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Harry James's story

‘I didn’t understand really the seriousness of it all back then. A lot of kids just found it funny.’

Harry’s parents sent him to a ‘progressive’ private school in Melbourne in the 1990s. Mr Appleby taught physical education (PE) and would take the children off site to use community sporting facilities when Harry was in his early teens.

The teacher would preface PE classes with lectures on cleanliness, and emphasise how carefully students must clean themselves after engaging in sporting activities. He would then take off his clothes, explaining that it was normal and comfortable to be naked.

Boys were made to walk single file into the showers, where Mr Appleby joined them and watched them as they washed. He got into the shower with them, and walked around naked even after he had dried himself.

The children came to think of this as normal, even though the other PE teachers showered separately, away from the students. Harry didn’t see Mr Appleby touch any of the students, but noted that his genitals would often come near to their faces when he leaned over to get his towel. He was disturbed by this behaviour and so tried to minimise the time he spent in the showers.

Outside of PE class, the teacher touched Harry on the leg underneath the desk. He also took groups of boys away camping, but Harry stopped going to because ‘I didn’t feel comfortable around him’.

Harry told his father about what was happening, and his father spoke to the principal of the school. The principal’s response was that Mr Appleby probably didn’t have a girlfriend and was lonely, and that he was an ‘earthy type of guy’.

Harry changed schools shortly after this, so does not know what happened to Mr Appleby. As he grew older he became concerned about becoming stronger and being able to defend himself. He was very angry when he was younger, and finds it hard to trust people. Relationships are difficult for him, he feels that he does not ‘fit in’, has few friends, and describes his life as being very ‘stop-start’.

After starting counselling he was diagnosed with PTSD, and thinks some of his issues are related to his experiences at the school. In recent years he saw media reports about Mr Appleby’s sexual offending at the school. He broke down, crying and having flashbacks, and needed to have time off work.

‘When I had this breakdown I also had some bad dreams and stuff as well, like things were starting to come out of me rapidly, and it was very uncomfortable. I’ve never experienced anything like this, where things from inside of you start coming out. And I’d get very upset ...

‘Especially when I’d go and have a shower, I’d be standing in the shower and have a breakdown in the shower. That would happen quite a lot. It was very raw for a long time.’

Harry has tried to make a report to police, but was told they were not interested in taking a statement as no touching occurred. He has since been in contact with a legal firm and is considering taking action against the school. ‘To be honest, I never thought anyone would take it seriously. Because when I was at the school people didn’t take it seriously.’

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