In the late 2010s Gordan organised a reunion for his classmates from the Anglican boarding school they attended in New South Wales in the 1960s. A good crowd turned up. They began to chat, and that’s when it all came out.
One man stood up and disclosed that he had been molested by one of the teachers. That inspired another man to stand up and tell a similar story. Gordan kept quiet and listened.
Later in the night he noticed that his old friend Matthew was not present. A classmate told him why. Some years earlier, Matthew had taken his own life.
When Gordan returned home to his farm it was like Matthew’s ghost went with him.
‘Gordan had totally been focused on Matty’, Gordan’s wife, Libby, told the Commissioner. ‘He’s a highly sensitive man and Matty was eating away at him, Matty’s suicide.’
Gordan added, ‘It was making me angry. Like anxiety. And I’d try and hide it. If I’m out with the animals I’d push them around a bit on the motorbike or something. Not abusive to the animals so much, but that was my release’.
Years passed. Then one morning Libby sensed that something was wrong with Gordan so she took the day off work.
‘And I got to the bottom of it. And he disclosed everything. And he wrote it down … I said, “Write it all down, Gordan. Get it out. Because you need to get it out of your brain”.’
Gordan focused on what had happened to Matthew, but in the telling of that story he revealed that he too had been sexually abused at school.
It began when Gordan was nine years old. He had just arrived as a new boarder and had taken a top bunk in the dorm. The boy on the bottom bunk was Matthew. He was a quiet kid, Gordan said. Vulnerable. One of those boys who was ‘prone’.
A few weeks later the housemaster, Kevin Tranter, began ‘prowling’ the dorms at night. He targeted Matthew. Once a week or so he would come to Matthew’s bed, mutter something about needing to show him a report and then lead him away to the office. When Matthew returned he was always very quiet.
At first Gordan didn’t understand what was happening. Then one night Tranter came to his bed, said something about wanting to check in on how he was going, and led him away to the office.
‘He put his arm around. He’d get very close to you. And you’d think, well I suppose that’s alright. He’s trying to be fatherly. But then his hand would go straight down into your balls area … At one stage I think it must have hurt or something. I sort of backed off or winced a bit. And then he grabbed my arm. He did a Chinese burn really hard. He said, “Stay there, don’t move” sort of thing.’
After a while Gordan was sent back to bed. A few weeks later Tranter came for him again, and then again a few weeks after that. ‘I was a bit more on edge when he caught me again … This time I backed off. He pulled me back in. He was determined.’ When Gordan pulled away again Tranter gave him four cuts of the cane across his backside.
Gordan was too confused and scared to tell anyone what was going on. He didn’t even mention it to Matthew, and Matthew never said a thing to him. Gordan recalled one night when he heard Matthew returning from the office.
‘He was bawling his eyes out. You know, he was crying, which to me means, now, that he would have been raped … I said to him, “Did he hit you? Has Tranter socked you?” He wouldn’t say anything.’
After about year Tranter abruptly left the school. But this didn’t mean that Gordan and the other students were free from abuse. Gordan’s Year 6 teacher, Mr Laing, liked to stand the boys behind his desk during class time and fondle them. And when Gordan was in Year 10 he was attacked by a third teacher, Mr Klein.
‘I actually whacked him in Year 10 … By that stage, you know, things were starting to happen, you were starting to realise what life’s all about. I just did an elbow in his face. He was sitting in his chair, and he grabbed me by the balls again. I went, “Bugger this”. He squeezed hard and I just reacted. Whacked him. And he fell back on his chair, went back, and he swore and cursed and the whole class clapped. They all knew what he was like.’
From there Gordan went straight to the phone, called his parents and told them what Mr Klein had done. Gordan’s parents spoke to the school and had Klein fired. Gordan didn’t discuss the matter again with his parents, and he never told them about the other abuse he’d suffered.
Gordan has only ever mentioned the abuse to his daughter, his wife and the police. He made his police report shortly before visiting the Royal Commission and the investigation is just beginning. In his statement he mentioned his own abuse only briefly, focusing mostly on what happened to Matthew.
Gordan still feels responsible for that quiet little boy who slept in the bunk beneath him more than 50 years ago. He worries that Matthew’s family might not know the real reasons behind his suicide.
‘I just want justice for him. I’d really like to know if his parents or his family were aware of what was going on, because if I’m the only one that was aware then I just feel it’s my duty to let them know about it.’