TRAUMA ALERT: Some readers might find some of the following first-hand accounts disturbing. If they trigger any difficult feelings, please talk to someone you trust who can help support you. If need be, you can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
These accounts are from people who attended Ballarat and Queen's Anglican Grammar School around the time I was there, and I knew most of them personally.
I have no reason to disbelieve any of these accounts, all of which have been through a very careful process of vetting and have been verified to the best of our ability, given the limitations of time and in light of what some of the survivors themselves say are traumatic and fragmented memories. – MICHAEL SHORT
Here are some words I am OK with you using to help build a picture of what the impact of prolonged sexual/indecent assault by a male teacher had on me, and the impact of knowing that those in authority at the school who knew what I was being subjected to did not act to protect me or provide emotional or any care for me during or after the period of abuse.
Details and sequences of events are not clear for me, as I have suppressed this part of my life for over 35 years and each day memories are coming back, which has been overwhelming.
For over 35 years, I have been protecting the perpetrator and telling myself it was OK, because he told me "I was the love of his life". Remember, this was my teacher, more than 10 years my senior, and I was a 15-year-old girl.
For me, the email in November 2015 from Stephen Higgs, then headmaster of Ballarat and Queen's Anglican Grammar School (BGS), where the abuse happened, and Rob Knowles, chairman of the board, had a profound effect, to say the least. I read the email. Reread it. Stared at it. Then I started shaking and crying and I could not work out what was happening. I couldn't sleep that night and by morning, I had finally admitted to myself that what happened to me was child abuse.
What my teacher did was wrong and he should not have done it, and someone at my school should have told him to stop and protected me and looked after me. No one did. November 2015 was the first time anyone from BGS had bothered to say "if you were hurt, we want you to tell us and we want to help you". Here were the words that should have come a very long time ago. I immediately contacted the [now retired] headmaster, Stephen Higgs, to make a report. He encouraged me to contact the police and offered the full support of the school in this respect.
I was in year 9 when the perpetrator came to the school and he started paying me attention straight away, inside and outside of class. By year 10, he let me know very clearly that he had strong feelings for me. Little touches and brushes against me in the classroom, a hand on my thigh under the desk, meetings after school, manipulating events so he was around me, and open declarations and promises of everlasting love. Pretty enticing for 15-year-old me.
It continued and developed throughout year 11. Clearly, he knew it was wrong; meetings were clandestine, he made me lie with my head on his lap so no one would see me in his car as we drove past the school and through Ballarat. I was in emotional turmoil.
Trying to live a double life. Lying to my parents about my whereabouts. Trying to do normal teenage things with my peers. Feeling guilty. Feeling confused, stressed and anxious all the time. Not knowing a way out. Too afraid to tell anyone in case they punished him or me.
A number of staff at BGS knew of his inappropriate relationship with me. They were his adult friends (all teachers) and often saw us together. In the end (year 11), the headmaster at the time knew, as the teacher went to him and told him he was involved in a relationship with me. The next thing I knew, he was moved interstate and I was left to complete my year 12 feeling betrayed and totally abandoned by him, let down and angry at the adults around me. I ran away from home, as my relationship with my parents fell apart, largely due to my conflicted emotional state and sense of abandonment and helplessness.
And the worst of it is that not one teacher at my school, nor the headmaster, asked me if I was OK. I was not OK. Suicide was certainly on my mind, but I got through it with the help of my best friend at school, who was the only person in my life I had confided in, and a degree of personal resilience I was "lucky" enough to be born with.
Well, now I have to deal with this as a 50-plus-year-old. It is again having a profound impact on my emotional and physical wellbeing, as I reassess the nature of the relationship and try to come to terms with all the flashbacks, and reframe what happened to me as abuse and something I was not responsible for. This teacher took away the fun and innocence of my teenage years, he caused harm to me and my normal development in all areas, and I can't get that back. I am who I am because of those experiences in those vulnerable and formative years.
