Geoffrey felt special when he sat in the front seat of the school bus. All the kids wanted that seat, but the driver, James Rickman, would often reserve it for 12-year-old Geoffrey. Sometimes Rickman would give Geoffrey bags of lollies too.
As well as driving the school bus, Rickman sold food to the local people on the Aboriginal reserve where Geoffrey lived, in rural New South Wales. He was a respected figure in the community.
When Rickman offered Geoffrey a lift home in his car one day, Geoffrey didn’t think anything of it. ‘To me, I’d known him for a while, and he was trustworthy. I trusted him, and I just got in the car with him.’
Rickman didn’t take Geoffrey straight to his house. Instead, he drove him to an area of bushland and parked.
Geoffrey tried to open the door, but it was locked, and the window was too. They sat there for a while before Rickman asked Geoffrey to show him his ‘tommy’. When Geoffrey refused, he offered him money.
‘I started panicking. I thought, “If I don’t he might hurt me”, so I did do that. And then he asked me to play with myself and all that. I did that, and when I got hard, he put me over the back of the vehicle.
‘He had the seats laid down, and he just got on top of me. He put my legs together, and he put his penis in-between my legs. He wanted to penetrate me, but I started crying, I said no. He tried to kiss me and stuff like that. I felt his beard on my face.’
Geoffrey tried escaping through the back door of the car, but it was locked. Rickman asked him to ‘perform sexual acts’. He was terrified of what might happen if he did not comply.
‘I thought, “I can’t get out, he’s a big man”, and I started panicking. I actually did that, had sexual intercourse with him. That was the first time I’d actually had intercourse in my life.’
Geoffrey was crying, and Rickman agreed to drive him home. ‘He said, “It’s alright, you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it, don’t say nothing to anybody”.’
When Rickman’s back was turned, Geoffrey took money from his wallet. Scared of getting into trouble for stealing, he didn’t feel he could tell his parents what Rickman had done.
He didn’t tell police as he did not trust them. There were curfews and restrictions for Aboriginal people, and ‘We always used to run when we’d see the police, that was just a natural thing for Koori kids at the time ... I just knew if I went to the police they wouldn’t believe me anyway’.
Geoffrey missed three months of school after this incident, as he didn’t want to get on the bus with Rickman. He left town to finish his schooling in a different city.
His absence affected his relationship with his family. They still ask him when he will return to the town. He tells them that the only way he will come home ‘is in a wooden box’.
For a long time, Geoffrey kept this abuse secret. He did not tell his siblings, or his mother, although she always felt something wasn’t quite right. He considered telling his older brothers, but ‘If I’d have told them they would’ve actually did something, and then they would have been in jail’. He didn’t tell his first wife, though they were married a long time.
Geoffrey thought Rickman was dead. Then he was speaking with some people from his home town about the problem of child sexual abuse. When he said what had happened to him – the first time he had told anyone – he discovered Rickman was living in a nearby town.
‘I actually wanted to go and do something to him when I found out he was still alive ... It’s not in me to actually do those kinds of things, it’s just not in me. I even thought of getting money and paying someone to do something, but I thought, “No, can’t do that”.’
He recently decided to make a report to police. Knowing they now have Aboriginal Liaison Officers helped him make this decision.
Still, he wishes he had spoken up sooner. ‘I’m thinking now, how many young kids has he done this to? And is he still doing it? I should’ve done it years ago. I could’ve stopped him.’
Geoffrey has since disclosed this abuse to more people. His friend Ken supported him when he spoke to the Royal Commission. Ken found the abuse hard to hear about, but knowing helped him understand Geoffrey’s past behaviour.
He remembers when they were younger, Geoffrey would be impulsive and do ‘silly things’. ‘A lot of people would say to me, “What’s wrong with that fella?” I used to make excuses all the time.’ Ken said Geoffrey was a talented artist, but it always seemed like there was something holding him back.
Geoffrey struggled with alcohol and drug use in the past, and has some health troubles. His involvement in Aboriginal activism, good ties to community, and strong ongoing personal relationships, have contributed to his resilience.
The local Aboriginal Medical Service has helped Geoffrey too. His doctor gave him some information about child sexual abuse, which helped him better understand his experiences. He is seeing a counsellor soon.
Recently, people from his community have started coming to Geoffrey with their problems. They trust him, and he understands their cultural needs. He is very protective of his own children, and concerned about the sexual abuse he knows is still happening to other kids.
Geoffrey would like to see more culturally appropriate services for young people in Aboriginal communities, such as mentoring programs to help them get education and jobs. This includes training more Aboriginal people as youth workers, who can talk with kids about sexual abuse: ‘If they know there’s someone there they’ll go to them.’