‘I think it was an idyllic, post-war family, the baby boomer type of thing. Innocence is the word that comes to mind. We just … [weren’t] exposed to anything untoward, you know. We just lived as a normal family. I had a happy childhood.’
In the mid-1960s, when Charles was in his early teens, his father uprooted the family and moved them to a remote area of Queensland. The Anglican minister from their former church wrote to their new minister, ‘to inform him I was an altar boy, and that he would recommend I continue as such’.
About a year later the minister, Peter West, asked Charles’s father if he could take Charles on a weekend trip to ‘a resort … like a retreat type thing’. Charles was reluctant to go. ‘I think there was football on in the weekend and that was my priority, but your father said, “You do this”, and you do it.’
Charles recalled, ‘It gets a bit vague for me at times. I remember the trauma, but … I do remember I went to bed on me own, after a feed, and I … was woken up in the middle of the night … I was sound asleep. I was dead to the world and I was woken up by this fella tugging on my pyjama pants and getting into bed and I realised he was naked’.
Charles was facing the wall and when he turned to face the minister, ‘He said … “Shush, shush” or “It’s alright” or “Quiet” or something. And then he … grabbed me by the penis and he made me hang on to his, and he masturbated me while I reciprocated. He made me do it, and then … I just remember a bloody mess …’
When Charles began to get agitated West got up and left the room. ‘I was petrified. I just stayed there and I must have gone back to sleep … The next morning … there’s nothing said. Nothing was mentioned … but he kept me close. I would have liked to have rang parents, but access to the phone … you know.’
The next night West tried again, but Charles ‘was aware enough to protect myself then, and half my guilt now as well as the shame is the fact that I didn’t resist a bit more at the time, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on’.
Charles didn’t want to get into West’s car to drive home, but there was no other way to get there. ‘I had to get in the car. It was a fairly quiet trip … To say that I was confused and distressed would be an understatement.’ Charles doesn’t think there really was any Church event that weekend.
Charles never told his parents what happened, ‘and to this day have regrets about that’. At the time, Charles was coping with, ‘Not long moved onto the farm … New town, new farm, new friends. But the clergy, the postmaster, the principal of the school and the copper were untouchables, you know. My word against anybody would not … and my old man … he would have put it straight to me that, “Don’t be stupid” …’
In recent years, when he found out that Peter West had been implicated in the sexual abuse of other boys, Charles thought, ‘Was I the first one? Did I start it? Did it start with me? Should I have said something? Could I have stopped all this?’
After the sexual abuse occurred Charles didn’t want to be an altar boy anymore, but there was no way he could explain why. He continued with his duties but avoided contact with West. The next year he went to boarding school, far from home.
‘I was an above-average student, but I was too traumatised … It was disappointing to me. I let meself down and I felt a failure. But my head just wasn’t in the right space. I just, just could not …’ He failed his exams, and left the school after 12 months.
‘I returned home a loser and, although I was under-age, started drinking and smoking. This escalated to smoking three packets of cigarettes a day for 20 years. My drinking increased to drinking every day, and becoming an alcoholic … self-medicating with alcohol.’ Charles stopped drinking in the late 90s and is now taking medication for depression and anxiety. He copes by keeping busy with work.
Charles didn’t speak about the abuse for ‘the better part of 50 years’. He told the Commissioner, ‘Now that this Commission thing’s front and centre, it gets the mind working, thinking, “You’ve got a story. Should you tell it? Should you let the lid off? If you do let the lid off it, can you control it?” And there’s no point doing it unless you do work your way through it, so that it’s solved’.
Charles has been seeing the counsellor he was referred to by the Royal Commission. ‘I’ll be honest with you. Very reluctant. I didn’t think I’m the counselling type. It’s a brand new ballgame to me, but, like I said, if I start something I’ll see it through … I think it’s beneficial … I’m happy the way it’s going.’
Charles came to the Commission because, ‘it needs to be dealt with and if this is part of dealing with it, I’m more than happy to be here. It would be easier not to, because I hate flying … Then I thought, you know … [fear of flying is] a phobia. I’ve got no control over it. “But you’ve got to man up and do it”, and this is what I’m doing. This is the easy bit.’
Charles was not looking forward to the flight home.