For most of his life, Clifford had no conscious memory of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Then, when he was in his early 50s, the flashbacks struck. He told the Commissioner he was driving home one day, listening to talkback radio, ‘And somebody came on and started talking about an incident they had with sexual abuse as a child, and I almost had an accident. Everything came flooding back; all these situations that I’d never even thought of’.
Over the next few years, Clifford pieced together a picture of what had happened to him. It was the early 1950s and he was 12 years old and living in a beachside suburb in Sydney. He attended the Anglican Sunday school each week, and it was there that he encountered a man who he believes was either a Sunday school teacher or choir master.
The man was new to the area so one day Clifford took him down to the headland to show him some of the sights. ‘We went down to the rock shelf and he started fondling me.’ Some weeks later, Clifford was at home with his grandparents and the teacher rang up at night and asked if he could take Clifford out.
‘I didn’t want to go but grandad said it’s an honour to be invited out by him and so forth, and we went to his flat. And there was a broom handle on top of the cupboard and I remember picking it up and saying, “Don’t touch me or I’ll hit you” or words to that effect. He talked me out of it and next thing I remember is being in bed with him.’
Clifford believes there may have been other incidents after that – he’s seen things in his dreams but can’t be sure if they’re real or not. Either way, he is certain that the abuse lasted about five months and ended with a visit from the police.
The visit came about because the teacher had also approached another boy at the Sunday school and this boy’s older brother ‘smelled a rat and called the police’. Somehow the police found out that Clifford was also involved and they arrived at his home one night and interviewed him alone.
Clifford was shocked and embarrassed. ‘It was bad enough having it happen, but having to tell these people what happened … I hadn’t said a thing, and all of a sudden they’re asking me questions, and I died.’
As far as Clifford knows, that was the end of the matter. The police never contacted him again and he never found out if they pursued the case brought by the other boy.
After the interview his parents sent him to bed and they never discussed the matter again.
Somehow, Clifford managed to push the whole incident out of his daily awareness. But at night the experience would creep into his dreams and drive him to perform strange acts, such as locking himself in the wardrobe. ‘On several occasions Dad would come to wake me up in the morning and I’d be in the cupboard, wrapped up in blankets and so forth, but nothing was said.’
One time his dad couldn’t open the door because Clifford had dragged a heavy cupboard against it and barricaded himself inside his bedroom. Clifford woke with no memory of having moved the cupboard, and when he tried to shift it he found the thing was so heavy it wouldn’t budge. He had to get his dad to climb in the window and help.
These behaviours continue to this day. Clifford’s wife, who attended the session with him, said, ‘He gets violent in his sleep. He throws himself around, he’s having nightmares. I’ve actually had bruising right across my forehead and around my neck. He’s screaming at the time, he’s like “No, no, don’t touch me”’.
Immediately after the flashbacks began, Clifford sought psychological help. He spoke first to an Anglican Minister who was also a qualified psychologist. The meeting was a complete failure. ‘He virtually patted me on the head and said, “Don’t worry about it. Piss off”.’
Next Clifford spoke to a chaplain who referred him to a specialist psychologist. He’s seen her 20 times since and it’s been a good experience. Unfortunately, much of the progress he’s made has been undone since he and his wife began the process of seeking redress from the Anglican Church. He described the redress process as unduly slow, overcomplicated and misleading.
‘As the psychologist said: back in [the 1950s] I was molested by one Sunday school teacher, now I’m being molested by the whole bloody Church. She said to me that it’s almost certainly undone 98 per cent of the work she’s done with me in the last 20 sessions.’