Mackenzie and his three brothers attended private school in Queensland, a school renowned for its culture of ‘turning boys into men’. Mackenzie enjoyed his first few years there, describing himself as ‘an over-achiever’: strong academically, a musician and good sportsman. But there were problems at home which affected Mackenzie, and he was encouraged by his mother to meet with the school counsellor.
Mackenzie can’t remember exactly how many times he was sexually abused by the counsellor. It was at least three but may have been more. The counsellor would order Mackenzie to masturbate in front of him, once saying ‘finish it or I’ll finish it for you’.
A couple of years later, before Mackenzie finished school, the counsellor asked to see him, ostensibly for career guidance. When Mackenzie eventually did see the man, he spent very little time talking about careers. What he really wanted to know was, had Mackenzie told anyone about what happened?
Mackenzie remembered him saying, ‘And I don’t mind if you do, I just need to know who it is so I can tell them what it’s all about’. Mackenzie didn’t know what to say and avoided any contact with the counsellor from then on.
‘At the time we didn’t necessarily see it as abuse, we just saw it as part of the broader culture of that environment,’ he said.
After that, Mackenzie’s behaviour went downhill. He started drinking, skipped classes and almost got expelled. He stole his parents’ car and was picked up by the police. He even became a bully, harassing and tormenting other students. Once, a boy he’d been particularly cruel to tried to stab Mackenzie.
‘I went to that school as a kind, compassionate kid and I think I came out a bastard. A truly awful human being. It’s what the school did to me.’
His brothers, who he’d relied on for support, had all moved out of home, leaving Mackenzie isolated. So he went to live in the school boarding house and met other boys who’d been abused by the counsellor. It was then Mackenzie began to see the culture of the school for what it really was.
He remembered being verbally and physically abused by teachers, and watching the same things happening to other boys. He saw older students bashing younger ones, and now believes there was also some sexual abuse between students.
Mackenzie said everyone knew what the counsellor was doing, even the headmaster, but nothing was ever done. And none of the boys would report it. ‘You just wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t talk about something bad having happened. You’d suck it up. If you did report it you’d be ostracised more, and attacked more.’
‘It was a culture that was so dominant, and so horrendous. And it wasn’t like it suddenly appeared. It was there from when my oldest brother was there, it was there when I left. It never changed.’
After leaving school, Mackenzie struggled with depression, alcohol and aggressive behaviour. But the abuse has had a much greater impact on him. Even today, Mackenzie is filled with intense feelings of guilt that he didn’t do enough to help his fellow students.
‘What happened itself, you can live with that. The anger and anguish is about what happened to your colleagues.’
Mackenzie believes the sexual abuse was a direct result of the school’s extreme masculine culture, and so was condoned by the headmaster and teachers.
And while Mackenzie will always live with the actions of his abuser, his strongest disgust is reserved for the school. ‘He was just part of a broader issue. I actually suspect that no one else could’ve been in that position. If you’d had a counsellor that was kind and compassionate, they would’ve been gone in weeks. They would not have survived. It could only have been a person that was abusive in that role, and survived.’
Mackenzie believes hundreds of boys were damaged by the school’s culture. Like himself, his three brothers were abused sexually, physically or both and have ‘severe emotional scarring’ from their time there. Mackenzie knows of at least one classmate who suicided.
He described the school as ‘a cult’ and said it needs to be closed down. ‘An example has to be made. This cannot happen again. It just cannot happen again.’
Mackenzie found talking to the Royal Commission very painful. ‘I know I’m not going to walk out of here feeling happy. Quite the opposite.’ But he knew he had to do it. ‘I feel I have a duty to my family, and also the other boys in the school who went through it, to add to the base of knowledge about what happened.’
Today, Mackenzie is a husband and father with a successful career. After years of searching he found a therapist he believes can help, and he’s slowly putting the past behind him.