Cornelius grew up as an only child in the South Australian countryside with his parents.
‘I never saw much of Dad really. He worked during the day … so he’d be home for tea and back at work at night … My father gave me the most love, the most love I had I think, my father did. But I think my mother was very depressed after I was born because she lost a child at a very young age prior to me coming along. I never knew him, right. She lost him through meningitis. And I think she was [depressed] all of her life. Very protective of me. Still couldn’t demonstrate her affection towards me.’
Cornelius lived on the outskirts of town where he attended the local state school. Initially he did well academically, but this ‘started to drop off’.
‘I didn’t really cope with high school. My mum and dad only ever went to Grade 7 and I didn’t really cope that well. I just felt a little bit inadequate, you could say.’
In the early 1960s, when Cornelius was in his mid-teens, a new teacher, Mr Kingston, started at the school. ‘I think that he would have to be at least 10 years older than me … mid to late 20s.’
While many of his fellow classmates had to leave immediately after school on long bus rides home, Cornelius was able to play sport because of his relative proximity.
‘There’s only a couple of us lived in the town in that class ... all the other lads lived out on the farms. So we used to play a lot of tennis and sport and that sort of stuff. And he [Kingston] would be over the tennis court and playing tennis and that sort of stuff after school … So he got your confidence that way.’
Cornelius told the Commissioner that up to that point he had not received any sex education and was ‘rather ignorant … I would say very ignorant’. After gaining his confidence through sport, Kingston began to sexually abuse him.
‘There was one particular area that I recall. And there was a room set attached to another classroom which you called the sports storage room, where all the sporting equipment was. And he’d sort of lure me to there after school hours. And also to where he was boarding, he was boarding in the town. He’d lure me to his room at the house.’
The abuse occurred ‘a few times’ over the year when Cornelius was in Grade 10. It finally ended when Kingston ‘moved on and I started work’.
After leaving school the following year to enter the workforce, Cornelius became very confused. He was concerned he might be homosexual and ‘had a very difficult [time] interacting with females’. He married young but it ended in divorce. He later met his second wife; they had several children and remain together.
‘That’s where you can see the difference, I think, between my wife and myself. She can give a lot of love out. And I think that that was one of my problems right from a very young age.’
In the mid-90s Cornelius was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalised. It was during this time that he disclosed the abuse to his wife, whom he described as ‘a very understanding person’. He has also since told his children. And, to ensure his medication is up to date, Cornelius sees a psychiatrist every three to six months. ‘I remember telling him some time back now. He didn’t seem to want to know too much about it.’
Some years ago, Cornelius and his wife went to an expo about the industry in which their eldest son worked.
‘I just happened to see his [Kingston’s] photo up on the wall … And I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here he is, he’s working … in some capacity where our eldest son is working … So I wandered around and sure enough I found him ... And I couldn’t believe it, I froze … And that’s when it came to a head … It was the very next day, I think it was. I didn’t even tell the wife that I was going to go into town. Came in here and reported it. And that’s what I did.’
Cornelius reported Kingston to the South Australian police but felt uncomfortable detailing the level of abuse.
‘If I wanted to take it further they briefly explained to me what would be involved. And I remember at the time I thought, “Oh gee, that’s just too much”. And I decided that no, I wouldn’t pursue it any further.’
Cornelius told the Commissioner that although he hasn’t heard directly from other victims of Kingston, he has heard rumours. He also learned through the media some years ago that Kingston had been charged and convicted. ‘I believe that he did go to court and he has done time in prison for the same, similar offences. But I don’t know the people involved personally.’
As a father, Cornelius is vigilant and protective of his children. He is often triggered by stories of child sexual abuse in the media.
‘I just want to get it off my chest once and for all really. Here and every now and again I learn through the media about things coming up. And that brings back memories of this particular case. And I just want to make sure that everybody’s aware that it went through the state school system.
‘I really don’t know how to deal with it.’