‘[It’s the] first time, other than with a partner … I’ve really ever been able to talk to someone about what’s happened to me and … my experience and what’s happened to friends of mine as well, in the hope … and we all hope, that this [the Royal Commission] is going to deliver some kind of outcome for children, men and women in the future.’
Oliver grew up living with his family in suburban Brisbane. In the late 1980s, when Oliver was 10 years old, he was abused by a foster boy his own age who lived down the road from him.
‘He’d … been in the foster care system since day dot … and [the abuse] … happened probably for about … two years.’
One day Oliver asked the boy why he abused him.
‘He said … “This is all I’ve ever known. I’ve only ever gone to homes where men had abused [me]” … he thought that was normal.’
Oliver began to wonder about his sexuality. ‘That caused all kinds of issues for me … It’s taken a long time to grasp … what happened to me earlier on.’
This early abuse also lead Oliver to form a relationship with another boy, also in foster care, for a number of years during his teenage years. This boy had also been sexually abused in foster care.
When Oliver was about 14 years old his parents’ marriage ended. He was attending an Anglican-run school in Brisbane, paid for by his grandmother. Oliver did well at school and enjoyed sports. He also became very self-sufficient, getting himself quite a distance to and from school each day.
‘My nanna paid lots of money for us to go … with the idea that we would be educated and education really can be the ticket … Now that I look back on it, it kind of was really.’
He found the school ‘was quite a macho school, quite a strong, male dominated school’ and combined with his parents’ break up, it was ‘a great period of confusion for me’. He sought support from the school counsellor.
‘[The counsellor] was always there … It was only [about] Mum and Dad … I didn’t know what was going on. I was having mixed feelings … He was the man to go and see if you had any kind of issues … whatever it be, he was the man.’
In the first session Oliver felt like he could trust him.
‘He asked questions like “What’s your home life like? Who’s around? … but that did [move] into “Have you got a boyfriend? Have you got a girlfriend?” … I never thought anything of it at the time … He was a man I trusted.’
Oliver confided in the counsellor, telling him about his previous sexual abuse. The counsellor normalised that behaviour for Oliver. He started to give Oliver pictures of men to look at and would ask him if they aroused him.
‘He made it seem completely normal.’
Oliver went back to the counsellor for two more sessions and each time the counsellor’s behaviour became more odd and intrusive, touching Oliver all over his body and then focusing on his genitals, saying ‘I’m just going to feel you, I’m just going to make sure that you feel all right’. The whole time Oliver was instructed to keep his eyes closed at all times.
During the third session, Oliver opened his eyes and saw the counsellor masturbating. Oliver didn’t go back and never told anyone about the abuse. In his late teenager years he began to take drugs and drink alcohol. This continued for some years.
‘If you go through that kind of stuff you are troubled. You take drugs. You party.’
When he was 24 years old, he decided that ‘enough was enough’, he said.
‘After going into a deep dark hole myself … I just cracked it one day. I pulled stumps up at work, jumped in the car and said, “Mum, I’m going to uni. I can’t have it anymore”. I was in a really depressive anxious state. I just didn’t want to be in Brisbane anymore. It had so many horrible memories … really conflicting.’
Oliver moved interstate and began a university course. He now has a family of his own and a career.
Over the years since leaving Brisbane, he has discovered that his mother, his sister and one of his good friends had all been abused as children. Many boys exhibited destructive and anti-authoritarian behaviour in the school. Oliver now wonders how many of those boys may have been abused as well. He also knows many who have had drug problems or landed in jail.
‘People that would never be able to recover … drug addicts. People kill themselves. Gone. Never come back. Never recover.’
For Oliver, he was able to draw a line in the sand.
‘It was either destruction or preservation. And preservation seemed like a much better outcome than destruction … There was a better life out there than where I was heading. And that really probably was jail, it was going to be criminality.’
But he is still learning how to manage the effects of his abuse.
‘[I am] just learning to release it slowly bit by bit. I’ve spoken to my partner about it, to my mum, to my father … I think that’s one of the big things is to be able to talk about it. And over time to let people … know a little bit … And so you let up [on yourself], you let your story down, you let it go … over time you learn to deal with it.’
The counsellor has been dead for some years but Oliver is thinking about applying for redress from the school. He is also concerned about the foster care systems and that they don’t serve Aboriginal children at all.
‘Lots of Aboriginal kids are abused and just being able to have a support system for them … there needs to be more support for [them] … Open the system up and let the kids be taken into loving homes where they won’t have to be passed around.’
As he has grown older he has gained perspective on and understanding of his young life.
‘I look back now … [with] empathy for some people – you look at that boy – and if he was abused from God knows what age, he didn’t have a hope in hell …
‘My mum, when we talk [she’d say] don’t [look back] so I don’t. That’s my advice to you – don’t look back. Look ahead because you can’t change the past.
‘I was in the wrong [places] at the wrong time. What happened to me shouldn’t have happened … [but] I just moved on at the right time.’