Gus first met ‘Uncle Tony’ at a Salvation Army children’s home in suburban Melbourne in the early 1980s. Gus and his two siblings had been placed in the home after being removed from their mother due to her ‘instability’. Tony worked as a carer at the home and would often take children away with him for holidays to a house he had in rural Victoria.
At age eight Gus made his first trip to the house. What followed was a pattern of abuse that continued for the next six years.
‘I remember that Tony would touch me a few times inappropriately on every trip’, Gus told the Royal Commission. ‘He would touch my penis and sometimes perform oral on me.’
On one occasion Tony masturbated in front of Gus while another child was present, and on another he asked Gus to perform oral sex. ‘I remember my lips were briefly on his penis and I didn’t like it. I stopped and don’t recollect there was any talk of me continuing or having to continue.’
When Gus was about 14 his friend Neil, who had also been abused by Tony, reported Tony to police who then approached Gus seeking corroboration. ‘But I denied the whole thing, so they dropped the charges.’
As an adult, Gus has thought hard about why he denied the abuse at that time. He believes that it was partly because of his perceived ‘friendship’ with Tony and partly because he had already been through the process of disclosure once already and found it traumatic.
At age eight Gus had been abused by a 16 year old boy who also lived at the children’s home. Gus told one of the carers about it at the time but nothing was done until three years later when Gus’s dad learned of the incident and contacted police. Gus was interviewed at age 11.
‘That incident destroyed me. Having to have a talk about what happened was really confronting at the time, because I had completely forgotten about it … To bring up those emotions and everything again was really confronting.’
No charges were laid against Uncle Tony after Neil’s disclosure, but around that time Gus stopped visiting the holiday house and the abuse ended.
Since then Gus has struggled with anger management and learning difficulties. He repeated Year 10 then dropped out of school at the start of Year 11 and went straight into the workforce.
In his early 20s Gus found a job in retail. ‘My life started changing. When you're put in responsibility you’ve got to confront things.’
One day Gus opened up to one of the managers at the store. ‘I only touched on my life and he was in tears. I’m going “But that’s my life. I’ve never known anything different”. And that was the first time I’d really looked back on it and gone, “You know what? I have been hard done by”.’
From there Gus found a new career path in the army and ‘never looked back’. He has spoken to counsellors about his experiences and feels that he is well adjusted.
‘I know it wasn’t my fault’, he told the Commissioner. ‘From what I see, some people don’t get past it. I definitely got past it.’
But it was still a shock last year when a police officer contacted him about Uncle Tony. ‘I was at work when they rang me and that just blew me away. It knocked me back. Had the rest of the week off.’
Gus told the Commissioner that Uncle Tony has been charged with offences against several children, including Gus and his brother, and is pleading not guilty.
Gus has seen many changes in the way institutions such as the army and police respond to allegations of sexual abuse, and he is impressed with the progress they’ve made. ‘We are definitely on the right path. So if they just keep doing what they’re doing it’s a good thing.’