‘I just don’t understand why these people have to do this to kids. What did I do? … Why do they have to do that? It’s disgusting.’
Part-way through being viciously caned by Mr Hammond on his bare backside Nicholas turned around – just as he’d been ordered not to do – to find the headmaster had his own trousers down too. Punishing Nicholas with one hand, Hammond held his penis in the other.
‘I could hear him breathing behind me. And then the next thing I know is I can feel this wet thing on my back. And he’s said “wait”. And he must have had it nearby, ‘cause he got a towel and wiped my back, hit me again ... And then he said “you should never do this ever again, and don’t tell anybody”.’
Hammond yelled at him to leave the locked room and get back to class. Nicholas, then about 10, had been sent to Hammond’s office at the Anglican school in suburban Sydney for passing a rude note during a lesson.
Although expecting a physical punishment he had ‘no frigging idea what’s just gone on. I’m sort of thinking to myself “why, what did I do to get all this?” And so my bottom is just like, is just so sore you can’t believe it. So I sat back in the class and I had tears in my eyes and I can remember the teaching saying “well look at Mister Teary down there” ... It just didn’t bloody stop’.
That day after school Nicholas told his mother that Hammond had punished him ‘and that he’d had his pants down ... I don’t think she wanted to hear it, to be honest’.
Rather than supporting him she became very angry and ‘proceeded to tell that all I’d done is embarrass her in front of the school’. She whipped him savagely with the buckle end of her belt. ‘I can just remember having blood running down the back of my legs.’
A couple of years later Nicholas was sexually abused by an uncle. After being kicked out of home by his mother he went to stay in a boarding house. A staff member there tried to ‘molest’ him, ‘but all he ended up with was a headache because I hit him’.
Nicholas came to feel he ‘must have a sign on my head’ asking to be abused as it happened so often. He never reconciled with his mother and ‘she’s gone now, thank God ... I never felt like there was any love, I never felt like there was any support, like other kids feel’.
He has felt shame and embarrassment about this abuse, and it took him a long time to understand how relationships should work. ‘It really has buggered up the way I think about things ... All these politicians saying “move on, get over it”, it’s all very well but ... I didn’t deserve what I got. I didn’t deserve to have some whacko stick his dick on my back.’
Together with his wife for over three decades, ‘I haven’t been a bad husband, but I think it took me a lot longer than other people to really understand what loving someone’s all about’.
Nicholas struggled with alcohol addiction, and has attempted suicide several times. Even when hospitalised as a result of these attempts he did not feel he could disclose the abuse. ‘It was embarrassing, to be honest, to tell stories about some guy wiping something off your back.’
In the past year Nicholas was prompted to disclose this abuse to his doctor and wife after seeing media reports about the Royal Commission’s work. ‘I’d be sitting there in front of the TV, watching the TV, with tears running down my eyes.’
He has now attended counselling with a psychologist for several months and found this process to be useful. ‘At first I didn’t get along with him, but after a while – maybe it was just getting to know him – the way he would tell me about deep breathing things and this and that and all the rest of the stuff, it was quite helpful.’
Learning about the abuse helped Nicholas’s wife understand ‘the something in him’ she had never been able to name, and why he’d never seemed ‘content’ with his life despite having her, their children, and a stable home. ‘He seemed to be unsettled ... I was wondering. When he told me this I became a bit more forgiving.’
Knowing that Hammond died in the 1980s, Nicholas has not made a police report, and was initially hesitant about talking to the Royal Commission about his experiences.
‘I thought to myself, “why am I bothering?” Because of the simple fact that the stupid idiot isn’t here anymore. But then I thought to myself, “No, this time around I’ve really got to put my hand up and be counted”. You never know, maybe what I have to say or what I relate might help somebody else.’