‘I was always the smallest in the grade. Everyone looked really tall. Even in his office, he’d get you to do “special jobs” so you’d walk into this huge office. Probably not that big really, but to me it was just massive. The power that he had over me, and probably others as well, was enormous.’
In the mid 1960s, Myf joined her older sister at a state primary school north-east of Melbourne. ‘All I remember is us all being in one big classroom together from Grade 1 up to Grade 6. So it wasn’t a huge school. It was a country school.’
The headmaster was Hubert Benner, a man in his 50s who was a tough disciplinarian. ‘Mum and Dad thought he was fantastic because he was very strict ... And his wife worked there, too. I think she was even stricter. We were a bit scared of her.’
If the children played up, or even got something wrong in class, Mrs Benner would use a leather strap on their bare legs. ‘I felt she was pretty angry a lot.’
Myf thinks she was about six or seven when she was sent to the headmaster for being naughty.
‘It was actually where the classes were held. Everyone was outside playing, and I remember he was sitting down, and I had to stand there and explain what I had said to these older girls ... and his wife was actually in the same classroom. Where he was sitting, she probably couldn’t see what was going on, and I was standing right next to him. That was the first time it happened.’
Myf said that Benner put his hands inside her clothes and touched her. ‘You stand there. You freeze. You don’t know what’s going on and you’re confused. I probably would’ve said something that night to Mum and Dad … but they just, they didn’t want to know. “No, he would never do anything like that, he’s such a good, strict teacher.” And that was it.’
She described her dad as a man with a ‘short fuse’ who didn’t talk about anything sensitive. She believes he may have had post-traumatic stress disorder from World War II.
‘We all say now, as we’ve got older, that Dad was fighting the war every day, in a lot of ways. He had a great sense of humour, he was good at times; and then other times he was pretty emotional or up and down a bit.’
Myf didn’t try to tell her parents about Benner again, even though he continued to abuse her until she finished primary school.
In the 80s, when Myf got married and started a family, having children of her own brought her worst memories back to the surface. She shared her story with a healthcare professional, and since then, has been helped by both one-on-one and group counselling.
Myf also decided to tell her mum and dad again. Even though they believed her this time, they still couldn’t deal with it. ‘He sort of patted me on the head and said, “Thanks for telling us”, and that was it. He didn’t want to know … And Mum went along with whatever Dad said.’
She still feels that the sexual abuse has had a particular impact upon her self-confidence and ability to trust others. ‘The trust issue is big for me. I probably have a bit of a wall around me at times’, she said. ‘Every now and then I feel so angry. Sometimes I wonder where it comes from.
‘And standing up for myself, I find that really hard, having a voice. And especially being the youngest in a family, all the others were quite outspoken. I used to sit at the dinner table without a voice because I’d be drowned out most of the time.
‘At times I can get on with life, and I’m fine and deal with things. And then other times … if things happen at work where I feel like there might be a little bit of bullying going on or something like that, I step back into that little child again, and I don’t know how to deal with it.’
Myf said making a claim for compensation or suing the Department of Education had never crossed her mind. Just the thought of coming to the Royal Commission had her ‘all churned up’ to the point where she almost cancelled at the last minute.
‘I just thought … I’ve got to do it. Do it. Just do it. Stop being a sook. But I’m really glad I’ve come here.
‘And now I’ve got grandchildren, and I’m sort of doing it for them in a lot of ways. I don’t want them to go through … I don’t want them to go to school and be abused.
‘I left school when I was young. I’m studying now because I feel like I’m trying to catch up with what I missed out on when I was younger … I’m working full-time as well. I want to set an example. It’s all about the grandchildren at the moment. I want to protect them and show what Grandma can do …
‘Whether you get closure or not, I don’t know. I don’t think you ever get closure, do you?’