In his second year of high school in the mid 1970s, Ellis was put in a non-elective woodwork class. Mr Dale, the teacher, called Ellis and several other students ‘sissy boys’, and made them sit at a table separate to other boys. Throughout the course of the year, Dale either ignored these boys or ridiculed and made homophobic comments about them for everyone to hear.
During one lesson, Ellis approached Dale and asked for help to level some timber with a plane. Dale yelled and told him to return to his seat. After an hour, Dale then came to Ellis’s table and asked what he wanted. Ellis told him the plane was broken and he didn’t know how to use it. Dale fixed the blade then put his hands of top of Ellis’s and directed the plane over the timber. As he was doing so, Dale rubbed himself against Ellis’s buttocks and got an erection that was visible to the other shocked students.
‘After what seems an eternity, he gets up and says, “Yes, class, that’s what you do with sissy boys”, and he walked out.’
By the next day, word had spread through the school about what Dale had done. Enraged, Ellis returned to the woodwork classroom and destroyed students’ work on shelves and tables. He then hid, but in the afternoon went to Ellis to apologise. ‘He said, “That’s all right. I can’t do anything about it. No one will pass”. He was trying to lay a guilt trip on me. Then he said, “Take these lollies and go home”.’
Ellis told the Commissioner he ate the lollies that afternoon and felt so strange and unwell that he couldn’t get off the school bus. His siblings helped him home, and when he told his mother about being given the lollies, she bundled him into the car and returned to the school, demanding to see the principal. By the next day, Dale had been sacked.
‘I think they were dusted with LSD. I was kind of a zombie and was like that for a day afterwards.’
Ellis described the next four years of school as ‘hell’. Both he and his friend David knew they were gay, and Dale’s treatment seemed to have given licence to other students to openly attack them. The boys were taunted and threatened wherever they went and other students sought them out to beat them up.
‘This is the 70s and homosexuality was still illegal. Everyone was getting picked off. I worked out that if I kept walking around the yard, I’d get picked on a whole lot less than if I stood in one spot and waited for people to come and find me. I would spend the whole time peeking around corners, walking, keep moving and all this. I never felt safe at school and I never felt safe at home, and the only place I really felt peace and quiet was the church, which most people hated.’
Ellis said he didn’t tell anyone about Dale’s abuse and he couldn’t recall talking to any of the teachers about being assaulted by other students. However, shortly after the escalation in bullying, an older boy started to keep an eye on both him and David and the attacks subsided. Ellis wasn’t sure if the boy had done this off his own bat or if he’d been asked to by a teacher. ‘I was 13 and crumbling. I don’t know whether they provided him or if he took it on himself. The next year I didn’t see him again.’
He’d only recently told his mother about the abuse and she’d asked why he hadn’t told her earlier. ‘I said, “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t have told anyone, especially you”.’ As well as having troubles at school, Ellis said home life had never offered him sanctuary. ‘The family was running a homosexual diversion clinic and I was born into that. It was all done in love of course, but there wasn’t much love.’
Ellis left school in Year 11 and studied creative arts, living at home until he was 27. He became a loner, he said, and had two ‘nervous breakdowns’, and twice attempted to take his own life. He’d received counselling from seven therapists over the years and writing poetry helped him deal with anxiety and stress. He’d never made a report to Victoria Police or the Department of Education about Dale’s abuse.
‘I remember asking for help on various occasions. I would talk to form teachers. I think it’s very hard to remember. I think there was help but I can’t remember any of it, do you know what I mean? If I go back, I go back to the terror of fleeing from people and it’s hard to go to that time spot.’