On a hot summer’s day in the mid-1950s, Horace and two of his brothers went to a beach in Sydney with their mother. As he was walking along the sand by himself, he was warned by a council beach inspector to swim between the flags.
Being a normal kid in his early teens Horace at first thought he was in trouble, but the inspector came over and put his arm around the boy’s shoulders.
‘He said, “Don’t be scared of me, son. I’m here to help you. I’ve got to go for a walk and do my midday rounds at the southern end of the beach. Would you like to come with me?”
Horace remembered thinking, ‘What a buzz this is. The beach inspector wanting me to go for a walk. Wow’.
The man led him into nearby bush, where they continued walking for about 20 minutes, ‘a long way off the beach’. In a secluded spot the inspector took off his clothes, saying he wanted to get an all-over tan and inviting Horace to do the same.
Horace said he thought, ‘Why not?’
After lying in the sun for a few minutes, the inspector suddenly became aggressive and sexually abused Horace.
Afterwards, as he got dressed, the inspector offered to take Horace to a club where a young boy ‘could make a lot of money’. Then he walked back to the beach. Horace followed and saw the inspector go over to a group of men drinking beer on the sand.
‘As I’m walking past, they’re all looking at me and grinning and smiling. The bastard’s told them’, Horace thought.
He only spoke to one person about the sexual abuse, about three weeks later in confession. ‘And the priest said, “Go away, stop wasting my time”.’
The impact hit Horace almost immediately. ‘I changed. My self-esteem went down, because I felt that I had succumbed to a temptation that I shouldn’t have succumbed to. And it just sort of built from there.
‘I became a loner ... an angry fella. I didn’t have any friends anymore. I was still living at home so I had to go to mass. We had to say the rosary every night. But as soon as I could, I stopped going to mass.’
Horace’s parents could see something was wrong. ‘They knew I’d changed, but they didn’t know why. And I wasn’t able to tell them.’
He moved to a new school and was doing better, but Horace described himself as a ‘smart arse’ who was always sitting up the back and telling jokes. Near the end of Year 10 he was given one last chance to behave, but decided to leave and get a job.
He began working at a bank but couldn’t leave his attitude behind. Horace recalled one manager telling him, ‘You’re a reasonably good enough bloke, but geez you’re hard to take’.
The memory of the sexual abuse has never gone away. ‘When it does come … I see it very, very vividly. I can see the beach, I can feel the wind.
‘But then I’m able to do something else and it goes. But it’ll come back.’
When he retired in his late 60s, Horace finally told his family. The reaction of some of his siblings was silence. ‘They didn’t know how to react to it’, he said. From others it was, ‘Oh, you poor bugger. That explains a lot’.
From his wife and children he’s had enormous support. But it wasn’t until Horace heard some of the stories coming out of the Royal Commission that he was able to forgive himself. ‘That’s when I thought to myself, “I didn’t succumb to a temptation. I was raped”.
‘I’ve got to do something about that.’
When he spoke to the Commissioner, Horace was ready to get counselling.
As he’s followed the Commission, Horace has become convinced that children need to be taught a lot more about being safe. ‘Armed with the right information they can make the right decision. And if something does happen they can do something about it.
‘I’m pretty firm on the idea that the concept of “stranger danger” isn’t enough.’