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Gavin William's story

Gavin grew up in Western Australia in the 1960s. His family had strong ties to the Australian Navy and it was always Gavin’s dream to join when he was old enough. He told the Commissioner that he remembers going to the naval base with his father when he was a small boy. ‘It was safe. It was good.’ Gavin became a junior recruit when he was 15.

A few days after he arrived at his base, Gavin became extremely ill after receiving a standard series of injections. He was sent to hospital and then returned to the sick bay at the base, where he was called a malingerer. ‘To be branded a malingerer in the services … it’s fairly harsh.’

Within a week, Gavin was placed in a psychiatric hospital where he remained for seven weeks. He couldn’t understand why he was sent there and asked if he was being punished. He was by far the youngest patient in the ward, and while he was there other patients sexually and physically abused him. ‘People need to realise that the psychiatric ward was full of broken men … They were broken, and I thought they were normal.’

Gavin told the Commissioner that when he was returned to the sick bay at the naval base, he continued to be physically, verbally and emotionally abused. While he was there a navy chaplain visited him. On two occasions, the chaplain took Gavin from the sick bay to his house, where he sexually assaulted him.

After a second period in the psychiatric hospital, and another stay in the sick bay, Gavin ran away and hitchhiked across the country to a naval base in Victoria. Gavin told the Commissioner, ‘As much as people say … even now, I still can’t get that out of my head that I’m being punished. And then, what I had to endure … I thought it was a test. That they were testing me’.

Gavin’s abuse has had significant impact on his mental health. He sees a psychologist once a week and a psychiatrist once a month for major depression, and has recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘There will never be any closure for me. The professional people in my life know that too … I have no … There is no joy in my life … the only thing I’m really, really good at is depression.’

Gavin told the Commissioner, ‘I’m an embarrassment. I’m a malingerer … I have been branded a malingerer … I’m not a serviceman … I’m a nothing. I’m just someone who treads water every day and now … I stay in my room every day and since I’m not feeling safe … I am just not safe’.

Gavin came to the Royal Commission because, ‘I thought, I don’t want it buried any more. My kids need to know that I’m telling the truth … I want people to know I’m telling the truth … I’m not a victim and I’m certainly not a survivor. I’m a struggler, and I just want my kids and [my wife] to know that I was telling the truth’. Despite his ongoing mental health issues, Gavin still has hope for the future. ‘I still, in my heart, want to create a better world than what I experienced.’

Gavin told the Commissioner, ‘I appreciate that you know my story … When I first tried [to tell] no one ever asked me what it would take for a 15-year-old to jump ship and seek safety at another base’.

To Gavin, ‘the navy was my family … what did I do that was so wrong? What could I have done differently?’ As an adult he wondered, ‘Why didn’t someone just stop and say, “What the fuck did you do to this kid?” I never jacked up. I just took it … Then they kicked me out’.

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