The Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) harboured a now-notorious paedophile in its ranks for 29 years between 1979 and 2007, the organisation has confirmed.
- Evidence suggests Roy Hamilton Wenlock would engage in grooming behaviour with boys he encountered at the WACA
- Wenlock had been referred to as the ‘spiritual father’ of the WACA museum in an annual report after his death in 2007
- WACA chief executive Christina Matthews said the organisation had taken several measures to address its historical child sexual abuse problem
WARNING: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse.
Roy Wenlock, for whom the WACA created the full-time role of ‘development officer’ in 1979, was one of three sex offenders investigated in WA Supreme Court Justice Peter Blaxell’s 452-page parliamentary inquiry into historical child sexual abuse at Anglican hostels, published in 2012.
WACA chief executive Christina Matthews confirmed to ABC Sport that the organisation became aware of Wenlock’s offending during the 2012-13 summer and has since taken a range of measures to address the issue, which is the subject of ongoing civil litigation against the WACA.
In Justice Blaxell’s report, Wenlock, who died in 2007, was revealed to have been a prolific abuser who gained sexual gratification from “wrestling” sessions — simulated sex in which Wenlock would ejaculate — with boys placed in his care between 1963 and 1977. In some cases, Wenlock’s offending escalated to masturbation and oral sex with the boys.
Blaxell’s report was also unequivocal in its conclusion that Wenlock’s grooming and abuse of boys continued at the WACA.
One of those boys, now a man in his mid-40s, confirmed to ABC Sport that while performing WACA “drinks boy” duties under Wenlock’s direction in the late 1980s, he was taken back to Wenlock’s house with other boys and witnessed abuse.
Between 1979 and 2007, Wenlock fulfilled a range of roles at the WACA, most of which gave him unsupervised access to children.
For decades, he was the organisation’s full-time development officer, conducting junior coaching clinics around the state, and also served as WACA ground announcer, museum curator, and as a WACA pennant umpire. He also umpired in junior competitions and was secretary of the Western Australian Youth Cricket Council.
In 2000, Wenlock received the Australian Sports Medal for services to cricket.
‘Whatever you do, don’t go to his house’
In 2012, Justice Blaxell concluded there was “ample evidence to show that Wenlock would engage in grooming behaviour” with boys he encountered across his four decades at the WACA.
“In this position he was required to engage in various cricketing activities with young teenagers, and he would sometimes invite individual boys back to his home,” Blaxell wrote.
There, Wenlock would “encourage them to engage in ‘wrestling’. The reputation that Wenlock acquired as a result of these activities was such that young cricketers would warn their friends: ‘whatever you do, don’t go to his house’.”
‘Darren’ (not his real name) was not aware of Justice Blaxell’s findings when he spoke to ABC Sport, but he was among the boys who were taken from the WACA to Wenlock’s house and says what he saw there mirrored the experiences of witnesses in the inquiry.
In 1989, when Darren was in his early teens, Wenlock selected Darren and a male school friend to perform “drinks boy” duties for a Sheffield Shield game at the WACA ground.
Darren said he was excited because the fixture in question — Western Australia vs New South Wales — featured Darren’s idols, the Waugh brothers.
“My mate had done it previously,” Darren told ABC Sport.
“I thought, ‘This will be awesome’. I was excited because it meant we got to take food into the change rooms for the players and take turns to take the drinks out. It was really cool.”
Darren said his discomfort started after play. Wenlock had arranged with parents that Darren, his friend and a few other boys would not be picked up from the WACA, but from Wenlock’s house after a swim and some icy poles.
At the house, Darren said, Wenlock encouraged the boys to wrestle him, something that struck Darren as “so unusual and weird” that he declined Wenlock’s invitation. Darren said other boys did wrestle Wenlock.
“I found it quite confronting,” he said. “And it went on for quite a while.”
Darren said that in his eagerness to meet more of his heroes, he volunteered for another day as a drinks boy, but he declined a second invite to Wenlock’s house and resolved not to do the job again.
“I was uncomfortable with what was happening,” he said.
“I can visualise it, and the feeling I associate with what I saw was that it was very uncomfortable.”
The ‘spiritual father’ of the WACA
Roy Hamilton Wenlock was once a ubiquitous and sometimes divisive figure in Western Australian cricket.
As an umpire in the elite WACA competition, Wenlock was unpopular with players, who thought he was out of his depth and reliant on WACA support for ongoing selection. Regardless, in 1995 Wenlock was made a life member of the Western Australian Cricket Umpires’ Association and remains so.
Among colleagues in the WACA administration, Wenlock was considered gruff and strange, but the organisation valued his enthusiasm to take on duties others wouldn’t, particularly the creation and administration of junior cricket programs and Wenlock’s curation of the memorabilia collection that became the WACA museum.
Following Wenlock’s death at 75 in 2007, tributes in the WACA annual report described him as the “spiritual father” and “inspiration” of the museum and, and on account of his ground announcing duties, one of the WACA’s “most recognisable voices, if not faces”.
A former bank clerk whose rise to prominence in elite cricket belied his self-confessed inability to play the game, Wenlock’s parallel life as an abuser of boys is most extensively documented between 1963 and late 1977, when he served as a warden at St Christopher’s House, the residential hostel at Northam High School.
