‘It didn’t really affect me at first. I didn’t really know what had happened’, 14-year-old Jackson told the Commissioner. ‘And then I realised, like two years later, when we were watching the news about Rolf Harris, and I kind of thought about it, and I remembered what happened, and I thought that was pretty bad. So I told Mum because I know I can trust her and she was there and she’d believe me.’
Jackson’s mother, Lindy, did believe him. And she wasn’t surprised. Jackson was talking about an incident that had occurred several years before, when he was 10. Lindy had been concerned at the time – so concerned she’d reported it to police the next day.
The incident took place at the Melbourne home of Max Tripton, an actor and director. Tripton had contacted Lindy after seeing Jackson’s photo and reading his profile on a talent website.
Jackson, who was 10 then, had recently had a role in a children’s theatre production and loved it. ‘I was into acting and stuff – I was really into it.’
So when Lindy told him she’d heard from Tripton, and that he’d invited Jackson to audition for a short film he was making, Jackson was enthusiastic. Lindy got in touch with Tripton to find out more about what was involved. ‘All his emails to me were very reassuring’ – and eventually we agreed to go ahead.
The audition was scheduled for a Saturday. Lindy and Jackson arrived as several other boys and their parents were leaving. Another boy and his father arrived at the same time as Jackson and Lindy; this boy, Oliver, was a few years older than Jackson and was auditioning for another role in the film.
Tripton told Lindy and Oliver’s dad that the audition would take about 45 minutes. He urged them to go and get coffee from a nearby café. Oliver’s dad agreed, but Lindy wasn’t prepared to leave her 10-year-old in the house without her. So while Tripton prepared the boys in a studio upstairs, she waited downstairs, where she heard everything he said.
She felt immediately that his conversation was inappropriate. He was swearing a lot, and asking the boys personal questions about themselves and their parents.
‘The thing that made me realise he didn’t know I was there was when he said to the boys, “Now, I’d like you to go and get changed into these costumes – and make sure you take your jocks and your socks off, because we don’t want to see the lines underneath the costumes”.’
A few minutes later Lindy went upstairs to check what was happening. Oliver had changed into a long-legged leotard – and she could tell he still had his underpants on. Jackson had followed Tripton’s instructions. He’d taken his underpants off and was wearing a skimpy leotard, too big, that hung loosely on him. Tripton ushered Lindy down the stairs again, where she was joined soon afterwards by Oliver’s father.
Jackson told the Commissioner he’d been happy and excited at previous auditions. This one, though, was different. ‘I just wasn’t excited. I was just kind of confused, the whole way through … It was weird.’
Downstairs, Lindy heard the boys performing their parts. To her alarm, the script departed from the content Tripton had told her about. The boys had to lie on the floor while Tripton ‘smothered’ them, and then pretend to be dead. ‘I’m thinking this was not part of the audition script’, she said. ‘When it all finished I just wanted to get the hell out of there.’
Jackson couldn’t tell exactly what had happened as he lay on the floor. ‘The thing is, my eyes were closed. He told me to close my eyes, because I was pretending to be, like, dead.’ But he knew that Tripton had kissed him. And that’s what he told Lindy, when she asked him that night if Tripton had touched him anywhere.
‘He said yes, he’d kissed him on the lips’, Lindy recalled.
With Jackson’s consent, she reported to the police the next day. Nothing came of this. ‘[The police officer] said “Oh, look love, there’s nothing really we can do”. He was very dismissive … He said “Look, you know, if you want us to go round there and have a chat with him” – I said that would be good. They said, “That’s pretty much all we can do”.’
It was a different story two years later. Watching the news about Rolf Harris helped Jackson understand what Tripton had done to him. ‘Out it came, all the other stuff that he hadn’t told me two years beforehand’, Lindy said. She sat him down and asked if he wanted to go back to the police. ‘He said, “I really want to go to the police, Mum. I really want to go”.’
‘I was a bit scared, I think’, Jackson told the Commissioner. ‘But I knew that it was the right thing to do and I wasn’t afraid of the police … I suppose I was nervous and after I finished I was kind of relieved, I think …
‘I wanted justice. I wanted to get it off my chest.’
This time their complaints were followed up. Over the next six or seven months a police investigation proceeded. The police officer they’d reported to, Michelle, was sympathetic, helpful and communicative throughout. Because the audition had been filmed, police were able to get a warrant to access Tripton’s computer. They found footage of nearly 30 boys ‘auditioning’, for a film Tripton had never planned to make.
Tripton was arrested and faced over 100 charges. When the offences became public knowledge, more victims came forward and additional charges were laid. Jackson had been prepared to give evidence but in the end it wasn’t necessary, as Tripton pleaded guilty.
Lindy explained that Tripton had been operating in a regulatory loophole. Once a child is cast in a role, strict requirements about care and safety come into play. But these don’t apply before. ‘So anything could happen in auditions, and there’s no law that covers the audition process.’ Both she and Jackson believe this needs to be changed.
‘I think there should be more rules around auditioning kids for parts’, Jackson said. ‘Definitely there should always be a parent in the room, they should have a Working with Children Check, and I think there should be some proof that the video they’re making is real.’
For now at least, Jackson’s enthusiasm for acting has waned. ‘I just lost interest … I thought if that was the way acting was, I didn’t want to do it.’ Lindy told the Commissioner that Jackson’s been getting into trouble at school: ‘I think he just has a problem with male authority figures.’ She is proud of his courage throughout the police and court process, but said he finds that hard to accept.
‘He just dismisses me. “Mum. Stop going on about it”, you know.’
Jackson had this advice for other kids: ‘Everyone tells you about stranger danger and stuff, and don’t trust strangers, and you kind of just get used to it. But sometimes they’re not strangers. So it’s hard to tell who to trust and who not to trust …
‘It’s not just strangers on the street that are trying to do bad things.’