‘I thought it was a big adventure and I turned up and it was a hell hole.’
Joel’s father had high academic hopes for his son when he enrolled him in an Anglican boys’ boarding school in Queensland in the 1960s. ‘I went in full of hope and I had an outgoing personality’, Joel said. ‘When I came out, I was stoic, determined and reserved.’
Joel was 10 years old when he arrived at the school. He told the Commissioner that Mr Stewart, one of the boarding house masters, had a sadistic personality. ‘He was mean all the time, but during the day he was quite rational, like, you never saw anything, he didn’t do anything during the day because the day boys were there. So if he beat the living crap out of them, then they’d go back and tell their parents … But he took it all out at night, after dark, when we were in our pyjamas.’
Another boarding house master, Mr Campbell, sexually abused Joel in the dormitory. Joel’s was the first bed in the line and Campbell would climb on top of him and try to grope him.
‘This went on for a couple of months’, Joel said. ‘And one day I just stopped resisting, just lay there and let him do what he wanted, I just couldn’t bother any longer.’
Campbell invited Joel to his flat, but an older boy warned him not to go, and he later found out that other boys had been raped by Campbell when they’d accepted his invitation.
Joel thought the school fostered a culture that permitted all forms of abuse. On Saturday movie nights, the headmaster invited younger boys to get under a blanket with him to ‘keep warm’. The school’s head chorister was a boy named Ritchie, who Joel said used to attack him and other boys within full view of the house masters. ‘He used to basically dry root me every night and attack me from behind and talk about intercourse and having babies, and stuff you know. But he did that to other people as well.’ Ritchie was the headmaster’s favourite and could do no wrong.
Joel begged his parents to take him out of the school, which they eventually did after he’d been there three years.
After leaving school Joel joined the defence forces and was posted overseas. Later, he took up civilian professional positions while raising a family. He’d always advanced in his career, but said he curtailed his ability so he wouldn’t reach senior positions. ‘I hated all my bosses, I’m sorry … I had no idea what the agendas were, you know.’
In the 1990s, allegations of child sexual abuse at the school surfaced in the media. Joel’s parents asked him if he’d been abused, but he didn’t want to talk about it. More than a decade later, he disclosed the abuse to his wife, and attended a counselling service set up for veterans.
That same year he informed the Anglican Church about the abuse. He said they offered him counselling with their appointed psychologist, but he felt dismissed in his complaint. ‘They said I was very young at the time of the abuse and they thought the problem was more about my relationship with my father.’ The Anglican Church had since taken measures to remove Stewart, but Joel felt this late action was taken mostly to deflect attention from publicity about child sex abuse.
In the early 2010s, Joel reported Stewart and Campbell to Queensland Police, but felt frustrated by their limited powers to respond. They told him that there was no law in the 1960s to prevent Stewart inflicting corporal punishment. Police told him they weren’t able to pursue the sexual abuse allegation against Campbell because he was too old and it wasn’t in the public interest. ‘[The] Industrial Relations Department has got more power to deal with wage disputes than you’ve got to deal with paedophiles.’