Bret tried to speak up many times about the sexual abuse he suffered and witnessed while in the navy. For that he was punished and ignored, his records were erased and his career was destroyed.
‘It’s hidden’, he said. ‘It’s buried. If they want it to go away, they make it go away.’
Bret signed up as a navy apprentice in the 1980s when he was 17 years old. The practice at that time was for the officers and other staff to vacate the premises at nighttime, leaving the junior apprentices in the care of the senior apprentices.
Two days after Bret’s arrival the bastardisation began. In the early hours of the morning the senior apprentices dragged the juniors out of bed and sent them running around the premises. When everyone returned to the dorm, the seniors began taunting some of the foreigners in the group. One man complained.
‘They were in his face, calling him names. Calling him a “porch monkey” and a “black bastard” and a “nigger”. I yelled at one of them and told them to stop. That was my biggest mistake.’
Later that night after everyone had gone to bed, Bret and a few others were woken again and dragged into another room.
‘Had us strip naked and … face the wall, lean on the wall, with your legs spread-eagled. And then they began touching us up our legs, our testicles and penis, and pinch your nipples. And if you got an erection or became aroused they turned you around and they whacked your penis with a cane.’
That was only the beginning. Every night for the next six months Bret suffered or witnessed some form of sexual abuse. ‘They’d stick things in your backside’, he said. ‘Broomsticks and Coke bottles.’ Sometimes they’d pin him down and force him to give oral sex. If Bret resisted he was beaten and threatened. One time a man held a knife to his testicles.
Around the end of this six-month period, there was an accident in one of the workshops and some property was damaged. Bret was called into the lieutenant commander’s office and told that if he didn’t reveal who the culprits were he’d lose his job. Bret did as he was told. A moment later the lieutenant commander informed one of the senior apprentices that Bret had ‘dobbed them in’.
That Friday night, 15 men got hold of Bret and bashed him. Some of the other senior apprentices were on duty during the attack and had ‘missed out’, so a larger group bashed Bret on the Sunday night.
In the aftermath, as Bret was recovering in a room alone, one of the foreign senior apprentices walked by with some of his mates. This apprentice was infamous at the base. ‘He used to tell us to get out of his way or he’d fuck us in the arse.’ He and his mates grabbed Bret.
‘And picked me up and stripped me off and put me over a desk and raped me. And then there was more and more and more and it went on for about two hours.’
The next day Bret was supposed to lead a group in parade. He collapsed on the field and was taken to the hospital.
‘I had big welts across my back, I was bleeding from the backside. I had semen coming out of my backside. I had big bruises, a split eye here. And Lieutenant Commander Linney came and saw me, and he asked me what happened and I told him everything, told him everything and who I could recall was involved.’
Linney informed Bret that because the majority of the perpetrators were foreign sailors there was nothing the navy could do about it, ‘because they didn’t want to cause an international incident’. As for Bret’s suggestion that they inform police:
‘He told me that if the police were involved that would be the end of my navy career, immediately.’
Bret stayed in the hospital several days. Just as he was about to return to his base a senior officer took him aside and told him he’d been moved to a different division.
At the new division Bret was free – for a while – from sexual abuse. ‘But they did other things to me that are not sexual. They put me in confined spaces and locked me in and turned the air off, and destroyed my work from my trade and exams results went missing.’
Over the next few years Bret, now an adult, witnessed more incidents of sexual abuse. Once he saw his boss molesting a 15-year-old girl. ‘He said, “You didn’t see anything here” and kicked the door closed.’ Later he witnessed an officer raping a sailor. He reported the officer. ‘And I got raped again because of that, because I dobbed on my own. And they basically told me you’re finished in the navy.’
Sometime later Bret was medically discharged. By this stage his marriage had ended and he had several children. ‘I don’t know how to have a relationship with people. And if I have a relationship I deliberately, unconsciously do things to sabotage it.’
The navy was supposed to provide Bret with a life-long career, instead they gave him alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and anxiety.
‘I’ve improved, but it’s wrecked my life. It has. And there’s no way out of it … There’s days I can’t even get out of the house’.
Recently Bret participated in the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) and received a compensation payment. But he still feels that not enough has been done to hold the navy to account.
‘I just want people to know what they do to people … I want something more done to protect people.’