Ambrose grew up in a small country town in Western Australia. He had been playing in the Salvation Army band for a while when a new Salvation Army officer arrived in the town, fresh from training in Melbourne.
‘Everything was all right for the first month or so – then it all started’, Ambrose told the Commissioner.
The new officer, Gavin Binsdale, sexually molested and raped Ambrose on multiple occasions. The abuse occurred in the church and in Binsdale’s quarters behind the church. It also took place in Binsdale’s car, when Binsdale was meant to be driving Ambrose to band performances in nearby towns.
It was the early 1960s and Ambrose was 14.
Ambrose was persistent in trying to report what was happening but no one would believe him.
First of all he told the Salvation Army divisional commander.
‘I sat him down and said this is what’s been going on – the sexual abuse, everything … I said it’s been going on for a few months. He said, “An officer wouldn’t do that”. I said, “Well, I‘m telling you now: that’s what happened, and that’s how it is”. I described everything in detail.’
Ambrose told another officer who also refused to believe him. Next Ambrose went to the police. The policeman didn’t even take notes, Ambrose said. He told his parents. Everywhere he turned he was told the same thing: ‘An officer wouldn’t do that’.
‘I knew in my mind, it shouldn’t have happening. Even though I was only young. And I couldn’t work it out why no one wanted to listen and do anything’, Ambrose recalled.
‘It’s funny, you know, everyone thinks that a minister of religion is pure. You can’t touch ‘em, kind of thing.’
After some months. Ambrose had ‘just had enough of it’. He decided the only thing he could do was leave. He went and spoke to his mother, who was working at a restaurant in town. ‘I said “Mum, I’m sorry to say, I’ve had enough of here – I’m off to Melbourne”.
At age 15, Ambrose caught the train to Melbourne, got off at Flinders St Station, and found a job and somewhere to stay. He worked on the trams for several years before being called up for national service in the late 1960s – the best thing that ever happened to him, Ambrose told the Commissioner.
Two or three years after Ambrose left for Melbourne he heard that Binsdale had been transferred to a boys’ home in Perth. ‘I was all against that, because I knew what was going on.’ But when he tried to alert the Salvation Army to the risk, he found that attitudes hadn’t changed: it wouldn’t happen, he was told.
Some nine or 10 years ago he read in the newspaper that Binsdale had been arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. ‘I thought, “About time”’, Ambrose said.
Even now, Ambrose told the Commissioner, he is troubled by vivid memories of the abuse. They disturb his sleep and haunt him as flashbacks when he’s awake. ‘It’s like you’re seeing a picture, put in front of you. I can see this face … Everything is so clear. When you get these flashbacks and that, it just makes you want to throw up. And it keeps coming back.’
Ambrose has not sought compensation and has not been to the police again. They should have acted when he first reported the abuse, he said. At this point, having tried so many times to be heard, he is ready to give up.
‘You’re going over the same thing every time. And the pain, you take it with you all the time’, he said.
Ambrose was married for several years but it didn’t work out. He told his wife about his experiences but said it didn’t help. ‘You just can’t seem to get it out of the body, you know? That’s why I’m single now, I’ve been single for years. I’m happy.’
Ambrose still plays music and is still a band member. ‘That’s my way of release and relaxation … I’m doing something I enjoy, you know. Forget about everything else.’