Gill had a tough time at his Catholic primary school in Brisbane, so when it was time for high school he and his family talked it over and decided he’d go to an Anglican college. He was just 11 when he started there, in the early 1980s.
The family made their decision largely because of the excellent music program at the school. Gill had been a music student since he was four, learning to play both piano and a band instrument. At high school he continued his involvement with music, studying it as a classroom subject and taking part in the school’s extra-curricular band program.
The specific incident Gill wanted to talk about took place during a fundraising event for the bands. It involved students sleeping overnight at the school’s music rooms, located some distance from the main buildings.
Gill was 13 at the time and already knew Rob Washington, the head of the music program, to be a difficult, unpredictable man.
‘There was a general feeling of mistrust with him. He was a very, very good musician, a very good music teacher, and it was a very intimate discipline to engage in, but, yeah, he kept everyone quite intimidated’, he said.
Washington would isolate students by humiliating them in front of the class, for example by making them stand in the corner or on a chair. ‘He’d get quite violent in classes as well. He would smash violins. Band practices, he would throw instruments across the room.’
Gill was very clear he didn’t want be part of the music fundraiser sleepover. ‘I felt I would be put in a dangerous situation with Mr Washington, having witnessed his behaviour over the previous year and a half and, you know’, he told the Commissioner.
His parents agreed to come and collect him from the event in the early hours of the morning, around 2am. That meant that while other students turned up at the event with sleeping bags and pyjamas, Gill didn’t. He hadn’t realised though that students would be expected to have a sleep before their final performance. As the only student without sleeping gear, he attracted Washington’s attention.
‘What took place was exactly the same behavior I’d seen dished out to several students previously’, he said.
Washington became very angry, and humiliated Gill in front of the other students. ‘He started lecturing me on the health aspects of allowing male genitalia to breathe and insisted I remove my underwear prior to resting with the other students.’
Later, when lights were out and the students were sleeping, Washington came into the room where Gill was. He knelt down beside Gill and unzipped Gill’s fly. ‘I managed to kick the student next to me and as they stirred he got up and left the room’, Gil said.
In the days that followed, a rumour spread that Washington had taken some students outside that night, made them take off their clothes, do push-ups and run around the oval.
Though the accusations were never openly discussed, some weeks later Washington left the school. Gill recalled considerable division in the school community about his departure. ‘A lot of the parents felt it was a victimisation of Washington, but the students were very clearly of the belief that, you know, he was guilty of misconduct.’
In theory, that was the end of the matter. But Gill feels the incident had long-term consequences in his life. ‘I do feel that it had a very, very significant impact on my schooling career and certainly my ability to trust anyone who is placed in a position of authority,’ he said.
As well, he feels it was handled very poorly by the school, both at the time and later. Washington went on to teach at a school in Darwin, and was later charged, convicted and jailed for offences he committed there. On his release from jail he was charged with offences committed earlier at Gill’s Brisbane school, and convicted for those too.
Gill pointed out that if the principal at his school had allowed Washington’s conduct to be independently investigated by police, the abuses at the Darwin school might have not have occurred. ‘It's just completely - completely unacceptable for a headmaster to handle an issue like this internally and just move someone on. I think he is complicit’, Gill told the Commissioner.
He also felt that the investigation carried out eventually was very poor. ‘There was no attempt by the school or the police to contact the music cohort’, Gill said. There was no communication from the school about Washington at all.
Gill recently received a letter from the school inviting anyone with stories of abuse there to get in touch. This letter prompted him to contact the Royal Commission. He wanted to have his experience from almost 30 years before heard and the school held accountable for its lack of action.
‘Washington has paid the price, or partly paid the price, but the school definitely hasn’t’, he said.
Gill wanted the Commission to recommend a clear and transparent system for investigating claims of abuse in schools. ‘It would seem like a really obvious thing, but it's obviously not in place’, he said. It would ensure students felt able to come forward without drawing attention to themselves, and without fear of retribution, and also protect teachers from trial by rumour.
‘So, you know, perhaps an independent task force or something, that can go to a school when an issue is raised, that's not associated with the funding body for the school or the administration of the school, private or public.’
Gill was able to put his experiences with Washington behind him when he left high school and went on to study music at a tertiary institution, later becoming a musician. But he is still angry about what he sees as the school’s attempt to cover up and move the problem on in order to protect its reputation.
‘I wholeheartedly think that's their modus operandi. That's exactly what they did, and that was as big a problem as Washington himself.’