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Gordy's story

In the late 1990s Gordy was approached by police investigating Joseph Bertram, who had been his teacher at a Sydney selective high school over 30 years earlier. Bertram had sexually abused 15-year-old Gordy on numerous occasions and was now the subject of other child sex offence allegations.

When police charges were finally brought it emerged that Bertram had abused students at the school for more than three decades. He committed suicide before these charges could be heard.

Gordy told the Commissioner that he’d experienced sexual abuse before he met Bertram. At a Church of England boys’ holiday camp, a male counsellor had masturbated him on several occasions. This experience went some way to making him feel that he wasn’t able to disclose Bertram’s abuse.

‘This sounds a silly thing to say I know but there wasn’t the culture to say this is wrong’, Gordy said. ‘There was nothing there to say that it was bad or wrong. And then yes, who are going to complain to? Do you go to the headmaster?’

Bertram was sports coach as well as teacher and he promoted Gordy in the cricket team and gave him rewards he hadn’t earned. The effect of this behaviour was to make Gordy feel indebted to Bertram, and it led to a sense he had that he was participant in the abuse.

Both Gordy’s parents appeared suspicious of Bertram and made throwaway comments about his sexuality. They wouldn’t allow Gordy to accompany Bertram on a trip to Melbourne and thought it odd that another boy was travelling alone with the teacher. Gordy was struck by his parents’ remarks but said he wouldn’t have ‘wanted to venture down that path’ of discussion with them.

As an adult he’d wondered how everyone could have turned a blind eye to Bertram’s behaviour. ‘I think I’m right in saying he was at that school for 30 years. At some point in that somebody in some authority must have known. I mean there were occasions where some particular individuals would call me a poofter in the schoolyard, but most kids were uncomfortable so there was a measure of knowledge. Not the detail, but it’s hard to believe [the thought] didn’t occur to the teachers as well.’

After leaving school, Gordy went to university and embarked on a professional career in business and government. He married but didn’t tell his wife about the abuse, and they separated in the 1980s.

He hasn’t told his partner of 25 years either. ‘I’ve thought a lot about that’, he said. ‘But to tell her – will it make things better? Probably not, I don’t think so. Is there a risk that it impacts adversely, either not necessarily directly but just psychologically? Possibly. So why the risk if there’s no reward?’

The police were the only people he’d discussed the abuse with before speaking to the Royal Commission. His priority had always been ‘survival and emotional wellbeing’ and the way he’d dealt with it was by ‘trying to lock it away’. For every day of his working life he’d passed the school on his way to and from work. ‘It’s only the last five or 10 years that I wasn’t reminded every time I went past.’

Speaking with police was ‘a cathartic process, albeit with a detective’. The prosecution stopped after Bertram’s death but in a couple of years ago Gordy applied for a copy of his police statement. He heard nothing back despite raising the matter with the police over about 10 months.

Making no progress, he made application for the statement through freedom of information channels. After two months, he received a response that the record couldn’t be found. He then applied through the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and shortly afterwards received a copy of his statement. ‘In 12 months, police could not do anything and in less than two weeks DPP turned it up and gave me my money back.’

Gordy was disappointed he’d never been contacted by NSW Department of Education staff despite their knowledge of the impending charges against Bertram.

‘I never had any contact from them whatsoever at any point of time and I think that’s reprehensible really. They were aware of the police full account of things but there was never any intent to offer me support.’

‘Months after I gave that initial statement I remember looking at their website to see what resources or support material there might be and the only things you could find were all policy documents and so on – what I call the OH&S defence. You create lots of paperwork and if an event happens and you’ve got to go to court, you can say, “Well look, see how active we are in managing our risks?” Exactly the same.

‘“Here’s our policies, here’s everything that we’re doing”, but what is there for the individual? What’s there for the child? I couldn’t find anything. I did the same thing earlier this year and I found exactly the same things. Nothing discernibly had changed. Nothing was there from a child’s point of view to say, you know, I’m potentially a victim or I am a victim, this is how we can help, here are some resources.’

He suggested the department follow the guide of other websites like the Independent Commission Against Corruption where resources were visible and easy to access. ‘There’s nothing from the victim’s point of view’, Gordy said. ‘It’s about defending the department and not about helping the child.’

Gordy said he wasn’t sure what impact the abuse had had on him. ‘You don’t know what you don’t know so there are a number of things I can talk about. Whether they are a result of [the abuse] I can’t be sure but yes, there is – I suppose I’m sociable but not easy to make relationships with. People will often talk to me about being stand-offish or something like that. I heard that a couple of days ago – I was told that.

‘I do have a heightened nervousness quite often so that still at meetings my voice tone will change or I’m that nervous that I don’t say anything because – it’s crazy, I’m in my 60s and I’ve done business all over the world but those things still happen …. On the other hand I speak publicly and I’ve done all sorts of different things publicly, but yes you do wonder without that what could I have actually done and what could I have done with the opportunities.’

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