Adam was like any footy-loving boy of the 80s until a trip to Footscray’s Western Oval turned his innocent life into a nightmare

A man in a black t-shirt with close cropped grey hair stands behind a white picket fence.

For reasons that become obvious once he starts talking about his life, Adam Kneale is one of those people whose many personal qualities are hidden to all but the handful of people who know him well.

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that may be distressing to some readers.

Deeply caring, principled, well-read and articulate, at 49, he speaks in a husky growl developed in his decades barking orders across dusty warehouses. When you listen to the things he says and the way they’re phrased, you’re struck by the feeling that Adam’s voice is not quite his own.

Loved ones accept he is almost incapable of displaying his warmth. Adam has difficulty giving and receiving presents, or even saying ‘I love you’. His mother, Lyn, says it’s because one of the many things that was taken from him as a boy was his ability to experience joy.

Stoic above all else, Adam has never told Lyn the story of how he came to be the way he is, but she knows it. Twenty-nine years ago, sweating and overcome with nausea, she read it in an eight-page police statement that broke her heart and shattered an illusion she’d treasured — that the bubble of love she created around her family was impenetrable.

“I didn’t want the explanations after that,” Lyn says.

“I knew he’d been violated, abused, hurt, damaged for life.”

Two years ago, mired in a deep personal crisis, Adam was deemed medically incapable of working. Thus ended his successful career as a commercial window-maker. A determined provider above all else, he’d spent the previous 20 years expanding his skills, extending his resume, moving further up the ladder.

A man in a black t-shirt with close cropped grey hair stands behind a white picket fence.
Two years ago, Adam’s successful career as a windowmaker ended when he could no longer handle his daily anxieties.(ABC News: Russell Jackson)

In his 40s, management roles stretched him too far. Only with hindsight can Adam see that the endless sprint of his work life was a vain attempt to outrun his past.

Natasha, Adam’s wife, explains a typical day in his final working years: at 5am, she’d wake to the familiar sound and shallow jolts to the mattress that accompanied Adam’s tears. She could comfort him then. She could console him when he returned home in the same state. But not in the hours between. His second breakdown of the morning would occur before he’d even clocked on.

At work, Adam was constantly frustrated, his temper boiling over at the slightest infractions of company rules. When anxiety set in, his trembling arms and legs failed him. He’d lose control of his emotions, sobbing behind his work bench, forgetting how to do a job he’d been doing for 20 years.

Instead of sympathising, colleagues preyed on his emotional volatility, hiding his tools and laughing at the inevitable eruptions. There were silent battles too. If anyone watched Adam as he worked, simple tasks became insurmountable. Yet, his employers did and said almost nothing to help.

“There was a lack of empathy,” Adam says, a great understatement.

In August of 2020, “everything collapsed”. Doctors and psychologists finally stepped in, telling Adam the complex side effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were overwhelming him.

His Centrelink assessment was somehow even more demoralising than the daily indignities of work.

“It was like I had to prove what happened to me,” he says.

“And then they wouldn’t let me go on it based on my mental health. It was only the fact that 20 years lifting giant plates of glass had caused injuries that required spinal surgery that got me on it.”

Now, his trembling hands and legs are the by-product of an “astronomical” dosage of antidepressants and the debilitating anxiety that prevents him from making basic human connections.

Recently, a green-thumb neighbour arrived at the door with some fruit and vegetables. Adam wanted to say hello, introduce himself and thank the man for his generosity. His mouth even shaped to deliver the words. But none came out.

“Everything just scrambled,” he says, recalling the embarrassment and private sorrow.

It made him think of what another doctor once told him: “He said ‘You need to let this go’. I said, ‘Let go? It has a hold of me’.”

Perhaps it is just Adam’s calm, even-handed retelling of the horrifying stories of his life that throws such people, convincing them he is doing fine.

For Adam, each such moment is just the latest in a series of brutal conclusions formed by people who don’t know him — confirmation that what happened to him doesn’t matter anymore, that maybe his life never meant anything at all.

‘Best of luck in the future and don’t be shy’

There is a handwritten note from a classmate on the back of Adam Kneale’s final high school annual that explains what he was like as a schoolboy: “Best of luck in the future and don’t be so shy.”

A close-up shot of a young schoolboy sitting with legs crossed on the floor with his mouth partially covered by his hands.A close-up shot of a young schoolboy sitting with legs crossed on the floor with his mouth partially covered by his hands.
Timid and shy since his earliest days, Adam was the youngest and smallest boy in his early school days of the 1970s.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

That was the way Adam had been from day one — the youngest and smallest kid in his grade, the quietest, the most introverted, painfully shy. In his prep class photo, impossibly tiny, he hides his face behind his hands.

In 1972, Lyn was only a teenager when she had him, Adam’s father Chas not much older. Raised in England, not long relocated to Australia and married in a rush, Lyn was undaunted.

“I just melted,” she says of her first glimpse of Adam.

As he progressed from placid baby to timid primary schooler, the two things that mattered most to Adam were common obsessions for boys of the late 1970s: music and footy.

The first was fait accompli. In utero, Adam felt the vibrations of Led Zeppelin’s infamous Kooyong gig. In working-class Williamstown, the family lived above a record shop. In the backyard, musician Chas ran a recording studio graced by Daddy Cool, The Models and a procession of intriguing characters.

Lyn has a photo album for every year of Adam’s life. In the toddler era, guitars, amplifiers and records are the cherubic blond’s constant companions. Four years later, his little brother arrives. Chas buys them Essendon footy jumpers and they join him in abandoning the family tradition: grandfather Charlie Kneale was Footscray to the bone, a Doggies stalwart for life.

A black and white photo of a child kicking a football in front of a brick wall.A black and white photo of a child kicking a football in front of a brick wall.
Adam kicks a footy in front of his dad’s home recording studio. Music and football were the two loves of his life.

Adam can’t remember exactly how it came about, but Footscray and Fitzroy legend Bernie Quinlan taught him how to kick a torpedo. He has clearer memories of learning the ropes as a guitarist: Daddy Cool’s Ross Hannaford showed him how to play Eagle Rock.

Those two crucial strands of Adam’s life are glimpsed in a black and white photo from the late 1970s. With Chas’s studio behind him, Adam leans back and launches his footy into the air — a dreamy image of carefree times.

In it, Lyn can now see the boy she was soon to lose.

Williamstown had given her sons memories they still cherish, but by the beginning of 1984 — the year Adam would turn 12 — Lyn’s career as a computer programmer was taking off and she didn’t think it was safe or responsible to keep renting a drop-in centre for vagabond artists.

That was how and why the Kneale’s ended up in Chas’s home town of West Footscray — safety, the security of affordable home ownership and the promise of a grown-up life in a quieter, more traditionally suburban setting. Or so they thought.

Adam fixated on the most obvious attraction of his new neighbourhood: it was a footy town and league football matches were now walking distance from home.

‘Football was big in our family’

As the family settled into its new surroundings in early 1984, 11-year-old Adam quickly found a new identity at the nearby Western Oval, then the home of the VFL’s Footscray Football Club, now the Whitten Oval, home of the AFL and AFLW’s Western Bulldogs.

If footy ran second to music among Kneale family preoccupations, it was a close race.

“Football was big in our family,” Adam says.

