‘I remember this Dr Nichol coming to our house and meeting us in our lounge room. From there my parents befriended him, or I suspect it’s the other way around. So they became very close friends over a long period of time and during that time the abuse started gradually and intensified and it even took place during medical sessions.’
Garrett’s parents were first introduced to Nichol in the early 1960s when their old family doctor retired and he took over the practice in the suburbs of Perth. After they bought the house next door to his surgery, the friendship grew and contact between the families became frequent.
Nichol first abused Garrett when he was 10 and visiting Nichol’s house. His parents were elsewhere in the house when Nichol knelt down behind Garrett and put his hand up his shorts and fondled him inside his underwear. When he heard Garrett’s parents approaching he stopped.
Garrett remained confused and frightened about what had happened. When they got home he told his mum that Nichol had touched his bottom.
‘She said “He hasn’t got any sons so he’s fond of little boys”. So that was the end of it for me. That was it. I was stuffed.’
From then on, Nichol abused Garrett frequently, either in his house or the surgery. He would masturbate Garrett, or force Garrett to masturbate him.
‘I used to get bronchitis quite regularly so there would be abuse in the surgery … It was on a table, and then he’d examine the lungs, then it would be remove the shorts and do the testicle examination and then go from there. And then he’d take his daks off half the time.’
Garrett said Nichol was big and physically intimidating and would stand right over him. On one occasion, Nichol took Garrett for a drive and made him engage in oral sex. Another time, under the pretence of giving Garrett a sex education lesson in his surgery, he attempted to rape him, but Garrett managed to stop him.
The abuse stopped when Garrett was 16 and got a girlfriend. Then, when he was 18, he had a bad car accident.
‘I had to spend six weeks on my back in the family home in my bedroom – he decided it was better there than hospital. In hindsight it would have been better if I’d gone to hospital.’
Nichol abused Garrett in his house every other day for six weeks. That was the last time anything happened.
Garrett said he struggled at school ‘because it’s something in your mind, the whole time you’re dealing with sort of secretly in the back of your mind. It was terrible’.
He got through school and university, had a career, married and had children. He kept his history of abuse to himself until he was in his mid-40s, and his marriage started to break up. When he went to see a counsellor about his relationship issues he told her about the abuse. Garrett stayed with that counsellor for the next 15 years.
‘She said to me in an early session, “You could think about going to the police at some point”, and I went “You must be kidding. I’m not going to the police about this, my parents don’t even know”. And then it just slowly evolved … It just started to be like a boil and you know, a boil bursts, and I was sitting at home with my partner at the time and said “I’m going to tell my parents”. I just got up at nine o’clock at night and went over and shattered their lives basically. Changed their lives …
‘My mother didn’t hesitate to back me but my father sort of mumbled things like “I can’t not play golf with him” and all this sort of stuff. I was surprised by her strength in that.’
The next day he reported Nichol to the police. They took a statement and were very understanding and supportive. As a result of Garrett’s evidence, Nichol was charged. And then other victims came forward, including two of Nichol’s own relatives.
All the cases went to court, but only Garrett’s case resulted in a conviction. Garrett found going through the trial traumatic.
‘The thing I found really bizarre was the way the defendant’s family supporters and my family supporters were all mixed together in this waiting room environment. I find that terrible. And even in court where we were sitting and observing it was the same thing.
‘The sentence was good, he got four years … The judge said it was clear from my demeanour that I’d been severely affected by this. But he got parole after about 16 months.’
After the trial, Garrett contacted the medical board.
‘I rang them and said “This guy’s now gone to jail, is he suspended? Has he lost his medical licence?” And they said “Yes”. And I said “Is that it? He’ll never get it again?” They said “No, he may get it back when he’s out of prison and we’ll review him.” And I don’t know whether he ever did get that back.’
Garrett found this response extremely unsatisfactory. He thinks the board should be more accountable, and if someone has a conviction for paedophilia they should be permanently deregistered. He also said parents should not be so trusting of authority figures such as doctors, and more aware of changes in their children’s behaviour.
Garrett has carried a lot of guilt around keeping quiet for so long and the fear that Nichol could have abused others. While he described his life as ‘a rocky road’, he has derived an inner strength from his experiences, and in some way it has given him a greater sense of humanity.
Much of this has come thanks to a series of workshops he attended for male survivors of sexual abuse, which had such a positive impact he formed his own men’s group of survivors that lasted for another 10 years.
‘When I first went to my workshop I was blown away. There were 20 guys, we couldn’t look at each other and by the end of the day we were hugging each other … I think it was the realisation that you’re not alone … That was the thing that really changed my life, was that workshop and the interaction with men who had similar stories. It was huge.’