Evaline's story

The South Australian ‘railway town’ where Evaline grew up in the 1950s was small – less than a dozen houses, shearer’s quarters, a hotel, a hall and the station. The school had one teacher, Mr Emerson.

Evaline was a good student. ‘Not many kids can say they loved school. I loved going, I couldn’t learn enough.’ Still, there was something about the teacher which ‘made my skin crawl’.

When Evaline was 13 Mr Emerson took the students swimming, and touched her inappropriately under her shorts. She squealed and swam away, but he came back at her under the water and did it again.

‘I never said anything to my mum. My mum had a very, very hard time with my dad.’ Her father was a heavy drinker and often violent, and her mother lived with a disability. ‘I thought I can’t tell my mum. I don’t want my dad to do anything to my mum, or to me.’

Not long after this, Mr Emerson approached her during class time with a bucket and cleaning supplies. He asked her to go down and clean the toilets, which were located a fair way away from the school building.

‘I never thought anything of it. He was a teacher ... I went down there, I went into one toilet and he was behind me. And he pushed me up against the wall ... He tried to have sex with me and I pushed him. And I somehow got out and climbed out of the door, and went back to the classroom.’

Nothing more was said that day. After this Evaline tried to protect the younger girls from him by always accompanying them when they needed to use the toilet.

The assaults continued – ‘what the schoolteacher did to me was rape. No doubt about it’, she said.

‘A couple of weeks later, he did it again ... He did this two or three times, and the fourth time he removed himself before he did the deed. And then it stopped, and he went away on holidays.’

They had a different teacher while he was away. ‘I rebelled something terribly. Because I couldn’t tell anybody. My sister never ever knew.’ When Mr Emerson returned, Evaline refused to go down to clean the toilets again.

As a result of the assaults Evaline started struggling academically. When she asked Mr Emerson for assistance he said he could no longer help her. This meant her education was effectively ended as there were no other teachers.

Evaline met her husband whilst still in her early teens, and they sought special permission to marry so young. ‘I should not have been sexually active at 14. It was thanks to this school teacher.’ She and her husband were happily married for over 50 years, until her husband passed away.

Around five years after the assaults Evaline was with her husband at a fair and saw Mr Emerson. She finally disclosed the abuse, and her husband was very supportive. ‘He gave me the biggest hug and said, “I’ll never hurt you ... But if you’d told me then, I could have done something for you”.’

In later life Evaline was playing sport when a male competitor grabbed her breasts (for months he ‘bragged about it whenever he could’) and otherwise sexually harassed her. She was assisted by a counsellor to report this man to police. While he was not charged, the police indicated that if any more complaints were made against him action would be taken.

Having this incident taken seriously, watching media reports about the Royal Commission, and knowing a cousin had been sexually assaulted while living in a boys’ home all helped Evaline think about the seriousness of what Mr Emerson had done to her.

‘I thought ... I’m important. I’m an important person. Like I shouldn’t have had to experience that.’ She is interested in reporting the teacher to police now, but doesn’t know whether he is still alive – ‘I hope he is, and I hope he remembers what he did to this 13-year-old’.

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