As a teacher’s aide in a small Queensland primary school, Karla often found herself in charge of all classes and students, with the principal, Bob Green, spending most hours in his on-site photographic studio.
In the times Green was at school he was cruelly sadistic towards children, tying them to chairs, putting plastic bags over their heads and severely caning them.
Karla told the Commissioner that she and many parents complained to staff at the Queensland Department of Education about Green’s physical abuse, but were never taken seriously.
In the early 1980s, Karla said, it was obvious action needed to be taken against Green. Children were regularly returning home from school with large welts and bruises, and many were starting to act violently towards others. Another complaint to the education department resulted in a regional inspector interviewing Karla and her husband in their home. ‘He left to take up the matter’, Karla said. ‘Then was later seen having a beer in the pub with Green.’
By this stage, Karla said her position had become untenable. ‘I was starting to be threatened by Green. On one occasion after I’d taken him to task about the abuse, he was late getting to school the next morning and he confronted me in the office and said he’d been to the union and they’d said I’d be sued if I ever mentioned he’d done anything.’
At the end of that year, Karla’s husband led a delegation to the education department’s regional office. They presented a comprehensive list of Green’s violent behaviour and the injuries he was inflicting on children. This time their complaints were believed and Karla received a call from a department staff member advising that, for her own safety, she should resign immediately. ‘They said it was to ensure he couldn’t take action against me when they confronted him. I did what was asked.’
She was surprised therefore when no action was taken. As more and more parents took their children out of the school, the education department decreased the number of teachers until, within a year, the only person left teaching was Green. Karla said that she became the person of blame in town for the school’s decreasing fortunes and was regularly met with hostility by other parents. At one stage she was unable to go out shopping because she was abused by locals.
Some years later, the media reported that Green had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing children. Karla said she was shocked at the news but that ‘many things fell into place’.
‘I suddenly realised what had been going on. All the abuse, bullying of staff, conflict among families and so much sadness and hurt … The sad thing is some children tried to tell their parents but were punished for lying.’
In light of her knowledge of Green and the numerous complaints she’d made, Karla expected to be interviewed by police as part of the investigation, but wasn’t. She suspected staff from the Department of Education didn’t report her complaints to police because it would have highlighted their own inaction.
Green was tried and convicted on child sexual abuse charges, and spent a short time in jail. Karla said she and her husband were distressed to see him several years later with a new wife and two small children.
Karla was disappointed when, in the late 1980s, the Queensland Fitzgerald Inquiry limited its investigation to police corruption, and didn’t include an examination of the Department of Education’s role in protecting child sex abusers, which some people, including Karla, had wanted.
In the late 1990s, Karla was rung by detectives who were examining systemic failures in historical child sexual abuse cases. She and her husband were interviewed and signed a sworn statement relating to events of the early 1980s. They received notices of an impending court case in Queensland, but months later had heard nothing further. ‘We concluded that the system had failed’, Karla said. When she inquired further, she was told the investigating task force had been disbanded with staff redeployed to other areas.
Karla said she’d been disappointed by the failure of education staff to respond to complaints about Green’s physical abuse. A more thorough investigation and assertive action might have brought to light his sexual abuse of children or at least removed him from a position of trust. ‘Our concern is about Green who caused this, and that there was something happening in the education department and it was quashed. It didn’t start with paedophilia, it started with the physical abuse … The physical abuse allegation should have been enough to prosecute.’