel the full force of Navy discipline.”
There would be a staff officer in each block and a chaplain who said he had no rank and was therefore equal to any and all ranks. I never saw a Recruit’s Handbook.
I was called to see the petty officer of Navy police; I innocently rested my hands on his desk. He swung his arm across my chest and sent me flying across the room. I was homesick but after this I became depressed and feared for my life. It was pointless to seek help.
There were threats and bullying and physical attacks from older grubs. Boys were stripped naked and forced to run a gauntlet, hit with pillows filled with cans and football boots. I suffered many midnight raids, woken to face gauntlets or had my penis rubbed till I had an erection. I lost a tooth after one of these raids.
Boys were thrown into cold showers by staff who hid their identities. They hit me on the back with a large lump of wood. I was made to carry other boys on my back while doing a duck walk. This may have been the start of my back problems.
I never reported it, nor did I seek medical attention. They said [if you go to a doctor with bruises] pretend you ran into a door; if you dob, your life will be hell. I was sexually abused and forced to play sexual acts on juniors such as oral sex and masturbation. I was raped by another junior who was directed to do so by staff.
Getting it over with seemed the best solution. Officers who took part were not going to do anything for prevention. A deterrent was the sense of being a dobber and also the shame. At that point I knew little about sex. The shame was overpowering. I did not describe it to my father as I was too ashamed. I want him to help me get a discharge from the Navy. He replied with stories of his life and said “It will make a man of you.”
In the second year I went into some hiding place within myself. I would cry sobs of bitterness and cried out for God to kill me. I was filled with a sense of guilt and cowardice.
After 6 months, I tried to tell my father, but felt disgust, mingled with self-hatred. To deal with it he paid for me to take boxing lessons. This helped a bit against the stronger boys.
I made an appointment to see the chaplain. He said “It might be better if you don’t do anything. If it ever got around that you ratted on predators…” He himself may have been scared, as he had no rank they could do anything. He never told me if he passed it on….
I witnessed others “milking the cow” — one boy masturbated on all fours, undressed. I disappeared and hid in a small cave. Another junior came in and said the abuse was subhuman. We developed a plan to escape Leeuwin for just long enough to be considered a deserter and be given a court martial, so I could tell anyone who would listen.
That April 29, 1968, the other boy and I escaped to Kalgoolie. When we went to police and were locked up, and taken back, they locked me up and kept me in a cell for weeks. At night I was abused by the navy police orally and buggery. I had no choice but surrender.
I wrote I had wanted a discharge because I was unhappy. Prior to the court martial I was visited and asked if I wanted to resolve it. He said the court martial process was expensive for the Navy.
Lt Commander Johnston visited me and said they could send a representative on my behalf if I wanted him to represent me. He asked me what I really wanted to achieve from the court martial.
I said I wanted to be discharged from the Navy. I told him I wanted it on record what made me desert. He said he felt I would make a good sailor and academically was doing well. I said I couldn’t take the bastardization anymore.
He said I should let him do all the talking at the court martial. I wanted the world at large to know. I felt that surely if the situation were exposed action would be taken. [But in his statement] he said I was a troublemaker and would never make a good seaman.
I was in total shock. I felt duped and my mind was reeling at the betrayal. The judge made his decision to discharge me, and all my back pay and leave pay were taken. H said I was a disgrace to my family. I was caught between elation at being released form hell and not being paid.
I went home feeling like a total failure. My experience only taught me that those with authority could not be trusted. In 1969, I met my wife; I needed a secure job. I joined the RAAF in September, and graduated at Edinburgh [near Adelaide].
There, I was told that a Judge Rapkee in Sydney was doing an inquiry into Leeuwin. I was escorted to the judge by shore patrolmen.
They said “If you say anything you are going to pay a very dear price. We have people at the top in all services.” I wanted to tell him to get stuffed, but I thought about my responsibilities to my young family. I limited to only implicating some of the junior recruits.
He asked whether any staff were involved. He stated “There were no staff members, right ? It was merely boys being boys, right?” He did not ask me if I had tried to report. The entire interview was brief. I felt the only reason was to exonerate the staff at Leeuwin. Old boys looking after each other.
Second Testifier – June 21, 2016, around 3.00pm
At Leeuwin there is a new intake of boys every three months, so for one year there are always four groups, and these are an unofficial hierarchy. The new ones are called new grubs. The next are grubs, shits, and top shits.
Classes finished at 4pm, then there were military drills, chores such as ironing uniforms, and spit-polishing the boots. At 9pm they turned the lights out. I witnessed the bashing of Shawn Conley. His parents complained to media, which led to an inquest by Judge Rabkee. In my view the report swept what happened under the carpet.
Four top shits came into my room and dragged me to the toilets. They thrust something into my backside, I think it was a broom handle. Then they said “We’re not finished with you yet.” They said “You have to lick the urinal.” I was terrified.
My backside continued to bleed for three day. I was afraid someone would see the blood. Next day at physical training I was so sore it was hard to walk. I went to the Leading Seaman. He said “If you’ve come here to fuckin’ whinge, piss off and harden up.”
It has affected all aspects of my life – health, relationships, and career. Since 1999 I have been treated for alcohol dependence and anxiety, and took anti-depressants. Continued to see a counselor for feelings of anger, shame and worthlessness.
I attempted suicide once but my son stopped me. I sometimes have three showers a day because I cannot control my bowels. I have nightmares of people attacking me. I keep a baseball bat under the bed and windows must be shut at night. Drinking has been the only thing that takes my anxiety away.
This is new to me – I being a girl. I had heard of hazing by college fraternities and read Kay Griggs’ very graphic account of what goes on among US Navy officers, but little did any of us think the cadet system in Australia was so hazardous.
The word pedophilia does not seem to apply here. Even the phrase “child sexual abuse” is not the phenomenon under study here, although we should be glad that the Royal Commission reached out to that area as part of its mission.
I am trying to refrain from projecting my prejudice onto these new reports, that is, my belief that everything is controlled from the top. The practice of older stronger males being aggressive toward weaker ones is of course ordinary human nature.
We do, however, see the usual cover-up. No one at the top gets punished.
I was left wondering if the “bastardization” (as it is called), which is intended to break the spirit of the recruit, is part of a greater plan to reduce everyone to a less dignified person that we would otherwise be.
And if so, for what purpose?
Photo credit: divejervisbay.com