“Footscray was everything with my grandfather. Ted Whitten lived near them. He’d tell me about Ted giving his wife flowers before he headed to the footy.”

A young boy stands in football gear with a white top with red stripe and red shorts.A young boy stands in football gear with a white top with red stripe and red shorts.
On Anzac Day of 1981 — Adam recalls it as clear as day — he played Little League on Lakeside Oval, becoming a miniature Swan for a day.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

For Lyn, it seemed a wholesome place for a boy to spend Saturday afternoons. For Chas, born and raised in the area, a few beers behind the goals was the perfect way of catching up with mates.

“We were Essendon supporters, but in a sense we were football supporters,” Adam says.

“The Western Oval was the local ground, so you went there to watch the game. We went to see Simon Beasley and Doug Hawkins and all those fantastic players.”

Armed with Quinlan’s torpedo tips, Adam could kick as well as any boy in the area, but in other crucial facets of playing the game he struggled, rarely venturing too far from the bench in stints with local junior teams Yarraville and West Footscray.

Two boys stand next to each other in Aussie rules football gear and medals around their neck, with their mum next to them.Two boys stand next to each other in Aussie rules football gear and medals around their neck, with their mum next to them.
When Adam (left) and his younger brother became interested in football, their mother Lyn (right) saw it as a wholesome and healthy hobby.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

“He was the last picked, and I could see that happening,” Lyn says.

Wary that Adam was also being bullied at school, fearful he’d lose the social capital offered by sport, she enrolled him in Judo classes to build his self-esteem.

Therefore, Lyn was relieved when Adam returned home one afternoon and said he’d been offered a job as water boy at the Footscray Football Club.

“I thought that’s great — he loves footy, his dad loved Footscray as his second team, and it was an after-school activity that didn’t conflict with Judo,” she says.

Only now do the problems stand out: Lyn and Chas knew nothing of the person who’d offered Adam the role, nor that the job, as Adam stated, did not even exist. It would be a decade before they found out the real reason their son spent so many days and evenings at the Western Oval. And they would never so much as glimpse the man whose crimes have plagued their son’s life.

Back then, Adam knew him only as ‘Chops’, a grubby-looking, pot-bellied 40-something wearing a thick blue raincoat that smelled of cigarettes.

Adam quickly established that he worked for the Bulldogs — doing what, he wasn’t sure, but Chops always carried around vast sums of cash, had unhindered access to all areas of the club’s offices, including the safe, and everybody at Footscray seemed to know his name.

It was at the urging of a schoolmate with whom Adam had been wagging school that he first met Chops.

A panorama of a football ovalA panorama of a football oval
The view from the top of the John Gent Stand at Whitten Oval, which was originally known as Western Oval.(Getty Images: Ryan Pierse)

“My mate recruited me,” Adam says.

“That’s the only way I can put it.”

One game-day in April of 1984, the boy told Adam that if he slipped away from his father’s side, walked to the other end of the ground and saw ‘Chops’ standing at the top of a staircase to the Western Oval’s John Gent Stand, he could wander up and be granted a few precious commodities: money to buy lunch, as many tickets to the footy as he wanted, and maybe season passes too.

They were promises too enticing for an 11-year-old boy to ignore.

‘I went outside to watch the football’

On January 28, 1993, in a gruesome, 5500-word written statement to police at North Altona — the document whose contents he has never discussed with his mother — Adam began his story with the sort of understatement that remains his hallmark: “From the time I was 12 years old I had a problem with a man who I had met in Footscray.”

A boy stands in the doorway of a house carrying a guitar, with a woman and a younger boy next to him. A boy stands in the doorway of a house carrying a guitar, with a woman and a younger boy next to him.
In early 1984, the Kneale family posed for one final family photo at the door of their home in Williamstown before moving on to a new life in West Footscray.(Supplied: Adam Kneale )

It outlined the next stages plainly. ‘Chops’ had indeed given Adam as many tickets to the footy as he wanted, just as the other boy had promised. There was money as well — Adam had never held a $10 or $20 note before, but Chops was soon handing them over in endless instalments.

There was a certain prestige, too. Wandering through the inner sanctum with a Footscray insider, a timid, starry-eyed little boy in a new and unfamiliar neighbourhood suddenly felt a part of big-time footy.

But there were obvious questions Adam never said out loud: why was Chops so keen to get him inside the Bulldogs clubrooms while the game was on? And why did the man never seem interested in watching the game?

In his early journeys through Footscray’s inner sanctum, Adam thought he would receive a brand new Sherrin football. Instead, Chops wedged him behind a cupboard door that blocked the view of anyone who might approach and began sexually molesting him.

That routine was repeated at several home games early in 1984 and for years after — assaults that would last as long as the man felt he could get away with it.

In Round 10 of 1984, for instance, as Bulldogs hero Beasley intercepted Graeme Allen’s infamously errant pass out of defence and sunk Collingwood with the final kick of the day, Adam spent a portion of his 12th birthday being sexually abused. But that, he would soon learn, was merely the grooming phase.


The worst of it began as June wore on. Apparently undetected as he repeatedly walked Adam through the Footscray offices and social club on game days, Chops became bolder and more depraved.

The ‘first time’ is still burned into Adam’s mind: the sight of Chops carrying bags of money to the Bulldogs safe; their winding journey around the club before Chops guided him into the toilets beside a function room, locking the door behind them; the sudden exposure Adam felt as he was pushed towards the sink and stripped of his pants; the mirrored reflection of Chops casually retrieving a tube of lubricant from his pocket; the ensuing sodomy, in which, Adam later told police, his assailant “just kept forcing it in”.

In the corresponding section of Adam’s police statement, what chills most is the dispassionate, unadorned sentence that explains what happened in the moments after he was raped for the first time at the Footscray football club:

‘I was the example of what they look for’

By the closing stages of the 1984 VFL season, Footscray in its first campaign under Mick Malthouse was headed for the same result as a year earlier — seventh place, just out of finals contention. But unlike previous seasons, good times seemed near.

In the preceding months, Adam had become a fixture at the club, but not as his parents envisaged. His ‘water boy’ duties were to turn up at the Western Oval training sessions of the club’s Under-19s — the team Chops seemed most heavily invested in — and be sexually assaulted in any free room his abuser could find.

A photo of a smiling boy with a puzzle on a table.A photo of a smiling boy with a puzzle on a table.
Adam at home, around the time that the abuse at Western Oval began.

On game days, the pattern of Adam’s weekends for years ahead took shape: up the steps of the John Gent Stand, money in his hand and a trip behind closed doors, where he’d be manoeuvred around like a rag doll, responding to endless sexual demands.

He recalls fixing his gaze on a decommissioned pie warmer as he was assaulted in semi-darkness. Another time it happened behind a bar.

“If he could only get oral satisfaction from me, that’s what he’d put up with,” Adam says.

Only with the benefit of hindsight can Adam see the traits that made him such easy prey — the insecurity and defencelessness he projected as a small, shy boy in an unfamiliar place, his lack of friends, the general sense he was isolated and adrift in the world.

His abuser wheedled out other telling details: Adam’s eagerness for money, his truancy from a tough new school, news that Lyn and Chas’s marriage was faltering, that by 1986 Chas had moved out, and soon, amid the worst of his abuse, Adam’s enthusiasm for drugs that helped him disassociate.

