Gibson was always a loner, ‘a sad little boy’, according to a family friend. He was also gay.
In the 1960s, when he was sent from his home outside Australia to an Anglican boarding school in Queensland, Gibson was targeted by a predatory senior master, Bert Kesley.
Kesley would find an excuse to call Gibson to his office, generally after class finished in the afternoon, and he sexually abused the teenager throughout his last two years at the school.
The ‘always single’ older man smoked excessively. ‘His fingers were always stained’, Gibson told the Commissioner. ‘I can still smell the cigarettes on him.’
‘The first time was a complete shock, [I was] unprepared for what went on. But once you’d been there, once you then knew what it was all about and we did that on numerous occasions … whenever you went into his room it was always, “this is between you and I. It’s private. It’s confidential”.’
There was ‘no other inducement’ by Kesley, like alcohol or drugs – just the summons. ‘Once it was all over you were dismissed.’
Then Gibson would go to his ‘safe haven’, a particular area of the school, to ‘clean myself up or wash myself up, go to the toilet’.
Gibson became suicidal. In the early hours of one morning he sat on the windowsill of his dormitory building and thought about throwing himself off. But what if he failed? He would be asked why. And there was no way he could talk about the oral and anal penetration Kesley was inflicting on him.
‘The headmaster knew me very well’, Gibson said, and he allowed him liberties and privileges he did not allow most of the other 300-odd senior boys. ‘But we never discussed any of the sexual stuff.’ Nor was Gibson able to discuss the bullying from other students. While there were some good times at the boarding school, most of it was very unhappy and difficult.
Throughout his last few months there, ‘I was writing to my parents saying I wanted to leave school ... he [the headmaster] asked me why I wanted to leave school … I said I wanted to get out into retail … I didn’t need an education. I was using all those excuses.’
‘Over the years I have accepted it was easier for me to be sexually abused than a poor straight kid because that was my orientation. But in saying that, it was still something that has forced me to be subservient all my life, has forced me to have difficulty with any sort of relationships. I’m very much a solitary sort of person. I’ve got friends but no one really close.’
Gibson never reported the abuse to the school, or to the police or his parents. But in his 30s he did tell his sister. He also came out as gay. ‘Her reaction was “We’ve always known”.’ She said their mother had often wondered if he had been sexually abused at school.
Gibson said he was told many years later by a female family friend ‘that I actually broke down one time and told her’ about the abuse during the 1960s. ‘I can’t understand why that wasn’t passed on.’
Since he left school, and later returned for events including a reunion and a funeral. ‘It hasn’t affected me dramatically in the wrong way because it’s just something I’ve lived with. But with all the publicity of the Royal Commission … it became more apparent and it triggers something.’
When his father died recently, Gibson had a difficult time sorting out his estate with his stepmother. Soon after, some friends introduced him to a staff member of the Royal Commission. To his surprise, Gibson spoke about the abuse. The staffer encouraged him to contact the Commission.
Gibson then met with the new principal of his old school. ‘He seemed to be prepared for what I was to tell him.’
The principal accepted full responsibility for the duty of care the school owed Gibson and arranged for the Church’s legal team to contact him – contact that is ongoing.
Knowmore is also preparing his victim impact statement. The principal told him that Kesley did work as a house master but left the year after Gibson aborted his schooling.
He wonders if there was a ‘question mark’ over that departure and whether any other former students have since disclosed abuse by the teacher. Kesley, also an old boy of the school, is now dead.
‘He was comfortable doing what he was doing’, Gibson said. ‘He was aware … it was for his own satisfaction not for anything else.’
Gibson is appreciative of his dealings and support from the current principal, but is now pursuing civil compensation.
Despite this background, Gibson found himself ‘absolutely astounded’ when another senior teacher at the school, who he had regarded as ‘a really good, kind person’, was jailed several years ago for child molestation.
Depression and difficulty in asserting himself have dogged Gibson, particularly in relation to one partnership that ended in domestic violence. Other impacts include safety and privacy. Every night he closes the gates on his property and draws the curtains. ‘I have that withdrawing back into seclusion.’ He’s also become very good at avoiding ‘difficult situations’.
Gibson’s local GP has ‘been aware of the whole situation and has been very, very helpful’ in helping to arrange counselling since his meeting with the Royal Commission staffer.
Without that support ‘I’d be a nutcase, I’m sure’, he said.