Gus left school in the 1960s. He was a naive 14 year old, with little general education. ‘You sort of grew up … with your own ideas.’ His parents found him a job at a council-run nursery in Adelaide.
‘They taught me all the ropes, started off on … learning how to pot up and how to germinate the plants and how to look after them … it’s straightforward but I was fairly quick … I enjoyed my work.’
He made friends with the workers and became integral to the team. ‘I was just looking forward to going to work, work hard, get home and kick the footy around.’ After one of the men struck up a close friendship with Gus, he began sexually abusing him.
‘We worked alongside each other … It’s hard to describe. I knew it was wrong but he sort of had something over you because he was such a likeable man, and that’s how it happened.’
The abuse included masturbation and touching and continued for two years. ‘It was like a spell … it sort of never registered.’
Another man, a senior council representative and well-respected member of the Anglican community, regularly visited the nursery and began to be overly affectionate to Gus in a sexual manner.
‘He used to come in … he would put his arms around me and just cuddle me, my back facing him … he done that on numerous occasions as well.’
The man also coerced Gus into helping him with suspicious errands that he still worries about today. Gus felt bound not to say anything. ‘We was always told the three wise monkeys and so … that was why I never told anybody [for years]. Never told my wife.’
When Gus left the council for other work, he buried the abuse. ‘It’s probably in the back of your mind but you try to keep it away.’
In the past few years, Gus’ health has deteriorated and as a direct result he began having flashbacks to the abuse.
‘I took crook and I lost 20 kilos … when the man used to play with my nipples … it used to hurt. After I lost the weight, [and] this is what brought … back everything … my nipples were sore …
‘I went into hospital and I died … they got me back and I thought, I’ve got to tell someone … I’ve been brought back for something.’
Although ‘it was very hard to tell’, he spoke about the sexual abuse to his partner and children. His family have been supportive and assisted him in making a report to police. He has also recently engaged a lawyer to explore potential civil claims against the council.
Gus’s family life and sporting involvement have been sources of joy and resilience but his anxiety has become worse as he has aged. He wanted to speak to the Commissioner because ‘It would ease my mind’.