Mal’s parents were migrants from Europe who arrived in Australia after the Second World War. They split up in the 1960s when Mal was very young, and from then on he was raised by his mother. It was a tough time for Mal and he speculates that if there had been ‘a little more love’ in the house his life may have turned out differently.
At age seven Mal was abused by his music teacher, Mr Porter. The first few incidents happened in the classroom. Later, Porter took Mal and some other children away with him to a house in the bush. On these occasions Porter brought along a friend and both men abused the children.
Mal said he couldn’t tell anyone what was going on.
‘No one spoke about it back then. No one even warned you about anything that could happen back then. It was a taboo subject. And I was too scared to tell Mum because more than likely I’d get a belting, black and blue.’
There were several more incidents with Porter over the next few years. Then, as Mal got older he became more ‘rebellious’ towards the teacher, even throwing firecrackers at his head, and the abuse eventually came to an end.
But Mal’s rebellious behaviour continued. He played up at school and got in trouble with the police. At 14 he ran away and lived on the streets for a while until things got a little much for him to handle and he called his mother for help. She picked him up and then dropped him off at a Salvation Army boys’ home and he became a ward of the state.
After a short stay with the Salvos, Mal was moved to a government-run boys’ home. There he was targeted and groomed by staff member Luke Riley.
Riley gave Mal attention and compliments, bought him alcohol and taught him how to drive.
‘He took me into his confidence. He treated me, honestly, like his son I suppose. He introduced me to his parents. Nothing was out of limits for Luke to take me into his wing, which gave me full confidence in him.’
Luke began by touching and fondling Mal. Over time the abuse escalated to oral sex.
‘He made me feel very awkward, dirty, ashamed. … I really tried to resist it. I begged him not to do those sorts of things. I knew it wasn’t right, I knew I wasn’t gay, he just kept putting that emotional pressure on me.’
At 15, Mal managed to break away from Luke. He got a job and started a relationship with the girl who would later become his first wife. She fell pregnant when Mal was 17. A short while later, Mal assaulted and robbed a man in a pub and was sent to an adult prison.
The prison housed many violent career criminals, including a man named Hugh Hackett. One day Hugh offered Mal a cigarette.
‘I said, “No worries”, went into his cell. Shut the door, put the knife to my throat and raped me.’
Mal was assaulted several more times after that. He said he couldn’t speak out because of the culture of the prison system at that time.
‘If I had dobbed on Hugh Hackett I would have got bashed, I would have got stabbed. … It was the most frightening place I’ve ever been. You can’t run out of it. You cannot run and hide.’
He vividly remembers a moment after he’d been raped by Hackett the third time. He was sitting in the common area, planning how to kill himself when he got a phone call from his girlfriend’s mother, ‘saying, “Mal, you’re a father”. … It was like I was in another universe. Just the pain, the confrontation then to realise I was a father at the same time was just out of this world. So I had a nervous breakdown. I broke down many times, and no one could pull me back up’.
Since then Mal has suffered many more personal tragedies. But he has also managed to build a respected career and a strong, healthy relationship. He has recently spoken to police and feels that the time is now right for him to take action against his abusers.
‘I’m strong enough now to go through that without worrying about other people bringing me down. … No one can do anything to me today that hasn’t already been done.’