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Sidney John's story

‘I remember my mother, who was as innocently naive as '60s mums could be, told me that I always need to be careful of strangers in the picture shows ... According to Mum, the strangers could ruin us for life. For the life of me I could not comprehend what could possibly happen in a darkened picture show that could ruin me for life. While I don’t consider myself ruined, I now know that can happen in a tent or a darkened corner.’

As things turned out, it wasn’t strangers that Sidney or his mum needed to worry about.

Sidney joined his local Brisbane scout troop as a cub in the 1960s. When he was 11, and ready to progress to being a scout, he attended a camp, where he met leader Jock Hendricks.

‘I was quickly taken in by Jock. He appeared to take an interest in me, empathise with my then poor relationship with my father, and included me in on what, at the time, I thought were the more important tasks with the slightly older boys in the troop.’

Sidney was allowed to share a tent with the older boys, who had cigarettes and ‘the most titillating adult magazines that I had ever seen’. He was shy about getting changed in front of them so would wait until he was alone. One time he heard some boys sniggering outside as they watched him undress, and then Jock screamed at them to get away.

Jock came in and reassured Sidney, saying that if he had any more trouble he should report it. ‘At the time his words were a bit of a relief to the embarrassment I felt – but I was to later learn that he too was outside looking in.’

Large gatherings were not held often because of logistical requirements. Jock more frequently held other smaller camps with just a few boys.

‘They were considered as the be all and end all by anyone who had not yet made the grade, and seen as a reward ... In hindsight, the selected participants were, of course, reserved for those [that] Jock thought were ready for harvest.’

Sidney was around 12 when he first went on one of these small camps with another boy. Jock left the boys alone for the afternoon, providing them with cigarettes and ‘a fistful of magazines with which to keep ourselves occupied’.

After dinner Jock and the boys ‘sat around the fire talking about all things and then the subject turned to sex with girls, and what we thought of the magazines he had left us with in the afternoon’. When it was time for bed, Jock entered the boys’ tent and asked again about the pornographic magazines, and Sidney realised that the leader was only wearing his underpants and shirt.

‘He opened the magazine and placed it on the floor with the torch shining on the naked woman and said something about how horny she was, and exposed his half-erect penis and started slowly masturbating himself.’

The other boy started touching Jock, and then Jock began performing oral sex on the boys. ‘I didn’t know what to feel, say or do but remember feeling that this was not right, but at the same time thinking that it felt pleasurable ... To this day that event haunts me, particularly the thought that I allowed the events to occur, and enjoyed the physical sensation and the attention.’

Nothing further was said about this incident and they returned home the next day. ‘When asked by my parents how the camp was, I just said good. I felt absolutely sick with guilt because I knew that what had happened could not be right, but I had not done anything to stop it.’

This abuse happened again numerous times on camp or in the scout den. Sidney tried to avoid Jock, but his parents would encourage him to assist the leader with activities.

Sidney tried to leave the scouts in his early teens, and Jock threatened to invite his little brother to camp instead. ‘I stayed, but to be shamefully honest, I think it was more about me protecting myself than me protecting my brother – what if he was to find out what I had done?’

His mum would sometimes catch him crying in his room but he could not make himself disclose the abuse; he just said that he didn’t know why he was sad. ‘Even as an adult I couldn’t tell her what had happened because I knew that she would then blame herself, and it was not a guilt she in any way deserved to bear.’ The abuse continued until the scout master and mistress became suspicious and Jock was removed.

In his mid-teens Sidney joined the military. He was sexually and physically assaulted by other cadets while in the shower, including having his genitals scrubbed and covered with boot polish, but did not report this to his superiors.

Some years later Sidney learned that Jock had been convicted and incarcerated for sexual offences against other children. He believes that if the scouting authorities had acted on their suspicions, some of these offences may have been prevented. When he saw a report about Jock on the news ‘thankfully I was alone as it all came rushing back – the shame, the guilt and the depression was so bad I just broke down in front of the TV’.

Sidney has disclosed a little about the abuse to his ex-wife, his current partner and his children, but not in any great detail. A few years ago he contemplated suicide and sought some counselling. Finding therapy ‘traumatic’ he did not discuss the abuse in any depth and instead worked on ‘identifying the schemas and the triggers’ and developing coping mechanisms.

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