Glyn joined the navy in the 1960s when he was 15 years old. He was one of the youngest of an intake of over a hundred boys, aged 15 to 17, all making their way from different parts of Australia to the training base on the coast.
‘The train trip was brilliant’, Glyn recalled. ‘We were treated civilly. There was a lot of mucking around, being 15-year-old kids on the adventure of their life.’
Things changed when the boys arrived at the base. It was like ‘all the American war movies where you see the sergeant major yelling, screaming abuse, calling them all the names under the sun’.
As well as being abusive, the staff were neglectful, running their last drills at about 6pm before abandoning the boys until morning. In this environment, bastardisation was rife – boys ganging up on other boys and the older ones inflicting random attacks on the younger ones.
‘Middle of the night you’d be dragged out of your bed and beaten. Many a night you’d go to sleep and you’d hear somebody in the old dormitory crying themselves to sleep because they’d been dragged outside and beaten up …
‘We copped it. We copped gauntlets every few nights. Somebody’d have to be pulled out of their bed and they’d run a gauntlet, which is blokes lined up with pillow cases full of boots, books, anything heavy.’
One afternoon, ‘for some strange reason’, Glyn was jumped by three guys and bashed. The next day a petty officer spotted Glyn’s facial bruises and asked him what had happened. Glyn said he’d fallen over – ‘because you were told not to dob them in. You dob them in and they come back the next night and give you more’. But his mate Phil overheard and told the petty officer the truth.
The petty officer spoke to another officer. Their response, which Glyn still finds bizarre, was to gather the boys together and force the younger ones – Glyn’s mates – to fight in a boxing ring with the older boys while Glyn watched. ‘In all honesty’, Glyn said, ‘I don’t understand why it was ever done’.
Through all of these hardships, Glyn’s mates stuck by him, and Glyn did what he could to support them and the other boys. Sometimes all he could do was listen. During his time at the training base, ‘five or six kids’ spoke to him about sexual abuse by staff.
‘That they’d been raped with broom handles, made to perform fellatio, you name it.’ The boys never identified the attackers. ‘They’d take that with them to their graves, mate.’
Glyn himself was subjected to sexual abuse some months later when he went to sea and made his first crossing of the equator. After a pretty harmless ceremony on deck, Glyn went off to take a shower. Two men barged in and painted his genitals with grease. The stuff proved impossible to remove with soap and water. Luckily Glyn was able to call out to Phil who fetched some heavy-duty cleaning chemicals which did the trick. Neither Glyn nor Phil ever reported the incident.
Glyn left the navy after a few years. He married young and has been with his wife, Karen, ever since. Their life together has not been easy. Karen, who accompanied Glyn to the Royal Commission, said that he has ‘always had’ post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Always been incredibly hot-headed. Doesn’t manage his frustrations at all well. And had what I term – it sounds disrespectful, but we have these conversations – almost a persecution complex. That everyone was out to get him. And real issues with authority. Would argue the leg off a table about something that he felt very strongly about.’
Glyn agreed that he had a strong social conscience and a fierce hatred of injustice, and that this was something that has both helped and hindered him in his work representing the interests of vulnerable people.
As Karen put it: ‘He thinks with his heart, not his brain … It’s great to be like that but not at your own detriment … His heart rules his life and sometimes it’s to his own peril’.
This is particularly true in relation to Glyn and Karen’s children. When the kids were growing up Glyn was a hypervigilant father, ‘helicoptering’ over them when they were near and imagining them falling prey to all sorts of catastrophes as soon as they were out of his sight.
‘All of it’, Glyn said – all the feelings and worries – are a consequence of what he suffered in the navy. ‘Because I didn’t want my kids getting hurt the way I was.’
Glyn now participates in a support group for other survivors of abuse. He’s been seeing a psychiatrist regularly for some time and finds the sessions very helpful. But his greatest support has always been Karen.
‘If I hadn’t met Karen I doubt I’d be here today.’