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Cameron James's story

Cameron attended an Anglican primary school in Melbourne in the mid-1970s. He had learning difficulties, and when he was seven or eight started getting special, one-on-one tuition from the principal, Leonard Quilty. There seemed to be no particular routine to these sessions, Cameron recalled.

‘This principal just used to come and pluck me out of class. There was always a knock on the window before he walked into the room. There was never any dialogue.’

Quilty would take Cameron back to his office, sit him on his lap, put his hand inside Cameron’s pants and fondle him. This happened many times. The abuse finally came to an end when Cameron was about 10, when parents of several other boys who’d also been abused reported Quilty to the school. He denied the allegations, but lost his job anyway.

In the early 1990s, Cameron gave police a statement about Quilty. It gave his mind a ‘really good work-out’, he said, as his memories of the abuse were quite confused. Some moments he had never forgotten. Others would suddenly return in response to triggers – like the time someone knocked on his door, and it instantly recalled Quilty knocking on the window to summon him to his office.

‘It’s like a whole parcel of something I’ve remembered then forgotten and then re-remembered.’

Cameron’s police statement was part of a wider investigation into Quilty, relating to multiple victims. He died before he could be brought to court. In his mid-40s, Cameron reported the abuse to the school and the Church. ‘I thought they’d embrace me and say look, it’s an opportunity for them to make good in some way … I was very naive and stupid I guess.’

Instead, it was the beginning of a process that has led him nearly to despair.

‘It’s a second form of abuse, there’s no other way of putting it … It’s like warfare.’

The Church representative, Rosie Winterfield, showed little understanding of Cameron’s situation. She suggested he might find an apology from the school’s present principal useful, and organised a meeting. Cameron didn’t think it would help – ‘they’ve changed the legal structure of the school six times since I was there’ – but agreed to go along.

‘I was going there for an apology, I hadn’t even thought about reparation. [Winterfield] rang me an hour before the meeting and said can you meet me in the carpark. She said how much money do you want and I said look, I haven’t even thought about it … she said, oh, do you want a new fridge?’ In the same conversation she advised him not to seek legal advice, saying it would be too expensive.

At the meeting, the principal apologised. ‘He said, “I can assure you this will never happen again at the school”. And then he told me – didn’t see this coming – then he said “Look, being sexually abused will make you a stronger person”. I’m not a violent person but I felt like punching him in the mouth.’

The principal asked, ‘Where to from now?’ and Cameron replied that he wanted counselling. One or two sessions would be enough, the principal assured him. ‘I said I’ll need more; he said you’ll have to apply yourself in the counselling sessions …

‘I just thought it was outrageous to sit behind that expensive desk and say those things.’

Cameron hasn’t heard from the principal since that meeting and has not contacted the school himself. ‘I didn’t trust myself to be level-headed.’

Cameron was told by the school it was a Church matter, and by Winterfield that the school was responsible.

‘There was this thing where she kept saying it was the school and the school kept saying it was the Church’s responsibility, and that went on for six, nine months, a year …’ Meanwhile, Cameron sought legal advice. This too was problematic.

‘Every lawyer gave different advice. There was never anything that – oh yeah, they both agreed on that.’ When he asked about inconsistences he was told the rules can change – this can happen or that can happen. ‘Very unsettling’, he said.

The difficulties he experienced were compounded by poor communication and errors. He left messages that weren’t returned. One letter he received from a lawyer misspelt his name, referred to his wife – he doesn’t have one – and incorrectly assumed he had been a ward of the state.

As he tried to resolve his complaint, other parts of his life unravelled. At one point he was unable to access vital documents because he was in arrears with the rent on the lock-up where they were stored.

‘I spent all my money going to lawyers. People said to me, “You’re obsessed with this”. I thought, how can you not be obsessed with it? … All my money, all my time, all my energy – that’s why I got behind with my rent.’

Homeless, and living in a park, he contacted Winterfield for help. ‘She gave me a number to call then went on holiday for three weeks’, he told the Commissioner. ‘That really made me angry … I was really in a time of need.’

When he came to the Royal Commission, Cameron was yet to receive a formal apology or any compensation from the Church. ‘Basically it got to the point where you either kill yourself because you’re going crazy, or you give up – that’s where I got to with all this …

‘I’ve wasted hundreds and hundreds of hours and just got nothing.’

But he’d recently been receiving help from a survivors support group, and through them had been connected to others able to offer further assistance. In particular, he was hoping to bypass Rosie Winterfield and meet directly with the archbishop. For now, he remains angry with the way he’s been treated.

‘Every time I get involved with this stuff I get burned. It’s like putting my hand on a hotplate.’

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