Coyle had a tough start in life. Growing up in Queensland in the 1960s, his parents were both alcoholics who argued and fought constantly, until his mother left and didn’t return. Coyle was five at the time.
‘So we had my father looking after us’, Coyle said.
Their father was drunk most days, and when the kids came home from school he would summon them into his bedroom and psychologically abuse them. It was a ‘very toxic scenario’, Coyle recalled.
‘I can’t ever remember having a pair of underpants. We very rarely wore shoes. And we moved constantly – I think that may have had something to do with my father’s criminal history, I really don’t know.’
Eventually his father formed a relationship with a woman who had children of her own, and they then had several more together. The family continued to be always on the move.
Coyle was desperate to escape and he finally managed it when a school nurse examined him and found welts from his father’s beatings all over his body. He and his siblings were taken from their father and placed in different residential institutions. At 12 years old and now a ward of the state, Coyle ended up in an Anglican-run home for boys just outside Brisbane.
‘I was a bit like a deer in the headlights. I was so relieved to get away from my family circumstances but fearful of what was about to occur.’
Coyle found the boys at the home pretty tough and violent. Many were there because they’d broken the law. It was a difficult environment.
‘It was like out of the frying pan into the fire. It was a very confusing period of my life and I must say I felt a lot of self-pity’, Comrick recalled. ‘I couldn’t understand why this had happened. Why me? I hadn’t been a bad child, you know, but all of these things seemed to be punishing me.’
Coyle was sexually abused at the home by one of the house fathers, Reg Hustable. Another boy had been abused as well and he and Coyle reported the abuse to the superintendent of the home, George Welling. Hustable was dismissed that day, and that evening Coyle watched as he packed all his things into his car and drove off.
Coyle told the Commissioner he was still angry that Welling simply allowed Hustable to leave. As a boy, it meant that when he was sexually abused again at the institution, this time by an older boy, he didn’t bother to report it to Welling, as he felt there was no point.
Years later, as an adult, he got in touch with Welling to tell him how angry he felt. He was in his late 40s by then, and had had a troubled life since leaving care as a 15-year-old, including time in jail. ‘I was determined to relive my childhood the way I wanted it to go. So for many years I was very juvenile and did silly things because I felt like I deserved to have a childhood,’ Coyle said.
‘I had no moral compass. I had the antithesis of what a father should be as a reference. The things that family are supposed to teach you, I never got. I never got any of that. And so for many years I repeated the same mistakes … But in the end I had to grow up and get a moral compass myself.’
Coyle found Welling’s contact details online. ‘I was kind of secretly hoping that all of these people had died. So I could draw a line under it and move on. But no, that wasn’t the case at all.’
He called Welling, and ‘yelled at him down the line’. Soon afterwards, he was contacted by Living Well, the Anglican Church’s support service for victims of abuse. Welling had approached them on Coyle’s behalf.
Living Well connected Coyle with a psychologist, whose help he found very valuable. ‘He was just an amazing man. He knew just what to say at the right times to get me thinking about something a certain way ... It was his work that really helped me unwind and be able to take it all on board’, Coyle said.
‘I feel that I’m a far more stable person, and that these incidents are not going to define who I am in the future.’
With the psychologist’s support, Coyle also sought redress from the Anglican Church. This experience had not been so satisfactory. Compensation was offered according to the severity of the abuse suffered, as judged by a panel of Anglican archdiocese members – an obvious conflict of interest, Coyle said.
‘I can’t fathom how that could possibly be fair in any sense whatsoever.’
Recently, he approached police to pursue charges against Hustable. The police officer he dealt with was gentle, encouraging and listened hard. ‘That was very good.’ He’s been told to expect matters to progress slowly – anywhere between two to five years – which he’s happy with.
‘My mantra at the moment is hope for the best, expect the worst and settle for the result’, he said.
Coyle has had major health issues. He has struggled with intimate relationships and, now single, believes he will never have another partner. He has sought jobs on short-term contracts because he felt unable to commit in the long term to a workplace. In recent years he has got pleasure and satisfaction from work as a community volunteer, in a variety of roles.
He told the Commissioner it’s only now that he understands the impact of his childhood experiences. ‘Being a misfit in society for all those years, and, well, really snubbing my nose at society because it had never done anything right for me – it had never supported me …
‘I did some pretty terrible things with my life; I’ve disappointed myself. I’ve ended up in jail. But I’ve walked away with very valuable lessons from that. I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made and I’ve become a far better person.
‘The one thing that I’ve sacrificed in my life, the thing that is most dear to me, is children … I was so fearful of what would happen and of failing, I just could not bring myself to even contemplate it. That’s my biggest loss I think.’