Don was excited when he got the chance to accompany his teacher, Mr Garner, and two other boys on a weekend trip down the coast. It was the mid-1960s and Don was in year 5 at the local public primary school.
The trip was a success. Don spent the time, ‘rowing, prawning, hunting, things like that’ and it was ‘pretty fun’. A few months later he went on a second trip which he also enjoyed.
During both these trips Don slept in the spare room with one of the other boys. On the third trip everything changed. Don slept in one of the two beds in the main bedroom. Mr Garner took the other. Don told the Commissioner:
‘He encouraged me to go into his bed and things like that. And it was just weird. You know, this sucking of different parts of your body and things like that … I remember coming back from that weekend and I was just sad.’
Don didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
‘Because of the shame you couldn’t tell your parents about it, because you felt the guilty one. Because with every incident, the sexual intimidation like that, there is a moment of pleasure, and you wear that as a shame.’
Don never went back to the beach house. Mr Garner approached him again several years later, ‘but at that stage I was in high school and I just didn’t want any association’.
By then, Don was struggling with the fallout from the abuse.
‘The incident itself, it happened so quickly, but you live with the daily baggage of that … Your growth gets retarded in that moment because from then on your relationships with older people become distrusting.’
Don became confused about his sexual identity, struggled to fit in socially, felt angry a lot of the time and started smoking marijuana. He said, ‘It messes with your head when you’re going through all that cascading rubbish’.
When he was about 20, his mother sensed that something was wrong and arranged for him to see a psychiatrist. He told the psychiatrist about the abuse but found his response dismissive and unhelpful.
Don went on to succeed in business, though his successes were often compromised by sudden outbursts of anger and impulsiveness. He started a family and had several children, but the marriage eventually fell apart.
It was not until years later, when his youngest son finished high school, that Don felt he had a chance to ‘recover my own sense of self’. He began regular counselling sessions, started pursuing some of his creative passions and, after some searching, met the woman who is now his partner in ‘the most inspiring relationship I’ve ever had’.
Don said he is in a good place now, though the impact of the abuse, ‘never goes away’ and ‘not a day goes past that I don’t think about suicide’. He told the Commissioner that he’s never really thought much about applying for compensation or reporting his abuser to the police. He had other reasons for telling his story to the Commission:
‘I wanted to find out if I was real. If what I experienced really happened … I know that it happened, but sometimes we don’t get it till we can actually tell someone who’s prepared to listen.’