‘The old boys’ network are now starting to talk, and the stories coming forward make your eyes water. There are people hanging from trees. [The school’s] got blood on their hands … The teachers knew. The priests knew.’
Neil was nearly a teenager when his family moved to a town in New South Wales. He was enrolled in the local Catholic boarding school, which he was excited to attend. His father raved about how good boarding school was, so he had high expectations.
No one went home on weekends but sometimes parents would come up for lunches. Neil missed his family terribly and found the transition from primary school to boarding school hard. However, he was surrounded by a fantastic bunch of friends. ‘Like growing up with 52 brothers’, he said fondly.
In the 1980s Neil came across Nolan Williamson, the school’s discipline master. The older students had the power to ‘send up’ younger boys to Williamson’s office if they didn’t like them and Neil remembers being sent up to be caned numerous times. Despite being shallow, the cuts from the cane were painful.
‘When he used to give you the cane, he’d always want to give you a hug afterwards. This happened to everyone in the school … It was just rampant. It was really creepy, but you just accepted it as normal.’
Neil would often have class with Williamson, where he and his peers were forced to take off their uniforms and change into ‘paint shirts’. He remembers it being very odd, but no one questioned the teacher.
Williamson was also a dormitory master, and Neil recalls having to assist him with small tasks. However, Williamson often went around the dorm insisting that he conduct medical exams on everyone.
‘At night he’d come around and have people pull their pants down and he would inspect their anuses to see if there was any evidence of worms. He used to wander around asking kids if they needed any Vicks rubbed on their chests … Everyone knew he was a creep.’
Throughout his time at school, Neil avoided Williamson. However, there was one teacher that he couldn’t escape. Bernard Hanson was a cruel teacher and dorm master, someone Neil was extremely uncomfortable to be around. Hanson mainly dealt with the senior students, but he was very cruel to the younger boys.
Neil described Hanson as a cranky bastard who was never satisfied, often punishing the boys. However, when Neil moved into his senior years, Hanson’s attitude completely changed. ‘It was like a switch, you’d come back in Year 11 and he was your best friend’, he said.
Hanson had a gang. Neil noticed that the guys in this gang were a little odd, outsiders mostly. With the benefit of hindsight, he understands that these boys were being groomed by Hanson.
When Neil was 16, someone close to him passed away over the school break. He found it very difficult to be away from his parents and needed comfort and guidance, so he welcomed Hanson’s kindness.
‘He’d sort of come around after lights out and say, “Come and have a chat, mate” and he’d take you into his office. So after a while you sort of felt hey, this is cool, because you could sit up in his office and drink coffee … He’d say, “Do you want a cigarette, mate?”’
Hanson started inviting his gang to join in on their conversations. Neil remembers being offered alcohol numerous times in Hanson’s office. But the conversations soon turned, with Hanson wanting to know ‘who was rooting who’. Neil was confused: hardly anyone was talking to girls and he was taught that homosexuality was a sin. ‘A horrible thing to teach children’, he said.
Neil wasn’t abused by Hanson at school, but he did try. Once Hanson tried to touch Neil’s genitals when he was drunk, but Neil pushed him away. Another time Hanson visited him in his cubicle and assumed he was naked under his covers.
‘He goes, “You’re naked. You’re not wearing anything are you, you dirty little bugger”. That was weird.’
After Neil graduated he didn’t see much of Hanson. He heard that he moved to another school for a career opportunity. But after a death in Neil’s family, Hanson was the first person to call him. He said that he wanted to see him and comfort him.
At the time Neil was smoking marijuana heavily. He was in a lot of pain and the drugs helped to dull it. He met Hanson for dinner and got very drunk. When they got back to Neil’s room, Hanson sexually assaulted him. Neil didn’t tell anyone.
It wasn’t until the 2010s that Neil disclosed the abuse. He saw an article in a newspaper, written by another survivor, and Neil knew exactly who the writer was talking about: Williamson and Hanson. From there, he put together a list of other people he believed were victims and reported it to the police.
At the time of his private session, Neil was involved with an investigation into Hanson. He has not told his old school about the abuse or accessed any compensation. He expressed his interest to do so once the criminal case had been completed.
‘A big part of the reason that I’m here is because … there’s a lot of guys that are really damaged by this stuff … I’m doing it for myself but I’m doing this on behalf of [them].’