Earl attended a government primary school in rural Victoria in the late 1960s. It was a small school and Earl got to know his younger brother’s teacher, Steven Lamb. Lamb had recently completed his teacher training and this was his first placement. He boarded with various locals at first, and then came to stay with Earl’s family. Lamb made friends with Earl’s parents and during his years with them, was treated as a member of the family.
‘We were all pretty naive back then in the 60s and early 70s’, Earl told the Commissioner. ‘I guess we matured a bit later than they do now.’
Earl also recalls being given a gift of provocative underwear by Lamb while at home. Earl showed the gift to his mother, who did not comment.
Earl began attending the local high school, but would often return to the primary school grounds in the afternoon with his friends to play games. The primary school property was treated as an ‘extension of everyone’s backyard’.
Steven Lamb was often seen working late in his classroom, preparing lessons. He would sometimes invite Earl inside. ‘He’d just wrestle you on the desks and that sort of thing, just real childish sort of stuff.’ Earl now recognises the behaviour as grooming – he was drawn away from his friends for this special treatment.
‘One day, just like any other normal day, I'd gone into there and we'd been play-fighting again. Steven locked the door, which he'd never done before. Steven pulled his pants and jocks off and lay down on a desk.’
Lamb placed Earl’s hands on his penis and made Earl masturbate him until he ejaculated. ‘I'd never seen that before, and didn't know what ejaculation was.
‘He told me it was our secret and I wasn't to tell anyone, and it was quite normal for two males to do that.’
Earl felt confused and numb. ‘I thought it wasn't something you should be doing with your teacher, and when he said not to tell anyone, I felt that I shouldn't tell anyone because I'd be in trouble if I did.’ This abuse happened several times.
‘It never occurred to me to talk to someone at the school about it. When I was at primary school and high school people still got the cane and the strap. I was not about to tell any of those people what had happened. I did not want to be found out. I did not want my mates to know. There were no school counsellors or any people in that sort of role.’
When Earl was 13 his family was invited to Melbourne to celebrate Lamb’s birthday. The day after the party Earl was driven back home by Lamb. About two hours away from their town Lamb pulled the car over in bushland and assaulted Earl. He pulled his pants off and performed oral sex on the boy, and digitally penetrated him.
‘I was unable to tell him to stop, I was unable to move, I was frozen in fear and pain. He did that until I ejaculated. I'd never done that before and I didn't know what it was or what had happened.’ Earl got out of the car and flew into a rage. He turned on Lamb and started swinging punches. ‘I think I gave him either one or two black eyes.’
Lamb was immediately distraught and apologetic. ‘He just said, “I don't know how this happened, I must have read the messages wrong”. He said he'd promise he'd never do this to anyone else again, and I wasn't to tell anyone. He made me promise I wouldn't tell anyone.’
The sexual abuse ceased and a short time later Lamb changed jobs and moved away from Earl’s family home.
Earl felt the effects of all he’d been through immediately. ‘I started to use alcohol, got to the stage by the time I was 15 and a half I was actually taking alcohol to school with me. I got into an altercation with a teacher … I was asked to leave school, because I was uncontrollable and unteachable. I didn’t like authority, I didn’t like teachers. I just rebelled.’
Earl started an apprenticeship but continued drinking, and also got into drugs. He became estranged from his parents, who could not understand his behaviour.
‘I don’t think I ever grew up. I just didn’t have any responsibility. I had no problem solving skills, I had no living skills. Just totally out of control.’
Earl had still not confided his abuse to anyone. In the early 1990s he was hospitalised with alcohol induced psychosis. He went through addiction counselling but the underlying issue of the abuse was not identified.
In the mid-90s Earl finally told his story to his wife. ‘I had to disclose because it was killing me.’ He was drug and alcohol free for a nearly a decade, but then began drinking again ‘to quiet the chatter in my head’.
In the early 2000s Earl became seriously ill with liver damage, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Later he also began suffering panic attacks. He was finally diagnosed with depression and PTSD after disclosing the sexual abuse to his psychologist. He has been unable to work at times, cannot maintain relationships and has short term memory problems, but despite these troubles Earl has started to make progress with regular counselling sessions.
‘I just didn’t have the coping skills, didn’t know how to get in touch with feelings or emotions, didn’t know what they were really. Just suppressed all that with alcohol and drugs. I’m just learning that now, just learning how to live without all that stuff. It’s really scary.’
Earl has reported Steven Lamb to the police. He believes he was treated well by the police but is frustrated that interstate red tape seems to be holding up the investigation.
Earl has recently told his story to his parents. ‘Hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ They were shocked and angry, but Earl feels they are beginning to understand him again.
‘I couldn’t have done this three years ago … It sent me insane. I was lucky to come through it.’