When he was a young child Clement wanted to be a businessman – the very opposite of the violent, shabby drunk that was his father. Every morning before school Clement would polish his shoes and carefully comb his hair.
Ten years later his shoes were gone, his hair was matted, his beard was long and filthy, and he was sleeping with his dogs in a shack by the river. He was a different man, changed forever by his encounter with school headmaster Dennis Warner.
Clement can’t remember exactly how old he was when Warner first began sexually abusing him. Around 12 or 13 is his best guess. It was the early 1970s and Clement was living in a rough little town in regional Queensland where most of the men, including Clement’s father, did nothing but ‘run wild cattle, break horses, drink alcohol and fight’.
The abuse continued for about a year. Then one day Warner locked Clement in a storeroom, planning to imprison him there until he’d taken what he wanted. Clement had other plans.
‘I undone the lock and I took off. And he chased me in his car. Dad was at home at the time with a busted leg and a busted arm from a horse accident, and I ran up the back steps and screamed out to Mum and Dad that the headmaster just tried to poof me.
‘And Dad couldn’t move. And he [the headmaster] came racing up the back steps offering money to Mum and Dad. And Dad told him to go. And that’s when Mum rang the coppers.’
Warner fled. Six months later the police finally caught him, charged him and sent him to jail. He spent three months in protective custody then walked free. Clement’s sentence was far longer and more brutal.
By the time he returned to school everyone in town knew about the case. Clement was ostracised, ruthlessly teased and bashed by the other boys.
‘They’d torment me. Like, they’d sing songs like, “Clement’s a poofter. He takes it up the arse, doo-dah, doo-dah. He can’t run because his bum’s full of cum, doo-dah, doo-dah”.’
At home Clement pleaded with his dad to let him leave the school. His dad told him to man-up and fight back. Clement did.
‘But if I did that, I retaliated, and we went up to the teacher, the teacher would go, “Oh, poor little Johnnie’s got a smashed mouth from where you hit him with a lump of stick”. I’d get the cane. He’d get patched up. I was just everybody’s dog. I’d get kicked by them and I’d do something and then I’d get kicked by the teacher.’
Wracked with constant fear, Clement took to sleeping with a loaded gun until his mother confiscated it. Then he moved out to the shed and slept with the dogs. It was one of only two places he felt safe. The other was out on the fringes of town where the ‘derros’ lived – old men who’d been traumatised by their experiences in the Second World War and could no longer live a regular life in town.
Clement became close friends with one man in particular, an ex-solicitor named Jackie who’d fought in Papua New Guinea and now ‘slept on the ground under an old car bonnet with his dogs’.
Jackie and his mates shared their wisdom with Clement, and Clement took it all to heart.
‘He said, “You want to take up our religion” … I said to them, “What’s your religion?” He said, “We worship the sun. There’s not many rules to that one. All you’ve got to do is get up every morning before daylight and greet the sunrise, because without the sun there’s only darkness and everything dies”.’
From that day on, Clement got up every morning before sunrise to greet the sun.
‘I live by those things. Another one of the rules is you never make any decisions after dark … And that’s saved my life probably a dozen times – when you’ve felt like hanging yourself because you’ve just had enough.’
Following Jackie’s example, Clement lived a life on the road. He always worked and saved money, but then every few months he’d binge on drugs and alcohol, pack up his things and move to the next riverbank with his dogs.
He tried to settle down one time in his early twenties. He’d met a woman and had two kids by her. They got a house and lived there about six months before the woman’s father, Frank, also moved in.
‘And something happened and I told her my story, that I’d been paedophiled. And she told her father and her father said, “Once a kid’s been paedophiled he turns into a paedophile himself”. So I waited and he came over and I rattled his brain and busted his mouth, and two weeks later I was back on the road on me own.’
Frank had tapped into something that had terrified Clement as a teenager, something that started with the look that used to come into the headmaster’s eyes every time he inflicted his abuse.
‘When he was doing it, no matter what I said to him this thing came over him and he’d do it anyway.’
Clement came to believe that this ‘thing’ would infect him too; that if he was alone with another boy he would feel compelled to abuse him.
But as he grew to be a man and learned more about himself, Clement realised that he wasn’t a paedophile and would never harm a child. Still, after the incident with Frank he resolved to avoid any situation that might lead to accusations. Since that moment he’s never been alone with a child.
He never married, and he’s had very few close relationships. But that changed a few years ago when he met Janine. She attended the Royal Commission session with Clement. Laughing, she told the Commissioner, ‘I try to keep his hair brushed and clothes clean and beard trimmed’.
Janine understands that Clement has to keep moving, and she’s planning to hit the road with him, hoping that together they’ll find what Clement’s been looking for his whole life.
‘All I look for is peace’ Clement said. ‘And if you can bring each person a bit of peace, that’s the best thing you can actually do for us. To give our minds a rest and to give our bodies a rest … They all said a lot of us children that are paedophiled die young. So I’m going to live to an old age just to prove them wrong.’