Since 1942, not a day has gone by without Cecil thinking about the attack.
When he was a seven-year-old playing on a Sydney street one day, two neighbourhood friends offered to show him ‘gold’ in the nearby Catholic church. Urged on by the boys who stayed at the door, Cecil went into the church and was looking at the statues and paintings when a priest yelled, ‘Stay where you are! Don’t move!’ As his friends ran off, Cecil was grabbed by the hair, dragged into a side room of the church and raped.
‘Every time I tried to look or put my head up or something he’d bang it down on the desk. It seemed like an hour. He used other things to insert in me and I bled. I was frightened of bleeding to death. He dragged me out of the place when he finished with me and took me to the door, hanging onto my hair virtually, and shoved me out the door and I nearly fell down the steps and I just kept running.
'I could have been hit by a car ‘cause I just kept going, across the road and down into the avenue which is a little street alongside a park. A lady, she’s saying, “Little boy come back here! I can help you!” But I wasn’t going to stop and the blood’s coming down my legs and I just ran to the vet’s, see.’
The veterinary clinic was familiar to Cecil who used to help out with odd jobs. He hosed himself down and found bandages and Vaseline to tend the bleeding, then crawled up into a loft and stayed there for three days, coming down only to get more dressings and go to the bathroom. It wasn’t unusual for his absence from home to go unnoticed because his mother ‘had problems mentally’ and his father was often away looking for work.
The priest had known Cecil wasn’t Catholic and he must also have been familiar with his family. He called Cecil ‘a dirty Protestant’ and told him he was doing God’s work. He also threatened him.
‘[He said], “If you say anything to anyone”, sort of thing – I’m not giving word for word what he sort of growled at me, you know – God would get me, the devil’d get me. Everybody’d get me and the thing is they’d get my family too. “You’ve got sisters”. He knew I had sisters.’
As well as his initial injuries, Cecil experienced continued health problems for the rest of his life. At 10, he was diagnosed with haemorrhoids and by 18 had a prolapsed bowel that required surgical intervention. The surgeon commented on the severe level of damage, but didn’t ask about its origin. Cecil experienced continued urgency and incontinence problems which caused great difficulty in work and social situations.
‘I’ve hidden from people the whole of my life’, he said. ‘Because of the embarrassment of having going to the toilet all the time. And if you go to the toilet you’re in there for a quarter of an hour and you’d come out and think everybody’s looking. I realise now I’ve been given a pressure that I didn’t sort of realise previously until I started talking about things and started to think about it.’
In 1994, Cecil disclosed the sexual assault for the first time. He told his local doctor who said it was good for him to talk about it, so he disclosed it to his daughter who he’d raised as a single parent. He hoped it would help her understand why he’d had difficulty holding her and being affectionate while she was growing up. He said he still wasn’t sure whether he’d been right to let her know.
‘She’s got her life to lead, sort of thing. You wonder if it’s worthwhile telling anybody. I wasn’t going to come in here … It’s hounded me that long, that’s the only reason I’m here. I started to think well, for God’s sake, I’ve suffered that bloody long, someone’s got to know what happened.’