Two years after the death of his father, Gabriel joined the navy cadets at the suggestion of his mother who thought it would be good for him to have some positive male influences in his life.
For two years Gabriel enjoyed camping, sailing and participating in other cadet activities. Then in 1976, when he was 14 years old, he attended a ‘weekend posting’ which involved drills and skills training with Petty Officer James Berry in charge. Berry had arranged to drive Gabriel home and on Sunday afternoon, after the other boys had left, Berry offered Gabriel a drink. ‘He gave me some Scotch and I drank some, and after drinking a few, I said I felt sick and wanted to lie down.’
Gabriel told the Commissioner that he went into the officers’ mess and laid down on one of the beds. The next thing he remembered was waking to find Berry and Berry’s cousin standing over him. ‘They raped me’, Gabriel said. ‘I didn’t know what was going on. All I can really remember is it happening and this chief petty officer, he didn’t have a shirt on and he had scars all over his body as if he’d been stabbed.’
Gabriel said he didn’t tell anybody about the assault and he never went back to cadets. He didn’t recall anyone asking why he no longer wanted to attend, but said if they had he would ‘probably have flown into a rage’.
Thereafter he said his life ‘spiralled into using alcohol’ and he became very moody and aggressive. He left school when he could and took up an apprenticeship, eventually working as a sole-tradesman, a job that didn’t require him to work with others.
‘I mainly worked to support my alcoholism’, Gabriel said. ‘I have spent the majority of my life self-medicating.’
Over many years he’d seen psychiatrists and psychologists, and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’d never told anyone about the assault because he felt ashamed and embarrassed. His first disclosure was to his new partner, Julie, in 2001. ‘I said to her I had something to tell her, but I didn’t want it discussed. Then that was it … I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve had her, because it’s been pretty hard.’
In the years after he told Julie about the abuse, Gabriel said his life again ‘spiralled’. He stopped drinking and could no longer suppress his feelings of rage and injustice. In 2012, he reported the assault and made a formal statement to NSW Police. Investigations were continuing and Gabriel wanted Berry and his cousin charged, but wasn’t sure whether it would be possible. ‘The worst thing is it’s my word against theirs, and they’re living their lives. They’re okay. It’s so wrong.’
Soon after making his statement to police, Gabriel was hospitalised after he tried to take his own life. For the first time he told mental health staff about the abuse, and his diagnosis of bipolar disorder was revised to that of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Looking back, Gabriel said he wished he’d been able to tell someone about the assault when it happened. ‘I think it would have helped if I’d sort of realised that I could talk to people. I felt so ashamed. I felt like I’d done something wrong. If there were things out there where I would have known that it was wrong, and I could have talked to someone and they could have nipped it in the bud and brought this person to justice. If someone could have said, “Hey, it’s not your fault mate. Those people are just pricks and you’ll be right”, I may have been able to lead a normal life instead of having to carry this around all the time. You never talked about stuff like that. It was really sort of a man’s world. You didn’t talk about that and if it happened you were a poof. So I felt ashamed and disgusted and I wasn’t going to tell anybody.’
In spite of his difficulties after disclosing the abuse, Gabriel said he was glad he’d done so. ‘It’s helped me get stronger and not rely on alcohol, and try and live a normal life. I just wish I would have known earlier that it wasn’t my fault. Until you get to your 50s there’s been a lot of life wasted. That’s what it’s been - not being able to function properly and always being in a blur.
‘I’d just like to say I’m glad the Royal Commission has happened, and I’d like to thank you for what you’re doing because for too long these people have thought they were above the law.’