Army recruitment personnel showed Victor a photograph of a beautiful sandstone building, which turned out to be nothing like the ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ accommodation he found on arrival at the Victorian barracks in the early 1970s.
At 15, Victor was seen as ‘the lowest of the low’ among apprentices because he hadn’t entered to study a trade. From the moment he met his first more senior apprentice – someone about a year older than he – Victor was subjected to the ‘massive, absolutely constraining pecking order’.
He described ‘a culture of bastardisation’ that was condoned by all levels of the army hierarchy.
A hazing ritual took place before senior apprentices graduated, and Victor hadn’t been on barracks more than two or three days before it came around. Several other apprentices had already taken a dislike to him, particularly after he’d refused to hand over a packet of cigarettes to one of them.
During the night, six or eight apprentices came into his hut wearing balaclavas and with faces blackened. They pinned him down ‘in a regimental manner’ with their knees on his back and after pulling down his pants, inserted the handle of a toilet brush into his rectum.
‘It was very painful and they said the more I struggled the more they would continue inserting this, and that they weren’t going to stop till I had my first period.’
After they left, Victor went to the bathroom and ‘ashamed of the blood’, cleaned himself up as best he could before going back to his shared room where ‘not a soul was moving’.
In following days, Victor was called homophobic names wherever he went and was given extra duties and punishments. Physical abuse was almost constant and at one point Victor confided to Norm, a man who worked in the laundry. Norm asked to see Victor’s injuries ‘to see whether it was infected or not’ and while doing so, began masturbating.
Victor was sure Norm was about to rape him. ‘I said, “I don’t want to be hurt anymore. Please don’t do that”. He then made it look like he was just inspecting it.’
Norm also gave Victor driving lessons and would try to grope him in the car.
On another occasion, Victor was bashed by two apprentices and had his head forced into the toilet for a ‘royal flush’. The apprentices continued to hold his head under water until he eventually passed out. When he regained consciousness, Victor invented symptoms to get himself admitted to hospital for a few days, but once he was discharged the abuse continued.
Victor called his parents begging them to let him come home, but his father told him he had to ‘follow through on the decisions’ he’d made. Later Victor found letters written by army personnel to his parents which said they should ignore any requests by him and that ‘he’s just homesick’.
Eventually Victor found some support in the army chaplain who organised for people from a local church to take him out whenever he had free time.
Despite the treatment he was subjected to, Victor remained in the army for more than three decades. He saw some of the people who had ‘perpetrated these acts’ rise through the ranks and occupy prestigious positions.
‘They hunted and kept me quelled and at a low rank for my whole career’, he said. ‘They remained professional and material enemies from day one or two.’
In the 2000s, Victor reported the abuse to military and state police ‘after about my fifth suicide attempt’.
He was told the army had no record of a laundry existing on barracks nor of a worker named Norm being there. He was also told that the two potential eye witnesses to the rape on the hazing night were now deceased.
Victor felt the ‘crooks that stayed in the system’ not only thwarted his career but eventually worked to get him out.
‘I’m currently five or six years into fighting Department of Veterans Affairs for PTSD, and they continuously obfuscate and throw up the next row of barriers to cross …
‘The crooks used military psychiatrists to deem me bipolar so I could be kicked out … That was the worst part: leaving the army in the same way that I joined the army.’