Growing up in suburban Brisbane in the 1950s and 60s, Carol was ‘a fairly joyful little girl’. ‘Very friendly but not pushy.’ She attended the local government primary school and in her final year, when she was 11, found herself in Bruce Tompkins’ class. This was as a result of intervention by Carol’s mother, who knew and liked Tomkins so organised for Carol to be moved from another class into his.
Tompkins was in his 40s or 50s at the time. ‘He was a very imposing looking person, he was very tall and had dark hair but I think I saw grey in it.’
He would call Carol to stand beside him as he sat behind his desk at the front of the classroom. There he would put his hand under her skirt and into her underpants, and insert his fingers into her vagina. She’s certain he did it to others as well – ‘We all used to just sit there in the class and have a fear that you’d be the one called up’.
‘I firmly believe in my heart that I wasn’t the only one being abused – I believe it must have been going on for quite a few years.’
She remembers another girl in the class, who Tompkins singled out for particular attention. The girl was given ‘special duties’ in the staffroom, and Tompkins would leave the class to help her with them. ‘I never spoke to that girl’, Carol said. ‘What happened in that staffroom I don’t know.’
Tompkins molested Carol on an almost-daily basis. Carol doesn’t remember thinking it was wrong. ‘I don’t think I thought anything. Honestly, I really just felt humiliated and mute most of the time when I was at school.’
Eventually, after about a year, another parent mentioned to Carol’s mother some rumours she’d heard about Tompkins. Carol’s mother asked Carol straight out: had Tompkins done anything to her? Carol said yes, he had.
Carol’s father was very angry and upset when he heard. ‘He wanted to kill the guy.’ Her parents decided not to report what had happened to police as ‘they didn’t want to drag me into anything’.
She is not exactly sure what happened next but she thinks her parents went to the school principal. ‘I think Mum tried to calm it down and said “We’ll just let the school deal with it in their way”.’
Carol still doesn’t know what action was taken, just that Tompkins disappeared from the school. She believes he was probably simply moved on to another school. ‘I don’t know the truth of it, which has sort of worried me in years past.’
It’s likely Tompkins is deceased now, though Carol doesn’t know for sure. She has never reported what occurred to police, or considered seeking any compensation. After disclosing to her parents as a child she didn’t speak about the abuse at all, till she told her husband. That only happened very recently, and was prompted by reading about the work of the Royal Commission.
For many years, Carol thought she’d dealt with the abuse, and that it hadn’t had any lasting effects. That changed when she became a parent.
‘When I became a mother is when it all came back to me. I’ve been a very, very protective mother … [The children] weren’t allowed to go to sleepovers – like if the kids were picked up from school, brought home, that was lovely.’ Changes in that routine – ‘If they went somewhere with somebody else’ – made her fearful and anxious. ‘I’ve never gone to the doctor and been treated but I do suffer terrible anxiety.’
With her children now adult and living away from home, the impacts of the abuse are becoming clearer to Carol.
‘It’s affected me more as I’ve got older. I didn’t notice I was making bad decisions or whatever you like when I was younger, I was just going through life. But once I hit this age in my life, where my kids are grown up and gone, I feel not as comfortable with myself as I used to …
‘I’ve always been a fairly upbeat person … but I have been a bit more inclined to be depressed, lately.’
Carol has never seen a counsellor. ‘For anxiety I take a painkiller and try and sleep.’ But as she gets depressed more often, she believes counselling might help her.
She lives in Queensland still, with her husband of more than 40 years, and works as an administrator in a school. Judging from her experience there, the abuse she suffered from Tompkins would be dealt with very differently now.
‘Children are very forthcoming now. In my time they weren’t. You were just humiliated … I think everyone’s just so much more aware.’