When Andy heard about the Royal Commission he decided he wanted to put his hand up and say – it happened to me.
Born in the late 1930s, Andy had never spoken about the abuse he experienced as a child. Until he revealed it to the Commission, it was a secret he had carried his whole life.
‘I think one of the reasons I didn’t say anything is I was ashamed. You can’t dress that up. It was bloody awful’, Andy told the Commissioner.
Andy’s abuser was an instructor at an after-school gymnasium he went to once a week. Andy was in his final year of primary school at the time.
When Andy first started going to the gymnasium his older brother went too and gave Andy a ride there and back on his bicycle. Tragically, his brother died later that year. After a short break his parents decided Andy should go back to the gym. At the end of the exercise session he would walk home, either alone or with other boys. Sometimes he accepted a ride with the gym instructor, Roger Jilper, a tall and imposing man well known in the small South Australian town for his prowess at football.
Jilper would often come to the boys’ dressing room after exercise sessions and offer a ride home. One day Andy sat in the front seat of the car, and after the other boys had been dropped off Jilper exposed himself to Andy. ‘His penis was erect and he took my hand and made me rub his erection until he ejaculated, all the time still driving the car.’
The abuse happened often after that. ‘I don’t think it only happened to me, it happened to others’, Andy said. But although there was an understanding among the boys that it was best to stay away from Jilper, no one was explicit about why.
Jilper told Andy he was not to tell anyone about what he was doing, and Andy obeyed.
‘Roger Jilper, like it or not, was an authority figure, and children in that era didn’t question authority figures, be they doctors, lawyers, teachers or whatever’, Andy explained. ‘Had I said “Gee, the teachers are hard on me, Mum”, she would have said “Well, that’s your fault”. That’s the way it really was. I therefore didn’t tell anyone.’
He asked his parents if he could stop going to the gym sessions and they said no. But when Jilper invited Andy and another boy away to his holiday home for the weekend, his father didn’t allow him to go. Andy suspected his father had heard something about Jilper in the town. ‘It was the only time he ever offered any solution’, Andy said. ‘We didn’t have too many discussions, my father and I.’
Andy was a high academic achiever at primary school but when he got to high school his marks dropped away. His capacity to concentrate and study was badly affected by his experiences with Jilper, he believes. ‘I barely passed most things’, he said. Eventually, this became the excuse he needed to stop going to the gym sessions.
‘I said to my mum, “I’m not going any more, because my marks are terrible’’’, he told the Commissioner. His mother, he said, ‘didn’t ask too much about it’, but agreed that he could give up gym to focus on his study.
Andy went on to have a successful career in the army, serving in Vietnam and elsewhere in South East Asia. ‘I think eventually I recovered the ground that I’d lost’, he said.
He has had a ‘wonderful’ marriage and eventually settled with his wife in South Australia, where they took over his parents’ farm. They have raised children together.
Andy suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in the Vietnam War and at one time felt suicidal. He sought counselling and found it very helpful. He felt he had recovered from the trauma of the childhood abuse – though the prospect of telling his story to the Commission has brought memories of it back, and kept him awake at night. He planned now to seek out others who had been at the gym sessions with him to ask if they also had been abused by Jilper.
He believed the environment now is one where such abuse is much less likely to occur.
‘I think that time and the different attitudes of society have changed the problem … I think people are so much more understanding’, he said.