Max and his brother Andy both worshipped a man called Tim Baxter when they were growing up in Queensland. Baxter, who was married with kids, offered himself as a father figure to the boys.
He was calm and kind, a complete contrast to their own violent, alcoholic father. And he betrayed them both.
‘He was such a lovely man. With a huge flaw’, Andy said. ‘Why didn’t he get help?’
The softly-spoken brothers talked separately to the Royal Commission but their stories overlap.
Max was about 10 and Andy a bit older when they, along with their mother and sibling, managed to escape their father’s violence. They left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and a handful of dollars.
They settled further south and got involved with the local Anglican church. Their mum was conscious that the boys needed good male role models and encouraged them to join a group called the Church of England Boys Society (CEBS).
‘We were all vulnerable and we needed a bit of a steady hand and a bit of guidance and a bit of comfort … We were steered towards the CEBS and that’s where the fun all started’, Andy said.
The group of 10 boys included other local kids. It was congenial and ‘cosy’ having fun with other boys. They’d kick the ball around, there’d be a short prayer session in the church, and then they’d go back outside to play a bit more.
Baxter usually drove the boys to their home after CEBS meetings to take the pressure off their parents. And it was on these drives ‘that the hands would go down the pants … if you were sitting next to him. He had a way of picking a target week by week – who he’d drop home last, be alone in the car with’.
Both Max and Andy also remember molestation by Baxter when CEBS went on camping trips to a property on the coast.
Max remembers that there were bunks for the younger boys and another room for senior CEBS members. Baxter came in to say goodnight to them. ‘His hand would go to your genitals and your anus. I don’t think I knew how to process it at that age but it felt all right because … it was some kind of contact.’
Andy remembers that elaborate games were organised during which the boys inevitably ended up naked and running around the bush. Baxter also organised parties at his home, without his wife or children present.
The CEBS boys would be invited over ‘as a special sort of thing’, Max said. They played a game called strip-jack-naked. Baxter also took some of the boys into his bedroom. Max didn’t ‘take up the offer’.
He realised later that he knew the layout of Baxter’s bedroom but doesn’t feel like anything violent or forced happened to him.
Andy is distressed by how Baxter blurred the boundaries. For years he struggled with reconciling the comforting, fatherly arm around the shoulder with the sexual abuse. ‘That’s the agonising thing about that … He’s being more huggy and warm than your own father was and he’s got a hand down your pants playing with you … Oh I just can’t believe that.’
But everybody loved Tim Baxter. He projected a ‘glossy, shiny, pure and holy persona’, Andy said. Max simply described Baxter as his only father figure.
Andy remembers that Baxter approached the two brothers one day and casually asked if they thought their mother would consider allowing him to adopt Max, his favourite.
Their mother, despite being ‘so damn strung out bringing up four kids in a row’ declined the offer.
The turning point came for Andy one hot Saturday when the CEBS boys were playing in a creek, naked as usual. Baxter drew Andy onto his lap. Andy could feel that he had an erection. Baxter then penetrated him.
‘He was doing the big cuddle and kiss stuff on the back of the neck. “Are you all right? Are you all right? Don’t you like that?”’
Andy ran off into the toilet and asked some other boys if Baxter had ever done that to them. ‘Yeah’, they said. He emerged in time to see Baxter sexually abusing another boy.
That’s when things changed for him. ‘I thought what is going on here? Surely it can’t be normal behaviour to do this?’
He dropped out of CEBS.
‘I just knew that if it was his idea of fun, I wasn’t finding it fun anymore.’
Andy left school early. He just ‘couldn’t settle’. He left home at 16 so that he wouldn’t be a financial burden on his mother. It was a way to break from the past as well.
Years later the two men reflected on the impact of Tim Baxter’s abuse.
Andy ‘fell into a few traps’ such as excessive drinking and a bit of drug taking, but he was too wise to follow the same destructive path as his father. He’s had counselling on and off, when it gets a bit much.
‘I’ve always had to tough it out ... through everything that went on.’
Max struggles with the scale of child sexual abuse in general. ‘It’s like a holocaust.’
He kept going to CEBS after Andy dropped out but he believes he escaped the worst of Baxter’s abuse. He realises, however, that it still deeply affects his life.
‘The thing was … he deliberately went about to target boys … who didn’t have a male figurehead … This is the heinousness of it.’
In the 2000s one of the CEBS boys laid charges against Baxter. Andy and Max were contacted by police. Being shown photos of Baxter’s house and giving a detailed statement to police triggered memories and terrible nightmares for Andy.
He disclosed the abuse to his wife. It was the first time he’d spoken about it.
For a long time Max couldn’t consider Baxter a heinous individual until a police officer told him details about what else Baxter had done. ‘One of my friends had suffered far worse.’
Max has been following the work of the Royal Commission. A while ago he ‘just completely ceased to function … It was like I’d been physically bashed’.
He saw the advertisement to register for a private session. He also saw Baxter on TV. ‘I picked up the phone at that moment.’
He talked to Andy, who’d already organised his own private session with the Commission.
Max went on to get counselling for the first time and is now considering applying for compensation. The Anglican Church ‘abdicated their duty of care to all of us … We should be compensated’.
He still trusts people, however. ‘I want to believe in people … At heart I’m an optimistic sort of person.’
Andy hasn’t taken civil action against CEBS. ‘Part of me has had some difficulty with taking money from the Church.’
Although that is changing.
‘It’s been a lot of years and I’ve still got the hurt from it. I’m not totally well, myself … It’s been that endemic, apparently, and nothing done about it, which is a bigger crime than the initial crime itself. So if there’s lots of broken people out there like myself then compensation would probably be a good thing from the Church as a gesture.’
Andy went back one Sunday morning to look at the disused church where the CEBS used to meet.
‘There’s a blackboard out the front and I just wrote on it “Boys were abused here. Does anyone care?”’
Did he get an answer to his question? ‘I didn’t go back and check.’
Andy strongly recommended codes of conduct and mandatory reporting for organisations such as CEBS.