‘The events that happened have changed my life forever and … nothing will ever be the same. I remember I used to look at kids [that] age you know, and I’d go, “Was I really that young?”’
Melanie’s father was an official of a sporting association in New South Wales. Melanie played for one of the association’s clubs, and was coached by Peter Wallace.
In the late 1970s, when Melanie was 11, Wallace began taking her to matches, to help him with the scoring. He used these opportunities to sexually abuse her during the next two or three years.
Wallace told Melanie that what they were doing was ‘a secret. Don’t tell your mum and dad’. There were no threats, but ‘it was just a secret. It was just a private thing. And through the counselling, working through it all, I actually thought [at the time], he was my boyfriend’. When Melanie told a friend at school that she had a boyfriend, the friend just laughed.
No one in the sporting association questioned why Melanie was accompanying Wallace to the games. ‘They saw it all the time. And all the members of the board saw it. Every single one of them. And nobody thought anything.’
Melanie told the Commissioner, ‘I used to be a good kid. I was quite a reasonable kid … [then] I started drinking … There was one time … on the way to school … I drank a whole bottle of Passion Pop and ended up in hospital … I couldn’t deal with my feelings and so I was just drinking as often as I could’.
When Melanie’s mother picked her up from the hospital after she had consumed the bottle of alcohol, no one asked any questions. The hospital staff told her mother that she ‘just needed to have a hangover to learn not to do it again’. Melanie was in Grade 6, and only stopped drinking when she began having counselling at 18.
Melanie would spend all day sleeping in the sick bay at school. ‘I even do that now, when I’m stressed. I just sleep. So I’ll go home from this and I’ll just go to sleep. It’s my way of … not coping … That’s why I’m seeing a counsellor now, because I don’t cope with a lot of things, and it’s because I’ve learned to shut off instead of trying to deal with things.’
The sexual abuse stopped because, ‘This is a little bit out of the ordinary, [but] he was evidently at the same time having an affair with my mum … I saw him kissing my mum, and it just stopped. He never came and picked me up again for [matches]. Nothing was said. It just stopped’. Wallace still continued to come to their house, but never approached Melanie again.
‘My father wasn’t a very nice man, and because I thought [Wallace] was my boyfriend, I thought, “Well, maybe he’s going to be Mum’s boyfriend now, and maybe he’ll treat her nicely”. That was stupid … but that was just the way I thought. We were brought up in a very religious organisation and … didn’t matter what it was. You did … as you were told.’
When she was 18, Melanie ‘was struggling with certain sexual things and [my boyfriend] suggested that I go and get counselling’. The counsellor advised her to tell her parents about the sexual abuse. Melanie and the counsellor also discussed reporting it to the police, but she ‘just couldn’t get myself to do that at that time’.
Melanie told her father about the abuse, but he didn’t do anything. ‘It wasn’t brought before the board … Peter Wallace was also one of the members of the committee, and absolutely nothing was done about it.’
Wallace continued to coach until quite recently. Melanie reported him to the police a year ago, and they contacted the sporting association. Wallace was removed as a coach, but continues to have a role in the association. Melanie doesn’t think any explanation was given to members as to why Wallace was removed from his position, and as yet, no charges have been laid.
Melanie told the Commissioner, ‘The reason why I’m mainly here is because I’ve been watching what’s happening on the news and a lot of that has actually brought up a lot of my history which I wasn’t coping with, and so therefore I’ve gone to counselling about that and we’ve been working through that process …’
Melanie hopes that by telling her story she might ‘stop it happening to somebody else’, and if someone sees a child exhibiting strange behaviours, such as drinking a whole bottle of alcohol, like she did when she was 11, then questions should be asked.