‘A lot of what’s happened in the past we may not be able to do anything about but we can put procedures in place to make sure that the future doesn’t follow that pattern.’
Leigh attended a local Catholic public school in southern Sydney where the nuns inflicted harsh physical punishments. While Leigh had siblings, he often ‘felt the isolation’ of childhood and he joined cubs and army cadets ‘to find friends’. In the late 1960s when he was about nine years old, Leigh joined the scouts. Soon after joining, Leigh was sexually abused by the group leader of the scout camp. The man watched the boys shower and instructed them on how to wash their genitals.
‘It was around that time that we all started to act a bit weird … there were funny things happening in tents at night. There were older boys masturbating, it was a bit of a show. There were funny things going on. At one stage I got interfered with by another boy … who was much older than I was.’
Leigh didn’t tell anyone about the abuse and continued as a scout. At a jamboree he was introduced to another man, who Leigh believed was a ‘special scoutmaster’ running camps for boys in the wilderness. Leigh went on a camp with the man but due to bad weather they all had to stay in a house for a night rather than camp. Later that evening, the man invited Leigh to come and sit next to him on the couch and watch television.
‘He had undone his fly and started to masturbate and put my hand on his penis and showed me how to help him masturbate. Then he put his hand on my penis which didn’t result in very much because I was so young that if I ejaculated I couldn’t even produce sperm.’
That night Leigh had to sleep in a room with the man. Leigh’s memory of events after he went to bed is unclear. The man also abused Leigh while Leigh was undertaking an abseiling exercise during the camp. The man flicked the rope to intentionally injure Leigh’s testicles and then rubbed Leigh’s testicles to soothe the pain.
During the camp the boys were punished for any misdemeanour.
‘It was very authoritarian. No privileges. He’d tell us when we could eat … I would have been about nine at the time.’
The man also sang sexually inappropriate songs and lyrics around the campfire.
When Leigh returned home he didn’t report the abuse to his parents. His schooling was disrupted when he changed schools a number of times, and when he was 15 years old he was pulled out of his education to work with his father. This led to years of cash-in-hand jobs.
‘I’ve done my time as what I call a journeyman. I’ve taken jobs wherever I could find and it’s always cash … I survive.’
Leigh began abusing alcohol and soon marijuana.
‘I’m drinking by this time … the normal thing to do is to get drunk of an afternoon, get stoned during the day, laboring for cash … by that time you’re into hash.’
He had married young and had children but found parenting difficult. His marriage broke down. Leigh also suffered a number of family tragedies which further impacted on his ability to be in a long-term relationship. It wasn’t until Leigh decided to go back to TAFE to finish his high school certificate that his life began to change for the better.
‘I just knew everything was wrong … I had a nervous disorder … I went and told [the doctor] I couldn’t cope. He gave me some medication and some sleeping tablets … I try to sleep at night. It’s not always easy.’
Leigh has received a small amount of redress through the Towards Healing program for the violence he experienced from the nuns and is now keen to seek compensation from Scouts. He also provided police with a statement about the scout leader who was jailed on other child sexual offences some years ago. ‘I haven’t wanted to take it any further’.
With some perspective on his abuse Leigh wants to receive some mental health counselling and support so he can be a better father and grandfather.
‘I’m getting to that point where my childhood got stuffed up and I’m stuffing up other people’s childhoods because I just don’t know how to be a father.’
He would like to see Scouts put in place extensive checks on people who will be working with children.
‘Before you become a part of the scouts, we want to know your criminal history, we want a psychological assessment of you. When you are running your camps we want supervision and if necessary we want cameras … and when someone is done for paedophilia, a big investigation – anyone who has ever been connected with anything [the offender has] done has to be communicated with.’