Darby's story

Darby’s dad was a boy from the wheat fields who grew up to serve in the defence forces during World War II. After the war, he continued to revere the defence forces and associate with defence force personnel, taking great pride in the fact that his son was taking music lessons from an officer stationed at a nearby base.

The officer was an ‘expert’ teacher and groomer. He made Darby feel included in a way that he had not felt with other adults, and sexually abused him for a number of years in the early 1960s. The lessons came to an end when Darby joined his high school’s band and orchestra and received alternative tuition, but sporadic abuse continued to occur on social occasions for another year or so.

Darby has ‘black chunks’ in his memory which he is happy to live with because what he does remember ‘is so hideous’. However, at the time, he did not battle any inner desires to tell anyone. He had no concept that it was a crime or ‘unconscionably wrong’, and thought, ‘this is an endurance test. It’s just what I have to do’.

Decades later, Darby’s mother gave him a letter the officer had written saying that it was time for young Darby to ‘move on now’. She gave him the memento with pride because the thought that the defence forces could harbour child molesters would not have entered her consciousness. To protect his mother, Darby didn’t disclose the abuse for 50 years, until after her death. ‘She would’ve cut her tongue out rather than acknowledge that she’d ever unwittingly been a part of this’, he said.

Darby grew up with his love of music intact. He built a successful career. He is grateful for his ‘lovely wife’ and children, and feels lucky to have ‘come out on the better end of this’.

However, ‘the fact that you’ve survived doesn’t cancel out what’s happened’. While outwardly successful, he has had to see psychologists for marital problems he experienced in his early 30s, and for anxiety and severe depression. ‘I had no real idea what a normal hour’s peace is’, he said. ‘A lot of my career’s been wonderful, but there’s barely been a conscious hour in my life where I felt peace for the whole hour. Not necessarily just thinking about this, but the unsettling effect in every way shape and form.’

Darby also speculated on what his life might have been like if the abuse had not occurred. ‘I have no real idea who I might have been as an individual, and all the different things, the hurts I’ve caused in varying ways, the stupid things I’ve done and thought and been. I have no idea.’

Counselling proved to be very beneficial for Darby. It helped him to realise that he was ‘extremely fortunate’ and not at fault, even though it did not cross his mind to tell the counsellor about the abuse.

Counselling also helped Darby to realise that he had ‘an obligation to try and give back’ and to fix what he can, and he has managed to do this in far reaching ways by effecting cultural change within his industry. For more than a decade, he devoted himself to training people to speak up, and to listen to, and not punish, even the most junior person for voicing a concern.

The private session with the Commissioner was the means by which Darby came to see the link between this aspect of his work and the abuse he suffered. ‘I hadn’t actually thought about it till this minute’, he said. ‘But that whole “Speak up when something is going wrong” thing has been so central to much of my working career.’

In the 1980s Darby learned that his abuser had been a major sex offender who was part of a network, and whose activities had been known to police. He committed suicide shortly before he was due face court on child sexual abuse charges.

Darby has not made a police report and does not wish to seek compensation. However, in his quest to find the ‘smoking gun’, or some indication that someone in the defence forces knew of his abuser’s extensive offending, he wrote to the Minister of Defence in the 2000s. He received a short and defensive reply which appalled him and affected him deeply. It was like ‘a second form of abuse’, his wife said.

This setback was overturned by the announcement of the Royal Commission. ‘I was just in tears’, he said. ‘Whatever else Julia Gillard did, she was on duty when she did this, and I think it was just staggering.’ After almost 50 years of silence, the time is now right for Darby to speak to the Commission and beyond. ‘If you want to put me on national television tonight, I’d put my hand up and tell the story’, he said. As a father and grandfather, his ultimate hope is that ‘active denial … will never happen again’.

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