Percival was nine years old when he arrived in Western Australia as a child migrant from England in the early 1950s. He and his two brothers were sent to a farm school in a regional town where Percival stayed until he was ‘unceremoniously thrown out’ at the age of 16.
The cottage mother at the farm was Mrs McGinty, a harsh disciplinarian who seemed to take particular pleasure in victimising Percival. People would donate clothes to the farm and Mrs McGinty would issue the most inappropriate and ill-fitting clothes to Percival, such as long shorts that had to be held up by braces when all the other boys wore belts. This resulted in Percival being ostracised by his peers, with jeers like ‘there goes Percy in his clown outfit’ as he walked past.
In addition to humiliating and degrading him, Mrs McGinty often beat Percival brutally. On one occasion Percival cowered on the floor between the wall and the bath while Mrs McGinty flogged him so hard with the broom handle it broke in half across his back.
Life at the farm was bleak. The food was inadequate and Percival had to stand in fresh cow pats in winter to warm his feet when he had no shoes. After arriving from England, Percival started wetting his bed which resulted in further humiliation and punishment.
Another resident at the farm was Reggie Nagle, who was a couple of years older than Percival. All the boys were wary of Reggie. He was far bigger than most of the others and he was very strong, but more importantly he had an ‘odd, scary and intense affect’ that intimidated everyone around him.
Reggie had a morning dormitory ritual of getting out of bed, stripping off his clothes and grinning while he waved his erection around at the other boys. In a written statement regarding Reggie, Percival wrote ‘You don’t mess with a mad dog’.
Percival was around 11 years old when his older brother left the farm and Reggie started climbing into Percival’s bed, forcing him to masturbate him, and occasionally ejaculating onto Percival’s skin. Reggie was strong and quick to violence, so Percival felt powerless to stop him.
Reggie would also perform oral sex on Percival, and because Percival had just reached puberty his body would sometimes respond, deepening his sense of shame and violation. The abuse escalated to attempted anal penetration, which although unsuccessful was still very painful.
Because the environment was devoid of affection, residents of the farm became highly sexualised in their own way and ‘boys would sometimes seek one another out for mutual masturbation’. This made dealing with Reggie’s abuse impossible. Percival was aware that Reggie ‘abused other kids in the cottage as well. I saw him sneak into their beds sometimes. It was never openly discussed’.
Percival also knew that if he told anyone about Reggie’s nightly assaults he himself would be accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour, sent to the principal and beaten. Disclosing the abuse would also put him at a greater risk of Reggie’s violence while being further ostracised and mocked by the other boys.
‘I was well and truly trapped. Reggie was so confident, he never even bothered to threaten me into silence. He knew I would not tell anyone.’
Percival is certain that Mrs McGinty and other staff members were aware of Reggie’s behaviour. ‘They must have been. I can’t see that they wouldn’t have been, looking back.’
‘Leaving aside the beatings, the neglect and deprivation, I want to know how it was tolerated that a deranged psychopath like Reggie Nagle was placed with vulnerable children? Why was I exposed to such danger and not protected? Our cottage mother saw the evidence. She saw him waving his erection at us in the mornings. She saw how frightened we were of him.’
Reggie continued to abuse Percival at the farm for at least three years until Reggie left. Years later, Reggie was convicted as an adult of serious sexual assault against children and spent almost 30 years in prison before being deported. He has since died.
Since leaving the farm school, Percival has struggled with social interaction.
‘I feel isolated from people, I find it very hard to communicate, don’t really trust and rarely commit. I have a pessimistic outlook. I feel a damaged person … I think you lose your sense of belonging to a family. It’s sort of like I’m an outsider looking in. It’s all there but you’re sort of removed from it.’
Percival got married quite late in life and has not had any children. His wife is aware he was abused but not of the details. He never discussed it with his brothers. ‘I really probably don’t know how to discuss it.’
In 2009 Percival was awarded $45,000 as part of WA Redress but was surprised by this as he felt many others suffered worse than he. As a child he was bewildered by what was happening to him but as an adult he has never sought counselling.
‘I think as you get older you sort of know more about the world, you think well I’m just one of a number and you sort of get on with it really.’
‘You’ve got to sort of basically move on and let it go.’