Ali attended a state high school in South Australia in the early 1970s. When he was about 13 he got involved in one of the school’s extra-curricular clubs and went along with them to various competitions and events. During some of these events, Ali was sexually abused by his teacher, Mr Murray.
Ali told the Commissioner, ‘It was certainly sexual abuse and it happened on three occasions’. After the third occasion, Ali pulled out of the club and that brought the abuse to an end. He said, ‘He stopped abusing me because the opportunity wasn’t there’.
As a child, Ali didn’t mention the abuse to anyone. Looking back now he has ‘no doubt’ that other children were being molested by Mr Murray at the time, and that the other teachers must have known that something was going on. He said that Murray often did strange things like discussing masturbation in front of the class, and that this was overheard from time to time by other teachers.
He also recalled one incident when Murray inflicted an extreme act of physical abuse on one of the boys in front of all the other students. Ali said, ‘We never reported it but in our minds we thought, “We have to get this guy back”.’
Sometime later, Ali and a group of boys decided that the best revenge was to pour sugar into Mr Murray’s petrol tank. They were caught in the act and sent to the headmaster for a caning. When the headmaster asked why they had picked on Mr Murray the story of the assault came out. At the end of the year, Murray was ‘moved on’ but as far as Ali knows, nothing else was done.
Ali said that the abuse wrecked his ability to concentrate. Being at school ‘felt wrong’ to him so he left in year 11. After that his coping strategy was to suppress the bad memories. ‘I had managed to successfully obliterate it from my mind. I use the analogy that I locked it away in a lead case and I buried that lead case somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain.’
Despite these efforts to repress, Ali could not stop the impact of the abuse creeping into some areas of his life. He said one of the worst things was the way it affected his relationship with his children. He became over-protective and at the same time found it hard to show them affection.
‘It’s this irrational fear. I have no urges or sexual urges to touch children but it’s almost that “Is it there? Is it latent? Is it going to suddenly spring out at me?”’
It was more than 40 years before Ali felt able to speak to anyone about the abuse. The change came after he discovered that Mr Murray had been arrested for abusing a child. This discovery ‘brought it all back’ and Ali ended up disclosing the abuse to his wife and a close friend. It was a harrowing thing to do. He was terrified that they would judge or reject him, but as it turned out, both were supportive.
Ali then went to the police. He said he was motivated by feelings of guilt. He thought that Mr Murray might not have offended again ‘If I had only said something when I was 14’. The police assured him that there was probably very little he could have done to stop Murray at the time. They offered to take on his case but warned him of the difficulties involved in the legal process. Ali considered their advice, and the fact that Murray was now safely locked away in jail, and decided not to proceed.
‘I don’t think that I’m strong enough now to go through what will end up being a – by the very nature of it – a defence that will try and attack me and drag me down. I don’t want my family to have to go through that.’
On the other hand, he was not satisfied with letting the matter rest there, which is why he decided to tell his story to the Royal Commission.
‘I thought, saying nothing is going to mean that nothing changes. If I say something and that prompts somebody else then maybe it changes. Or maybe it only affects one person, maybe it stops one more child being molested or something happening – then I can go to my grave saying, “well I at least did what I needed to do”.’