‘I see it sometimes with my friends’ children as well and you know they’re struggling for some reason and you think, just listen to them, there’s something else, listen. It’s not just acting out, it’s not just playing up.'
‘I don’t know whether it’s because I was abused but sometimes you see things in others that you go “I want to grab the parents and shake them”. We need to listen to the kids when they’ve got troubles because sometimes it can be something else. And it can be something that can really screw up a lot of things in their lives.’
Celeste lived in a remote town in Western Australia where there was no senior high school, so going to boarding school was the only way she could complete years 11 and 12.
She started at the regional college in the mid-1980s when she was 16, and said she wasn’t one of the popular girls or in the ‘in-crowd’ so she felt quite isolated and lonely. Her safe place was hanging out on the back stairs on her own.
About halfway through her first year there, a new staff member, Anthony, started as supervisor of the boys’ dorms. He was in his 30s and was very popular with all the students. ‘Everybody thought he was fabulous. The boys played basketball with him and joked with him.’
Anthony picked Celeste out and befriended her. He found her on the stairs alone and after talking to her, he hugged her. The next time they talked, he kissed her on the lips.
In a statement Celeste gave to the Commissioner, she wrote, ‘After he kissed me I was really confused … it felt good to be wanted. It also didn’t feel right. I was very confused at how I felt. I didn’t have anyone I felt I could talk to … The person that I thought I could talk to was the person I needed to talk about!’
She tried to avoid being caught on the stairs but after a couple of weeks he pulled her into a storeroom and asked why she’d been avoiding him. He told her she was special and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.
‘When I came back to school in Year 12, I was hoping that he’d be gone or something and the first thing I heard was that he got engaged to his girlfriend and I was kind of thankful because I thought that might mean he’d leave me alone.’
But Anthony continued to pursue Celeste ‘worse than before’. On a school trip to the beach, he got her on her own, grabbed her breasts, forcefully kissed her and digitally raped her.
She avoided contact with Anthony as much as she could after that. She ran away from the boarding house twice but nobody asked what was wrong. Then, a few weeks later, another girl, Angie, came forward about Anthony.
‘There was a rumour going around that she had supposedly told somebody that he’d had sex with her or something of a sexual nature and the kids were brutal.’
Celeste said Angie was bullied, with the boys calling her attention-seeking and the girls saying she was strange when she was just ‘quiet and lonely like me’. Most people called her a liar.
Angie was moved to another boarding house but Anthony remained in his role.
‘And I suppose what makes me most angry is the fact that that gave him time to manipulate me into silence and nobody asked. Nobody talked to us. Nobody discussed it. It was as if it never happened.’
She confronted Anthony about the rumours and Angie’s departure, telling him she thought what had happened on the beach was wrong. He said he didn’t know what she was talking about and that nothing had happened.
‘He told me that he cared about me because I was special and that he didn’t want me to be shunned like Angie was and he indicated that I should keep my mouth shut. And I’ve always felt guilty because if I had the guts to stand up, Angie would at least have somebody to back up her story. And it’s, I think that’s been the worst of it, is feeling like I was blackmailed into being quiet and he did a very thorough job because I basically kept quiet for quite a long time.’
Anthony then kept away from Celeste and, at the end of term he left the boarding house, which the kids said was because he’d got a better job somewhere else.
Celeste struggled at school for the rest of the year but she said nobody noticed or attempted to find out why. As an adult, the abuse affected her choice in relationships and she’s had two emotionally and physically abusive partners. She continues to have problems trusting people and has felt suicidal because of not being able to let out the truth of what happened and how it has affected her life. However, for the past 10 years she has been with a partner who is very loving and supportive, and he encouraged her to come forward to the Royal Commission.
‘I was listening to some reports on the radio … and I’d hear these stories and think about some of the circumstances where these people have been able to stand up and say that happened. And I’d always had that niggling guilty feeling that I should have said something.
‘It was the publicity but it was just, it was thinking that “Oh my god, I can be brave too. I can do this. I can finally be in a position where I have good support behind me to actually say no”.’
Celeste is now connected to a counsellor who she trusts and who is helping her step through a healing process.
‘There’s a bit of me that says I’ve shed enough tears. I’m certainly a lot stronger … It feels like in the last month everything has just started to click and I’m beginning to feel like the adult looking back and looking after the child.’