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Henry Keith's story

‘For the last 10 years I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist, and that has been absolutely life-changing for me’, Henry told the Commissioner.

His son Maxie – ‘the apple of my eye’ - was a ‘major catalyst for me going to seek help’, he said.

Maxie was about five at the time and a very happy kid. ‘He skipped everywhere’, Henry said. ‘I used to think, I don’t ever recall when I was like that … That’s what probably sent me over the edge, to be honest. I was unbearable to live with, I think. I was just so muddled up in my head.’

When Henry was five, in the mid-1970s, his father died. He and his siblings grew up with their mother in a regional Queensland town. When he was seven, he moved from an infants’ school to the nearby government primary school. There he met Keith Baxter, who was employed to do maintenance around the school. Baxter established sexually abusive contact with Henry that continued till Henry was about 17.

‘I can’t actually remember how on earth I’ve ended up there’, Henry said. ‘Other than I used to go to the school on the weekends and during the holidays to help him do things like feed the fish … weed the gardens, mow the lawns – always with the hope from my perspective of riding the ride-on mower. Which never happened, but that was a big thing for me, to be able to ride the ride-on mower.’

Henry’s sessions with Baxter followed the same pattern throughout primary school. Henry would help Baxter with different jobs, then they’d go to Baxter’s workroom. ‘There was always biscuits in there, there was always cordial … so we’d always have, like, smoko in there.’ Then Baxter would sit beside Henry and molest him, stroking him to begin with and over time putting his hands in Henry’s shorts and masturbating him.

Baxter told Henry that he’d done this with another boy before, who’d since left the school. That made Henry think what was happening must be normal.

‘I was made aware by him that I was someone’s replacement. The fact that it happened to somebody else … I think that’s why I felt it was okay.’

Henry is not sure exactly how frequent these encounters were. He had other interests, and was busy outside school. But if he didn’t turn up for a while, Baxter would come to his house. Henry recalled one such visit: ‘He’s come to see my mum, just to see how everything was; he hadn’t seen me for a while, was everything okay.’

After that conversation Henry’s mum told him he should help Baxter out more often.

‘I said I didn’t want to go back. She said, “Don’t be so lazy, it won’t hurt you” – and so I continued to go back.’

The abuse continued throughout Henry’s high school years, though now it occurred at Baxter’s home. A similar sequence of events occurred each time. ‘We would sit under a blanket watching television, where he would fondle me and then after watching television we would always go into the kitchen and have afternoon tea with his wife that she’d prepared – always a similar thing: biscuits, cordial or a cup of tea or something.’ After that they’d go out to Baxter’s shed at the back of the garden, where the abuse continued.

‘Generally whenever I ejaculated that was the end of it and I could then go home – so I guess I knew the quicker I came, the quicker I went home.’

Baxter promised he’d help Henry buy his first car. ‘It was always that monetary reward that he was offering.’ Eventually though, despite his mother’s prompting, Henry stopped going to visit Baxter. When he bought his first car, he drove it over to Baxter’s – ‘I think really going to show him that I didn’t need him’.

Henry said that at the time, he wasn’t aware of being affected by Baxter’s abuse. ‘It’s only later in life that you realise it’s impacted you.’ He has never told his mother. He never reported Baxter, who has since died. He is considering seeking compensation from the government. He told his wife, early on in their relationship, when it became clear to him that the abuse was getting in the way of their intimacy.

‘Only because – you think you’re going along pretty well, and you’re holding everything together, until you form a relationship with someone like that’, he told the Commissioner.

Henry had recently told his older children about his abuse. He was positive about the progress he’s made in dealing with it, and attributed much of the credit for that to his psychiatrist.

‘I don’t really understand the science behind what he does – and prior to going to him I was probably reluctant, thinking it was all a bit hocus pocus. But just to be able to talk to somebody in an environment where it’s non-judgmental, I think is probably the most beneficial thing for me …

‘I think I’m beyond the maintenance stage. I think I’m way beyond that, and I’m in a really good space now. I couldn’t imagine not going to my psychiatrist. I see him generally once a fortnight, and in the lead-up to [visiting the Royal Commission] I’ve been going weekly … So I couldn’t imagine not having him there once a fortnight, and I look forward to those sessions. So long as I maintain that process I know I’ll be okay.’

Knowledge, he said, is the only thing that might have made a difference to him as a child.

‘I think just knowledge. Just talking about it in the public domain, which of course happens now. As a boy I don’t recall really that it did get spoken about … If it’s spoken more about now, in schools, news, TV, and kids know it’s not right – well, then they’re probably more likely to say, “Hang on, you can’t do this to me”.

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