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Alessandro's story

Born in the mid-1960s, Alessandro grew up in Melbourne, the child of Italian parents. He belonged to two cultures, but didn’t really fit easily into either. As a teenager he returned with his family to Italy for a number of years, but he is not fully fluent in the language and didn’t feel properly at home there.

He feels Australian, he said, and ‘my mentality is Australian’. But as a young school child in an Australian government school he was relentlessly picked on for being Italian and different.

Alessandro came to the Royal Commission to report sexual abuse by his physical education teacher, Mr Wilmott, in a government high school.

‘Every time we had to go into the shower he would look at us. So there were a few people that felt uncomfortable.’ There were no curtains on the showers, and no privacy. ‘He would actually sit there and look at us, and sing a little song.’

Alessandro was singled out for particular attention. ‘He’d send everyone out and I would have to stay alone to have a shower.’ Wilmott would order Alessandro to bend over and pick up the soap, to stand facing him, and to wash his hair, which meant he had to lift his arms up and couldn’t conceal his genitals with his hands.

Wilmott never threatened him. ‘But he’d always make me stay. Like two times a week I’d have to stay there on my own’, Alessandro recalled.

He believes that other teachers were aware of what was happening. Wilmott had a reputation amongst the boys. ‘All the guys, they would use the term “poof”. I didn’t know what it meant.’

Eventually, he was no longer taught by Wilmott and the episodes came to an end. But the experience left its mark. ‘Psychologically, this affected me.’

Alessandro’s difficulties in the government school system had begun in primary school. On his first day in Year 1, the teacher made him stand at the back of the classroom and face the wall. This became routine. Alessandro believes he received this treatment not because he’d done anything wrong, but simply because he was Italian. He found himself left out of activities, and on one occasion in an older grade was made to eat soap.

‘I was isolated from all the children. Then today I find it hard to connect, because I’ve always had to stand to the wall, and had to be away from everybody.’

At high school, he was physically punished by teachers. The strap was frequently used, and Alessandro found that traumatic. Australia is a different place now, he said, but there was no excuse for sanctioning corporal punishment even then, in the 1970s.

‘I don’t see how the Australian government can actually allow that and give them the right to do that … I don’t think anybody should be strapped on the hands, hit across the head, throwing chalk, throwing dusters – dust in your eyes, things like that. I believe that school is a place where you get to learn. Children are the people that bring the world ahead, and if you damage that you have a lot of crazy people that can’t put their thoughts straight …

‘Australia’s supposed to be the best country anywhere. More understanding. I knew as a little boy that wasn’t right, and I couldn’t figure out why the grownups couldn’t see that. I knew that was not right.

‘Today it’s just affected my life tremendously.’

Alessandro was eventually suspended from the high school. A teacher hit him and he hit the teacher back. His argument that it was self-defence didn’t convince the principal. He went to another school, but ‘things weren’t good’.

Alessandro didn’t tell his parents or anyone about Mr Wilmott. Looking back he’s not sure why. He didn’t tell his parents about the punishments he was getting at school.

‘We’re from Italy. So if I say my teacher strapped me, they just think I’ve been a bad boy.’

He’s had counselling over the years, sometimes useful and sometimes not. ‘I don’t see the point, because I feel I can’t be helped. But it gives me some release to just talk to somebody.’ He finds it difficult when a change in counsellor means he has to re-tell and relive his past experiences.

He recently reported Wilmott to police, and was told that what had happened didn’t constitute abuse. As well, he was told he had to make the complaint in Melbourne, where he no longer lives.

‘I feel that when I was a child I had no rights. And I have no rights today. That’s how I feel. And I’ve got no one to run to. I don’t know what I want. I want some peace – it’s like I want my life back – and I can’t find that peace.’

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