“I was a very strong 12-year-old,” says Gibney, of how she stooped her grandfather sexually assaulting her. Picture: Richard Dobson
“I was a very strong 12-year-old,” says Gibney, of how she stooped her grandfather sexually assaulting her. Picture: Richard Dobson

‘I told him get his hand off me’

HE came for her when she was just 12.

Rebecca Gibney's grandfather - the same man who the veteran actor says had sexually abused her own mother - tried to visit his sins on her daughter.

Even as a pre-teen, Gibney was having none of it.

"He tried to touch me once but I was a very strong 12-year-old. I told him to get his hands off me," the 52-year-old says in an explosive claim set to air during an upcoming episode of Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery.

After the attempted assault, Gibney saw as little of her maternal grandfather as possible.

She avoided the "happy families" visits with her grandfather as her mother guarded the explosive secret.

"I didn't see him much after that. I didn't want to spend time with him," she says.

"Dad knew nothing about my grandfather, that was the other thing.

"Which is why we still had to be happy families with my grandfather. But dad would have killed my grandfather if he knew."

Not for a minute does Gibney believe her mother consciously put her and her siblings in harm's way.

While Gibney's now-dead grandfather had abused her mother from the time she was two until the age of 15, "Mum never thought for a moment that he would try it on any of us".

It's a frank and soul-baring interview as Gibney also revisits her childhood shaped by an alcoholic father who frequently beat her mother. And for whom she found forgiveness as she nursed him in his final days.

The Gold Logie winner had spoken before about growing up in a household in the grip of domestic violence, and the complex relationship with her late father is revealed as she revisits the family home where he died.

The family moved often, before settling in that home, she tells Zemiro.

"Dad was a heavy drinker," she says, by almost matter-of-fact way of explanation.

School, she says, was her happy place ... "and there was a period there of about two or three years where my father stopped drinking".

She started doing well in those golden years, she says "because he was paying attention".

Rebecca Gibney, centre, with brother Pat, and Julia Zemiro in Wellington. Picture: Mark Tantrum
Rebecca Gibney, centre, with brother Pat, and Julia Zemiro in Wellington. Picture: Mark Tantrum

Reliving her childhood, Gibney counts herself lucky that her mother had the money she didn't have for her older brothers and sisters growing up to finance the singing and dancing lessons Gibney adored.

Her father started drinking again when Gibney was a teenager. That's when the panic attacks - which she would suffer until she had a "total breakdown" in her early 30s - began.

"My panic attacks were the result of me burying feelings," she says.

"Then I became the ultimate people pleader and then when I got to 32, 33 I had a complete and utter breakdown.

"On the surface my life was great. Inside, I was just a black hole.

"Weirdly enough it wasn't my dad so much I had to forgive. It was my grandfather, because I blamed him for what happened to mum."

Revisiting her childhood home, Gibney steels herself for the memories and reveals her conflicted love for her father, especially in his final months.

She had quit work to help her mother care for her dad as he died.

"I got so angry because I thought 'I am finally getting to know this man', because for years he was just this drink angry person. And the last six months I thought 'I'm finally getting to know who you are'. And then he died," she says.

"And he was only 51. Younger than I am now. I miss him."

She said her father never "laid a finger on us ... he loved his kids".

“Home was safe, because mum made it safe,” says Gibney, right, with Zemiro in Wellington. Picture: Mark Tantrum
“Home was safe, because mum made it safe,” says Gibney, right, with Zemiro in Wellington. Picture: Mark Tantrum

"There were good things. He was good man who made some really dumb choices," she says.

"When mum first met him she was escaping an abusive relationship - her father abused her for many years - and she met dad she thought he was going to be kind of her saviour."

The first years were great. Then then the drinking accelerated.

"He wasn't being the man he wanted to be so all the anger and the rage he was suppressing started coming out and he started beating my mum."

Gibney speaks through tears as she says her mother "carried so much guilt over the abuse of her father that when she was getting beaten up by dad there was a part of her that thought she deserved this".

"Home was safe, because mum made it safe," she says.

"She would shut the doors when she knew dad was coming home. And she would always come in after he'd beaten her and make sure we were OK."

Her mother, an "incredible", "strong", "amazing" woman spoke constantly Gibney says, about forgiveness.

Gibney is now an active campaigner against domestic violence as a patron of women's charity, Share the Dignity.

Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery with Rebecca Gibney airs 8pm, May 2, on ABC.



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