It is likely that Wenlock came to the attention of his eventual bosses at the WACA during his years as president of the Northam Cricket Association, for whom he administered a junior competition too, becoming a life member.
“The WACA created a new position of Development Officer in 1979 and encouraged Roy to apply,” read his WACA obituary.
“He was successful and became an integral part of the administration.”
Initially, Wenlock’s wages were partly subsidised by the Western Australian government.
“He arranged coaching trips to the North West, pre-season cricket camps for umpires, and was unofficial collector and guardian of cricket trophies and photos that were often given to him. In 1983 he was appointed as the ground announcer at the WACA on match days. This caused him to curtail his umpiring ambitions.”
But Wenlock, who had not faced police charges at the time of his death, gained greater notoriety posthumously, admonished by his former employers at the Anglican Church for the “depravity” of his offending against boys placed in his care.
Wenlock’s activities were described by an Archbishop as “abhorrent – exploitative and abusive – and a gross breach of trust.”
‘A powerful man with an intimidating presence’
In the Anglican hostels inquiry, one former St Christopher’s House pupil described Roy Wenlock as “a powerful man with an intimidating presence … calculated and cunning… someone that you could never say ‘no’ to.”
“Whatever he said you had to do, or you knew there would be consequences.”
The consequences were a range of sadistic punishment rituals, including violent canings that left at least one boy with a disfigured finger. But it was a practice of Wenlock’s that became known among boys as “bruting” that caused the greatest damage.
For ‘bruting’ sessions, Wenlock would invite boys to his private flat on the hostel’s grounds for what Justice Blaxwell called “the same bizarre and ritualistic form of physical contact which the boys had to perform for Wenlock’s sexual pleasure.”
The boys were forced to strip to their underpants and Wenlock usually did too, with one or the other often wearing leopard skin underpants or bathers provided by Wenlock. The pretence of ‘wrestling’ ended with Wenlock on his back on the floor, forcing the boy to straddle his pelvic area so the boy’s buttocks were resting on his groin.
Blaxwell explained: “Wenlock would bounce around and pretend to try to buck the boy off while at the same time continuously moaning and repeating the words: ‘you brute’, ‘you brute’.”
“The effect of this was that the boy’s anal area would bump and grind against Wenlock’s groin. Some former students distinctly recall Wenlock’s erect penis rubbing against their bodies and of him ejaculating as a result.”
The inquiry heard that boys endured these ordeals for up to two hours at a time. Some of the 18 men who gave evidence said they experienced the abuse only once, but one witness suffered the assaults on a weekly basis for his entire five years at the hostel. Others detailed feelings of disgust and shame in the aftermath.
Evidence was also heard of graver assaults than the ‘bruting’ sessions. Wenlock plied one boy with alcohol and groped his genitals. Another boy was forced to masturbate Wenlock, abuse that escalated to oral sex and being forced into ‘wrestling’ sessions as an unidentified priest watched.
Multiple students made complaints about Wenlock between 1975 and 1977, with one boy’s story briefly attracting the attention of police, but their investigations amounted to nothing.
In the inquiry, Justice Blaxell’s harshest assessment was of then-St Christopher’s board chairman and Archdeacon (later Bishop) Michael Challen who, in 1977, politely asked Wenlock to resign and offered the abuser “effectively a glowing reference”, rather than sacking him and making it clear to prospective employers that Wenlock should not be given a job that put him in contact with children.
Blaxell concluded that Challen’s decision “revealed a questionable sense of moral priorities for a clergyman.”
“By allowing him to leave ‘quietly’ they gave a higher priority to the reputation of the Hostel than to any concern for the future wellbeing of teenage boys with whom Wenlock might come into contact,” Blaxell wrote.
“By these actions Bishop Challen increased the prospects that Wenlock would be able to sexually misconduct himself with young males in a similar fashion again.”
‘We will deal with it openly and honestly’
WACA chief executive Christina Matthews told ABC Sport that the organisation has taken several measures to address its historical child sexual abuse problems and assured survivors they would be supported if they reported their abuse.
“I encourage anyone that has experienced any form of abuse when they have been involved in WACA programs to come forward and we will deal with it openly and honestly,” Matthews said.
The WACA is the only one of Australian cricket’s powerful state associations to have signed up to the National Redress Scheme in response to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Matthews said the WACA joined the scheme willingly and immediately, and that one survivor of Wenlock’s abuse has already had his claim processed and approved.
Matthews said the WACA first became aware of Wenlock’s history during the 2012-13 summer, when a survivor approached the organisation to raise awareness and ensure child protection measures that had been lacking in the past were now in place.
“We reviewed our practices and became what you would probably call more aware of some of the dubious things these people do and how to prevent them,” Matthews said.
“At the same time, child protection regulations were changing, so it all blended into that.”
In recent months, former WACA staff who were colleagues of Wenlock told ABC Sport they’d been interviewed by lawyers acting for the WACA and asked for their recollections of Wenlock.
Matthews confirmed that the WACA appointed external legal counsel in June 2021, in response to civil litigation being launched by a survivor of abuse by Wenlock. That case has not yet been resolved.
“Our position has always been to not hide from these things, and to try and make the process as less painful as possible for the victim,” Matthews said.
“You’ve got to deal with the truth.”