It wasn’t till Cormick reached his late 50s that he identified what had happened to him as a teenager in the early 1950s as sexual abuse.
He’d never been able to explain his need to keep moving from place to place; his desire to ‘get away’ from himself. But after several bouts of severe depression he sought counselling which led him to disclose his experiences as a teenager and to understand the impact they’d had on him.
‘I was probably 58 or 59 before I ever said anything. Before I even recognised myself that that was the root cause of why we upped and moved and I changed jobs and threw things in and never finished things … I suppose the realisation that I could never actually run away from myself had never occurred to me’, he said.
He’d decided to share his story because he wanted people to understand how difficult it can be to recognise grooming when it first begins. His abuser had groomed him in a way that confused him and made him feel they were friends.
‘I guess I was a shy kid, uncomfortable in my own skin, and anyone who gave me any sort of attention was good’, he said. ‘It’s strange because I guess I never described what was happening to me as sexual.’
Cormick said he was a quiet child, not interested in sport, and dyslexic so school was not an easy place for him. From a young age he found a lot of comfort in going to the local church in his inner city Sydney suburb. He felt accepted there, unlike at school, and attended regularly, sometimes going to three services on Sundays. ‘I became totally absorbed in the church’, he said.
In his early teens, Cormick was introduced to a friend of a member of the congregation, Morris Michaels. Michaels, who was in his mid-20s, took an interest in Cormick and in another boy Cormick’s age, Peter. Michaels owned a nearby farm and he regularly took the boys to stay there so they could help him work on the property.
Cormick’s father had been away during his early childhood, fighting in the war. His mother struggled through those years, with Cormick and his two young siblings to care for. Home from the war, his father got a low paid job as a gardener.
‘So we’re not used to having much in the way of personal effects’, Cormick said. ‘And one of the ways Morris started to groom me was “I won’t pay you but we’ll go into town and have a milkshake”, and “I can see your socks are worn out, I’ll buy you a pair of socks”. So it started like that.’
Those first interactions quickly led to something more. Michaels would ply the boys with alcohol and showed them photos he had brought back from overseas. He would then molest them.
‘I find that I didn’t really understand what was happening except that somebody’s hand was down my trousers and I was getting excited and next thing I was masturbating him and it became mutual masturbation sessions.’ Peter was involved in these sessions as well, Cormick said.
But the grooming process was so insidious, he never thought of what was happening as abuse. ‘If my mother had asked me, “What are you and Morris up to?” I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell her.’ In fact his mother didn’t ask, and never asked, because for her and Cormick’s father the connection with Michaels had come about through the church and so was accepted as normal.
Eventually Michaels lost interest in Cormick and Peter, turning his attention elsewhere. Cormick recalled an overnight trip where he and Peter slept in one room and Michaels spent most of his time in the adjacent room with several younger boys. Cormick knew what would be happening in that room, and feels guilty that he didn’t act to prevent the boys’ abuse. ‘But I can’t do anything about that now’, he said.
Cormick was about to resume counselling sessions, as he felt there was much he still had to resolve. He believed that the culture of the church he grew up in had in a way made coming to terms with the abuse more difficult. It had led him to forgive, where he should have been more angry.
He said he still finds it difficult to speak out. ‘I’ve had some roles with responsibility but I’ve always hidden behind the title – believing the title gave me authority to speak, whereas individually I’ve never felt comfortable speaking on any particular matters at all.
‘It’s partly because I’ve always been a retiring kind of a person I suppose, but I just don’t like confrontation. … I lack courage even today.’
Cormick doesn’t know what became of Michaels. He has no interest in finding him or reporting him to police. ‘I don’t know if he’s alive or dead at this stage, and I don’t really care.’