In the early 1950s, Beatrice started school at four, because at her small local school in regional New South Wales enrolments were falling and they needed more students.
The headmaster, ‘was very welcoming. He was a friendly man. There were things like, “How’s my favourite girl” sort of things. He’d pick me up and throw me up in the air’.
Beatrice was given the special task of collecting the late notes from the classrooms after morning assembly and taking them to the headmaster’s office, where ‘he would be alone. This was over a period of months …
‘Sometimes he’d take these notes and scatter them on the floor and he said, “See if you can … get them in their right place”. I remember being on the floor, trying to find which one went where.’ If Beatrice got it right, the headmaster would kiss her. If she got it wrong, he would pull her pants down and slap her on the bottom.
Memories of being sexually abused by the headmaster only re-surfaced when Beatrice was an adult, and these memories manifested mostly as feelings and sensations, such as having a fear of being touched around the anus.
Beatrice believes that the abuse stopped when her best friend ‘became the favourite … There was a point when I said, “No” and all I can remember was running … I know [my friend] became the favourite’.
Beatrice told her mother about the abuse not long after it happened, but her mother didn’t believe her. A couple of years later, six other girls came forward to report the headmaster, and Beatrice has vague recollections of making a statement to the police.
As an adult, her mother apologised for not believing her, saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, my dear. I couldn’t believe it myself. He was such a nice man. A friend of your father’s’.
Beatrice commented, ‘The first thing that comes strongly is the legacy of not being believed by my mum … There’s been a sense of not believing myself almost … and then the space of almost having to prove yourself in life or love or worthy, and whether that’s an Irish Catholic thing, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy”, whatever. It’s the sense of not being believed’.
Although she has had a successful career helping others, Beatrice sometimes feels ‘I’ve wasted a lot of my life in that, you know, wasted opportunities to love or be [loved] … I feel the wellbeing is, you know, people say, “Oh, how are you doing?”[And I say], “Oh, getting weller. Getting weller”’.
Although Beatrice has never reported the sexual abuse to the Education Department, she now believes that it would be good for them to know. She also feels that reporting it might help her ‘heal the past’.
The memories that have come back to Beatrice over the years are troubling and have led to both physical and emotional health issues and Beatrice is now on a disability pension. She told the Commissioner, ‘If there was a way to fully erase memories, I would love to know that’.