A photo taken of Joe* in 1971 shows him long legged and tanned, his childish face shaded by a large hat as he holds a sturdy stick, ready for adventure.
The group of adults who took the 12-year-old on bushwalks throughout Tasmania gave him a nickname.
Now 63, he has been haunted by those walks in his youth, where he alleges he was plied with alcohol and sexually abused by one of the men.
“They called me Chuck because I used to drink and vomit,” Joe said.
“If you saw a 27, 28-year-old man running around with 12-year-old boys in his car, sometimes giving them alcohol, you’d have to wonder.”
Drug and alcohol addiction followed Joe into his adult life, eventually leading to what he jokingly referred to as his tour of Tasmania — admission to four different psychiatric wards.
The first incident happened in the alleged perpetrator’s spare room before a Saturday morning journey.
“It definitely happened more than once at that house and it happened on some of the bushwalks as well,” Joe said.
“I wanted to go bushwalking. I didn’t go to find somebody to have sex with me.”
Joe gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and tried to have his case prosecuted by police in 2014.
He was told it would not be pursued because of the time that had passed, that his mother’s supporting evidence was not strong enough, that a covert call with the alleged perpetrator made from Victoria was not admissible in Tasmania, and that the allegations had been “emphatically denied” during an interview with police.
His drug and alcohol abuse was also listed as a reason his reliability may be questioned.
Joe all but gave up on seeking justice and tried to get on with the life he had built in Melbourne — sober and single.
“I have a dog and I’ve found a good job but it’s not a high-level job.”
Seven years passed. Then, about one month ago, he received a Facebook message. Maybe he could help this woman in Tasmania?
‘Everything just clicked into place’
Julie* was debriefing with her sisters the day after her birthday when one of her siblings said something that made her pause.
Learning of the alleged sexual abuse her father Alan* suffered when he was about 11 led to sadness and rage so white hot it was like nothing she had ever felt before.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s why my dad worked away, why he had the emotions he’s had.’ Everything just clicked into place,” she said.
Given the alleged perpetrator’s name, Julie became obsessed, trawling Facebook, the phone book and archives at the library.
“What I found in those records was very disturbing,” Julie said.
“I found the walks my father had been on.”
One by one, she tried to contact those that may have also been on the walks. Some people were interested in helping where they could, some expressed sympathy, some firmly refused to talk.
But within minutes of messaging Joe on social media, he was on the phone.
“He introduced himself, as did I, then we just had an awkward silence, then both started crying,” Julie said.
‘I’ve suppressed it all my life’
Alan and Joe’s stories are remarkably similar — in fact, the men grew up in Devonport, on Tasmania’s north-west coast.
Alan said he was an active child, involved in a lot of sports. His family too was befriended by the alleged perpetrator, and he was invited on bushwalks with the man.
He remembers three separate alleged incidents, also around the early 1970s, and also involving alcohol.
Alan finds it incredibly difficult to talk about.
“I’ve suppressed it all my life,” Alan said.
Reconnecting with Joe and realising the horrors they each went through had led to mixed emotions, Alan said.
“We were mates … haven’t seen each other since 71, didn’t realise what was going on,” Alan said.
“It was a very sad moment or moments. It was just comforting to support each other.”
The pair compared stories via text for about three weeks and helped create certainty where time and trauma had made Alan question his own memories.
“Example: I had something in my head where there was alcohol involved, something was nagging,” Alan said.
“And [Joe] supported that. I’ve supported him in other areas as well. I’ll be interested to meet him again.”
Joe described speaking with Alan as a “remarkable experience”.
“It’s sad but it’s also validating that this guy has come up,” he said.
“It’s been quite remarkable to connect with another victim.”
‘Justice would be to have this guy charged’
At his daughter’s urging, Alan went to Tasmania Police in January, and was formally interviewed late last month.
“Justice would, to me, [be] to have this guy charged and convicted and his penalty to be paid on some level,” Alan said.
“Justice would be to me as well that that happened, not for myself and [Joe], but how many other people have been abused and their lives have been trashed because of what happened to them as children.”
A Tasmania Police spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on whether someone was under investigation.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Zoe Papageorgiou is investigating a civil claim for compensation on behalf of Joe, Alan and other potential survivors of alleged sexual assault within the community.
“At the early stages of a claim it’s very much puzzle pieces, and bringing together the puzzle is really dependent on people coming forward,” Ms Papageorgiou said.
“If we as a community — as well as their legal representatives — can help them by sharing information, that’s critical.”
Alan said speaking up was difficult but he wanted to ensure other survivors of alleged child sex abuse did not feel alone.
“The message I’d like to get out there to anyone who’s been a victim is that it’s OK to speak up, and at the end of the day if you don’t speak up no-one will be brought to justice.”
*Names have been changed
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