‘My main reason for coming forward: I realised something had happened to me. I’ve just held it in for all these years. I couldn’t possibly have mentioned it while my parents were alive. They’re gone now, and the Royal Commission came up …
‘Maybe my short story, and it is very brief, it’s not a long saga or anything like that, may assist someone else who was from the same district, same school, and that type of thing.’
In the mid-1960s, Neill began attending a Catholic college in Sydney’s south-west. His Year 6 master was Stewart Penton, a lay teacher.
‘He ruled by fear … With the use of the strap ... That was the way he instilled his discipline in the class ... I remember seeing, like, froth in his mouth when he was laying into … he didn’t miss anyone.’
In the second half of that year, Penton started sexually abusing Neill at the school.
‘It was an arrangement that he got a couple of children, a couple of kids, to go up there on Saturdays to help him clean the classrooms, you know, just odd jobs. Working bees, I think they called it. And it always ended up in water play. That was his lever to touch you and that type of thing.’
As the teacher towelled off the boys after the water fights, he would fondle their genitals. This later progressed to oral sex and digital penetration.
‘There was one other child … and actually this Mr Penton encouraged it between the two of us.’
Neill told the Commissioner that he’s blocked out as many of the memories as he can, but he does remember that the abuse continued for about 12 months. ‘I definitely knew it was wrong but I thought, if I allowed it, the straps might be [used] in a less ferocious manner. He definitely used that power over me.’
At the time, Neill wasn’t able to tell anyone. ‘I think I just had fear in me. Fear of the man, plus fear of being caught, plus fear of what my parents would think.
‘There was no one to go to, definitely, at the school because, like I say, he was your master … You couldn’t go to the ladies up in the office, or the ladies in the canteen. Like, my mum worked in the canteen so … I suppose I was hiding. That’s a sad thing, that you have to hide what’s happening. Especially when you know it’s wrong. Because that brings on the guilt.’
Neill has since become aware that he wasn’t Penton’s first victim, and believes the teacher would have gone on to abuse other boys.
After leaving high school Neill started a career and continued to play football, which helped him deal with the trauma. ‘Distraction is a great technique for me. And sport was that type of thing. I just lived and breathed, as a youngster growing up, my sport.’
He first disclosed the sexual abuse in his late 20s, to his wife. ‘She couldn’t believe it because I was such a ... I used to be quite a big chap and she said, you know, how could I allow it, and I couldn’t answer her.’
When Neill came to the Royal Commission, he had recently started seeing a psychologist. Before that, he said, ‘It was just … just get over it, cop it. As I said, there was no counselling or that type of thing in my day. I can say that, over all these years, I’ve thought about it hundreds, probably thousands, of times’.
He’s never reported Penton to police and has no interest in approaching the Catholic Church. ‘I just want to stay away from it.’
Neill has great support from his family, and has spent most of his life working in the community to help others. For him, the most important thing in stopping child sexual abuse is education.
‘Just the reinforcement to them, to come and tell you.’