The family home in which Ernie lived from the age of 14 had a swimming pool and tennis court as well as numerous guest rooms. The home was often used for events for his father’s Masonic lodge.
In the mid-1960s, Ernie was 15 when a working party was organised to undertake repairs and maintenance on the property. The working group included two Masonic members who, while billeted at the family home, drugged and sexually abused Ernie.
He described the men as appearing helpful and effervescent, both aged in their 20s or 30s. He didn’t know their names and had no success with subsequent efforts to find out. On the Friday evening of their arrival, the men made a show of chasing Ernie’s mother out of the kitchen and serving cups of tea to everybody. The next morning, he woke up feeling drowsy and when he went to the toilet, noticed discharge coming from his anus.
‘I know what it is now, but then I didn’t know what it was. I was sexually naive. I was very sexually naive … It’s a lot of semen. I didn’t know it was semen at that time. I thought something’s wrong with me, this is not good.’
When Ernie asked his mother why no one had woken him for the working party, she said that they’d tried. They’d shaken and called him but he didn’t wake up. Ernie told her he had ‘stuff coming out of my bum’ and she told him to go and have a shower and that he’d be all right.
Ernie told the Commissioner the realisation that he’d been drugged and sexually assaulted slowly dawned on him, though he didn’t have the words to express it. He went off and spent the day by himself and when he got home his mother told him the two men had gone. ‘So that was it as far as conversation with my parents were concerned.’
Ernie’s feelings of distress increased over the next few days and he took a gun that was in the house and found its ammunition. ‘I got the gun, put it all together, stuck it in my mouth, several times, cocked the trigger. I don’t know why I didn’t pull it.’
Later, after becoming a husband and father, Ernie threw himself into work. ‘I didn’t take a lot of time to reflect during those busy years and I didn’t allow those thoughts to come creeping back in. I guess I buried it, got pretty good at burying it.’
In the mid-80s, a succession of events brought on a bout of depression. He said he felt suicidal, ‘but not extreme, not to the point of putting guns in your mouth’. He went to a doctor and then ‘sorted it’ himself. ‘The equivalent of putting big boots on and getting aggressive with myself, saying, “You’ve had your little hissy fit, now get on with it”. That’s basically how I got on, berating myself and putting it back in its box, and putting it in a deep hole.’
Whenever he was busy working, Ernie could control his distress, but vacation time brought out thoughts of self harm. On an overseas trip in the 90s, a fellow traveller happened to stop by for a chat just as Ernie was about to take his own life. ‘So that person came in and I’m forever grateful for that person, I guess.’
Soon after this, Ernie’s marriage broke down and his wife recommended he see a doctor. The doctor referred him to a psychiatrist who he saw every week for three years. He also asked his parents for a list of all the people who’d stayed in the family home in the hope of tracking down his abusers, but they’d never kept a list and didn’t know who they were.
By then, Ernie said his parents had been told about the abuse by his sister. Apart from the discussion with his mother the morning after, he’d never spoken with his parents directly. However, Ernie thinks the rapid exit of the men may have been because his parents had suspicions and told them to leave.
Ernie said he’d come to the realisation of the abuse’s effect on his life only quite recently. He described it as an attack on his self-esteem. Initially he’d thought there was something wrong with him, ‘and then I realised there was nothing wrong with me, something was done to me.
‘It would be nice to a) know who these suckers are and b) [give] a little bit of comfort to someone else out there that they’re no longer out there plying their trade. You can talk about forgiveness and all that sort of stuff; well, sorry, I don’t forgive, but we have the opportunity to move on. We can either burden ourselves with those crosses, or not so much cross but legacies I guess, or try to move on.’