‘From my Aboriginal heritage’, Pearce told the Commissioner, ‘we were taught as children to respect our elders’. So when his grandmother suggested he go stay with Mr Dawson for a week, it never occurred to Pearce to refuse.
It was the mid-1960s and Pearce was about 10 years old. By an unlucky coincidence he happened to be visiting his grandmother’s town in rural Victoria at the same time as Mr Dawson. Dawson worked for the Save the Children charity and often travelled to rural and remote Aboriginal communities as part of his job.
Dawson was crafty and manipulative. He won the trust of Pearce’s grandmother, convincing her to put Pearce on the train to Melbourne. Pearce arrived at the station completely alone. Dawson picked him up, took him back to his flat and sexually abused him every day for the next week.
‘I remember these two old ladies lived down on the bottom floor. They used to greet us when we came back from a day trip in the city, or he took me to Luna Park or somewhere. They’d be there: “How you going, Mr Dawson? Yeah good”. Then up the stairs into his den and do it all over again.’
One day, Dawson brought a friend home with him. The man tried to assault Pearce, but Pearce escaped by running and hiding under the bed. It was all he could do.
‘I remember, as a young bloke, looking out that window, saying, “Who can help me?” But no one was there.’
Afterwards, when Pearce returned home, he was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened. Years passed and he kept silent, suffering alone.
‘I’m a tough fella. I fight through. I’ve worked all my life.’
There were some things though that Pearce couldn’t fight.
‘I’ve had a few breakdowns. And I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Medication and all that stuff. And put into those – what do you call those mental institutions – psychiatric ward.’
His marriage broke down.
‘I lost my family. My wife divorced me … They moved to Melbourne and I was left on me own back in the country with just memories.’
Pearce has never told his family about the abuse, so they still don’t know why he behaved the way he did. Nevertheless, he now maintains strong bonds with his children and his grandkids. It’s for their sake, and for kids like them, that he came to the Royal Commission.
‘I kept it to myself for so many years and I think it was time to tell my story, to mainly protect children in the same situation and set up safeguards for our future generation not to go through what I went through.’