Graeme Pilley.
Graeme Pilley.

We suffered from moment we turned up

A FORMER West Australian seaman now retired to the Coffs Coast has told the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce how the actions of a predator sailor shattered his dreams of a happy life.

Graeme Pilley was just 15 when in March 1968 he boarded a train bound for Perth filled with excitement for the adventure ahead.

His 12 months training at HMAS Leeuwin base in Fremantle were to be his first steps into a Defence Force role, but within weeks of unpacking his bags any hopes of a high-flying navy career were dashed by, he claims, the sailors tasked with taking care of him.

In evidence he has given to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, Mr Pilley alleges a sailor inappropriately touched him at the base, with a suggestion of a promotion if he stayed silent.

Terrified, he claims he tried to run away, only to be found the next morning, asleep on the football oval, by the sailor he alleges abused him and another man.

What would follow, he says, would lead to him living in a "world of fear" into his 60s and decades of mental illness.

Mr Pilley said the men kicked him repeatedly until he fell into the grass, unconscious, and woke to discover he was not only unable to stand but had also been raped.

"Face again in the grass, hot flushing, I cannot feel the cold but I can feel my blood running. I lay sobbing, demolished," he wrote in evidence to the task force.

Mr Pilley said the abuse was the most traumatic of his time at Leeuwin, when he says he witnessed abuse from both sailors and fellow recruits including the "scrubbing" of young boys with toilet cleaner and steel wool and after-dark beatings at the hands of senior recruits.

"It was worse than anything you've ever seen in the movies about boot camps and that, everyone yelled at us and ordered us around and beat us up. We suffered from the moment we turned up," he said.

Mr Pilley revealed details of the abuse to a psychologist more than 30 years after he left the Navy and after the breakdown of his marriage, which he blamed on the trauma he suffered at HMAS Leeuwin.

He said his experience at HMAS Leeuwin led to a lonely adult life, during which he kept his stories secret for more than 30 years.

He often replays visions of the abuse, including the bashing of children in the dormitories when they tried to sleep.

"The doctors say I've suffered with this for so long that it will never go," Mr Pilley said.

"I lived in terror for the 12 months I was there. I never trusted anyone again and the ramifications of what happened then will stay with me for ever. I had a complete lack of faith in any authority after that day at the oval.

"I worked for myself because I couldn't work for a boss."

Mr Pilley said he was one of the 117 victims who got compensation from the Government as part of the inquiry but claimed the $50,000 he received has barely covered the cost of a lifetime of mental health problems.

Mr Pilley welcomed a recommendation of an inquiry in the current royal commission framework but urged that every case be looked into in detail, including which authorities knew of abuse claims decades before they were investigated.

"It would be really nice to have this all end properly by the Department of Veterans Affairs looking after our care, returning to us what we did when we volunteered as children," Mr Pilley said.

"I don't think this is anywhere near finished until it goes to the royal commission.

"It can't be completed until every dark corner has a light shone on it."

Original story courtesy of The West Australian.

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