In the mid-1980s, Anthony was 12 years old and a member of his local scout troop. His father was part of Royal Australian Air Force personnel and scout meetings were held in defence force accommodation. Hugo Nelson was an air force officer, aged in his mid to late 20s who started helping out with scouting activities. Not long after he arrived, Nelson sexually abused Anthony as well as two of his friends, Justin and Charlie.
In preparation for a weekend scouting event, Anthony and his friends stayed in Nelson’s unit because they were to leave early in the morning to travel. Nelson told the boys to shower and then approached each of them, rubbing their bodies with soap and saying he wanted to ‘make sure you guys are all nice and clean’.
Anthony didn’t think much about this but later in his unit, Nelson brought out ‘child pornography - books and photos, lots of them’.
‘I think he was trying to gauge the three of us on how we were reacting with it and who was taking an interest in it and who wasn’t … I was shocked. I just didn’t know what I was looking at.’
That night Anthony woke up to hear Justin ‘in distress’. He looked over to see him ‘pinned down by his hands and his knees’ and being raped by Nelson. Anthony froze and after about 10 minutes the assault stopped.
The next morning Nelson behaved as though nothing had happened and said that Justin was upset because of trouble in his family. The boys went on the planned trip but in the afternoon, Nelson said he had to return to pick up some things at the scout troop’s hall and that he needed Charlie to come with him.
In the evening, Anthony and Justin were told the bus with Nelson and Charlie in it had broken down. It wasn’t until the following afternoon that they finally returned.
Charlie appeared upset but wouldn’t tell Anthony what had happened nor where they’d gone.
‘I sort of quizzed him about the bus and what happened ... and he just wasn’t talking about it. Same with Justin.’
After the weekend event, Anthony stopped going to scouts. He saw Nelson a few more times, including once when he’d appeared at Anthony’s home, knowing his parents were away. On that occasion, Nelson had joined in ‘rumbling’ with Anthony and his friend and during it, Anthony suddenly ‘felt a hand on my crutch’.
‘I stopped dead. I just stopped what I was doing, raced round and didn’t say anything, just looked at him. And he backed off.’
Anthony didn’t hear of the man again until the 1990s when his father told him Nelson had been charged with child sex offences. ‘Typical Dad fashion, turned around and said … “That poofter didn’t touch you, did he?” Anyway, I just walked away. Didn’t say anything.’
Anthony said he regretted that he hadn’t been able to stop the abuse.
‘To this day, the guilt that I didn’t do anything for Justin, it just eats me away. There’s not a day goes by I don’t hear his crying, moan. It just, all I had to do was leave the room and go and get someone. There was an accommodation block. There was 20 or 30 other guys living in rooms around us.’
Anthony ‘spent 30 years trying to suppress’ what Nelson had done. ‘That comes from the environment I was in back then; just suppress these things, don’t talk about it, don’t make any waves. And it just continued on from then.’
He described himself as a workaholic. ‘That’s the only thing I can do to get my brain not to think about that thing.’
Anthony’s first disclosure of details related to the abuse was to the Royal Commission. He’d spoken to his wife in general terms but ‘asked her not to ask any questions till I’m ready’. He doubted he would tell other family members because he’d seen their response when they found out that a relative had been sexually abused as a child.
‘Part of the issue I’ve got, and this is why I’ve been very quiet about it, is since he’s come out it’s almost like everyone around him has put this big fragile sticker on him. And I’ve seen people’s behaviour change around him. I just don’t want that. I don’t want that cotton wool glove type fragile-ness.’
Anthony believes defence force culture played at least some part in why the abuse occurred in the first place.
‘I think what was more of a culture that I wouldn’t say supported, but was ideal for this type of thing to happen, was seeing what my father had gone through and what other people go through. With Defence, there’s no privacy in your life so when you join rookies, you’re there with 30 other men. You shower together, you eat together, you work together, you sleep together …
‘One of the things back then and even today that they cherish is privacy. I think there was a culture there that: “Listen, I don’t care what you do in your room because I don’t want you interested in mine”.’
Anthony said he didn’t want anyone else to go through what he and his friends did. ‘I’m sort of conscious of that with my kids. I don’t want to go too far the other way. And alcohol’s been a problem with me. I’m a 10 o’clock at night drinker, a drink or two at night just to try and get my brain to stop.
‘I don’t sleep and it’s the stress of this. I’m a bad sleeper. I’ve talked to doctors about it, not about what’s causing it, but talking about the insomnia and other bits and pieces and they’ll prescribe medication at times.’
He worried that circumstances in institutions hadn’t changed much since he was a child.
‘What I see especially with sort of defence force and organisations like that is that the environment for that to happen is still here. It’s all right for the chief of defence force to get up and say, “If you don’t like it, get out”, but he’s talking about a culture. What he needs is a cultural change throughout the whole organisation.
‘And it’s not just that organisation … I don’t want to be projecting my life onto my kids – but I’m very, very conscious that the situation I was placed in still exists today. It still exists today, and we’re not going to catch everyone, but what I’m looking at is this environment that we’re in.’