‘I come from a very conservative Christian family. We were always pretty poor and we never had any spare money. But I had a happy time growing up.’
Luke was never encouraged to pursue tertiary education. ‘It was always, “You need to get an apprenticeship, a trade. Wealthy people get tertiary educated”.’ In the late 1970s, when he was 13 or 14, Luke began considering what sort of trade might suit him.
‘For some reason, I got drawn to the idea of getting an apprentice in the defence force.’ About three months after he turned 15 Luke was selected for an interview and, after all his assessments, he was very excited to be chosen as an engineering apprentice. He was sent to an air force training base in New South Wales.
‘I found out that the life at [the base] was not really all that fun. I was homesick and lonely. I was bullied by the other apprentices. I found it hard to make friends and fit into the group … But in the first year I was still resilient and I was coping. Just.
‘What probably didn’t help me in that first year was that I … was really sheltered in my upbringing … I was innocent. I was naive. I was immature. I’d never been away from home before’. His parents hadn’t even been able to afford to send him on school camps.
‘I started having problems adapting. So to escape it I began to distance myself from my peer group and only interacted with them when I had to, and I was looking for ways to escape. It wasn’t fun.’
Luke had always enjoyed sport, so he joined a football team on the base. Luke thought at the time that Frank Thomson, the trainer, was a civilian, and only found out in 2014 that he was actually in the air force.
‘[Frank] soon befriended me. I didn’t know at the time, but he was a paedophile and it was several months after I’d met him that the first of three assaults occurred to me.’
The first time Luke was sexually abused was on a sleepover at Frank’s house with some other trainees. ‘I was vulnerable. I needed a friend … Some of the details are not there anymore because my brain’s decided to maybe file that away, never to be opened again. I don’t know. But it’s all documented … within my records … because I said it at the time.’
The other boys at Frank’s house went out, but Luke stayed behind nursing an injured finger. Frank gave him a tablet, supposedly to help his recovery, but it was actually a powerful sedative. ‘He then assaulted me while I was asleep, although I had woken up, and it was sort of almost a dream state.’
The second assault also took place at Frank’s house, when he was giving Luke a massage the night before a match. ‘He started to touch me and then masturbated me again, and then after it happened, I was really embarrassed, really ashamed, and he says, “Oh, don’t worry, it’ll make you play football better”. And I believed him.’
The third time was on the base, when Frank was giving Luke a massage after training. ‘After it happened, he didn’t talk to me and I just felt really ashamed and guilty. I should have said, “Stop”, but I didn’t.’
A few weeks later there was an announcement during morning parade. Anyone who had dealings with Frank Thomson was asked to report to the padre. Luke told him what had happened.
Everything was put in Luke’s records, but when he accessed those records in the mid-1990s and again in the 2010s, there were discrepancies between the two sets.
Thomson was eventually charged with sexual offences against three boys. He pleaded guilty and received a short jail sentence.
Luke was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and approached the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). They refused to take responsibility for the abuse, saying that it hadn’t occurred on the base. Luke had to prove that it had, and he eventually succeeded in making them accountable for the abuse and the impact it had on him.
After Luke left the air force, he became a public servant. Not long ago, he was speaking to a superior about sexual assault and revealed that it had happened to him. The man was shocked because although he had heard about such things in the defence forces, he’d never met anyone it had happened to.
‘Something in my brain thought, “Well, maybe it’s time to talk about it, because Defence is taking this [seriously now]. I felt comfortable enough that it was being taken seriously and I thought, “Well, why not?” I think there was some stories going around in the news anyway, and I thought, “Well, if I talk about it, then maybe it can help someone in the future”.’
Luke has suffered from three major episodes of PTSD. One was in the mid-90s, one in the early 2000s, and the third was a couple of years ago. The last one happened when he was dealing with the DVA.
With memories of that episode still in his mind, Luke believes that he has now ‘moved on … I’ve moved from a victim to a survivor, and now I’m thriving’. Luke would like to continue to tell his story, to encourage other people to come forward.
Luke’s wife, who accompanied him to the Royal Commission, said, ‘From being the, I suppose, one of the last taboos to be talked about, now, finally, there is an open, honest conversation finally happening and unfortunately, I fear that this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a start, and we all have to make that start’.