What I can do for myself now is call this what it was – abuse of me and abuse by him of his role as a person who had a duty of care to me – so that I can make sense of my life and move forward in the best way I can. I hope that it might help other women to come forward if they experienced grooming and predatory behaviour from male teachers at school. And, finally, to alert schools that they need to be vigilant with respect to this behaviour that is probably still going on in schools everywhere.
I want acknowledgement from the school that they did not act to protect or look after me, and I want an apology. I want the perpetrator to acknowledge what he did was wrong and caused me harm, and I want an apology from him also. I will continue with the counselling I have recently commenced, as I don't want to shoulder this alone any more, and I may also seek financial redress as some tangible form of compensation. I want this not to happen to any other young girl who attends Ballarat and Queens Anglican Grammar school or any other school.
As an aside, I have been in close contact with the director of professional standards in the Anglican Church, Claire Sargent, as suggested by Mr Higgs when he left his post. I was somewhat apprehensive and untrusting about this contact initially, given I have no confidence in the Church as an institution whatsoever. But what I found was a highly professional, supportive and victim-focused response from Claire, who gently encouraged me to make a report to the police, but in my own way and my own time. There was no hint of her trying to cover this up to protect the Church or the school; quite the opposite, in fact, so that's a positive.
I don't know if you remember me – I was a few years behind you at Ballarat Grammar.
I willingly share the following with you; I simply ask that you supply me with a pseudonym.
Ballarat Grammar School in my memory will always be an experience I survived. The education I received was less academic and more about survival.
Being of slight build, extremely high IQ and only reasonable at some sports (but not AFL or cricket), I was a natural target for bullying. I knew this from my days as a younger student at primary school, so I fully expected it to be a bumpy ride for the first few years at secondary school.
What I hadn't expected was that it would come from, or be endorsed by, members of the staff.
During my time at BGS, I experienced a culture of bullying, misogyny and tolerated abuse (sexual and emotional) of students.
I was twice the victim of "bashings" administered by multiple students at the direction of a staff member, because they felt it would be "character forming".
I do not blame the students who administered these beatings. I may never forgive them, nor will I forget. I understand they believed they were doing what the teacher was asking them to do. I blame the teacher and I blame the headmaster of the day, who failed to take any action when the incidents were reported. The advice I was given was to "take it like a man and learn the lesson".
After the first incident, where I tried to explain to my parents what had occurred, I decided it was easier to pass the various injuries off as sporting injuries. My parents had difficulty believing that such behaviour could occur at a Christian school and organised for me to be "counselled" by our parish priest, who told me that making waves about such things would cause trouble for everyone, so I should keep my head down, shut up and stop making up stories.
After the second incident, I rang the Ballarat police from the payphone in the school grounds and asked to report an assault. I was told the police had better things to do than investigate schoolyard fights. I told my parents the black eye and cracked ribs were from a sports training incident.
I learnt to be invisible – to disappear at recess and lunchtimes into the quiet side rooms and out-of-the-way places.
By year 11, I was disappearing into a Scotch bottle, initially on a binge basis and later as a daily sedative.
I learnt to be cunning and careful. Never let yourself be alone with certain staff. On one occasion when I was asked to meet a staff member after school, I stood outside the building in the quadrangle and made them come out to me, so we could meet in the open in front of witnesses.
On two occasions, I had staff attempt to sexually assault me. I am fortunate to have grown up with older siblings with whom I scrapped, as children do. I knew how to get a knee into the right place early when fighting a larger foe and also how to run like the wind.
One of these occasions saw me threatened with expulsion for striking a member of staff. Fast talking and threats of going to the media saw this reduced to a string of detentions.
I was aware of other students (and two staff members) who were suffering abuse. Not just boys, but a number of girls who were being hit on by male staff members. I was, on more than one occasion, the shoulder upon which fellow students cried out their hearts in helplessness.
