Clem grew up with his mother in rural Queensland. ‘Mum had mental breakdowns, and drugs problems as far as prescription drugs, and financial problems, and health problems.’
The only stable person in Clem’s life was his grandmother, who lived nearby. Clem moved around frequently with his mother, and sometimes he was sent to stay with friends when she wasn’t coping.
He stayed with one family on and off between the ages of 10 and 12, in the late 1970s. During this period, Clem attended the local Catholic school.
‘Mr Irwin was the teacher I had most if not all of the time. I remember my mother introducing me to him and leaving me there.’
Clem had only been at the school a few days when he was struck in the groin when playing cricket, ‘and went down crying in pain and mortified beyond belief’.
Irwin came to his aid, and took him to the music room. ‘I remember as we were about to enter the room another adult tried to help but Mr Irwin said he would see to me himself ... I was glad Mr Irwin made them go away because I was already terribly embarrassed and sore. But they didn’t seem happy.’
Irwin removed Clem’s clothing and examined his genitals, ‘asking if “that hurt” or “that feel nice” and fondled them for a while to “take the heat out of them”’.
Clem didn’t think much of it, and didn’t mention this incident when he next saw his mother. He left this school a short while later.
One weekend a few months afterwards, his mum prepared a fancy lunch, saying they had a special visitor coming over. This visitor was Irwin.
Clem was surprised that his former teacher was at their house, but figured his mother must be friends with him. He knew that she sometimes slept with men for money or other payment, and assumed Irwin ‘was just another one of those connections’.
Irwin arrived a little early, while Clem’s mum was still getting lunch ready. She said that Clem should go out in the car with Irwin and show him the highlights of the town while she finished up.
Clem thought this was a bit strange, as the town didn’t have many highlights. Nonetheless, he got into the car with Irwin, and they drove towards a lookout.
Irwin stopped the car on a quiet stretch of road.
‘He said, “You won’t believe it, but I recently had a cricket accident just like you did, but mine is worse, I can hardly touch it, it is so sore”.’
He asked Clem to rub his penis to make it better. ‘I had never seen a grown-up’s penis before, and felt obliged to do it.’ Clem had no idea about sex, so assumed that Irwin was flinching in pain, but Irwin told him to keep going.
After Irwin ejaculated he thanked Clem, who was confused by what had happened. Irwin explained ‘it was infected and like a boil you just helped me get rid of all the pus’. Clem remembers being a ‘very naive and soft-hearted’ child, and ‘I thought I’d done a good thing’.
Back at the house, Irwin didn’t stay for lunch after all. Before he left, ‘I clearly remember he handed Mum a roll of banknotes with a rubber band. Mum did not seem upset at all that her special lunch was going to waste’.
Clem had no idea what had happened, and believed he had done Irwin a favour. He didn’t understand why Irwin gave his mum cash, and didn’t tell her what had happened in the car.
When he was older, Clem started having sexual feelings. With no sex education, his only way of understanding what was happening was remembering what Irwin had said to him.
‘For a while, I actually thought there was something wrong with me, that I was, you know, I had an infection or was sick, or that wasn’t right, that’s not supposed to happen. No-one had talked to me about masturbation or anything.’
Clem also started to make sense of what had happened in the car that day, and the cash Irwin had given his mother, realising his mother had ‘pimped me out’.
‘I’ve got no doubt that Mum had a big role in inviting him for that very purpose.’ He never confronted her about this incident. ‘I’m probably more angry at her than I am at him.’
Already a lonely and isolated child, he started to run away. He came to the attention of child welfare authorities, but was not taken into care. ‘It did change my life ... I don’t think I’d be in this position necessarily, if it wasn’t for certain things that happened around that time.’
Clem had nobody he could rely on after his grandmother passed away, and did not speak about the abuse for many years. He told a couple of relatives in recent times, while staying with them to attend his mother’s funeral.
Although Clem has spent time in jail as an adult, he has never disclosed the abuse to the psychiatrists and psychologists there. He believes they might think he was trying to excuse his own offending by talking about what happened to him.
‘I have been repeatedly told “we can’t treat you if you maintain a victim stance” and “you won’t manipulate us with sob stories and claims of being a victim”. It was and remains never “appropriate” or “the right time” to bother bringing it up.’
Compensation isn’t of any interest to Clem now, but he thinks about how much it could have helped him at the time. ‘If I was that little boy, and living with my Nanna, and it had gone to court, and I’d got compensation, my life would be really different.’