I have a great family. My parents always provided for my brother and I growing up. But they always struggled. My father was a sales rep. As a sales rep, you have to move around where the company sends you. As a kid, I went to four different government primary schools in three different towns, from Brisbane to Cairns. I had to make new friends every two years.
I’m 12 years old. It’s my last day of primary school and my best friend asks me to start walking home with him. He suggests that we cut through the school grounds. We turn into a laneway and I notice two school bullies about five metres away from us in the laneway. I look at my best friend. He looks away and then takes about three steps back. In my peripheral vision, I can see another boy coming in from behind. A cold shiver rushes over me.
I’m ambushed. Lead into a trap by my best friend. For the next longest time, all I can feel are fists slamming into me from all angles. I try to fight back, try to punch and kick as much and as hard as I can. It’s four against one. Yes, even my ‘best friend’ is joining in! While two or three of them hold me, the other one or two take turns at laying into me. All I can do is close my eyes, tighten every muscle in my body and ride it out. I hope that they will soon tire of their ‘fun’ and leave me be. I am like the hogtied prey at an illegal dogfight. After a while, the punches stop and the cacophony of sound and name-calling recede. My ears are ringing and that initial rush of cold is now replaced with throbbing pain.
I get up. I can taste blood in my mouth, my nose feels like it has moved about an inch across my face vertically and horizontally and my lips look like they have had way too many collagen injections, too many botched botox sessions. My face is like a Picasso painting. I am sore all over. I look around in case the gang of four are still close by, carefully walk back out of the laneway and then walk to my bus stop. I am going from crying to trying to hold it in, to uncontrollable sobbing. I go home on the bus and tell my parents. What a way to start my holidays and end primary school!
To this day, I really l do not know what it was about. But my innocence and the way I look at the world changes forever on that day in December.
I have six weeks to recuperate. Six weeks to prepare for my jump to high school. Six weeks where I don’t have to face my attackers, especially my ‘best friend’. The problem is, these four offenders are going to the same high school as me. There are no other high schools close enough to where we live. My parents can’t afford to send me to a private school and I am Church of England (Anglican), so even the nearby Catholic school is a no-go zone. I’m stuck.
I am terrified of high school. Those same kids are there and will be there for the first three years of high school before they turn 15. You can finish school at 15 in 1983. High school is lonely and frightening for me. During little lunch and big lunch, I wander the school grounds by myself. I never use the school toilets for fear of being beaten up, again, or having my head flushed in the toilets or any other ridiculous and idiotic prank that boys fell they have to perpetrate on others. I eat my lunch by myself and then walk the entire school grounds most often not speaking to anyone. I am like a ghost traversing the playgrounds and walkways of my school. I am very shy, very introverted. The only place I feel a modicum of safety is in the classrooms during lessons. When the bullies are in my classes, I never want the teacher to leave the room.
I can’t get over the experience I of being beaten up at the end of grade seven. I am simultaneously in a state of depression and anxiety. Not being able to handle the beating I received and wondering when the next beating will come.
I don’t think my parents notice my mindset at high school. Or perhaps I try my best to hide it from them. I trudge on and get good grades and continue to function. But one night I blurt out to my mum that I wander the school grounds with no friends. I tell her how lonely I am. Mum and Dad talk with me about the situation for some time. Towards the end of the discussion, my mum says something to me that I hold onto right up until today. My mum just says, mate, ‘Be a leader, even if you are the only one in the team.’
From that time on, I start living that mantra. I go out for parts in the school musicals, lead parts, and get them. I start playing tennis and join a local theatre group. I am going to be the leader, of me. This was my epiphany.
In my senior year, I cold-call radio stations for a job. I get interviews at three stations and one offers me a job. $75 a week to be an apprentice DJ at 4SB in Kingaroy.
At the same time, and again I don’t know why (maybe it has something to do with me secretly wanting to exact some revenge over my attackers from five years before), but I apply to join the Queensland Police Force. The Police Force is going to pay cadets $110 per week.
My need for money is pretty high on my agenda. I do everything I can to get into the Police Academy, I pass every test to gain entry. I can tell you for a 17-year-old these tests are mentally brutal. After each one, if you are told to leave the testing room, that is it, you’re out. An absolute war of attrition! Except I am too short and too light. To my surprise though, my vertical and ballast challenges are overlooked. I get in! After three months at the Academy, I am six centimetres above the minimum height and five kilos over the minimum weight.
From where I came as a beaten up 12 year old, to someone who made the conscious decision to lead himself is the very reason I do what I do.