Henry’s parents emigrated from Holland to Australia when he was a small boy in the 1950s. Life was pretty good and, though discipline was hard, there was always food on the table. Henry went to various primary schools because his dad’s work involved travelling. His older sister was much older than Henry and was like a mother to him.
Henry remembers that when he was six years old, four or five of the boys in his Melbourne primary school were regularly sexually abused by their class teacher.
The teacher, who Henry remembers as balding and bespectacled, would sit the boys on his knee and put his hands up their shorts. Then ‘he would fiddle with our private bits and do other things, you know, like play with our anus and stuff like that’.
Henry went to his parents and told them what was happening. He is fuzzy on the details but he does remember the police got involved and that he had to go to court with the other kids.
‘It was very intimidating … You’re a little kid and you’ve got all these big people around and everybody’s looking very stern ... I remember having to testify.’
Even though all the boys testified against the teacher, Henry remembers that there was an atmosphere of disappointment afterwards. There was a general feeling that the teacher ‘didn’t get what he was supposed to get’.
The abuse was never mentioned again by his family and Henry certainly didn’t disclose to anyone else, apart from his close relationships, until he spoke to the Commission.
He put the abuse out of his mind and tried to forget about it. The only time he really thought about it since was when the Royal Commission started.
‘Things like that weren’t talked about at home anyway … It was just not talked about.’
Henry’s not sure whether his lifestyle was affect by the abuse. ‘You’re five years old. You don’t know how you’re going to turn out … I was an average student. I hated authority. I couldn’t stand being touched by any … males. And that’s gone through the whole of my life.’
He does know that he has low self-esteem in relation to his sexual prowess but he is happily married, regardless.
Did Henry have recommendations for the Commission? ‘Put the people away that do it. I think that’s the only way to stop it. If you catch them, put them away. Put ‘em away for a long time.’