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Garry Russell's story

‘The truth of the matter is I didn’t feel a victim then. So that’s the problem. Had he grabbed me off the street and held me down and did this and that … you don’t feel a victim until years later.’

The man who sexually abused Garry was well-practised in grooming young boys, making them feel like they were just having fun. Norman was a volunteer leader at a community youth group and Garry said all the kids there were happy to hang around with him.

‘I suppose the whole grooming process is important. We’d be going there, there’d be barbeques … was it a year, was it two years, was it six months? It’s very hard to try and narrow it down … I remember going down the coast with him, he had a Kombi van, the boys would go and he’d do the barbeque.

'So we all felt very comfortable with him. I think what we all had in common was we wanted a father figure, not that any of us would have known it at the time. He knew that obviously and fulfilled that role beautifully.’

Garry’s parents were very young when they had him in the mid-1960s. They split up when Garry was nine and his mother moved with him and his brother to Sydney. Garry said coming from a single parent family made him more vulnerable and many of the other kids who went to the youth club were from similar backgrounds. He had been going to the club since he was in Year 6 and the abuse happened when he was in Year 7 to Year 8. Norman was in his early 50s.

‘Specifically the abuse would be sitting on the lounge, it would be cuddles that would go to touching, that would go to him using words I remember, like getting a fat … I’ve got a fat. A lot about having a fat. So it was all a bit of a game. I don’t remember being upset by it, it was all fun, even at that point. The shame happens later …

‘I don’t remember a lot of what things happened or how often it happened but certainly he would get his out and you’d be stroking it to the point of him ejaculating … that happened at least once, but I think it happened many times.’

Garry said he remembers there were always other boys there. There was also often at least one other man who went to the barbeques, and who also came back to Norman’s house and fondled boys. There were never any threats or instructions to the boys to keep things quiet.

On one occasion, Norman took Garry into another room and forcibly tried to kiss him.

‘And that I was repulsed by. It’s funny, isn’t it? Not so much repulsed by that but repulsed by this. Because it was forced, it was very aggressive. There was no aggressiveness in that other thing.’

Garryy doesn’t remember who he first told about the abuse, but as he never felt a deep need to keep it secret, he’s always been fine about mentioning it if the context is right. He thinks he told his mum and dad, and his wife is aware of what happened.

He said for a long time he thought the abuse hadn’t affected him, but sometimes he’s not so sure. He went through high school being a bit of a bully, or at least acting out that character. He said he has trust issues and a low tolerance for people. It took him a very long time to accept and trust his mother’s new partner when he came on the scene. And he has made sure his children have two very engaged parents.

‘[My mum] had a photo of me when I was about eight and I saw a very bright-eyed, beaming, innocent eight-year-old boy full of confidence and excitement about the world that has taken a bit of a hit since then for whatever reason.’

After he left school he pursued a successful career and now has a public profile, but he said a lot of the time he feels like it’s all bravado and he has wasted some great opportunities.

‘Often the deep thought that recurs that seems to sabotage it all I think is that I’m a fraud and I feel that comes up a lot. Sometimes like the role I played at school, I’d be the tough guy. I wasn’t really the toughest guy around …

‘I feel like I’m someone who’s got all this potential and talent and abilities that I keep undermining.’

He never reported the incidents to police and said he’d be happy to do so now with the help of the Royal Commission, so he can ‘get it completed … so I can go, ‘Well, that’s the end of it ...”

‘I’ve got to the point where I think that what happened was certainly very wrong. But I don’t think I felt that way for a long time.’

Garry often dwells on the idea that he was looking for a father figure and that this somehow contributed to what happened. But he understands now none of it was his fault.

‘That’s where I’m happy to come back. I’ve gone full circle, I’ve blamed my mother, I’ve blamed me, I blame parents, I’ve blamed this and then after all of that you go, well, it was him.’

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