‘I remember when I left Grade 6,’ Clayton told the Commissioner, ‘it was the happiest summer I ever had.’ For Clayton, no more primary school meant no more time spent trying to avoid the teacher who’d been sexually abusing him for the past three years.
Clayton had a fairly happy childhood and was the youngest in a large family. School wasn’t a problem, in fact it was a happy place, Clayton said, until he reached Grade 4 and joined the choir.
Mr Webster ran the choir at the state primary school in Melbourne. It was a way into the orchestra and once Clayton joined that, Webster kept him back after practice on the pretext of running through music with him. It was then that he would abuse him. Webster would also ask Clayton to take the school charity collection bag to his office after he’d taken it around the classes.
‘He’d ask me to put the bag into the cupboard … a big, two-door cupboard of some type … and ask me to put the money on the shelf … He’d come up behind me, put his arms either in front of me, down my pants, or behind me ... He’d rub his face on my face and he’d rub himself up against my back, or wherever. And say certain things ... “You’re so beautiful”, that sort of thing.’
This happened about 15 times.
Webster sometimes picked up Clayton and his siblings, also in the orchestra, from home and take them to concerts. It was exciting back then to go into the city. ‘He got quite close to us and I’d say other families.’
Clayton sees those excursions as a grooming process.
In Grade 6, when Webster was his classroom teacher, Clayton’s desk was in the back corner of the room. Webster would walk over to check his work, sit down next to Clayton, and put his hands inside his shorts and fondle him.
Clayton knows he wasn’t Webster’s only victim and thinks there was ‘an underlying feeling that people knew that things were happening to boys at the school from … this man’.
He eventually told his parents about Webster.
‘“Keep away from him” was all they said. I remember thinking, how do I do that?’
When he was in early high school, Clayton and two of his siblings visited their primary school again and, much to Clayton’s frustration, he allowed Webster to get him alone again.
‘He came up behind me and was rubbing his face on my face … his arms around me, doing what he’d done previously. And I thought, how did I get myself back into that situation? … I moved back very quickly and I said, I’ve got to go. I remember him moving back quite quickly and then changing his persona back to very stiff.’
Clayton’s kicked himself a thousand times for letting himself be manipulated by Webster again. He’s since heard that some students framed Webster, and that he ‘got thrown out’ as a result.
When he looks back on his life so far, Clayton sees a general pattern of being quite passive and letting people step over him.
‘But now I’ve really shut down and virtually gone the other way … I don’t let people get near me. I don’t have very many close friends anymore.’
Clayton’s also noticed that he’s become more anxious as he gets older. He had counselling in the 90s because he’d been depressed for a long time.
‘I don’t trust people in authority, maybe except here’, he told the Commissioner. He’s also not close with children. ‘I’ve never been a nurturing sort of person.’
Clayton didn’t realise until recently that what Webster did was actually a crime. ‘I just believed that it was part of life.’
He contacted the Commission because he wanted someone in authority to know what happened at the school and to make sure Webster’s name didn’t remain spotless. He’d also never reported it in case he wasn’t believed.
Clayton said it was good to finally talk to a couple of people who are understanding. He’s well aware that he’s not alone in his abuse but was still surprised that 12 months had to go by before he got to tell his story to a Commissioner.
‘That’s the sad thing - that there are so many people.’