Gordon Hugh's story

Gordon’s cub master offered to drive him home from the scout hall one Sunday. When they arrived his parents were out. The cub master asked to use their toilet and it was there that he abused Gordon. He was around nine or 10 years old.

‘I hadn't seen any erect male organ, penis before then, let alone handle one and to - and to be asked to - you know, to masturbate him and stroke him … Anyway he just left me there … and went off. And Mum and Dad came home later of course. I never - you know, just didn't tell them.’

The abuse happened once. Not long afterwards, came time for Gordon to decide whether or not he wanted to go on to scouts. ‘And absolutely not.’

Gordon grew up in Sydney’s northern suburbs in the 1940s. For his upper primary and high school years he was sent to a Church of England school. By then he had acquired a stammer. He was also, due to his faith that observed the Saturday sabbath, unable to participate in sport, which precluded him from a lot of student bonding. Looking back, Gordon sees the headmaster of the time as a ‘religious bigot’.

About four years after that single abuse from the cub master, Gordon came into contact with Reg Bartels, his art teacher. Gordon loved art, was good at it and aspired to be an artist. ‘Bartels had a very charming, gracious sort of a manner. I felt relaxed in his class and his company.’

On one occasion Bartels invited Gordon to a back room to see some of his art books. While they were looking at the books, Bartels came inappropriately close. He touched Gordon on the thighs and brushed his hand over the fly of Gordon’s pants.

This one incident had a devastating effect on Gordon. ‘It crippled my career acumen.’ He no longer aspired to be an artist.

In his teenage years, he became more withdrawn. ‘It was terribly, terribly, terribly depressing. I used to go out in the 11 o'clock break and walk up the side of the oval on my own. It was coupled with, as I said, not being able to play sport. Not join in camaraderie with the boys there. Not being able to look forward to going to special art class and developing that and then not doing well in the subjects succeeding … Mentally it was just plain awful.’

Bartels died a few years after the abuse.

In 1980, prompted by an ‘old boys’ questionnaire he received, Gordon established written communications with the school. He disclosed the abuse for the first time. The response from the headmaster of the time seemed to support Gordon’s allegations. ‘The information you have given concerning Reg Bartels supports various statements of a similar nature which I have heard over the years.’

However, the headmaster’s promised action was simply to mark Gordon’s letter as confidential and file it with ‘letters of a similar confidential nature … concerning personalities within the school’.

In recent years, Gordon contacted lawyers and asked for an apology as well as compensation from the school. The letter back from the school’s lawyers flatly rejected his claim. It stated that ‘Mr Bartels died as a man of good character … [The school] has not received any similar complaints against Mr Bartels’.

Gordon would love to name and shame his old school. He feels it has used an old boys’ network to cover up incidents of abuse. He’s considering his legal options.

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