‘Do they all go to the same paedophilia school? Because they all use the same language … You read the papers and you listen to the stories on radio and it’s always the same way they go about it.’
Kelson grew up in western New South Wales in the 1960s and was a religious child. His mother was English and his father was from a mixed race background, including Aboriginal. His mother was ostracised by her family for marrying his father. She turned to religion to help her cope and church became a part of the family’s daily life.
‘These priests used to come around to our house every day’, Kelson told the Commissioner. ‘My father wasn’t impressed about it. He didn’t want them there.’
By age eight Kelson wanted to become an altar boy and took church very seriously. The Anglican clergy who served in country areas would travel a great deal, driving from town to town and to far flung stations. They were highly regarded by the locals and it was an honour to be involved with them. Kelson was picked to travel with the priests to remote communities to help with services, most often with Father Ian Pickett.
‘He knew I wanted to learn to drive and he put me on his knee. This is how it all started. Every time we went out anywhere this is what he’d do.’
Father Pickett would pull Kelson’s pants down and fondle the boy’s genitals. ‘I didn’t like it, and I told him.’ Pickett ignored Kelson’s complaints. ‘He said words to the effect, “It’s our little game. It must make you feel good because you got an erection”.’ Pickett sexually abused Kelson once or twice a month for about two years.
When Kelson was 14 he had a fight with his sister and punched her in the face. He knew his father would give him a hiding for it, so he ran away and asked a local priest for help. Brother Andrew Rhodes let him stay at the rectory that night.
‘I woke up and Brother Rhodes was trying to rape me – my pants were off and his penis was between the cheeks of my backside.’
Kelson managed to fight Rhodes off and escaped to a local park, where he stayed for a few nights, too scared to go home. When his parents found out he was sleeping rough his father made him come home.
Kelson said he couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time. He was too young, and felt that no-one would believe him. He didn’t want to be called a liar. He also feared what his father would do. ‘Had I told my father he probably would’ve killed ‘em.’
Kelson also wishes to speak for a friend of his, Gary. Gary was an altar boy like Kelson. ‘I know he would’ve been molested, I know that for a fact. Because we spent too much time together at the rectory.’ Gary never told anyone about his abuse. He killed himself when he was 21. ‘I honestly believe in my heart that’s why he did it.’
Kelson is a survivor, and believes he inherited great resilience from both his parents. He has felt the effects of his abuse, however, throughout his life.
‘I have a lot of trouble dealing with this issue, especially when it’s splashed over the papers, in the media … I can’t hide anywhere and I find it very difficult at those times.’
Faith in God has remained part of Kelson’s life, but he is completely estranged from the Church.
‘I just don’t feel a connection to go into a church any more … It wouldn’t make me feel good going into a church. It’d just bring back what happened.’
He has had a number of marriages and admits to being promiscuous. Kelson believes he has been sexually hyperactive from his teen years in a bid to prove his masculinity to himself and the world. Kelson has great difficulty disclosing the details of his daily struggles, through shame and embarrassment.
In the early 1990s Kelson realised Church ministers and workers were still criss-crossing the outback and he feared children were still in danger of abuse. He reported his experiences to the police at that time, but he heard nothing further from them and doubts any action was taken.
A decade ago Kelson approached the Anglican Church and made a detailed statement about his abuse. Church officers investigated and contacted Father Ian Pickett in retirement. Pickett declared he could not recall abusing Kelson, but believed he might have done so.
The Church admitted liability and offered to organise professional counselling for Kelson. This did not eventuate, however, and no one from the Church subsequently contacted Kelson to check on his progress. Kelson is now challenging the Church through a lawyer.
Kelson approached the Royal Commission in the hope of helping bring about change. ‘That’s why I came forward. Because I thought, “What if them bastards are still out there doing this to the kids?”’
‘I don’t think the community realise how deep it is. They might start to realise soon.’
Kelson would like to see a child-friendly information network set up. ‘Some sort of reporting system for all kids. They need to be aware that there’s a place to go, that they can trust someone to tell if something is going on … There should be some sort of reporting system that’s totally transparent and easy for kids to go to. School would be a good place to start.’