Harold grew up in regional Victoria in the 1940s, and attended the local primary school. He then spent the first two years of high school at a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers.
‘Dad was a very hard disciplinarian … not a lot of warmth. [He had a] pretty sarcastic tongue, and often he wasn’t too careful about where he would shame you, in front of individuals or a group. There were good points. We got a lot of skills in hunting and technical skills in woodwork and things like this. We had a lot of freedom, so it balances it out in a lot of ways.’
Discipline at the high school was harsh. ‘So it was two years of strap, strap, strap.’ Many of the boys at the school had been through Catholic primary schools, ‘so they were accustomed to the culture … I was a bush kid …’
Harold recalled, ‘My only real memory is that of punishment for not knowing the Latin declension, or something like that. Just constant, constant punishment. There was never any encouragement … It was freezing cold in winter, and of course, that was when the strap really hurt … I’m not sure that there was a heater in the place’.
Harold clearly remembers when the headmaster threw him out of the choir, saying, ‘You’re braying like a donkey. There’s the door. Get out’.
Among the boys, there was a culture of bullying. ‘One of the groups … a gang who were virtual thugs, they were big guys … Years 3 and 4, and they were the ones who were sort of predators. They were roaming and you were always getting a hiding … You’re pushed to the ground. You got hit and kneed. So you tended to keep away from them if you could.’
Harold spent a lot of time alone at the school. ‘I had no friends that I played with … I can’t remember having a friend there. So it was two years in isolation. A bit of time was spent in the chapel … or around the office. [You’d] just find a reason to sit there … but you were really up there for protection, to keep away from these people.’
One day, ‘I can remember … clearly, when I was caught up by these fellows, and using my tie, I think … or one of their ties, I was tied to a tree … hands around my back, round a tree or a sapling. My fly was undone and my penis was exposed and I was whipped repeatedly with sticks … and ridiculed … their group laughing, and there were onlookers’.
Harold still has a feeling of shame talking about the incident. ‘There was no action taken because in this situation I was too frightened to tell anybody … Even my mother, who was always very supportive in difficult situations … It was just too shaming to mention that that had happened to me. So I just bottled it up. And it went on. The bullying went on.’
After the sexual abuse Harold recalled that ‘I … just within myself … I became a mute. I was unable to express myself in any way and I suppose … that stayed with me. Mind you … in my upbringing … with Dad, we weren’t able to express ourselves much … There was no poetry. There was no singing … It wasn’t sort of an expressive culture we were in’.
After two years with the Christian Brothers Harold finished his education at two state schools, which he enjoyed. His father arranged a job for him but it wasn’t what Harold wanted. As soon as he was able, he left home and completed a number of tertiary courses to prove that he was not as incapable as others had made him feel. He then chose a career that suited him.
‘But it was in that time that I found alcohol. I kept away from alcohol till I was 21. It was the good old Catholic pledge … so I stuck with that for some reason … For 40 years … it was pretty good for my pain … It was more binge than heavy drinking … It wasn’t as if I was a chronic alcoholic, but I did use alcohol a lot at different times.’
Harold told the Commissioner that even though he achieved much with his studies, career and sport, he ‘never felt good enough. I always felt as if I was second rate and it was very easy to shame me. I think it was those two years specifically, and with the abuse, that made me very prone to shaming’.
When his marriage broke down after many years, Harold made the decision to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and he hasn’t had a drink since. ‘I’m in a much better position now. I’m able to make decisions comfortably, about what is my best option.’
In recent years, Harold has taken a number of courses in spirituality and relaxation which he has found beneficial. He is also, ‘very active in a choir now, just to prove the bloody principal [wrong]’.
As for the future, he told the Commissioner, ‘I’m in the choir. That’ll do’.