“I was the example of what they look for,” Adam says.

“I was the blueprint.”

A young boy lies face down on the grass, with a number five clearly seen on the back of his jumper.A young boy lies face down on the grass, with a number five clearly seen on the back of his jumper.
Adam playing around in the backyard, wearing his Terry Daniher Essendon guernsey.

The final round of the 1984 season was a magical Saturday afternoon for most young footy fans: Adam’s hero Terry Daniher, whose number five adorned his Bombers guernsey, kicked four out of 27 goals, setting the club’s premiership September in motion; at the Junction Oval, Quinlan kicked his 100th goal of the season to clinch Fitzroy’s finals spot; Leigh Matthews and Warwick Capper kicked bags for their respective teams.

All of it was shown that night on the Seven network’s two-hour ‘Big League’ highlights show, known among fans in those days as ‘the replay’. Footscray was away in the hostile territory of Collingwood’s Victoria Park that day, so Adam didn’t attend. But Chops assured him they could grab some dinner and watch the replay together.

That night — the evening of September 1, 1984 — Adam stepped into a taxi with a man whose name he didn’t know and headed for Footscray’s Palms Motel, a low budget motor inn whose modernist facade did not disguise its dingy atmosphere and seedy clientele.

Escorted into a second-floor room, Melbourne’s County Court later heard, Adam was fed by his companion and watched TV — the replay started with a half-hour recap of the Bulldogs’s 43-point loss to the Pies.

An orange brick building with palm trees outside.An orange brick building with palm trees outside.
The Palms Motel in Footscray, as it appears today. (Google Maps)

It was probably as Peter Landy read the final rites of Footscray’s season that Adam was ordered towards the room’s shower, told to strip off his clothes and bathe with his abuser.

Who knows whether the TV was still on when they reached the bed, where Chops pushed Adam onto his stomach and commenced the sodomy that “hurt like fury”.

And what on earth could have been going on in Adam’s head as the crime reached its conclusion, leading him to remark in his statement: “I’m not sure if he stopped because he had ejaculated or because he was hurting me.”

Only years later did Adam realise this was simply “the next phase”. He was being conditioned to abuse outside the Footscray Football Club. Chops was ensuring he wouldn’t lose Adam over the summer, when there were fewer plausible reasons for a 40-something man to meet a 12-year-old boy at the Western Oval.

A portrait of a man with close cropped hair.A portrait of a man with close cropped hair.
Adam says he experienced ‘the freeze’ when he was younger, unable to stop what was happening to him.(ABC News: Russell Jackson)

On the rare occasions he’s felt compelled to tell his story since — to police, to employers who required an explanation for his mood swings, now to the world — Adam has always flinched at the prospect of the listener’s incredulity. He understands the obvious question: why would you turn up and subject yourself to such horrors?

He sees now that he’d developed an “unhealthy” relationship with money, but it was not about the cash. More compelling was the confusing mixture of guilt, trauma and shame, and the fear he held of being “found out” and exposed. Like so many victims of childhood abuse, Adam had been convinced by his abuser that only he was at fault, a dilemma that silenced him.

He also recalls what he refers to as “the freeze” — he can still feel it, but he can’t quite explain it.

“You know what’s going on, but you just freeze in that moment,” he says.

“You’re in a trap, but you ignore it. I have an adult mind now. But that young kid’s mind — how did it work? I can’t relate to that now. It’s gone.”

It remains his greatest barrier to feeling believed: “Everyone thinks with their adult rationality,” he says.

“That doesn’t work.”

The ‘Jack of all trades’

It was not until May of 1994, his nerves shredded as he sat in court, that Adam confirmed the identity of the man who destroyed his life.

Graeme Barry Hobbs was indeed 40-something when Adam first approached him for footy tickets and lunch money, and was indeed heavily involved in fundraising activities at the Footscray Football Club.

Hobbs had also been a senior technical officer with the Defence Department in Maribyrnong, testing ammunition and explosives for the Navy. Among the more pathetic details to emerge in court was that for his entire campaign of abuse against Adam, Hobbs was still living with his parents in his childhood home in Maidstone, also conveniently close to the Western Oval.

Upon his death, aged 63 in 2009, Hobbs was recalled fondly in a short newspaper tribute, described by family as a loving brother and son.

Twenty-five years earlier, on the front page of The Western Times, a local newspaperman described him in a far less flattering light, as a child abuser who “used his position at the Footscray Football Club to lure a young boy into a web of sex”.

A photo of a newspaper story covering a child sex abuse court case.A photo of a newspaper story covering a child sex abuse court case.
Photo reproduction of a newspaper court report from the Western Times in 1994 on the case of Graeme Barry Hobbs. (Supplied: Adam Kneale)

The article went on: “The court was told that Hobbs was a single man whose passion through life had been the Footscray Football Club. He had been involved in various positions at the club, including that of chairman of fundraising.”

“When police raided his home on February 9, 1993, they discovered 39 Footscray Football Club membership cards and 14 Footscray Football Club membership medallions. Prosecutor Ms Francine McNiff said the Crown would suggest that these items were used by Hobbs to cultivate boys.”

The emphasis there was on the plural — ‘boys’. Although the prosecution case was built on the stories of two victims, police had gathered evidence confirming Hobbs had abused many more boys.

Copy of DangerSports (1)Copy of DangerSports (1)
The Footscray annual reports of 1987 and 1988 described Hobbs as the club’s ‘Jack Of All Trades’.

The court did not consider another obvious possibility — backed by Adam’s account of Hobbs’s regular journeys to and from the club safe and his gifting to Adam of hessian money bags and an unbroken cardboard roll of coins meant for the cash float — that at a time when Footscray’s finances were flatlining, Hobbs was embezzling the money he was giving Adam and other victims.

It was also not for the court to ponder how such an unseemly character had avoided the detection of Footscray’s administrative and management staff, because Hobbs’s roles at Footscray went beyond just fundraising activities, for which he is acknowledged several times in club annual reports of the 1980s.

He was also a stalwart of the club’s Under-19s program, credited in annual reports as late as 1991 as the team’s “room steward”. According to Adam, Hobbs was more accurately described in the 1987 and 1988 reports, which listed him as Footscray’s “Jack of all trades”.

In his police statement, Adam was unequivocal on Hobbs’s status at Footscray: “He was very popular because whoever you spoke to knew who he was.”

Now, Adam and his family can’t understand how nobody sensed something amiss.

A large bulldog statue above a door.A large bulldog statue above a door.
Hobbs was audacious in his abuse, meeting Adam at the front entrance of the Western Oval before walking the boy through the club’s administrative offices.

“Because of all of the meetings we had during the week, whether it was on Monday or Wednesday, or senior training nights as well, we’d be out the front of the main entrance to the office, with the big bulldog on the roof,” Adam says.

“There was an audacity to it. He’d walk me through the offices. He introduced me to the secretary. It was completely open. It was just blatant. It was like there were no consequences.

“The players were walking in and out, saying hi to him. Other people from within the club, in suits and dresses, would all say hello. People were walking in and out of the club, seeing this old guy chatting to a young boy. It would have looked a bit suspicious, you would think.

“I know there were a couple of times where he nearly got caught.”

