Brett Mathews is a victim. He is also survivor.
He is one of Ballarat's sufferers of child sexual abuse. In addition, during his childhood, two further traumatic episodes exacerbated his psychological challenges. However, the lean arborist, who looks like he would be more at home in the Australian outback than the streets of Ballarat, persists and inspires.
Poor mental health has been one ramification of the crimes committed on, and the personal tumult experienced by, Mr Mathews. Few stones have been left unturned in a quest to deal with his internal tumult.
"Once post-traumatic stress is there, it's there," Mr Mathews said.
"It's always going to be there.
"I've done everything (in relation to seeking help). Over the years, I've had psychologists; I've done hypnosis; I've done emotional freedom technique. It works for a while, but then the black dog comes back."
Yet, there is one approach Mr Mathews adopts which never fails.
"We lived on the edge of a forest," Mr Mathews said, recalling his childhood.
"I know every rock, every tree. I probably know every animal. I am very connected to nature.
"If I'm in a real dark place, I take myself out to the bush straightaway. I have a special place out there. You can feel the energy. It's a special place, a spiritual place. It snaps me out of it. You feel like the only man on Earth. People think you have to be Indigenous to have to that connection country. You don't."
In the past, two wedge-tailed eagles were based at this unique site. Mr Mathews believes they were there for at least 38 years. On one occasion, he took a fortunate friend, an Indigenous Australian, to the area.
"We drove off. I said to him, 'I forgot to show you the eagles' nest'," Mr Mathews outlined, commenting on a soon-to-be mystical moment.
"He said, 'The eagles' nest? Bunjil (south-east Australia's creator, according to Indigenous Victorians)?'"
"A young eagle then landed on the lowest branch of a grey stringy bark. My friend's eyes nearly fell out of his head. Here was this young eagle, lifting its wings up and down like it was dancing."
The place in which Mr Mathews found himself five decades or so prior was not as magical. At the age of six, he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his primary school teacher.
"Back then, when you're six years-old, you know it's wrong, but you're pretty naive," Mr Mathews said.
"God knows how many kids he abused there. He's dead now. He'd been to jail. He was on the sex offenders list until the day he died."
For years, Mr Mathews kept the story of the offending to himself.
"I never told anyone; I never told my parents," Mr Mathews said.
"My mum was crippled with arthritis all her life. She had calipers on her arms and legs when I was a baby. She was that bad, she couldn't even get the pins in my cloth nappy. My dad was a tough man, a Korean War veteran. He wasn't a bad father. If I would have told him what had happened, he would have killed the school teacher. (My siblings and I) would have been in a home. Christ knows what would have happened. They went to their graves and I had never told them."
People think you have to be Indigenous to have to that connection country. You don't.- Brett Mathews
The reverberations of Mr Mathew's primary school nightmare have been ongoing.
"I lost faith in schooling," he said.
"I went to the end of Form 4 (Year 10).
"I've had lots of jobs. 'I've had more starts than a greyhound,' my father used to say. That goes a lot with sexual abuse; people can't keep stable jobs.
"I'm bloody hopeless in relationships. A lot of people who have been sexually abused are. I've been married once and engaged twice. It's just me and the two dogs at the moment."
Well into adulthood, a ghost of the past reappeared. Mr Mathews caught sight of the perpetrator who had caused such pain.
"I hadn't seen him for years, (but) I spotted him this day," Mr Mathews said.
"It started from Latrobe Street. I followed him to three different parks. Eventually, he ended up at the Gong Gong Reservoir Park. The anger that was coming up in me (was like) molten lava."
So full of the thirst for vengeance was Mr Mathews, dark thoughts came to the forefront of his mind. He contemplated confronting his nemesis and engaging in retribution. Sanity prevailed.
"Within a split second, I thought about my kids," Mr Mathews said.
"I thought, 'Don't be stupid'."
The legacy of that day remains.
"I still know the number plate of his car," Mr Mathews said.
In the immediate aftermath of that day, unsettled by events, Mr Mathews sought solace in a friend who encouraged him to do something. Contact was then made with another who had carried the scars of past evil.
"He said, 'Look, Brett. You've got to give your statement to the police," Mr Mathews said of the conversation.
"So, I contacted the sexual crimes squad. I got him to the committal hearing. Six weeks after the committal hearing, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They reckon he had six to twelve months to live. We kept having directions hearings. They reckoned he was too sick. He died and there was never really closure.
"I was sick of hearing about the Catholic Church. I thought that someone needs to come out. It wasn't just the Catholic Church; mine was through the state school. People get abused by family members, in the boy scouts, the Anglican Church."
Following the abuse, Mr Mathew's youth continued to present challenges.
"I was nine and my sister was 17," Mr Mathews said of one instance.
"It was a cold winter's night, about 10.30pm. My sister went into the kitchen, opened up the fire box of the old wood stove. The next minute, there were screams. She was on the floor; a spark went on the nylon nightie. She was in hospital for 11 months. I can remember going to the hospital thinking, 'Is my sister going to die?' She eventually came good."
A further episode rattles Mr Mathews to this day.
"When I was 14, my brother was 20," Mr Mathews said of the other troubling time.
"He went to the same school and had the same teacher. We'll never know if the teacher abused him.
"Early one Saturday morning, he decided to shoot himself in the loungeroom in the house. My bedroom was across the passageway. I heard the gunshot. Mum had a nervous breakdown. Dad started drinking more heavily. None of us had counselling; back then, no one ever suggested it. Back in those days, you sucked it up and got on with life. I can (still) here that gunshot going off in my head. I could be talking, I could be working, I could be in the shower. It's like in a war zone. It can be very unnerving."
Recent deaths have also shaken the man.
"I lost one of my best mates seven months ago and just before Christmas I lost a best mate," Mr Mathews said.
"That knocked me around a little bit. I don't think I cried so much in years. I lost an aunty in between."
Despite his tragic background, Mr Mathews has prevailed, maybe with some help from his biology.
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"I call it the Anzac blood," Mr Mathews said with a knowledge of family history.
"Both my grandfathers were in Gallipoli when they were fifteen. Mum's father was shot three times. He survived. He was in a London hospital for 16 months. They wanted to amputate his left arm; it was completely mangled. He came good and was shipped back to Australia.
"He had 13 kids and actually got to 80 years-old."
This is a life full of tales and Mr Mathews has plans to put those stories to good use sometime in the future.
"I'm going to write a book one day," he said.
"It's going to be called, 'To Hell and Back'."
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
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