by Mary W Maxwell
It was rainin’ hard in Adelaide these past two days, but I was as happy as Larry — glued to the screen, watching the Royal Commission. The hearings of this 5-year program are, by the grace of God, live-streamed (from Sydney). Tune in right now if you like.
Allow me to say why the whole thing is a marvel. Although the name of the RC is “RC into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse” it may as well be called “The Royal Commission We’ve Been Needing for Decades To Get at the Issue of Unaccountable Power.”
I devoted Part 13 to showing the nature of – the horror of – bullying in the cadet ranks of the Navy. I mainly quoted two men, in their sixties, whose lives were ruined at the HMAS Leeuwin in Perth. That was the hearing of June 21. Then on June 22 the judge lashed into the supervisors.
I don’t mean ‘lashed in’ as in reprimanding. No. It was much more subtle than that. The Commissioner, Justice Peter McClellan, simply caused it to be seen how the adults in charge of the boys (who were bullied not by staff but by older boys) totally and utterly shirked their duty of care.
Asking a Supervisor To “Explain”
This is a Mr Curran, now retired from the Navy, age 75 or so:
Q. From 1970 to 1972, you served as a divisional officer,
that’s of the Stevenson Division; is that right?
Q. You retired from the Navy in 1974 and then, as I understand it, you studied and then you went teaching; is that right?
A. That’s correct.
Q. You retired from teaching in 1987?
A. Yes, that’s correct.
THE CHAIR: Q. Can I just understand – what is the
responsibility or role of a divisional officer?
A. The divisional officer, your Honour, is to look after
the welfare, supporting the junior recruit through studies, academic studies as well as naval training, and on the domestic side, with his parents, dealing with those matters.
Q. So, as it were, you are given particular responsibilities to care for the young men or boys who came into Leeuwin; is that right?
A. That is correct.
Q. So if things went wrong, in the way they were treated,
they were matters that fell within your area of responsibility?
A. They would.
MR STEWART [The questions are being asked by a barrister, Angus Stewart, SC, unless it says The Chair, i.e., the judge]
Q. Mr Curran, you say in your statement that you knew very little about what physical and sexual abuse occurred at Leeuwin; is that right?
A. That is correct.
Q. What did you know, Mr Curran, at the time? What did
you know about what physical and sexual abuse was taking
A. Well, I didn’t know very much at all, really. For those particular or specific instances, there would have been “talk” — in inverted commas — about some incidents, but I was never directly involved in any complaint or investigation.
Q. If there was talk of incidents, I take it that that means that you became aware at that time that people were saying that there were incidents of physical and sexual abuse?
A. In the context of – yes, sir, that’s correct.
THE CHAIR: Q. What did you do about it?
A. The talk, your Honour –
Q. No, what did you do?
A. What did I do about it?
A. If they concerned someone in my division, I would have called my divisional chief and we would have sought the person involved and investigated the matter.
Q. How many times did you do that?
A. I don’t think I ever did, your Honour.
Questioning Peter Sinclair
The next person called (subpoena’d? I don’t know) to give evidence was a former Navy Commander named Peter Sinclair who was later governor of New South Wales. Almost every question caused him to start using let-me-slip-away-from-the-subject language.
The judge must have had some sort of no-slip substance at hand because the Commander never got very far. I won’t bother to quote the exchange. It surely was heartening to see a man who is inherently a politician be forced to answer questions straightforwardly. Full marks to Justice McClellan!
I think I can put it this way: tricksterism cannot survive in his courtroom. (And if not in this courtroom, why should it survive in any other courtroom?)
Victims of Abuse at an Army Training Center
Boys can sign up to learn a trade in the Australian Army (electronics, plumbing, etc), as early as age 14 but more commonly at 16. Until recently they would do an apprenticeship at Balcombe Barracks in Victoria for three years. A boy wanting to be an army musician would also go there.
Most of today’s RC meeting, June 23, consisted of us listening to men who are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, from their Balcombe days 40 years ago.
The main thing I have to report is that first a man took the stand and cried. We cried with him. I heard plenty of sniffling going in on the courtroom all day. Then another man had a written statement but his brother had to read it out for him. It ended with a poem he composed.
Then came an Adelaide man who had been an apprentice musician at Balcombe. He started out with a strong voice like the voice of an announcer. You just knew he wasn’t going to “lose it.”
Hmm. He lost it. He got through most of it calmly but it all became too much when he recalled how many times he was blocked from getting help from the DVA – Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Each of those three men let us know that the Royal Commission is a real blessing to them. By gosh it’s a real blessing to me, too, and it will be to the whole nation.
As Gumshoe readers know, we are constantly working on two court cases, those of the wrongly convicted Martin Bryant and Jahar Tsarnaev. Sure we get satisfaction and relief when good people contribute — and they regularly do. But we get nowhere with the authorities. We are blocked, blocked, blocked. We get fake talk at every turn.
To have experienced the way in which the current RC is demanding truth, is an ENORMOUS relief. Heck, it could work in all the other cases, too, couldn’t it?
This courtroom feels like a courtroom. Granted it isn’t really a place for litigation or trials; it is inquisitorial. But the judge is the boss. He is quiet and modest, but we all know, don’t we. that the persons in the dock had better behave — as The Commissioner can pull out a contempt-of-court citation at his pleasure.
(Frankly it would be my pleasure if he would do that. I am sitting here watching, having intimations of what it could be like if the Bryant or Tsarnaev cases had a proper judge.)
Hope Springs Paternal
Today was an extremely happy day in my life. I never thought I would see good old-fashioned normalcy again. It was beautiful and very touching. Mostly it was hope-producing.
Just think, those men who have suffered were able to find justice. They found it mainly through the simple process of having someone at the bench clarify right and wrong. They have been needing AUTHORITY for 40 years and there it was.
I have suffered approximately nothing in my day, compared to the terror these men endured when they were vulnerable adolescents. I can’t really ‘relate,’ as they say.
But I was able to relate 100% to their relief at seeing a person carry out his duties by using the authority delegated to him by society.
Jayz, it was a great day for Australia: June 23, 2016.