And how could it go on for so long? All told, Adam says, Hobbs raped and abused him on Footscray’s premises for seven years, from 1984 to 1990. He can think of only one way of contextualising it: “It went on longer than some of the players’ careers.”

‘I didn’t want to get hurt by them’

Already, you might be at the point that most people reach when confronted with a story like Adam’s. You probably don’t want to read another word. Like many survivors, Adam can intuit this moment’s arrival — when people switch off and can’t stand any more.

An indignity common to survivors is to feel a drain on those around them. ‘How much more can this person take?’ they silently ask themselves.

Telling strangers comes with different burdens — not just the risk of feeling society’s cold shoulder, but the likelihood of stirring up the cliches about sexual abuse that are embedded in popular culture. Like ‘how could the victim of such monsters not become a monster himself?’

When Adam first told his story in full, in his police statement, those anxieties and others played heavily on his mind. The result is obvious to him now: he made a partial disclosure, offering only representative examples of his abuse, skipping giant chunks of his story, couching his horrific and abnormal experiences in terms that made it easier for the person on the other side of the table.

A young boy in a jumper poses in front of a building.A young boy in a jumper poses in front of a building.
Adam on a family holiday in 1986.

“It took 12 hours and I was shutting off,” he says.

“To take the pressure off myself, I made it sound like there were periods of time where nothing happened. And that’s rubbish. That is just the humiliation and the shame of going through that with a stranger who I’d only met a few hours before.”

In fact, he scrapped almost half his story. Not long removed from the homophobic barbs of his schoolyard, Adam ended the statement in 1987, when he’d turned 15. It meant he could avoid explaining how he was still being abused three years later, in early adulthood.

Sadly, certain interactions of the ensuing years have vindicated his decision. People have read his statement and not believed that one person could endure so many assaults. What might they have said if he’d included the stomach-turning rest?

Consider 1985 and 1986 alone. They did indeed prove to be highlight-filled times for Bulldogs fans. The club was two kicks away from the grand final in ’85. In his first season with Footscray, Brad Hardie won the Brownlow, and Beasley the Coleman, with a cherished century of goals.

They were not such fun times for Adam. Having drugged, degraded and paid the boy for his silence, Hobbs began offering him around to his “friends” — the paedophile ring who would make Adam’s life a living hell for years to come.

There was ‘Steve’, who abused Adam in a grimy hotel somewhere in the western suburbs, with Hobbs first observing and then joining in, sodomising Adam as Steve put his clothes back on, left the room without looking back and drove away in a white Kingswood. His abusers had told him “everything would be alright”. Adam feared otherwise.

“I didn’t want to get hurt by them,” he told police.

A picture of a smiling schoolboy wearing a blue shirt and blue top looking away from the camera.A picture of a smiling schoolboy wearing a blue shirt and blue top looking away from the camera.
Kneale in a school photo from 1985.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

There was the unnamed 60-something in a house in Flemington, at which Hobbs tranquillised Adam with Rohypnol, dressed him in women’s underwear and photographed him — child pornography later seized in a raid of Hobbs’s parents’ house, but not before it had spread through the abuse network.

There was ‘Noel’, another 40-something who would sit around watching football until Hobbs ferried Adam to the house in Moonee Ponds where, periodically between 1986 and 1988, both men would repeatedly subject the teenager to painful penetrations. Of that, Adam told police: “Noel was very rough with me. He knew it hurt but it didn’t worry him, he just kept going.”

Adam recalls his sheer hopelessness, his feeling of being “frightened shitless”.

“But there was a resignation that it was going to happen and that I couldn’t avoid it any longer,” he says.

And it was grimly repetitive. If Footscray were playing at home, Hobbs would abuse him at the Western Oval or occasionally the Palms Motel, under increasingly heavy sedation. On ‘away’ game weekends, he was taken to Noel’s house, where anything could happen.

An example was Round 10 of the 1988 season. On Saturday afternoon, reigning premiers Carlton defeated Footscray by 21 points at the Western Oval. On Sunday, as another game played on TV, Adam spent his 16th birthday being abused by Noel’s girlfriend.

About Noel, Hobbs had the temerity to moralise, telling Adam he was a “dangerous” man who would one day be caught, because he was “not very nice” and “preferred younger people that were under 10 years of age”.

In reality, both men were prolific and indiscriminate abusers, forever in debt to each other.

“There was this circle of handing boys around to other people,” Adam says.

“One would get a boy, and he’d be shared throughout the group.”

A tall, smiling boy stands in front of his house, with a younger boy beside him in a doorway.A tall, smiling boy stands in front of his house, with a younger boy beside him in a doorway.
Adam (left) at home with his brother around 1985.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

For Adam, that is where the faces and degradations start blurring together.

“There were a lot of [abusers] who I just didn’t know who they were,” he says.

“I’d be told ‘this person is a good person’. I’d be taken into a hotel room and have to show on Hobbs what I could do for them. And then it was their turn.

“Sometimes I’d be taken to a house and there would be a gathering and they’d all bring their best boy, and it was just a swap meet.”

Scariest of all was when Hobbs applied pressure to set up a meeting with Adam’s younger brother. That danger was reinforced when Hobbs showed up at the Kneale household and abused Adam in his bedroom, until then one of the few unsullied spaces in his life.

“I was afraid for my brother,” Adam says.

“I always protected him. I just couldn’t have handled it. And it was a secret. I had to hide it from everyone.”

In recent weeks, ABC Sport approached the owner of the house in Moonee Ponds, who confirmed that he sub-leased part of the property to ‘Noel’ at the time of Adam’s abuse.

“Noel was a good man,” he claimed.

“Sometimes he went to church with me.”

‘He couldn’t describe why he was angry’

Victoria Police’s Delta task force is a mostly forgotten story of Melbourne policing history. Operating between 1982 and 1985, its groundbreaking attempt to police child exploitation was scrapped soon after its highest profile case was thrown out of court.

Among Delta’s documentary relics presented during the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, there is a list drawn up by Neil Comrie, then Delta’s leader, later Victoria’s Commissioner of Police.

Neil ComrieNeil Comrie
Neil Comrie compiled a list of key attributes that help identify victims of childhood abuse.(Allison Jess: ABC Local)

Under the subject line “Trends in sexual offences against children”, Comrie collated the key attributes to identify victims of abuse. The 12-point list remains a useful resource for parents. With the benefit of hindsight, it also serves as a biography of Adam Kneale in the 1980s:

a) In the 8-16 age bracket,

b) Unsupervised and may be runaways,

c) From unstable homes and perhaps one parent absent,

d) Underachievers at home and at school,

e) From low or average income families,

f) Subject to abrupt changes in moods, attitudes and behaviour,

g) Without strong moral or religious values

h) Seeking attention, affection, praise, rewards and approval,

i) In possession of more money than normal, new toys, new clothes,

j) Found at recreation areas, theatres and other juvenile hangouts,

k) In the company of adults with whom they spend inordinate amounts of time,

l) Withdrawn from family and peer groups and may form new peer groups.

Of course, Adam was in the age bracket. He was often unsupervised, too. By 1986, a long time coming, Chas and Lyn’s divorce was formalised. The Kneale boys became “latchkey kids” whose high-achieving mother worked two jobs to keep them fed, clothed and happy.

