Army apprentices endured horrific abuse

By Annette Blackwell
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A promising young musician who was abused when he was a 15-year-old army apprentice says he had to work alongside his tormentors until he was medically discharged.

Adelaide man Daryl James told a child abuse royal commission hearing in Sydney on Thursday of "systemic, traditional and commonplace abuse" at the Army's apprentice school at Balcombe in Victoria in the 1970s.

Mr James, whose talent as a musician won him a scholarship to the Adelaide College of Music when he was 10, told how in his first month at Balcombe he was subject to sexual and physical abuse including penetration with an instrument - possibly a bayonet scabbard.

In 1972 the young musician was looking forward to going to the Army School of Music at Balcombe on the Mornington Peninsula where apprentices as young as 14 would spend two years of a three-year apprenticeship.

Mr James, who suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder and has had surgery because of what happened at Balcombe, remembered early in his basic training a sergeant warned his class to protect themselves during "crab night".

This was a traditional muck-up where graduating senior apprentices victimised the new intake called 'sprogs'.

Mr James recalled he woke at midnight on crab night to find eight seniors around his bed who identified him as "a gay sprog muso".

He was forced on his stomach and warned "you f***ing homo sprog, don't make this any worse by struggling".

He saw a self-loading rifle bayonet being unsheathed and the scabbard was pressed against him, and he said he feared for his life.

He was stripped and painfully assaulted and someone said "Tonight you gonna have your first period sprog".

The abuse continued throughout his first year and he was too scared to report it.

He said he had to work alongside his abusers during his two decades in the army and the day before his discharge in 2012 an ex-apprentice still referred to him as "sprog".

He reported the abuse to the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service in 2009 but they later told him they could not find relevant witnesses.

Mr James suffered physical and psychological problems and was hospitalised several times.

His discharge after 39 years and 11 months came one month before he would have received the Federation Star for 40 years service.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) rejected his compensation claim.

Other ADF abuse survivors have been highly critical of the DVA which regularly rejects claims due to a lack of evidence or imposes complex conditions.

Mr James was awarded compensation by the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce in 2014.