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William's story

‘The most horrific thing is when you’re in the ocean, and you’ve been trained by him to be safe and how to live and survive, and to see him coming at you with that look, and he’s swimming towards you, straight away you just know: he’s not here to teach me anything.’

William first met surf lifesaving teacher Brett Macleay in the mid-1970s. At the time, William was a naive eight-year-old, estranged from his father, so he gravitated towards the impressive, ‘godlike’ Macleay.

‘He had this aura about him, too. He doesn’t push it out there, he doesn’t sort of advertise his aura but that’s just how strong it was, and as kids we were drawn to it.’

William’s awe turned to fear one day when Macleay molested him. The same thing happened several more times, always in the water. ‘He always used that as his little means to hide himself or his actions, or his reactions, of course. Sexual reactions.’

William didn’t know what to do or who to tell. Looking back now he struggles to see inside the head of that little boy. ‘I just could not do it. There was never a time in my young age where I thought “I’m going to go tell someone”. It never got to that stage. And it’s very hard when you look back now, you go, “Why don’t you just do something?”’

The abuse continued until William was about 10, but its impact was felt for much, much longer. He became a workaholic and an adrenaline junkie, but the biggest and most complex problems he’s faced over the years all relate to trust.

It’s a paradox. One the one hand, William often feels suspicious of people and is reluctant to form new relationships. On the other hand he’s sometimes gullible. ‘I actually give myself out to too many people’, he said.

Partly because of his trust issues, William didn’t mention the abuse to anyone until very recently when he spoke to a counsellor and to his partner. He was happy leaving the whole thing in the past, but an injustice in his workplace opened old wounds.

It began when a group of William’s senior co-workers, all male, sexually harassed a young female staff member. As the supervisor, William pushed for a full investigation involving police.

‘What upset me is that when this happened my workplace squashed it. I wanted some police charges from this. Nothing happened … What is really disheartening is no one wants to help me on this issue.’

William said he ‘basically got the sack for trying to make an issue of it’. As well as costing him his job, the incident has had a huge emotional impact. ‘I have literally curled up in a ball for about two or three months because no one helps me … It is just killing me.’

Recently William spoke to a counsellor about the issue. He didn’t intend to talk about Macleay or the sexual abuse but one day the story just ‘fell out’ of him. The lightbulb went on and William realised that the two issues were bound together.

Now he’s determined to resolve them both. He’s continuing to pursue what action he can against his former employer while also helping police build a case against Macleay.

‘I’m a strong, powerful man now. Before I probably wasn’t. And this is the right time, I feel, in my life to do this.’

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