Moods? Lyn recalls her strong sense in the ensuing years of “losing my little boy” — Adam’s inexplicable aggression, the banging of pots and pans, his constant scheming and lying, the calls about his absences from school.

“That’s when I was probably the angriest with him, just saying ‘tell me what’s going on’,” Lyn says.

“He was irrational. You could see he was frustrated. But I couldn’t draw it out from him.”

Morals? In the grip of Hobbs’s manipulation and abuse, Adam’s were entirely warped.

Seeking attention? Hobbs, Adam says, “had a sixth sense for kids who were desperate for attention” and picked his mark perfectly.

Rewards and approval? Adam became obsessed with money — getting it from Hobbs and spending it. Thus a childhood album overflowing with ticket stubs from expensive rock concerts — Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. Thus the fancy presents Adam lavished on loved ones at birthday, Easter and Christmas times.

School? Tottenham Tech was a decrepit wasteland, violent and unruly, plagued by staffing shortages and soon to be shuttered. A mute, often absent student like Adam was unlikely to command any attention at all, let alone raise alarm bells.

And it is hard to believe the school would have saved Adam had it known. The year his abuse began, a recently-hired Tottenham Tech teacher prompted a media firestorm by pledging public support for an organisation called The Australian Paedophile Support Group, among whose aims was to lower the age of consent to 10. It was the unsuccessful charges that stemmed from a raid on one of its meetings that torpedoed the Delta Task Force.

Recreation centres? Inordinate time in the company of adults? The Western Oval was Adam’s second home, Hobbs his constant companion, Adam’s peers were not even invited around for his birthdays.

Withdrawn from family? Without even seeing the list, Lyn offers a summary of Adam’s mid-teens: “He was withdrawing from the family circle.”

Her mother’s intuition suggested Adam was wrestling with his sexuality.

“Of course, he said, ‘I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, Mum’. I said ‘Please talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.’ We talked about bullying and grooming. Adam was blankfaced and said, ‘No, no way, nothing like that is happening.’ And it was,” she says.

A view across Sydney of apartment buildings, office buildings and Centrepoint Tower in the distance.A view across Sydney of apartment buildings, office buildings and Centrepoint Tower in the distance.
A photo taken by Adam out the hotel window during the Footscray trip to Sydney in 1987.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

An example of the parallel realities of mother and son was Adam’s trip to Sydney in 1987, to watch the Bulldogs playing against the Swans.

“I remember him phoning me up and saying, ‘Mum, would you let me go on a trip to Sydney with the Footscray Football Club?’,” Lyn says.

“I said ‘who is organising it? Who is in charge? How long is it for?’

“But little did I know what was going on.”

The man, of course, was Graeme Hobbs. For much of the ride to Sydney, in a bus chartered for the Bulldogs party, he placed his grubby blue jacket over their laps and molested Adam, handing him $100 on arrival and instructions on when to meet at a hotel room.

Spooked by the sum — more than he’d ever received in one hit — Adam listened to his instincts and walked the streets of King’s Cross all night instead. On game day, the Bulldogs were thumped by 108 points.

But Hobbs’s wandering hands were small fry in Adam’s list of problems by that point. The secret he was keeping from his family was very far from the quiet suburban adolescence his parents wanted for him.

By 1987, his life was barely distinguishable from that of a child sex slave.

‘A larger systemic pattern of criminality’

Only years latter could Adam fully appreciate that the most dangerous person he encountered amid the degradations and terror of his childhood was not Graeme Hobbs, but a man he only knew as ‘John’.

Adam’s “far too many” meetings with John took place at a one-bedroom apartment in Essendon. Hobbs told Adam it was John’s home, but it was so devoid of furnishings and signs of habitation that the teenager immediately suspected it was more likely the clubhouse of the paedophile ring that had claimed him.

For one thing, Hobbs had a key, a courtesy not extended by ‘Noel’. For another, Adam later found out, the house John shared with his wife and children was in nearby Glenroy. It explained why he was always in a hurry to leave.

A young man dressed in a blue sweat jacket and white t-shirt.A young man dressed in a blue sweat jacket and white t-shirt.
Adam in 1987 as a 15-year-old. At this stage, his life was barely distinguishable from that of a child sex slave.

His name really was John, it turned out — John Raymond Wayland. In 1996, Justice Higgins of Melbourne’s County Court jailed the 53-year-old for 16 years, describing his depraved sex offending as the worst case of child abuse he’d encountered in any court.

Wayland used his contacts in junior sporting clubs and the proximity of his house to a local school to abuse children during their lunch breaks — opportunistic and sickening attacks that included penetration with cutlery, vegetables and sauce bottles, and orders for the children to perform sex acts on each other.

After life-altering ordeals that left them with lacerations and internal injuries, the children were told by Wayland that if they spoke of their abuse, they would end up in jail.

That Wayland didn’t receive a far longer sentence of his own was only down to the fact that “unlawful indecent assault” — sexual acts not including penetration — was the only charge available at the time. Thus, not one of Wayland’s many brutal acts of penetration could be charged, the court heard, “because of the existence of time limits which require proceedings to be instituted within 12 months of the commission of the offences”.

Newspaper reports carried prosecutor Frank Gucciardo’s descriptions of Wayland as “the ringleader of a group of men who sexually abused young boys and girls”, part of a “larger systematic pattern of criminality”.

Adam could certainly attest to that, too. In one visit to Wayland’s apartment, he says he was abused by four men at once, a memory he finds almost impossible to verbalise. Another time, Wayland raped him for 10 minutes as Hobbs ate Kentucky Fried Chicken in the next room.

Outside the large, bluestone walls of Pentridge Prison a family of parent with small children stand looking up.Outside the large, bluestone walls of Pentridge Prison a family of parent with small children stand looking up.
Both Hobbs and Wayland were incarcerated at Pentridge Prison, at Coburg in Melbourne’s north.(ABC RN: Anna Kelsey-Sugg)

Telling the latter story to police, Adam signed off with another of his plain-spoken, heartbreaking laments: “I never wanted to have sex with any of these people.”

These days, Wayland — once described as “so likely to commit further sexual offences that you constitute a danger to the community” — lives in north-western Victoria, within walking distance of four schools.

Approached for comment by ABC Sport, Wayland said he has served his time and reformed his character. He claimed no memory of Adam Kneale. Asked to explain his association with Graeme Hobbs, Wayland claimed to have met Hobbs only twice.

The second time, Wayland said, was at Pentridge, where both men were incarcerated. The first was when Wayland was briefly a trainer at a football club in which Hobbs was also involved — the Footscray Football Club.

‘You’ve got to stand up and fight for yourself’

Adam now sees his life as a series of seven-year cycles. The first was the period of his abuse. Before the next commenced, aged only 20, he somehow found the courage to report his abusers.

He’d been unravelling for three months, since the day of his daughter’s birth. The arrival of a first child is daunting for any parent. For Adam it was almost lethal. In photos, he now sees himself having “the nervous breakdown that I didn’t recover from”.

The other trigger occurred a year earlier. At 19, Adam assumed he was too old for his abuser, but Hobbs resumed contact with an equally sinister purpose. He wanted Adam to join his circle of offenders.

Adam Kneale circa 1988 family holidayAdam Kneale circa 1988 family holiday
Adam on a family holiday in 1988.(Supplied)

“You just have that feeling that if you don’t want it to happen again, you’ve got to do something about it,” Adam says.

