‘I came from a little town, a quiet farm, and within a year of leaving school I enlisted. I wasn’t old enough to sign the papers, I got my mum to sign them.
‘I was a loner at school. I was very shy … Not a snob but just shy. Because I lived out of town I didn’t have much contact with other children …
‘I always loved the Anzac spirit – as a child marching in Anzac parades and hearing the stories of the valour and mateship, and I wanted to travel and just see a side of life that I’d never seen before.’
In the early 80s, when he was 17, Farrell enlisted in the army and was sent for three months basic training.
‘It was so different to what I ever experienced and to be honest, I was greener than the uniform I wore. Honestly, I was so naive and just believed anything and everything I was told … There was people in my platoon that were much older than myself …
‘There was one digger who had his 30th birthday and his name was Kevin Robbs and one night he came up to me and he says “Why are you so quiet and shy?” And I said to him “I’m off a quiet farm and I’m still a virgin”.
‘Probably about half an hour later I was on my bed reading, and three of the diggers came in. One was Kevin Robbs, another was David Hewlin, and the third I have no recall because he was just a blur in the platoon to me. But they were the most prominent, they were the oldest and most strongest.
‘They basically threw me down on my bed … my face was buried in the pillow and from there an object entered my anus … I remember tightening my body to make penetration harder. It just seemed to push harder. And I was so overpowered … Kevin Robbs and the other digger had their whole bodies on me, my shoulders and in my hamstrings. And … when they were finished with me they just left. I rolled over and saw a number of platoon members just watching on …
‘When David Hewlin withdrew the object from me, he said before he left, “You’re not a virgin now”. And that’s exactly how it happens, that’s how I see it in my mind, in flashbacks at night.’
The next day, Farrell reported what happened to his platoon sergeant.
‘His exact words were, “You’re here to train, Recruit, just get on with your training and I’ll have a word with them”. Those words ring in my ear to this day. It was just said in one sentence. I was dismissed from his office and that’s the last I ever heard …
‘Out of the whole platoon there was only one person, I only knew him as Ian, I didn’t know his surname, but he said to me one day, “What happened to you should never have happened”. And my gut feeling said that he might have spoken up but they were the type of people that would threaten and say “If you say anything, do anything, the same will happen to you”.
‘Everyone knew what happened and I just got on with my training. They basically ignored me as if it never happened. I was ignorant in thinking that my platoon sergeant, having the rank of sergeant and the military being a place of discipline, I thought everything would be carried out in the way of justice through that reporting procedure …
‘It didn’t even occur to me to contact the police … I didn’t even tell the corporals, I went straight to the sergeant the next day. I was told within the platoon structure he dealt with admin and discipline. From there it didn’t occur to me report it to anyone else.’
No further abuse happened and, after basic training, Farrell had a short leave with his parents before joining a new battalion.
‘I did my best within the battalion to have a high profile … people held me in esteem, although I was still, I was frightened within the battalion because two of the abusers were in the battalion …
‘I’d go up to them and see how they were and see if they were still angry or something with me, just to reassure myself that this wouldn’t happen again. If I had an inkling that they weren’t happy I’d be so frightened, but I never let anything on in the battalion. I just hid behind this … it was like a facade.’
A couple of months after the sexual abuse, Farrell started having epileptic seizures. He remained in the battalion for three years but was placed on limited duties. Eventually, in the mid-80s, he was classified ‘below medical standards’ and discharged.
‘I was very, very shut off. I managed to get work labouring for three brickies and I told myself “Okay, I’m not physically unfit”, but I came to terms that I was having seizures which I realised, I looked in the bigger picture and thought “Imagine if I had that in an ambush situation and the people I’d be putting at risk”. But … I’d loved what I was doing and the mateship, the Anzac spirit was real to me in the battalion.’
Farrell tried to fit into civilian life but didn’t manage well.
‘This is incredibly humbling but it’s the absolute truth, this is something I am ashamed of, but because I felt my only avenue of being listened to was not there – I was a virgin, I was confused, I was very shy, but I had this sexual drive but I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t confront women and I managed my sexuality by becoming a peeping Tom. I just didn’t know how to, I was so incredibly shy ... I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 29, someone found me attractive but I couldn’t keep anything together, I was too insecure.’
In the mid-90s Farrell disclosed the abuse to the lieutenant from his old battalion, but he hadn’t dealt with the impacts. In the mid-2000s he decided he wanted the abuse documented and accepted by the army so he went to Veterans’ Affairs, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and gave him counselling.
However, he continued his prying behaviour and in the late 2000s he was caught. He pleaded guilty and was convicted. The abuse was not taken into account in his sentencing and he spent four and a half months in jail. He described intense and ongoing feelings of shame.
‘I was taken straight to jail for 25 days in solitary confinement. I was allowed out of my cell for 20 minutes a day to shower and exercise, and everything else was in my cell. Then I was transferred because I was on suicide watch, there was so much self-hatred.’
After Farrell’s release, he continued to access counselling through Veterans’ Affairs. In the early 2010s he found the courage to contact the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, with the intention of seeking redress, but was told he had missed the deadline for claims.
He thought about reporting to the police but was worried he would not be given credibility because of his conviction.
Despite his deep shame, Farrell said it was very important to him that the public knows his story.
‘I see a forensic mental health psychiatrist and he posed the question to me, he said, “How does it make you feel that these soldiers pinned you down and sexually abused you and got away with that and yet, with the consequences of how you dealt with it, you were imprisoned all those years later?”
‘What I want – how I reacted to the situation of being a virgin, being incredibly naive, not managing my sexuality – is to be made public that these are the consequences of someone that was sexually abused. Being silent, not being listened to, has just eroded my self-worth.’