Bryce joined the church choir and Church of England Boys Society (CEBS) as a result of his family’s involvement with their local Anglican Church in Sydney. He enjoyed the activities organised by CEBS leader, Tim Finch, who was well regarded in the church community and took boys away on camping trips, to a ski-lodge owned by his family, and on special visits such as to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. ‘He was very appealing,’ Bryce said.
At age 11, Bryce won a CEBS gymnastics competition and soon afterwards was invited by Finch to his home to see some maps. ‘I knocked on the door and I was very surprised he greeted me in his dressing gown which I thought was quite odd’, Bryce said. ‘Then he took me into his bedroom and he had some maps and then I really can’t remember too much more except there he was exposing himself and talking about things which were going in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t remember. I think I was just scared stiff. And I saw the door and there was a gap between him and the furniture. I just went straight for the door, raced out the front, hopped on my bike, fell off it straightaway and hurt myself. I went home.’
When he got home, Bryce isolated himself at the bottom of the backyard. He wouldn’t answer when asked what was wrong, but when his father persisted, Bryce told him what had happened. His father then asked who the boys were that Finch took on trips and Bryce told him a few names.
Bryce’s father changed from his gardening clothes into a suit and tie and set out on foot to see the father of one of the boys Bryce had named. That father questioned his son who disclosed similar abuse. The two fathers then went to see the vicar.
The vicar’s immediate reaction was to call the police, a decision supported by the local archbishop. However, when they notified a more senior clergyman, he instructed that Finch was to have no further contact with children but advised against involving police. The Church leaders then made Bryce’s father confront Finch who immediately resigned from CEBS.
When the CEBS branch subsequently folded, some people, including Finch’s mother with whom he lived, held Bryce responsible. ‘I was given the blame, the nasty boy who destroyed CEBS.’
Bryce said that after the incident he withdrew from the choir and had problems at school. ‘I did have a lot of trouble socially and I had trouble at school. I didn’t trust any PE teachers at school. I got in trouble, the cane for being rude to them. I didn’t trust them, you know. I was scared of them. So I was in trouble at school. I had trouble socially, I suppose you could say, lacking in self-esteem.’
Bryce described being vigilant around his own children, fearing they were at risk of sexual abuse. After leaving CEBS, he’d joined the scouts, and continued to be involved when his children were of an age to participate. Bryce and his sister became scout leaders and in the 1990s, when his sister expressed concern about another leader’s inappropriate contact with children, Bryce went to the scoutmaster and told him that if action wasn’t taken about the man’s behaviour, Bryce would report the matter to New South Wales Police. The scoutmaster dismissed the complaint as hearsay and demanded evidence of wrong-doing.
Bryce said he had the advantage of being believed by his father when he disclosed the abuse by Finch and was grateful for his father’s decisive actions. He hoped cultural change became more evident in organisations like CEBS and the Scouts so that allegations were taken seriously. ‘I think [they need] awareness of the possibility that this happens and be ready to accept it.’