Little wonder workplace car parks became the scene of future breakdowns. Adam’s first — the worst — occurred on the morning of January 28, 1993. Overwhelmed by tears, he found a phone and called police.

“I started the statement at three o’clock in the afternoon and I was still there at three in the morning,” he says.

“It was an out-of-body experience. I look back on that time and think: How did I move? How did I function? How did I get through it?”

In truth, his coping mechanisms were unhealthy. Most survivors realise only with hindsight how susceptible they were to the worst-case outcomes of childhood sexual abuse — mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, crime, suicide.

To his lifelong regret, from the age of 16 and until his report to police, with both the mother of his daughter and in a previous relationship, Adam’s anger became violence.

“I just turned into the person I was afraid of — people who’d pick on the weakest or quietest person,” he says.

“You’re lashing out at someone else for something else. I’ll probably never get over that, just as they won’t. I understand why it happened, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it did, and I still have to live with that.”

Fearful of hurting anyone else, feeling unworthy of love, he would stay single for a decade.

Eleven days after Adam’s statement, Hobbs was arrested and charged. Another survivor came forward. Hobbs confessed, but his sentencing hinged mostly on Adam’s evidence.

Other burdens swamped Adam. Police pointed out the obvious: none of the men who’d abused him wore condoms, so he’d need to commence AIDS testing, checking in every six months.

“It was horrific,” he says of the lonely nights he spent pondering his fate.

“But it was piled onto the horrific things I was already dealing with — the court case, the therapy, the doctors, the first raids of early computers with child pornography. It was all one big mass of trouble at the time.”

He doesn’t recall turning 21. Not wanting to pry, friends and family assumed he was part of a class action, not the linchpin of the case. A lawyer’s promise of free psychiatric care for life evaporated.

Inevitably, the court process was a crushing disappointment too, so Adam chose to delude himself. For years afterwards, he clung to a lie that Hobbs had faced 99 charges and been imprisoned for 13 years, the full force of the justice system coming down on him.

The reality was far less emphatic: 13 counts of indecent assault, two of unlawful possession of Footscray Football Club tickets and medallions, one of buggery, one of possessing child pornography.

1989 Western Oval Footscray fightback from annual report1989 Western Oval Footscray fightback from annual report
An image taken from the annual report during the Footscray fightback campaign.(Supplied)

As would occur in Wayland’s case, acts of penetration committed more than 12 months before the investigation sat outside the statute of limitations, and Hobbs’s early admission of guilt meant a large cache of photographs he had taken of his many victims was not presented in court.

His 39-month sentence for destroying Adam’s life came with a minimum of just 15 months.

Two years later, Adam clipped a newspaper story of John Wayland’s conviction and sighed relief, but having directed investigators to numerous hotels and the house in Moonee Ponds, he never found out if ‘Noel’ or others had faced justice.

In 1989, when Hobbs was still abusing and paying off Adam on the Footscray Football Club’s premises, the Bulldogs had only survived extinction thanks to the Fightback campaign, led by famed Melbourne lawyer Peter Gordon, who in the process rose to the club’s presidency.

Adam’s fightback campaign was longer and far more arduous — another seven-year cycle that stretched from Hobbs’s sentencing in May of 1994 until 2000.

In this phase, his paltry victims-of-crime compensation payout did not last long. With 50 per cent custody of his daughter, he needed to pull himself together while living on medical benefits and charity, balancing his own psychiatric care with the needs of his child.

How did he pull himself back from the brink?

At a time when male survivors of sexual abuse were actively excluded from support services with feminist foundations, he located what seemed the only male-run one — the Against Male Assault Network — and threw himself into their programs, completing certificate qualifications to help other survivors.

He thought music could heal him too, so put a band together. A few frazzled, knock-kneed performances later, “frightened shitless”, he realised his childhood dream was over, right as his brother found a niche in Melbourne’s indie music scene.

“We were a very musical family,” Adam says.

“I should have been able to do something with it, but trauma just destroyed it.”

A smiling woman holds a baby in her arms, with a young man smiling sitting next to her.A smiling woman holds a baby in her arms, with a young man smiling sitting next to her.
Adam in 1992 with his mother and baby daughter.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

Parenting became his number one priority.

“My daughter was my anchor,” he says.

“She inspired me. I wanted to be an example for her, that you’ve got to stand up and fight for yourself.”

But even that presented problems. Adam now rues how much trauma she was exposed to as he tried to find help.

As 2000 progressed, two decisions — one his own, one someone else’s — would shape the next 20 years of Adam’s life.

The first was out of his hands. Summoned to a Centrelink office, he was assessed as capable of returning to full-time work. Part of him genuinely accepted it — he wanted to be a role model and felt increasingly judged when loved ones mentioned his longstanding welfare dependency.

But a few years removed from the 20-year treadmill he stepped onto, Adam now sees what he could not at the time.

“I was never fit for work,” he says.

“There is no way in hell they would do that now.”

The other big decision was his own. After seven years of intensive treatment, he felt he’d “graduated” from the program of therapy that had been a major personal focus.

“I came to an agreement with my psychologist that my time was done, but they didn’t know what I had,” he says.

“There was a long list — anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, it went on. All those things are now under four letters — PTSD. I’ve had it since I was a teenager.”

‘Any mention of Footscray was just a trigger-and-a-half’

Among the more puzzling outcomes of Graeme Hobbs’s conviction for Adam’s abuse, a pair of non-events particularly stand out.

The first was the averted gaze of the media when the horrifying scale of Hobbs’s offending became a series of reportable facts. In a city where football is religion, at a time when child sexual abuse had been removed from the too-hard basket and given front-page prominence by well-resourced major newspapers, Adam’s story was almost nowhere to be seen.

Just how was it, he now wonders, that a parochial suburban paper like The Western Times — edited then by a Footscray football club board member, no less — was the only media outlet to report on an AFL club playing host to such a stupefying case of child abuse?

The second was Footscray Football Club’s failure to publicly acknowledge Adam’s story — no statement, no expression of regret, not so much as a notation in its annual report.

A head shot from a football club annual report of the club president in a suit and tie.A head shot from a football club annual report of the club president in a suit and tie.
A photo from the 1993 Footscray annual report of club president Peter Gordon.

There was no private apology, either. For Adam, that was and remains particularly galling. The club’s president at the time was Peter Gordon, a cousin of Adam’s father Chas.

“The Kneales and the Gordons all used to live within a block in West Footscray,” Adam says.

“To see people like Peter Gordon and to think that … I couldn’t stand the club. I couldn’t stand to go past the place. Even now, I wouldn’t even venture into the western suburbs. There is just too much disappointment associated with that club. To me, now, it is just a cesspit.”

He was gladder than anyone when the club changed its name to the Western Bulldogs, because “any mention of Footscray was just a trigger-and-a-half”.

In a written response to questions from ABC Sport, Peter Gordon said he had no recollection of Adam’s story and “no knowledge of any interaction the club may have had with Adam nor any offer of assistance”.

“Until this week, I was unaware my cousin Charles Kneale had a son named Adam, and I have no recollection of hearing of Adam or what you have described,” Gordon wrote.

