‘There were maybe three or four favourites. I turned out to be one. I now knew what they were going through too, but nobody spoke of it. He was so bloody charming in the daytime.’
In the early 1950s Neil began attending a scout troop attached to a suburban Catholic church. Priests were not involved but the boys met on the church grounds. Every few months the troop would take a train into the country and camp out for a few nights at a large shed built in bushland.
The dozen scouts would arrange their bedding on the floor in a large circle, and then the young scoutmaster, Lawrence Beale, would choose his spot.
‘When it was my turn to be his victim, he would bed down beside me. The first time it happened I was shocked and frightened. You see, our blankets were pretty loosely held together … One night I felt a hand slowly come onto my leg and gently rub it.’
Beale then took Neil’s hand and drew it under his own blankets, forcing the boy to masturbate him until he ejaculated. The scoutmaster would also reach across and masturbate Neil.
‘I was only 13 or 14 and this was my first sexual experience. When he was finished, he whispered that this was part of my induction and it was secret. I was terrified.’
Neil did not tell anyone about the abuse. He stayed in the scout troop for three years. ‘On reflection I think that this happened to me probably five or six times but it seemed like hundreds.’
At 15, Neil left school and the scouts to begin his working life, which put a stop to the sexual abuse. The effects have lasted a lifetime however.
‘The events of the '50s will come into my mind at any time like a never-ending nightmare. I might go weeks or even months without thinking of it, then some little thing will trigger those memories …
‘There’s an Irish expression: “A stone in the heart”.’
Neil has been unable to trust other men, even colleagues and supervisors, and this has caused him problems over the years. He has had a long and successful marriage and children of his own, and now grandchildren, but admits to being constantly worried.
‘What I have found is that I am fiercely protective of them and extremely alert to the possibility of anything happening to them.’
Guilt has also plagued him. In his late teens Neil was given an opportunity to work away from his home town, ‘which got me away from my drunken and abusive father, home, the Catholic Church and most importantly any contact with the scouts’.
Neil had a younger brother, Brian, who was just starting at Lawrence Beale’s scout troop when Neil left. ‘I never warned him. I never told my father about the scoutmaster either. I went [interstate].’
In adult life Neil and his brother had little to do with each other, and never discussed what had happened at the scout camps. But Brian’s life was troubled.
‘He got mixed up with radicals, anti-establishment causes and criminals, and became a heavy heroin addict. Before long he turned to a life of crime. Robbery, standover and drugs. He was jailed … He was a junkie from about 18 or 19 for the rest of his life.
‘He burgled us twice. He became destitute and homeless. We saw less and less of him.’
In the late 1990s, Brian became critically ill and Neil travelled to be with him at the end. ‘He was connected to machines, barely breathing and seemingly unconscious. I held his hand for a while and gave him a sort of a hug.
'I looked at him and said something like, “See you later, mate”. He replied, "What about the scoutmaster?"
‘Those were his last words. They just haunted me.’
Neil has never made a police report and does not want his past to become public property. He has only recently confided in his wife of nearly five decades, ‘and I’m not going to tell anyone else’. Neil has not received any counselling over the years, nor has he sought compensation.
‘I lay the blame for a large percentage of this dreadful family story back at the feet of Lawrence Beale … and the boy scout movement as it existed.’