A number of people in Gil’s family had previously served in the armed forces, so applying to join the navy was an easy decision for him to make. He wanted to study a trade, had great technical aptitude and was very good academically.
It was the late 1960s and Gill was aged in his mid-teens when he went to a training centre in Western Australia. They told him ‘“We own you” or words to that effect’. Gil found the brutal navy culture to be like Lord of the Flies.
Once, as a punishment for a minor offence, a petty officer made Gil duck-waddle for two weeks while holding a rifle above his head. From this experience, and various beatings from senior recruits, Gil sustained injuries that he had for the rest of his life. He told the Commissioner that he didn’t receive appropriate medical treatment. ‘Once you join the armed forces you become a second class citizen.’
Gil was eventually transferred a training centre in New South Wales where he was sexually abused by a group of other trainees. ‘I was held down … and had my navy short trousers and underwear removed … [They] applied a “coarse towel” over my penis and “wanked me off”. This was so disgusting. So humiliating. After that episode, others jeered at me. I began descending into severe depression … Guilt and a whole lot of bad thoughts festered in my mind. I told the senior AB [Able Seaman] on duty. He giggled.’
Gil also reported this incident to his divisional officer who told him not to worry about it because ‘boys will be boys’.
Gil became confused about his sexuality. He got out of the navy as soon as he could by deliberately failing his exams and claiming he couldn’t cope with the work. He had only been there about 18 months, but was very much changed as a result of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced.
The navy ‘cover-up’ also traumatised Gil. They hadn’t kept proper records, particularly medical records, and even forged his signature on documents. Gil wrote to the then defence minister describing some of the events he had experienced. He received an acknowledgement of receipt from the minister’s office, but there was no follow up.
Over the next 20 years Gil had 30 different jobs, many of them unskilled and some lasting only months or weeks. The physical injuries he suffered during his time in the navy meant he couldn’t sustain certain jobs.
Due to his trauma, Gil has ‘severe trust issues’, and can’t cope with authority figures in the workplace. He established his own business in the late 1980s, but said that ‘I have never made much money from my business … I totally lacked the confidence to go forward’.
Despite the negative impacts of his abuse, Gil met his wife early in his adult life. She is very supportive, and they have been together for many years.
Gil is also active in a charitable organisation where he uses his experience as a victim to help other survivors of abuse. He has received trauma-informed counselling, which he has found helpful, and is considering his legal options.
‘The loss of productivity of the ordinary person who has suffered. That’s the long-term effect.’