I did not know what to do. I did not have the life experience I needed to properly deal with this.
I will go to my grave knowing I failed my fellow students, because I believed those who were responsible for my nurture, education and development.
In this regard, I ask that my fellow students to forgive my ignorance.
I just read your story and wanted to thank you for voicing my thoughts regarding the email/letter from Ballarat Grammar. It is bizarre, in the context of the problems of the Catholic Church investigating its priests, that the school didn't suggest victims should go to the police or royal commission.
It has been an unpredictable journey, sharing what happened to me. It started around a year ago, when I read something in The Age about a former Preshil student speaking out about her abuse, because she knew there were others who had been much more severely abused. At that point, a memory I had always had was reconfigured, and I understood that I was part of the "they" this royal commission was keen to hear from. I contacted the commission, initially in the hope this would help people who had experienced worse than me, as well as provide a sense of being witnessed and some closure. They asked if it could be reported to the police and I agreed, thinking he was most certainly dead – he seemed so old (and creepy in the 1970s, when I was six). The SOCIT arm of the police contacted me, I made a statement, and then things started to feel a little out of my control. A memory that had been mine to choose when to share suddenly meant police talking to my parents, the school (the police didn't name me), and tracking down the perpetrator. I hadn't really anticipated any of this; my stress about the whole thing was suddenly multiplied and I felt anything but closure.
Somewhere in there, the letter from the headmaster (and chairman) arrived. It was emailed to me and, for a few minutes, I wondered if it was a result of anything the police had revealed to the school. More stress.
The police investigation found there was insufficient evidence to justify a charge, but I felt they believed me, and that they would hold the information in case any more people came forward about this perpetrator. I have not had my private session with the royal commission yet, as it takes about year between initial contact with them and the private session.
I have been aware the attention has been largely on the Catholic institutions in Ballarat (with good reason), and so I was interested when Geelong Grammar became involved, as my gut feeling was that this stuff was present in other institutions. I was a bit horrified to hear that John Davison was a priest at GG and left there due to numerous cases of sexual abuse. I have a distinct memory of him getting our class to have "chats" about things "like sex" when I was in form 1. My (and many other students') response was something like "ewww, gross", but I often wonder about the boy who started talking about his supposed sexual experiences. He (the boy) didn't stay around for more than a year or two. Father Davison died of a heart attack around 1978 or 1979. I have passed this information on to the royal commission.
I am sure there are people working at Ballarat Grammar now who have made the connection about Davison, and perhaps that informed the choice to send out that hopelessly inadequate letter. As you said, there have been others.
Part of my memory is clear as a bell: when I was in grade 2, he took me from class, walked me to the girls' toilets, undressed me and washed me all over with a sponge, including my genitals. The rest is fragmented: I can't remember getting dressed or returning to class. I remember feeling (as all six-year-olds would) that it was my fault. Even in the retelling of it over the past year, my mind says "you're doing this so that others can benefit" (minimising the impact on myself) or "Come on, what's the fuss about. It was hardly anything. Others had way worse" (I hear that one each time I have told it to someone new and as I write now). I think this is a common internal dialogue for people having these kinds of experiences.
I am lucky I am capable of generating the support I need in order to process this, even as it emerges in different ways so many years later. What happened to me was wrong, but it wasn't the worst, and I am OK. I am angry, though, for myself and everyone else, at the perpetrators and those who allowed them to continue perpetrating. Is it part of our British heritage, "not making a fuss", and these appalling private schools with traditions of so much violence and subjugation? I don't know.
My hope in writing this is that you can use it in such a way that it will make it easier for other people to feel validated and supported enough to come forward. Maybe then the picture can be filled out so that we can understand how we have allowed these types of things to happen and how we can change so they stop.
PUNISHED FOR SPEAKING OUT
I, too, am an ex-student of Ballarat Grammar. I remember you well as a fellow boarder. I guess although we have all aged somewhat, some memories are very strong of that time.
