‘I’ve never been what you would consider normal so I spent most of my life, particularly at school, marginalised and I had friends for a while but then they decided I wasn’t cool and looked for greener pastures which was fine, I was okay with that. It never made me want to change how I was, but it did mean when I got to the rocky years in teenage-hood things were tricky. On one random day apparently I was more down than on other days. I didn’t notice, but okay, and somebody asked the assistant chaplain to have a word with me.’
At 14, Larnie appreciated the interest Robert Bannister, assistant chaplain and teacher at her Queensland Anglican high school, showed in her.
‘The second thing he said to me was, “You really need to smile more because when you do your whole face lights up and you look really, really beautiful, and I like to see that”. At the time I dismissed it. I thought, he’s trying to make me feel good and he’s a bit clumsy, but from there, because I thought that somebody was willing to take an interest in me, I probably relied on that too heavily and from that point I started seeking him out.’
Bannister was in his early 40s and spoke often to Larnie about his personal circumstances, living alone. ‘He was very single and very unhappy about it.’ Within months of their first conversation, Larnie said she was hiding her meetings with Bannister from her parents who thought she was on a fitness kick when she told them she was going for long walks.
About six months after first meeting, Bannister began making comments to Larnie about a nudist beach he’d been to. His conversation from then on often steered to talk of human bodies and his opinion that people weren’t meant to be clothed. At about the same time in 1998, rumours went round the school that Bannister had acted inappropriately with other students. The school placed limits on him so he wasn’t permitted to be alone or drive students in his car. He told Larnie that his contract wasn’t going to be renewed and wrote in a letter to her of his suicidal thoughts.
Two weeks before he left, Bannister asked Larnie to come to a house he was minding for a friend. Soon after Larnie arrived, Bannister told her to take her clothes off and then started taking photos of her. ‘He was not physically inappropriate’, Larnie said. ‘He was not threatening, but awkward doesn’t seem to cover it. At the time what was in my mind was, if I do this, he’ll have to keep in contact.’
Bannister’s promise to send copies of the photos to Larnie didn’t eventuate, and for eight months she heard nothing from him. Larnie wrote to him of her increasing discomfort that the photos had been taken and he replied stating his regret that she thought that way. He also suggested they meet on a beach in Perth near his new residence. ‘I didn’t hear from him for another four or five years. I managed to convince myself that it was all my fault.’
The first person Larnie told about events was her aunt, but she was sworn to secrecy. At 21, Larnie began to feel increasingly distressed about the photos and told her boyfriend, who helped her in getting in touch with the local Anglican Church. The chaplain they spoke to said, ‘This is bad’, and recommended Larnie report it to Queensland Police and take it further with the Anglican Church hierarchy.
Larnie followed the matter up with the Church and described their response as highly professional and supportive. They met the costs for her counselling with a psychologist and ensured that Bannister was no longer allowed to teach in Anglican schools.
In 2006, Larnie was contacted by a Queensland Police task force investigating past allegations of child sexual abuse. It transpired that the school had been contacted by the chaplain she’d disclosed to and a report was made to police. Asked whether she wanted to pursue charges, Larnie declined because she worried about her parents finding out and she was satisfied that Bannister was no longer able to be in schools. ‘They said, “You’ve only stopped him getting into Anglican schools”.’
Larnie then agreed to pursue charges. The case became protracted when the investigating officers were seriously injured in an accident and the process had to recommence with a new team. Bannister also delayed progress by failing to turn up at appointed court dates and regularly changing his legal representatives. He admitted he’d taken the photos and that he still had them, but denied they constituted child sexual abuse, maintaining that they were ‘artistic’.
In 2010, a jury found Bannister guilty and he served eight of an 18-month jail sentence. During sentencing it was disclosed that he’d previously been convicted in Western Australia of possessing child pornography.
Larnie found the court process traumatic with all its delays. She wished there could have been some kind of restorative justice system rather than the lengthy court process, but acknowledged whether it would have worked with someone like Bannister who maintained to the end he’d done nothing wrong.
‘There’s got to be a way of answering the charges that doesn’t involve lawyers and courts and tearing each other down just to stop him getting into a school. He’s admitted it. He admitted it so many times over … [but] He had all the power. He could choose not to show up at a court date and there’s nothing I could do about it. He could just change lawyers and hold everything up again and there’s nothing I can do about it.’
Her main objective throughout the process was preventing Bannister working in schools. ‘Was it worth it, those few moments of validation? No. He can’t go back into schools so I just hope that’s enough.’