When Jonno was nine or 10 he stopped playing soccer and took up rugby instead. One of the teachers at his Catholic primary school was the coach and training was held at the school’s playing field. It was the late 1970s, in a small New South Wales country town.
The coach, Bill Sampson, invited Jonno to stay at his weekender, located by a lake not far away. Another boy who went to a different school was invited as well. Jonno was passionate about fishing, and Sampson’s house was in a perfect spot for it. ‘I was quite excited, of course’, Jonno said.
After dinner on the first night, Jonno went to put his pyjamas on. ‘We don’t wear pyjamas here’, Sampson told him. Jonno obediently took them off. The three of them slept naked in the same double bed, Sampson in between the two boys.
‘So that’s when it started. And when I look back, I was quite shocked. But at the same time, being so young, I didn’t really understand that it was right or wrong or whatever. I didn’t quite understand the whole thing … I kept going out there; I don’t really know why.’
Sampson’s abuse of Jonno included masturbation and fondling. Jonno didn’t tell anyone about it. He was afraid of Sampson, who in his capacity as coach could get very angry with the boys on the team.
But in some respects Jonno enjoyed his stays at Sampson’s place. ‘There was other things that we did on these weekends that were fun’, he recalled. The boys played in the creek on the property, took Sampson’s boat out on the water and put out nets to catch fish and crabs. At the end of the weekend Jonno would go home with a big bag of fish. ‘Obviously that was quite welcome to my family’, he said.
‘I was very confused about the whole thing … At the back of your mind you know it’s wrong but you don’t know how wrong. ’
The weekend visits spanned the length of the rugby season, and came to an end when one night Jonno touched Sampson on the penis. ‘He jumped out of bed’, Jonno recalled.
But when Jonno stopped going, Sampson invited his younger brother instead. Jonno was ‘quite disturbed’ by that – he didn’t want his brother to know what Sampson had done to him, and he didn’t want it to be done to his brother. In the end he said nothing. Years later, he and his brother are estranged, and he still doesn’t know if his brother was abused by Sampson as he was.
Jonno first disclosed what Sampson had done to him in his late 20s, to his wife. He and his wife had just separated, and he told her in the hope it would help her to understand him better. She then told his sister and mother.
He and his wife have three children, and their separation was very painful, he said.
‘It really rocked me for a lot of years. At the same time it gave me the opportunity to spend some time thinking about my life and myself’. It allowed him to re-evaluate the past and his experiences with Sampson.
‘I guess I just took myself on a bit of a journey of dealing with what had happened.’
Sampson had died by then. Jonno visited his grave – ‘I had a few words to say’ – and also returned to the site of the holiday home, now derelict. On the advice of a girlfriend, he took himself off to a few sessions with a counsellor. ‘She was quite positive. She just said, “You haven’t turned out too bad. Bad things happen".'
Jonno credits his three children with motivating him to sort out his life. He is now married again, and has a successful professional life in the construction industry. He recently filed a complaint with the Catholic Church about his abuse, and was offered four free sessions with a psychiatrist – an offer he has accepted. He doesn’t plan to seek any further compensation. He believes he has dealt with the abuse, and its impact in his life is over.
‘What else is there to say about it? It’s not a nice thing … It’s not a fair thing.’