Nick Vincent's story

Nick grew up in Queensland in the 1960s and 70s. At the age of 14 he joined a surf lifesaving club as a cadet. There, he experienced sexual abuse from both older and junior members of the club. One of these, according to a written statement Nick provided to the Commission, went on to become a policeman in a child sexual protection squad.

Nick’s mother always identified as a proud Aboriginal. His father is Italian. As a kid, Nick wanted to belong, to grow up being a proud Australian. He also wanted to fulfil his dream of being a lifesaver. Nick was a good swimmer and athlete. ‘I had lifesaver written all over me, even at a young age.' However, within the club, Nick was the target of numerous racial slurs. ‘I didn’t have the words to defend myself’, he told the Commissioner. The sexual abuse he experienced added to his identity issues.

When he was new to the club, a group of members of all ages restrained him and pulled his pants down. Then he was bitten on the buttocks. The bites were painful and left distinct bruises. Amongst the large group was a senior club member in his 40s and a younger member, Ross Appleby, who was 16 or 17 years old at the time. Nick recalls that senior members would taunt younger members with a ditty: ‘Fresh boys are cheap today, cheaper than yesterday!’

The club had a ‘bawdy, drunken and debauched culture’. Free alcohol was regularly provided to underage drinkers. Binge drinking was encouraged. Non-drinking was considered weak and unmanly. Pornographic magazines were readily available around the club bunk room.

In the open showers club members, including older members, would comment openly about people’s genitals. In the bunk room, Nick recalls waking up because a club member, Stu, maybe in his 40s, was ‘masturbating me while he masturbated himself’. This happened more than once. At least one other boy was also abused at around that time. Later Stu was disciplined by the club for this behaviour. Nick was summoned to give evidence at a special executive club meeting. However, his parents weren’t even notified. Stu was subsequently suspended from the club.

Nick believes Ross Appleby was grooming him. Ross was much bigger and more ‘manly’ than Nick. He befriended Nick and even took him to a Suzi Quatro concert, knowing that Nick was keen to learn guitar. He sexually abused Nick on a number of occasions when Nick was 14. The abuse included fondling, masturbation and oral sex. On one particular occasion, Nick wrote in his statement, ‘I considered him a friend and just put up with it on the night’. After he ‘masturbate[d] me to ejaculation’ Nick felt ‘guilt’ and ‘dirty’. After another occasion when Ross abused Nick, Nick ‘felt guilty for a long time afterwards’.

Appleby was also a bully to the younger club members. He taunted them verbally. He would tackle Nick and others to the ground and straddle them. He would also twist their nipples, which he did to Nick up until Nick was 18 years old.

Nick failed Year 11 at school. He wanted to be an ironman as he had the ability, but he didn’t commit to training. He also showed great promise as a footballer but stopped due to an injury.

‘I gave up on lots of things. I just gave up', Nick told the Commissioner. ‘I wasn’t coping emotionally and I was scared that my [Aboriginal] background might come out. It might be used against me somewhere.'

Later Nick studied in a field he loved. However, he felt ‘really inferior’ and dropped out. He was devastated when his marriage broke up. ‘I wasn’t at peace with myself and it’s an awful thing to expect someone else to meet that need.’ Nick has had two nervous breakdowns over the years and was hospitalised both times. With the help of spirituality and a good doctor, Nick is now well and no longer takes medication. He attained professional qualifications and his job gives him the opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities. He has found ‘getting your mind off yourself’ a positive thing.

Nick understands that Ross Appleby went on to work in the police force – in child sexual protection - but got into some kind of trouble and resigned. He also learned that Appleby was suspended from the surf lifesaving club for touching a female minor.

Nick has not been active in the club since his early 20s. He did, much later in life, talk about the abuse he experienced to two senior club members, on two different occasions. Although he was met with a sympathetic response both times, as some of this abuse was known about, it didn’t go anywhere.

In very recent years Nick went to the police about Ross Appleby and gave a detailed statement to police. After several months Nick followed up, only to be told the investigation hadn’t progressed because they couldn’t find Appleby’s address. Nick found the address himself from the electoral roll and gave it to the police. A short time later the police arranged a telephone hook-up between Nick and Appleby, with the purpose of getting Appleby to admit to his offences. However, Nick was only given four hours’ notice. He was completely unprepared and anxious. During the call, Appleby denied everything.

A few months later Nick called the police for a progress report and was told there would be no further investigation. Nick was never told why. He believes the detective involved was slack and incompetent.

Despite the failed police call, Nick is determined to take a positive from a negative. ‘In confronting Appleby on the telephone, even though he denied everything, everything … But you know what? When I walked out of that station, I had a victory. I had a victory. I confronted this man.’

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