As a staff member of the Commonwealth Government public service, Garrett’s father moved between different national postings and in 1960, was assigned work in regional Victoria. Soon after the family relocated, Gordon Cooper, then a seminarian introduced himself to the family and quickly became close friends with Garrett’s parents.
Garrett’s mother ‘was a very devout Catholic’ who ‘adored’ Gordon Cooper. ‘When he stayed overnight at our place he’d sleep with me’, Garrett said. ‘And he did that right through until the age of, I was 15, the last time. And because it was a pattern of behaviour, I accepted it. Now, he didn’t feel me up, he didn’t do anything inappropriate to me, but he always had groups of young boys from broken families. He used to come around with them.’
Garrett was four-years-old when Cooper first came into his bed. He woke to find the seminarian’s arms wrapped around him and thought it ‘wasn’t right’, but didn’t tell his parents. After several years, the family moved interstate and Cooper was an occasional visitor, again staying in the house and getting into Garrett’s bed each night.
In his twenties, Garrett told his parents about Cooper’s behaviour but they didn’t believe ‘a priest would get into bed with a child’. In the late 1990s, Cooper was in the news after he’d been charged with numerous counts of indecent assault on young boys in Victoria dating back decades. Garrett showed the reports to his mother.
‘The horror on her face’, he said. ‘She was just shocked. She went all pale. She loved this bloke. I said, “Mum, I was always telling you the truth”. She was shattered. I told Dad, showed him the clipping. Dad’s reaction was just amazing: “I always reckoned he was a bit of a fucking poof, that bloke”. [My father was] a career public servant. Never spoke like that.’
As a secondary student in the ACT, Garrett was sexually abused by an assistant teacher, John Steinem who would train boys until they got ‘a stitch’ and then get them to lay on the ground while he massaged their stomachs and groins. This happened to Garrett several times when he was 14-years-old.
On one occasion Garrett stayed overnight at Steinem’s house prior to a sports event and during the night Steinem got into Garrett’s bed and squeezed his penis and then made Garrett touch his penis. Garrett’s reaction was to get out and run home. He told his parents the next day what had happened.
‘[My dad] spoke to this creature the next day because he brought my clothes and school books. I’d come home in a very poor condition and I was worried that Dad would kill him, because Dad had a terrible temper. But he only had a terrible temper with me. He was a hard man, a heart the size of a peanut.’
In later life, Garrett found out his father had been sexually abused as a child by a Marist Brother and that entire communities had known at the time about the offender’s behaviour. ‘No one did anything’, Garrett said. ‘Why did they let it go?’
About 10 years ago, Garrett reported Steinem’s abuse to the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He was told that Steinem was in jail in another state for child sex offences and the statute of limitation on sexual offending meant only an alternative charge of common assault could be brought. The Director of Public Prosecutions didn’t want to extradite Steinem on the lesser charge and no further action was taken. However, in intervening years, the law in that state changed and sexual assault was no longer statute-barred. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, Garrett planned to contact the AFP and ask them to reinvestigate his matter.
Over the years, Garrett had married ‘a wonderful woman’ and built a successful career and family life. He said at times he’d struggled with thoughts of ending his life, but had actively made the decision not to.
‘I held a gun in my hands many times but I loved my kids and my family too much to do it. First step, get in the public arena and say something and stop these skulking mongrels getting away with it … My children have benefitted from my rather brutal upbringing. I’ve tried, for this lot, to be a better father than my dad was. Whether it’s worked I don’t know.’