Lonnie’s family immigrated to Australia in the late 1960s when Lonnie was a small boy. ‘I asked Mum how I was after that’, Lonnie told the Commissioner, ‘and she said I didn’t speak for six months’.
Lonnie didn’t know a word of English at first and believes he was traumatised by the move to a new country. At his primary school in Sydney’s north he had few friends and was picked on as an outsider.
A few years into his schooling Lonnie was due to go on an excursion one morning. He was late and missed the chartered bus. The headmaster of the primary school, Mr Herbert, found him alone and brought him to his office. There was a small storage room off to one side.
‘What I do remember is that he had a girl’s uniform there and I remember him asking me to try it on. I was confused. I was only 10.’
Lonnie doesn’t recall how that first incident ended, but he became a frequent visitor to Mr Herbert’s office. ‘I was called out of class on a regular basis to see him.’
Lonnie was asked to dress in the girl’s uniform. ‘Eventually he used to get me to kiss him, on the lips. And then he’d give me money.’ Lonnie was rewarded with 20 cent pieces.
Lonnie took to visiting the headmaster whenever he needed money. ‘If I wanted some Nutella sandwiches I’d go there and give him a kiss and I’d go get Nutella sandwiches.’
Herbert also exposed Lonnie to pornography. He sent the boy on an errand to his car. ‘In the back seat was a whole stack of Mayfair, Playboy, Penthouse.’
‘I don’t remember much of that period until one day he asked if he could look at my penis and I said, “No”.’ The abuse stopped after that.
Lonnie did not tell his family what was happening at the time, but he is certain other people in the school knew something was going on. ‘I still remember the expression on the secretary’s face as I would walk past. It was so peculiar, it was almost disapproving, it was uneasy.’
As Lonnie grew up he experienced feelings of shame about what had happened with Mr Herbert. ‘I was born in a Catholic family in the idea of guilt for your own actions and not having the strength to not sin and all that stuff. Yes, it did lay on me.’ Lonnie eventually married and had children, but kept the abuse secret until recently.
Lonnie admits to confusion over his sexuality. ‘I know that I was interested in girls when I was younger – I was always caught kissing the girls when I was a kid – but at that time I knew that I was developing sexual interests a bit more deeply …
‘I am a cross-dresser, I still have that and part of my issue is I don’t know whether the time I spent with Mr Herbert impacted on that or if it was something that was always going to be there … From my research it’s something that some children go through but they grow out of. But then for some, it stays there.’
Lonnie and his wife have separated, though Lonnie remains part of his children’s lives. As he gets older Lonnie finds he is having more trouble coping. ‘When you hit milestones something happens. Like the old mid-life crisis thing when you hit 40 … and the whole lot comes cascading down.’ After Lonnie’s marriage ended he was hit with a series of deaths in his family. He has been fighting depression ever since.
Seeing publicity around the Royal Commission, Lonnie tried twice to reach out to police to report his abuse. He found he was unable to walk into the police station. Eventually he went back to his old primary school and told the principal what had happened at her school 40 years before. She urged him to make a statement to the police.
Lonnie did see the police and reported his abuse. The police were able to tell him that Mr Herbert had died in the late 1980s.
Lonnie has not sought compensation and he has not yet tried professional counselling. He believes telling the principal and the police his story has helped him feel better and move on. ‘I feel as if my head is clearer …
‘I don’t carry the hangman’s noose in the boot anymore.’