Josh grew up in Sydney. In the late 1970s, when he was 10, he went on a school camp run by the Department of Sport and Recreation.
‘To be honest, I don’t remember anything [about] it ... I remember, thinking back, a couple of weeks ago … “What did I learn there” and I mean, yeah, we did do camping, I suppose I did learn a few camping skills … I vaguely remember doing something in a creek. And that’s about it.’
At the camp the children were assigned to cabins, and each cabin had a leader. Josh believes that there may have been about 10 boys in his cabin and Steve Dawson was their leader.
‘I remember waking up one night and he was in the cabin and then the next night … I got in trouble for wearing underpants to bed. That was his rule, we couldn’t wear underpants to bed. So the previous night … I don’t know if he’d actually done anything, but … he’d known. He’d been into my pyjamas and knew that I was wearing underpants … So I’m thinking, “You must’ve gone there on that night”.’
Before they went to bed the second night, Dawson made Josh stand outside in his underpants, as punishment. ‘No one else got into trouble … And that same night he came around and I woke up and he was masturbating me.’
On another day, Dawson took the boys to a nude beach. ‘I can’t recall what was said, but obviously we were all meant to take our clothes off and me and Grant went, “There’s something going on here” because … after I got masturbated, I said, “Did anyone have him come in that cabin? Did anyone else see Mr Dawson come in the cabin?”
‘Grant did … “Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s a weirdo, rah, rah …” or words to that effect. And then on the beach that day, we were hanging together and he made everyone take their clothes off, and we ran off and hid up in the bush and then I got in trouble for that … and he nailed me for a few things … he pretty much singled me out more than anyone else, I’m thinking.’
When he got home, Josh’s mother asked him what had happened at the camp. Initially, he said nothing, but he later broke down in tears and told her. They went to the police station to make a statement.
The whole process with the police was ‘horrible. As you can imagine, I’d never had anything like that as a 10-year-old and looking back, I go, “that wasn’t a very good start to life, really’.
Dawson was found guilty of sexually abusing all the boys in the cabin and was sentenced to seven years in jail. ‘I can’t even remember going to court … We had to go in and actually talk about it. Now, they do it on
… So I had all that going on and all the other adults too, and my mum too, you know. Saying what I told you wasn’t very nice … not a good experience.’
After the trial, no counselling was offered. Josh went back to school, ‘paranoid at who knew and yeah, that’s where I reckon everything really did go wrong … There was no support there.’
Later, at high school, his friend Grant would sometimes bring up the topic and laugh. ‘It would worry me about why he was laughing, but I think it was just to get through it … I didn’t like going into it with him.’
Josh began to worry about his sexuality and started bashing the gay kids at school. ‘I hate what I did with all that … beating people up, whatever, thinking I was gay … I thought I was the gay one, so I’d pretend … I’d always dress down … I’d rip buttons, rip the shirt …
‘Everyone knew I was the dickhead at school, the one trying to get my entertainment somehow … to get through the day. Smoking pot all day ... Running off down the bush, smoking and that. Causing trouble in class. Beating up kids’.
In the early 2000s Josh became ‘pissed off with everything’ and decided to sue the government. As part of the legal process, he went to see a forensic psychologist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a number of other mental health issues.
He tried taking medication but didn’t like the way it made him feel. ‘I’m best just sticking with the pot because I believe it is low toxic … it puts me to sleep. You can wake up in the morning, I mean, if you don’t have the alcohol, it’s a lot safer drug I think than having a concoction of something.’
When the lawsuit became problematic, Josh went instead through victims of crime, and they sent him to a counsellor. ‘During the first session he said, “So, what are you here [for]? You here to rip the government off, are you?” I was a bit upset … [He] chucked me a box of tissues … He was a real dickhead … I didn’t really have a good experience with him.’ Josh has had no further counselling.
When he heard about the Royal Commission, Josh contacted the Department of Sport and Recreation to ask what they were going to do about child sexual abuse. He was passed from person to person and got nowhere.
Josh told the Commissioner that what he would really like from the department is an apology. ‘Something in writing … as long as it’s fair dinkum, not just, “Hey, quickly write that and send it in the mail”, you know what I mean?’