Yesterday, my husband was reading The Sunday Age and commented: "You should read this article about your old school – it is what you have talked about for ages."
My husband has urged me to make a statement about my recollections for some years and, despite the letter from the school last year, I really thought my comments would make no difference, or no one would believe me.
Although I was not the victim of any such abuse, I was strongly aware of it, and was punished at Ballarat Grammar for voicing my disapproval of the abuse. It shows, therefore, that the school was aware of the crime, which was so heinous, and yet completely covered up.
One of my close friends (along with others) was being abused by Father Hart. My friend told of evenings when he was "invited" into Hart's rooms, and plied with alcohol, and then sexually abused. His mother was a friend of my parents, who had given such praise to her of the school and its positive and supportive influence to the boys. My friend suffered terribly at the time, and although I have lost touch with him, I am sure he has nightmares of his experience. There were others, I recall, "invited" into those rooms as well, but this friend's case was the one of which I was told in some detail, and which upset me such a deal.
The event that I refer to occurred, I think, following the sudden death of the other chaplain, Father John Davison. Father Hart had been the "assistant" chaplain and, following Father Davison's death, I recall that Hart took more chapel services. I was well aware at this time of the abuse, and made the decision to refuse to attend chapel. Although I could have simply played hookey, or feigned illness, I made a stand that I refused to attend chapel because of Hart's actions. I so strongly recall telling the boarding house staff and the teaching staff at the time that I would not go to chapel and listen to that hypocrite (Hart) preaching the school rules and ethics, and reading from the Bible, when he was abusing students at the school.
For my speaking out, I got into real trouble. Someone – a staff member – told me it was wrong to make such allegations, and I was lying. I was told it was wrong to speak out against a member of the Church, and for someone who was ostensibly "a good kid", I really got told off, which upset me. I guess I could not have been suspended, as there would have had to be an explanation of my alleged misbehaviour. I was told not to tell me parents, as they would be upset and disappointed in my lies. Instead, I did the dreaded "fatigues" of boarders: cleaning the toilets and showers in the boarding house, and cleaning that dreaded Indonesian carved armchair in the foyer with brown nugget and a toothbrush. I also peeled more potatoes in the kitchen than I can mention.
I wish Hart was alive to answer to these terrible stories in the royal commission. What I went through is in no way at the same level as that endured by you, and many others. However, it is a story that adds some other perspective of the cover-up at the time.
Again, thank-you so much for your story, and for raising the issue in a public forum.
I attended Ballarat Grammar in the 1970s. During my time at the school, I was aware of serious allegations made by students against a number of staff members. Although I was not a victim of abuse, I believe many students were and, in particular, many boy boarders of my era were potentially victims of abuse; the stand-out memories are those of the behaviour of Reverend Hart.
Many of the stories I heard of Reverend Hart I cannot personally substantiate, but as students, we regularly heard of both boarders and day boys being groomed, plied with alcohol and being sexually abused. The refectory was known to be a place to avoid. I recollect boys were encouraged to spend weekends away with Reverend Hart. He turned up uninvited at students' parties. He brought alcohol with him and gave it to students. I understand he may have sexually and physically abused numerous boys and could name several, but, of course, I would not do that without the consent of that person and I hope they contact you.
I recollect my brother and his friends being terrorised by Reverend Hart when they were aged about 12 and ordered into his refectory after chapel service for alleged misbehaviours. They were ordered to pull their pants down so he could belt them. The boys refused to comply and complained to their parents. I recollect one parent complained to the school, but nothing was ever done about this predatory priest.
My first year at the school was overshadowed by one particular teacher. He also made a habit of taking boys into his office alone, pulling down their pants and hitting their naked backsides with "the sandshoe – a rubber sole of an old Dunlop Volley. This was a daily occurrence, as was verbal abuse and public humiliation and intimidation of both boys and girls in their first year of secondary school.