Cormack attended a prestigious private boys’ school in Sydney in the mid-1980s. He had a large group of good friends whom he enjoyed spending time with and engaging in athletic activities. One of his friends was the headmaster’s son, David.
Cormack’s fifth grade housemaster was Mr Nesbitt, who was also his science teacher. Mr Nesbitt ‘was a personality within the school. He wasn’t the science teacher that you’d usually see’. When Cormack was approximately 10 years old Mr Nesbitt commented that his shirt was not properly tucked in, and he put his hand under Cormack’s shirt with the pretext of tucking it in while he fondled his genitals.
‘I didn’t know at the time that it was a crime but I did know that it didn’t make me feel right and that it wasn’t behaviour that an adult should be doing.’
Being young and naive, Cormack never reported the abuse because he didn’t know to whom he could complain. Instead he resolved to avoid Mr Nesbitt. The incident happened on one occasion, but several years later Cormack and his friends were discussing Mr Nesbitt and how being around him was risky. ‘I can’t remember at what stage we all realised that he was dodgy.’
Another teacher at Cormack’s school, Mr Connelly, also had a reputation among the students. Cormack recalled a conversation he and his friends had one day about this teacher. ‘When we were quite young we were trying to work out ways how we could remove him from the school because it wasn’t being done.’ His friend David later asked his father, the headmaster, what was being done about ‘risky’ teachers such as Mr Connelly. ‘He came back and said that he can’t do anything unless the boys make a complaint.’
Years later Mr Connelly was charged and found guilty of child sex offences after numerous students came forward. Thinking back about David’s conversation with his father, Cormack told the Commissioner the news was very upsetting because it was evident boys had complained and nothing had been done.
‘One of my frustrations is that if David had gone to his father and said it was him rather than another child, would the reaction have been different? I suspect that it would’ve.’
Cormack never disclosed Mr Nesbitt’s abuse until he became friends with a senior student, Robbie. ‘He was a swimming captain and he was a mentor.’ When describing Mr Nesbitt’s abuse, Cormack told Robbie ‘“He grabbed my nuts” or something like that’. Robbie believed Cormack but never encouraged him to report it.
Some weeks later, when Cormack was approximately 15, Robbie took him for a drive and invited him to be part of a secret club that went around town stealing street signs. ‘He gave the impression it was him and his friends, so an opportunity for me to be part of an older group.’ Cormack thought it sounded funny so he agreed.
‘I think we did that on three occasions, but then these strange initiation practices started to come into it … He called them “belly button jabs”. And so what he’d do is … pick me up then we’d drive around the corner and we had to do this initiation before you could steal a sign. And so he would get a texta and draw a symbol around your belly button … and then he’d get two fingers and push it into my belly button as hard as he could …
‘And I said “No this is dodgy” … and he said that “No this is a ritual we always do and then it means that we can go take signs”.’
Cormack was very uncomfortable with the initiation process and insisted on being taken home, after which his friendship with Robbie ended. Looking back, Cormack realises that Robbie was grooming him with what appeared to be a well-practised method.
‘With that kind of grooming I’d be very surprised if I was the only one because there was a technique.’
In the years that followed, Cormack developed a mistrust of authority, anxiety and difficulty controlling his anger.
‘There are situations where I’m in, where I feel threatened where other people wouldn’t feel threatened. And so I think there’s a link there. Also in life, quick to blame other people as opposed to take control of certain situations. I think that’s another potential outcome.’
‘I’m not as calm as I’d like to be. I think anxieties dealing and being around, being in groups of people. I know that I should have the disposition that I feel comfortable but I just never do. I don’t know to what extent it’s gone back to that. It’s not just the event, it’s the amount of time spent thinking about it which probably does the damage. And that’s been over a long period of time.’
Cormack has spoken publically about the culture of abuse at the school, and as a result his friend David no longer speaks to him. ‘That friendship I think is over.’ Cormack has received counselling ‘on and off over the years depending on what’s happening in my life. But I’d never mention it’. Cormack never sought compensation and feels that his experiences were not as traumatic as others therefore he doesn’t feel justified in discussing it, preferring instead to block it out. ‘It was more a competition within myself to say that it’s not affecting me.’
‘I’m okay but I could be a lot better.’