“I also know nothing of Graeme Hobbs or the nature of his relationship with the club. But I’m glad he was charged and convicted and I hope he got a fitting sentence.”

Gordon said the Kneale and Gordon families had been estranged for as long as he could remember, but that he had “a vague recollection of Charles writing a letter addressed to me care of the club during the October 1989 fightback campaign with a cassette of a song he had recorded about the club that he thought we could publish to make money”.

“But I have no other memory of that family,” he wrote.

A man in a football polo and cap speaks to a crowd from a stageA man in a football polo and cap speaks to a crowd from a stage
Peter Gordon speaks to Bulldogs fans at Whitten Oval after the club’s premiership victory in 2016. Gordon says he has no memory of Hobbs and did not know about Adam.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

Gordon added that for most of 1993, 1994 and 1995, he was in Western Australia taking statements and initiating litigation on behalf of 320 men who’d been abused in Christian Brothers institutions, so had “some idea of the profound and lifelong trauma such abuse inflicts”.

Dennis Galimberti, who was Footscray’s chief executive for a decade between late 1986 and late 1996, told ABC Sport the club was unaware of Adam’s abuse at the time it occurred.

“It may have been on the front page of the Western Times, which I’ve got no recollection of whatsoever, but we didn’t know these offences had occurred at the club,” Galimberti says.

Galimberti recalls seeing Hobbs around at the club but said Footscray had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by Hobbs until 1992. That year, Graeme Pearce was elevated to the chief executive position and Galimberti demoted to second-in-charge, an arrangement that lasted only six months until Galimberti resumed the top job.


“I remember that Pearce came to me one day in 1992 and said that he’d received a complaint from someone,” Galimberti says.

“He didn’t tell me who the complaint was from. He told me he received a complaint from someone that related to Hobbs giving away membership tickets to attract young children and youth to the club.

“He said he was going to handle the complaint. Sometime later, when he hadn’t given me any update on what was happening with the complaint, I spoke to him and said, ‘What have you done about the complaint with Hobbs?’. And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ve rung Hobbs and told him he’s not to set foot in the club again’. And I never saw Hobbs after that.”

Asked how Hobbs was able to gain such wide-ranging access to the club’s inner sanctum, Galimberti said Hobbs would not have had a key, but “the offices might have been open”.

“On match days, the offices were manned by staff,” Galimberti says.

“There are people coming in and out. There are people attending gates, collecting money, money would be delivered to the office and put in the safe. You wouldn’t necessarily need a key, because there is someone in the offices during match days and the office is open for enquiries from the public and for all sorts of reasons.

“He would have had access to the offices but I’m pretty much 100 per cent satisfied that he wouldn’t have had a key. We were very heavily dependent on volunteers and people giving up their time to do various jobs, because we couldn’t afford to pay people to do it. But there wasn’t the checks and balances in those days. There was no working with children checks.

“When you’re working with volunteers, it’s very difficult because there is no job description. There is no hierarchy in terms of management. There is no payment for their services. So it can be very loose. Back in those days, it was probably very loose — looser than it would be now.”

Galimberti said neither he nor any other club officials were questioned by police during the investigation that led to Hobbs’s arrest.

“I’m a solicitor and I was a solicitor then,” Galimberti says.

“If anything like this arose, I would have been made aware of it. If there was a formal investigation and people had to be interviewed, I would have been aware of it.”

Galimberti said he “didn’t know why” the matter was never brought to the attention of the club’s board by Graeme Pearce.

By the late 1980s, Footscray’s finances might have been strained, but even then, the Bulldogs positioned themselves as a community-minded club with a particular focus on child welfare.

In 1989 and 1990, when Adam was still being abused at the club, Foostcray launched the Care For Kids program among the initiatives of its Bulldogs Foundation. At the time, Galimberti said it would “provide leadership, guidance and activities designed to make a difference in the lives of children in the west”.

Players acted as “big brothers” to troubled local teens, delivering presentations at local schools, preaching the club’s values. Care For Kids stickers and T-shirts could be seen all around town.

Youth worker Les Twentyman reflects on the highs and lows of his careerYouth worker Les Twentyman reflects on the highs and lows of his career
Youth worker Les Twentyman was a supporter of Footscray’s Care For Kids campaign, saying it would have positive outcomes for at-risk children.(Lateline)

At the time, famed local welfare worker Les Twentyman, also a cousin of Peter Gordon, called it “a long-term program which could have exciting and positive outcomes”, which in time included $2,000 grants for local schools thanks to one of the program’s sponsors, Kemcor.

Indeed, documents held at Melbourne’s Public Record Office confirm the participation of Adam’s school, Tottenham Tech.

Adam’s mother Lyn now scoffs at the concept.

“Understanding what Adam endured in those club rooms and under the eyes of people higher up than the abusers, I don’t trust them,” she says.

“How could they not have known? They encouraged this person and had him coordinating money.

“They put themselves up on a pedestal, football clubs. But there were no checks. Adam fell through the gaps. A person I know and love has had this happen to them. This has happened in other clubs. It’s happened to other children.”

For the first time in hours discussing Adam, the gravity of his suffering brings on tears, reducing Lyn to a forlorn whisper: “They stole his life.”

‘I just wish people could see what I see’

Nobody is more acutely aware of Adam’s battle than his wife Natasha, who lives every day with the aftershocks of his abuse.

They met in 1996, living in the same apartment block in Elwood.

“I was just awed”, Natasha remembers. She also recognised their shared life experiences — shyness, insecurity, childhood traumas — and felt instantly they would be together one day.

“We were both very broken,” she says.

“We needed comfort. But it couldn’t be any more at that time.”

Adam Kneale circa 1997 with daughter Tilly B&WAdam Kneale circa 1997 with daughter Tilly B&W
Adam in 1997 with his daughter, around the time he met his wife Natasha.(Supplied)

Adam was honest about his anger and the fear he would destroy the relationship before it began.

Like Adam, Tash had been bullied from primary school until early adulthood. She’s always held a lot inside. Adam describes her as a listener and an endless giver whose first priority is always the happiness and comfort of others. She can’t stand seeing anyone excluded.

But life was tough in the 10 years before it was “the right time” for them, and tougher still in their first year together.

“It probably aged me 10 years,” Natasha says.

Quickly married and pregnant with their son, she was swamped by the added responsibility of caring for someone whose mental health was so fragile.

“We were trying to find him medication that worked,” she says.

“I felt like I was on eggshells the whole time. It was just so easy to trigger something. I didn’t realise how hard it was going to be.”

The arrival of their son saved the relationship, ushering in a five-year period in which they “healed each other” and “learned how to be a couple”, slowly and sometimes painfully navigating a more positive course. Motherhood brought Natasha brightness and joy to balance out the darkness Adam could not help but drag home.

But just as one stormy era passed, and the family’s move to the country heralded a simpler, better life, hostile workplaces played host to the manifestations of Adam’s illness.

“He just looked heartbroken and defeated,” Natasha says.

“He’d come home shaking. He was such a hard worker, such a good guy, such a perfectionist who took pride in his work. And it was so important to him to keep going and supporting his family.”

In the last two years, Natasha’s relief has come with qualifications. In the early years of the relationship, she had been outgoing, her positivity cajoling Adam along. For the last decade, Adam admits, he has been the family’s “anchor”, so plagued by anxieties that even leaving the house is an ordeal.

