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Irving's story

When Irving saw the recruitment advertisement for Australian Army musicians, ‘I thought, "This is too good!".' He had played in a brass band since he was very young, and was in the cadets at school too. In the early 1970s, when he was 16, he was sent to the army’s apprentice school, a little out of Melbourne. The culture at the school was tough, as senior apprentices tried to ‘break’ the new recruits, and to ‘turn you into a soldier’. He found this ‘pretty tough for a gentle kid – quite an eye-opener’.

There were hundreds of apprentices around his age there, living in dormitory-style huts with no privacy. The senior corporal in Irving’s hut was another apprentice, Noel Walker, who was in the last six months of his program. Walker already ‘had rank when I got there’, and so had authority over Irving. ‘Anybody with a stripe on their arm was God. We had to do whatever they said.’

Walker had his own room, and Irving’s bed was right outside it in the dormitory. Irving was sexually abused by Walker a number of times. It is still very difficult and distressing for Irving to speak about the abuse, which would entail Walker calling Irving into his room after lights out, telling Irving to give him a massage. Given Walker’s senior rank, Irving was not in a position to refuse him – ‘there was nothing I could have done about it’.

Walker would lie on the floor with this shirt off, and make Irving massage his shoulders, then all the way down his body. He would then reciprocate, massaging Irving’s shoulders and ‘further’. Irving believes that Walker also tried to penetrate him on one occasion. Outside of these incidents, no mention was made of this abuse, and it ‘was like nothing had happened’.

Physical and psychological abuse was common at the school, and known as ‘bastardisation’. Boys would be tipped from their beds as they slept, so they fell hard to the floor. Their freshly polished boots would being jumped upon, ruining their hard work.

When Irving finished his apprenticeship he contemplated taking an early discharge, as the abuse and culture had made him question whether he was doing the right thing, but was worried about how his parents and girlfriend would react.

Irving vowed to himself that he would not leave the army for 20 years, a promise he kept. The abuse continued to negatively affect his wellbeing and career. The fear of running into Walker at band events left him ‘anxious’ and ‘jittery’ for weeks on end, but he did not disclose this to anyone. He was unable to attend training that was required for him to gain promotion, as it was held at the same school where the abuse happened, so his career plateaued.

Eventually, Irving took a discharge, largely because he did not want to ever see Walker again. Not having a job to go to, and being a musician by trade, he could not find further stable employment. This has troubled him greatly, as he feels he has been unable to provide properly for his family.

Irving has never taken any criminal action against Walker, as he decided it was better to forgive than seek revenge. After reading about the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) in a newspaper, he reported the sexual abuse to them in 2013. The process required him to give explicit details of what Walker had done to him, which he provided in written form.

Irving would become incredibly anxious whenever he knew that he would have any contact with DART. Eventually, he was awarded $45,000 compensation for the sexual abuse (as well as an additional, smaller amount, on other grounds). As part of the DART process, he met with a colonel, who apologised to him.

At the moment Irving does not sleep much, but sits up at night with memories of the abuse going through his head. Although DART also offered Irving counselling, and ‘each time it was offered I thought, "It sounds like a good idea",’ he declined this.

As he told the Royal Commission, ‘I figured, I’ve lived with it for 45 years. I’ve managed to control it. And speaking to anybody about it is going to raise it all again. Like now, I’m not real well’.

Irving has not reported the abuse to police, but has tried to make peace with Walker in his own way. ‘I’ve sort of decided not to [report] ... I’m trying to forgive, you know. Rather than look for a payback sort of thing, revenge, which I know is no good for anyone, I’ve kind of opted to forgive him. But I don’t know if I can.’

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