When Earl was around 10 years old, his grandfather moved into his family home. One night Earl witnessed him ‘interfering with my two sisters. And he seen me watching him, what he was doing’. Not long after this incident, he came to Earl’s bedroom and ‘he started on me ... First up I wouldn’t, I couldn’t do anything. Then he pulled out the gun, and put the gun in the corner and a bullet on the table’.
The sexual abuse continued for nearly two years. ‘In that time, he just started between my legs, and I used to play with him, lick his penis and all that, and then he penetrated’. Earl’s mother noticed blood on his sheets and ‘thought that I had piles’, but he could not tell her the real cause of his bleeding. Sometimes Earl would be made to go on hunting trips with his grandfather, and would hide in the bush at night to try and avoid being abused.
Earl’s father was an alcoholic and violent to his mother. After Earl intervened in a physical altercation between them – hitting his father on the head with a beer bottle, and rendering him unconscious – he panicked and fled to his uncle’s place. When his father collected him the next day he receiving a belting, and soon found himself in front of the court, charged with being ‘uncontrollable’.
The court did not ask why he had hurt his father, so he could not tell them that he had been defending his mother. He was sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home in outer Melbourne. Earl confided the sexual abuse he had experienced to an officer, Captain George, soon after he arrived. ‘Because they’re charities and Christians and all that, they’re the first ones I opened up to.’
George was married and lived on the premises, and ‘I told him everything, what my grandfather was doing’. It was ‘only a couple of months later’ that George came into Earl’s cell one night, ‘and he started on me’. George sexually abused Earl for the 18 months he lived at the home, approximately three times a week.
Earl knew George was also abusing two other boys. George would bribe them with lollies and biscuits, let them watch television, and give them some of the better chores in the home’s dairy. Like Earl, these boys did not have family visit them, and so had little opportunity to tell anyone outside the home about the abuse. Besides, the boys were too scared to discuss the abuse, even amongst themselves.
‘He told me, “I’ll do the same thing as what your grandfather was going to do, do something one day and make it [out] as an accident”.’
When he was 13, Earl ran away from the home, and could not be found by authorities. He contacted his mother, who met up and gave him a suitcase with some essentials, and then managed to get a lift with a stranger who was driving interstate. Not having anywhere to stay when he arrived in this new city, he slept in gardens and parks for a while. He moved around shearing, working on cattle stations, and doing jobs in the building industry, often leaving when the men around him would ‘start talking about different sexual things and all that’. He spent over 40 years driving trucks, because it was the only job where he could be on his own.
When Earl met with the Royal Commission he spoke of the impacts the abuse had on his life. He has been married twice, and always found sexual intimacy to be a ‘duty’. Although he did not disclose the abuse to either of his wives, he has now told his sister and elderly mother. He mistrusts men to the point where he does not have much contact with his adult sons. ‘I’ve had nothing to do with them in 15 years. I just don’t go near males, even though they’re my sons.’
Throughout his life, he has avoided any social interactions with other men. ‘I couldn’t go to the pub like a normal man does. Even when I’d drive trucks on the highway I couldn’t sit down with other drivers, always sat on my own, slept on my own in the truck. I did everything on my own.’ Even going fishing with male members of his family was too stressful, so he’d always avoid it.
Over the years Earl has experienced depressive episodes and psychiatric breakdowns, and attempted suicide a number of times. In the 1990s, he was admitted as an inpatient to a mental health facility (after being triggered by hearing media reports about child sexual abuse). He’d like to engage with more counselling now, as he still has nightmares and flashbacks.
Earl has never formally reported any of the abuse to police (both his grandfather and George are deceased), or applied for any compensation from the Salvation Army. Hearing media coverage about the Royal Commission’s investigations into the Salvation Army helped Earl realise he wasn’t the only one abused in their homes, and to consider what options he might have for support and redress.
‘I was just so happy that it came up on the thing about Salvation Army, and I said “That’s it, I want to do something, because I’ve had a bastard of a life. I haven’t had a life” ... I cry sometimes and I still think about it. What do you do?’