Former NSW Governor Peter Sinclair “appalled” by HMAS Leeuwin sex abuse: Royal Commission

Former defence force personnel are giving evidence about alleged sex abuse at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo: Rob Homer Royal commission: Defence force recruits forced to rape each other, inquiry toldHMAS Leeuwin officers unaware of sex abuse: Royal Commission
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Former NSW governor Peter Sinclair told a royal commission of being stripped and covered in treacle and sawdust as part of an initiation ceremony when he joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1948.

He told the public hearing the experience made him determined that no other naval recruit should endure the same humiliation.

Mr Sinclair, now 81, was executive officer of HMAS Leeuwin, where hundreds of teenage recruits were allegedly abused in the 1960s and 1970s.

He told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse he was “appalled” by what he discovered at Leeuwin when he was stationed there in 1972.

The commission has heard evidence of “rites of initiation” for junior recruits involving horrific sex acts, brutal beatings and bastardisation.

In evidence, Mr Sinclair said initiation ceremonies were not condoned during his period at Leeuwin, in Fremantle, Western Australia.

He told the commission of his own initiation ceremony in which he and other junior recruits were stripped and forced by older sailors to wear what he described as a “male bikini”.

“We were taken into the communal bathroom, stripped . . . covered in treacle and sawdust, the inevitable boot polish number on the chest and back and then we went through a ritual of being sort of hit with towels and gym shoes,” he said.

“It was a very uncomfortable not terribly exciting experience.

“The effect on me was not to go around abusing other people. . . to ensure that this sort of thing never happened again on my watch.”

The hearing into alleged sexual abuse within the Australian Defence Force was told Mr Sinclair was deployed to Leeuwin in 1972 to improve morale following an investigation into bullying and violence at the base.

He left Leeuwin in 1974 but the commission heard evidence physical and sexual abuse continued at the base until the early 1980s.

“I am appalled by that . . . and I am surprised and disappointed that the checks and balances we put in place would allow such incidences to occur,” he said.

Mr Sinclair,told the inquiry that junior recruits “had a duty” to report abuse but a former Leeuwin divisional officer Geoffrey Curran gave evidence that there was a widespread culture of silence.

“Don’t dob a mate in . . . it was part of the culture,” he said. “I accepted it because it was part of the Australian culture at that time.”

Mr Curran, who was in charge of the welfare of junior recruits at Leeuwin in the early 1970s, told the commission he did not receive any direct reports of abuse while stationed there.

The hearing before Justice Peter McClellan is scheduled to run until July 1.

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