James grew up in Western Australia, terrified of his violent, alcoholic father. He told the Commissioner that when his father had been drinking he would ‘go berserk and absolutely flog us … with anything’.
Although ‘either one or two points shy of being dux of the school’, James ‘got into a lot of strife with the police. I always used to gravitate to the worst element because it seemed to be more fun’. He was involved in ‘pinching cars, joyriding cars … I used to go out and pinch milk money. All sorts of things’.
James was eventually sent to a reformatory run by the government and the Anglican Church. He doesn’t remember exactly how long he was there, probably between three and six months in the late 1960s.
James was sexually abused within the first week. He thinks the man’s name was McGregor, but he could be confusing it with the name of one of his school teachers. James told the Commissioner, ‘He was quite an old fellow then. He’d be long dead now. He had snow white hair. A white beard. He was only a little guy. But he was a savage bastard’.
If any of the boys ran away, ‘No matter how far it was, he’d run them back through the bush … Some of the kids were just completely out on their feet by the time they got back. I wasn’t game to take off, because I was terrified of this guy’.
On the first night James was abused, ‘he turned up … might have been two o’clock in the morning … He turned up ostensibly for a contraband search … I had to stand there just with a pair of undies on, with my hands on my head, while he searched the room. And then he searched me. And that’s where it started. Then it became sexual and he got quite excited and ended up throwing me on the bed and raping me. That was my introduction to it’.
James doesn’t remember exactly how many times he was abused, but knows it was a lot. McGregor threatened if he told anyone he would remain at the reformatory until he was 18.
James told the Commissioner that other officers were involved and recalls being raped by another man. ‘I can’t remember his name. He was a big man and it hurt like hell.’ On another occasion James was in a back room of the kitchen with McGregor and a number of other officers, and all of them sodomised him.
After James was released from the reformatory, his schooling suffered. ‘That all just went out the window. I never passed my junior. Nothing. It basically ruined everything. You know, it had such a huge effect on my life. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it.’
James told the Commissioner he was picked up, hitchhiking, by a travelling salesman who took him to a football oval that was pitch dark and ‘I can still remember him flicking this lighter on and off. And the last time he flicked it his pants were around his ankles … and he was right in front of me, standing, and he ended up naked, or not naked, but from the waist down. And I punched him as hard as I could and I took off’.
Later that night the police took him back to his probation officer, but he didn’t report what had happened. He was terrified of being sent back to the reformatory.
James never told anyone about the abuse. When he came out of the reformatory he was only 13 and he told the Commissioner he was confused about his sexuality. ‘I was terrified that I’d become a homosexual so I became quite promiscuous as a teenager after that … I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a homosexual. I was terrified that I was going to become a homosexual. I had no idea how it worked.’
James has a number of physical ailments which he attributes to his abuse. He thinks his bowel has been affected by the rapes, but has never consulted a doctor about this because he didn’t want to talk about it. He also suffers from a tremor that only started after his time at the reformatory, and although he’s seen a doctor about this too, he never revealed the abuse.
James resisted counselling in the past, but told the Commissioner that he was now open to it and had been in contact with the free legal service, knowmore.
‘There was a counsellor at this knowmore … I got an email from her to contact her. And I haven’t as yet … But, no, I haven’t shut the door on it at all. If I could find a way to make it easier then absolutely. Because it does worry me. I mean sometimes I have the most horrendous nightmares … and sometimes out of the blue, I’d just start remembering things, you know. Less and less as I got older … but even now, still, sometimes it’s like it only happened yesterday.’
The first time James approached the Royal Commission he dropped out because he wasn’t ready to talk. He now wants to help stop the abuse happening to others and ‘I suppose the more voices the better’. James told the Commissioner ‘That’s why I came in. That’s why I changed my mind and contacted youse again and decided to go ahead and do it. Because it may help somebody else. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid it happened to’.