Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Granted Wish of Dying Victim Keith Grosser

By Trent Dalton
The Australian
September 14, 2013

Keith Grosser, a victim of child sexual abuse who is terminally ill with cancer, at his son's home on the Gold Coast last month. Picture: Jack Tran

WHEN doctors warned Keith Grosser that the cancer marching through his liver and bowel meant he might not see another Christmas, the widowed 73-year-old Brisbane retiree made urgent and ruthless cuts to his bucket list.

He refined his "things to do before I die" to a single line: tell the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about one of the most brutal episodes of child abuse in Australian history.

Last Tuesday, at precisely 3.32pm, Grosser exited the rear right-side passenger seat of a Yellow Cab in the driveway of Brisbane's Traders Hotel on Roma Street and shuffled gingerly towards the hotel elevator that would take him to the room where he would empty his bucket.

Aware of his health problems, the royal commission, which will spend the next two years laboriously interviewing more than 5000 Australians who registered with the historic commission, fast-tracked Grosser's interview to ensure details of the sickening sexual abuse he endured in two Anglican Church boys' homes on the New England Tablelands in northern NSW between 1946 and 1954, would not die with him.

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To hell and back

A commission assistant met him in the hotel foyer. He was bang on time because time becomes a sacred thing when you're running out of it.

The assistant paid for his cab and guided him to the hotel elevators. One of his best mates, Mal Hines, walked by his side, keeping Grosser upright with a steady hand. The two men met some 60 years ago in an Anglican Church boys' home in Walcha, 60km from Armidale. They leaned on each other back then, too, surviving the tyranny of a sadistic housemaster named Albert "Sarge" Holloway whose idea of discipline involved a lit cigarette shoved down a boy's throat and whose idea of behavioural reward involved licorice dipped in boys' faeces.

"How are you feeling, Keith?" asked the assistant, pressing the elevator's "Doors Closed" button.

"Good, having seen you," he said, moving his aching limbs with the help of painkillers.

The commission was occupying two rooms in the hotel: one to conduct their interviews and a second "green" room where Grosser could prepare for his interview. Two beds had been removed from the green room to allow for a circular table where Grosser placed two folders filled with affidavits, letters, statements and reports concerning the 10-year battle he and eight fellow former home boys had waged with the Anglican Church to have their abuse properly redressed and recognised.

In order to receive compensation payouts of up to $40,000 from the Anglican Church in 2003, Grosser, Hines and their fellow home boys were encouraged by compensation lawyers to sign a "deed of release" under which claimants agreed "not to discuss with, reveal to, relate to, write to, report to any other person these terms or any of the facts alleged to have taken place" at the boys' homes except in "private and confidential counselling session". When one of the men alerted the NSW Victims Compensation Tribunal of the details of the deed of release, the church lifted its gag order, allowing the men once more to freely discuss and, more importantly, process the abuse of their past.

In July, The Weekend Australian documented a deeply personal and unexpectedly restorative return visit to the Walcha home by Grosser and his eight friends, most of whom had not set foot inside the home's gates in 60 years. In the sweeping grounds of the now restored property, home to at least 83 orphaned and abandoned boys aged between three and 14 from 1950 to 1965, the sins of Holloway returned to the men in bone-chilling detail.

In 1954, a 12-year-old boy ran away from the home and informed the woman who found him on the street that he had been sexually assaulted by Holloway.

On June 9, 1955, The Walcha News reported Holloway's conviction by an Armidale jury on seven counts of assault, including "four offences of aiding and abetting in an indecency in March 1954, and three similar offences in July 1953". But, in a bizarre decision that would bring lasting pain to Grosser and his fellow "home kids", the NSW attorney-general refused to file bills against Holloway, essentially having his convictions voided for reasons no one, including the NSW police, can explain. Liberal Party MLC Scot MacDonald, based in Guyra, 30km from Armidale, has since investigated the matter with assistance from NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith.

"I was trying to find out why there was a 'no bill' 60 years ago," MacDonald said yesterday. "The Attorney-General did all he could but the records that far back, unfortunately, just didn't reveal anything. It would have been quite something back in those days to take a prosecution like this as far as they did. You know how difficult it is today to prosecute these matters. I'm full of admiration for the prosecutor there in Armidale who took it to the extent he did. It would have gone against the culture of the day. But then it gets kicked upstairs to the A-G and I think a 'no bill' is very, very unusual. An attorney-general stepping in to do a 'no bill', even today, I think, is extremely unusual; intervening, shutting the thing down so the question mark will always remain.

"I understand the frustrations for the Keith Grossers of the world. Their persecutor was not held to account. It's a mystery that hurts them a lot."

Holloway disappeared from the New England Tablelands. The home ran for 10 more years before it was sold it into private hands in 1965. The boys never saw Holloway again, except in nightmares so traumatic they unconsciously shake and rock themselves off their beds, waking only when they land on their bedroom floors.

"Keith gets very tired real quick," Hines said. "He's got no energy whatsoever. He's going down. It's important for him to get his story over. And maybe something will come of it that makes the rest of his life a little easier. He started off with a bastard of a life, he doesn't have to finish like that."

Grosser said: "Time is running out. The greatest thing I have left is to be able to get recognition of this. That means more than anything ... In this great democracy we live in, I might get a sense of justice being done."

At the Traders Hotel on Tuesday, Grosser sat in a lime green armchair, sipping a black tea as he watched television newsflashes of fires burning across NSW. His body was jaundiced but he said he was feeling physically better in that modest hotel room than he'd felt in weeks.

"It's amazing how the body works," he said.

"I've got a bit of incentive. I'm coming in here feeling good. I'm weak but I feel strong here. I feel like I could put up a fight if I could just lift my arms up long enough."

At 4.05pm he thought of his wife, Marlene, and it brought a tear to his eye.

She died in 2005 after a long battle with motor neurone disease. He said he spent his working life in labouring jobs but his finest work was a 44-year marriage to Marlene.

At 4.26pm, the commission assistant entered the room.

"You ready, Keith?" she said.

He shuffled down the hallway and into a room where former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson, one of six commissioners bearing witness to accounts across Australia, spent almost two hours hearing his story.

He heard the stories of how Grosser was sexually abused at least 16 times by housemaster Holloway, who would wake him and drag him around the dormitory by his penis. Holloway made him eat the excrement caused in relentless beatings.

At 6.15pm, Grosser was finished. Hines accompanied him to the hotel's restaurant where Grosser enjoyed a sweet potato and bacon soup. By 7pm his belly was full. And his bucket was, for better or worse, empty.








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