Clifford grew up in suburban Melbourne, a conscientious child and a ‘bit of a loner’. His parents were deeply involved in the local Anglican church congregation, and Jerry Jones was a deacon who became a family friend.
When Jones moved out of the area in the early 1960s, he invited Clifford (who was around six years old) and his sister to his new house for a holiday. ‘We arrived there and he said, “Oh, you can't sleep with your sister. That wouldn't be right”. So I slept in the double bed with him.’
‘And then I woke up with him playing with me through my pyjamas and I just have this vivid memory of his enlarged member ... You don't see any erections at that age.’ Clifford panicked.
‘I had no idea what's going on and he's encouraging me to play with him. And I'm terrified and flee from the bedroom into the kitchen, where I find a knife drawer and defend myself with a knife as he's pursuing me. Then that's the end of the matter in terms of the sexual abuse.’
Clifford didn’t feel like he could talk about the abuse with anyone, but acted out against Jones when he visited, ‘tipping a bucket of water over his head as he came up the stairs. My parents just figured something was wrong – duh – and I was scared about telling them. Eventually, years later, I told my sister’.
He didn’t tell his parents about this incident until he was an adult, and they dismissed it as a kind of learning moment. ‘Yes, they used the expression “a maturing experience”. You know, I was sort of struggling for them to put it all together, I guess.’
When Clifford was 12 he became a ‘believer’ in a more evangelical church, and ‘I was probably challenged to forgive by some good Christian input into my life. Why should I hold on to the bitterness and let it screw me even further?’
This realisation prompted him to make peace with Jones. ‘I wrote him a letter saying, “I forgive you for this”, and he wrote back saying, “Thank you for your forgiveness”.’
Clifford started attending an Anglican high school. There he encountered Greg Waters, ‘a good teacher’ who became ‘a family friend’, and who would go away with Clifford and his family on holidays.
Waters lived on the school campus, and Clifford would regularly visit him in his accommodation. ‘I'd arrive at school before class started. I would go up to his flat and make him a cup of tea. He'd put his head on my head and he'd put his hands down the back of my pants.’
Clifford didn’t really think of this as abuse at the time. ‘It was just sort of part of what I assumed was the friendship, or whatever.’ Then a friend hinted that Waters had sexually abused kids in the school’s photographic darkroom.
This revelation ‘shattered my naivety’, making Clifford reconsider his interactions with Waters. He now wonders if Waters ‘went further with other kids. I have no idea’.
Clifford has been married to his wife for a long time now, but has experienced ongoing conflict about his sexuality. ‘I think for anyone who's been sexually traumatised by a male to male or whatever, it always the raises the questions of sexual identity.’
Seeing reports about child sexual abuse in the media helped Clifford realise he was not alone in his experiences.
‘You track through a story and go, oh so that's what's happened, what happened to me, that's happened to other people ... You know, this shouldn't have happened in our most vulnerable years. There are lives destroyed all over the place and but for the grace of God, I would have been in the same situation.’
Recently Clifford started talking about the abuse with his wife and kids, who are very supportive. He has now reported Jones, who is still a member of the clergy, to police. As part of their investigation he made a pretext call to Jones, in which Jones partially admitted abusing him.
Clifford also contacted the Anglican Church, but they have advised any compensation process is suspended until the police action is finished. He is happy with this approach.
A while ago Clifford found out Waters had a terminal illness, ‘yet still I refused to drop by. Perhaps there was something that held me back’. He is left with ‘ambiguous’ thoughts about discussing the abuse by Waters now, ‘because he was a friend, and you don't want to raise issues about the dead when they have no chance to defend themselves’.
Clifford wrote Waters a letter too, though it is one he can never send.
‘And now you are dead and I can only visit you in these posthumous words ... I do remember you with some affection, and at least I can forgive you, I can now let you go.
‘With no hope of ever seeing you again, all I can say is I am sorry I didn’t make the effort one last time before the cancer got you, to hold out hope and redemption and forgiveness to the despair and depravity into which you sank, the bottle of wine consumed every day to drown your sorrows and regrets.
‘God knows how lonely and sorry you were.’