The Shocking Hazing Rituals In The Australian Armed Forces

australian navy cadets

Hazing rituals or “bastardisation” have been a feature in many institutions for generations. This is the practice of initiating young recruits by established members. This used to be a standard experience in boys’ high schools (State and private) and in the workplace, such as banks, insurance companies, the trades, emergency services and, of course, the army, navy and air force.

For example, I remember my initiation at Meadowbank Boys’ High School in 1969. I was a twelve year old in my first year.

There was the day the school bus pulled up to the school gates only to be boarded by a shouting angry mob of eighteen-year-old students, some with beards, grabbing every first year’s tie and ripping off the label. Then we were herded into the playground to be doused with white flour and sprayed with perfumed water.

Each one of us was drenched with a garbage bin full of water. Some were singled out, lead down to the toilet block to be shown the “Royal Flush”, that is, head held down the toilet bowl and flushed. I was terrified.

And I wasn’t the only one.

Then there were my early days in the head office of the Rural Bank of NSW in Martin Place, Sydney.

New recruits were sent all around the building on pointless errands like being told to “turn the overdraft off” or asking a whole string of clerks in different departments for something that didn’t exist, like a “verbal agreement form”.

This doesn’t sound like much now, but when you’re a nervous young office worker straight out of high school, it’s humiliating to have a floor of sixty grown men and women laughing at you.

Young women sometimes broke down and headed for the bathroom in tears.

Initiations of all kinds have been considered a part of growing up for a long, long time. The problems begin when it goes beyond light-hearted fun and games and develops into bullying, harassment, humiliation and physical and sexual assault.

In fact, many people reading this today will be wondering what all the fuss is about. Those are the people who think the punishment was deserved by those unfit for service.

Often those people were among the abusers themselves.

They now fear the change in culture. They fear that their time is up and the law will be catching up with them soon. They have much to be worried about.

Hazing was once considered a rite of passage into the military – and some cadets still suffer at the hands of other recruits

LtoR The current Australian army uniform and the Multicam combat uniform -  ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Image: ABC News

Hazing rituals have been common in the army, navy and airforce for centuries. Former NSW Governor and Senior Naval Officer Peter Sinclair even told the Royal Commission that sailors have been participating in hazing rituals for centuries, but conceded:

“Initiation itself is not a bad thing. If it is an initiation that involves bastardry and abuse and physical abuse and denigration, of course, that’s not to be condoned.”

He also recognised hazing within the navy, at least, is “out of control”.

All hazing rituals involve humiliation, discomfort, inconvenience and embarrassment. Some involve pain, drenching, forced nudity, sexual touching and even penetration. By today’s standards, many of these practices are criminal offences.

Underage cadets have been subjected to:

  • Nugetting i.e. having boot polish smeared onto their genitals and rubbed with a hard brush. People reported being left bleeding with black shoe polish all over their penis and scrotum
  • Running the gauntlet i.e. being attacked with sacks full of irons, boots and other heavy items
  • Repeated rape and being forced to rape other members by older recruits.

We have represented a number of former ADF recruits. Our clients have said the following hazing rituals were inflicted on them:

  • Soggy SAO i.e. being forced to masturbate onto a biscuit with a group of men, the last person to ejaculate had to eat the whole SAO biscuit
  • Forced to participate in bare-knuckle fights with seniors crowding around and people pushed unwillingly into the middle of the circle to fight
  • Rumblings i.e. where seniors would come in, wake you up, turn your mattress upside down in the middle of the night and proceed to beat you repeatedly
  • Being tied up and having a fire hydrant sprayed all over you
  • Being hung up high on a crane or in the showers via a broomstick, or on other machinery and left for long periods
  • Being tied up and dumped into stormwater drains, in the showers or in public and pelted with rotten fruit, having oil and foul-smelling substances poured all over.

These horrendous rituals have been cultivated by fraternal, gender-divided military barracks, creating masculine, male-dominated spaces. Some argue fraternity builds morale and hazing is “crucial” to build solidarity, but fraternity often makes way for tribalism.

Tribalism undermines the three key values of the Australian Defence Force: professionalism, trust and capability.

Some people were singled out for extra treatment from older recruits

Australian Defence Force called in to support lagging COVID-19 vaccination  rollout - The Market Herald

Image: The Market Herald

Some poor recruits were singled out for extra hazing and treatment. These recruits were considered weak and unworthy; passive-natured, odd, physically underdeveloped, and non-assertive.

Those who didn’t smoke or swear were also common targets.

Good-natured Christians were identified early on for special attention from older recruits.

These men and women were beaten, raped and humiliated on a regular basis. It was relentless. Soul-destroying. Many of those who were singled out are still tormented by the trauma to this today. Their abusers have occupied their headspace for years on end. They are shadows of the men and women they used to be.

At Kelso Lawyers, we will not stand for this kind of horrendous hazing within the Australian Defence Force – but we will stand for the tormented survivors. Our lawyers have extensive experience in ADF abuse compensation claims. Each and every team member is experienced and willing to stand for your right to compensation.

Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.

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