Natasha does not blame him. His guilt upsets her. But she cannot deny her own sadness on the occasions she takes her son out, or on holidays, without Adam.

Adam Kneale circa 1999 with daughter Tilly at EasterAdam Kneale circa 1999 with daughter Tilly at Easter
Adam in 1999 with his daughter.(Supplied)

“I watch families where the mother and fathers are out with their children, and I get sad and cry,” she says.

“I wish Adam could be there as well, sharing it with us. Even to be able to go for a walk together, the two of us, down the rail track. He’s got such a great heart, and I know he wants to live life to the fullest, but I understand and accept why he can’t. I know he’s never going to be fully healed.

“I just wish people could see what I see. I guess they see someone who is defensive, angry, not friendly. They don’t get to see his wit, his funny sense of humour, and that really caring, loyal, fierce protector he is as well.

“He says I helped him, but we both really helped each other. We make each other better, stronger, whole. He’s the best guy I’ve ever met.”

‘I always thought ‘I’ll ride this out’. But it never ended.’

Perhaps it is the power of Natasha’s love that makes Adam feel fortunate, but he might be the only person on earth who would consider him lucky.

He has his family’s support, he reminds himself. His children are healthy. It hurt his ego to accept charity from loved ones when his forced retirement depleted the family’s finances, but they have a roof over their heads.

“I keep telling Natasha, ‘I have no reason to be this depressed’,” Adam says.

“What more could I ask for?”

He’s always told himself these lies of self-encouragement. He remembers the first, which rolled around his head after he was first raped by Graeme Hobbs in the Footscray Football Club toilets: “This won’t affect me when I get older.”

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” he says.

“I said, ‘It won’t affect me. I’ll get the $20 or the season ticket to give to a friend or family member’.”

Adam Kneale3Adam Kneale3
Adam has described his life as a “perpetual hell”.(ABC News: Russell Jackson)

It is fashionable now to call this mindset resilience. Resilient is an accurate descriptor of Adam but it also diminishes his suffering. Resilience, as it applies to institutional child sexual abuse, over-emphasises the individual fortitude of the survivor. The target of our admiration is obvious.

But stories of resilience mitigate and distract us from the failings of the institutions where their abuse occurs, whose shortcomings can be explained away as relics of another time and place, with characters propelled by different values and contexts. The target of our scorn is less clear.

“In my head, I always thought ‘I’ll ride this out’,” Adam says.

“But it never ended. It’s a perpetual hell and yesterday is the same as today. It just demolishes your life. You hope that today you’ll sleep better.”

He hasn’t slept longer than three hours a night in years. To grapple with a small list of his other daily ordeals is to understand the depths of human suffering.

“My normal,” he admits, “is most people’s worst day.”

His PTSD has “engulfed” him, hence the trembling hands, his unsteadiness, his racing heartbeat, the anxiety attacks when strangers look at him, his sad slide into a hermit’s life. He feels “stuck” in his childhood, his personal growth stunted.

A little girl hands a little boy a birthday cake.A little girl hands a little boy a birthday cake.
Adam in his Essendon guernsey on his birthday. Celebrations have become difficult for him as an adult.(Supplied)

Far from moments of happiness, family birthdays, Easters, Christmases and many other milestone events are acutely painful — times Adam associates with his abuse.

“I would need money because I wanted to buy someone a present to show my appreciation or whatever, while sacrificing myself at the same time,” he says.

Gift-giving is impossible. Lyn says she has only ever received two birthday cards from Adam, a tally that surprises him. He’d prefer his upcoming 50th birthday pass without comment.

“I’ve had too many birthdays where I find myself upset with the situation I’m in, whether it was logical or not,” he says.

“I know it’s an anniversary every year. I have an image of walking into Noel’s place and the football replay is on, or going to the hotel room and the football replay is on.

Today would have been tough whether he was telling his story or not, because the Bulldogs play Essendon — a day that should prompt fond memories of his grandfather and faraway Saturdays watching his childhood heroes. For Adam, it’s one of the worst days on the calendar.

When he does sleep, nightmares still overwhelm him — the abusers are the same, but they’re taking him somewhere new.

“I also have dreams that I’m at work,” he says.

“I know in the dream that I don’t have to be there, but for some reason I’m there. So, why am I there? I’m there to please them. It’s the same as the abuse.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t feel pain in your dreams.”

Another nightmare explains what happens when a man spends his life sparing others from his pain. In it, an incision has been made on the back of Adam’s wrist so that a flap of skin opens up, revealing a gory panel of blood and muscle. He responds instinctively, yanking his shirt sleeve down, holding it over the wound so nobody will see.

A picture of a young man looking down at the strings as he plays guitar, with another guitarist next to him.A picture of a young man looking down at the strings as he plays guitar, with another guitarist next to him.
Coming from a musical family, Adam had dreams of a career playing the guitar, but his trauma “destroyed” his ability to perform on stage.(Supplied: Adam Kneale)

No wonder he clings to music — listening to it, talking about it, making it.

“It’s the only healing thing other than having someone by your side,” he says.

“If it wasn’t for music, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

“Last night, I put a few chords together, seeing how I could improvise with them. It started getting dark in my room and I had the sound of the trees outside. Today I’ll forget it. But it mattered to me then. In that moment, I could switch off.”

Why tell his story now? Five years ago, he wanted to share it with the royal commission but was not ready. Now, 38 years after his abuse began, he just wants it to stop controlling his life.

“I’ve lost a lot of years from a mental health point of view, not being able to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid,” he says.

“I’m getting close to 50 and things are going to shit again, but in a way that I never could have imagined.

“And it makes sense. A lot of the people I used to see in self-help groups were in their 40s and they were a mess. Guys who were my age now. I just thought it was because they hadn’t dealt with it all those years. But it wasn’t.

“Something happens to them in their 40s that makes them have to face what they’re facing. For me, it was like, ‘What do I have to face?’. I said to my doctor, ‘I’m done with waiting until I think I’m ready’. That’s like waiting to sleep properly again.”

Adam Kneale circa 1982 footy in the parkJPGAdam Kneale circa 1982 footy in the parkJPG
A young Adam plays footy in the park in 1982. Not long after, football would create a nightmare that haunts him to this day.(Supplied)

Reflecting on Adam’s life, Lyn admits she is a pessimist, always pondering the worst ‘what-ifs’. In her heart she hopes today is the day her son fights back and “feels proud of his whole story”.

Naturally, she also ponders the alternative: “What if he doesn’t?”

She knows there is a chasm between what she wants for Adam and what he can realistically have. She can’t stop herself from comparing his life with his brother’s.

“What’s happened to his brother should have happened to Adam — a career, music, fun,” she says.

“His brother lives in the country now, and he’ll call and say he’s broken a chainsaw. I say ‘that’s an incident, not a disaster’. Adam has had disaster after disaster and they’re two very different things. To lose the boy when he’s becoming a man is heartbreaking.”

And then she ponders one final ‘what-if’, one she knows Adam has pondered often too: “What if he’d never gone to the Footscray Football Club?”

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Reporting: Russell Jackson

Photography: Russell Jackson, Getty Images, supplied images from the Kneale family

Digital production and editing: Kyle Pollard



Author: Ivan Robinson