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Norman Keith's story

‘It’s a short story, this one.’

Norman moved from country New South Wales, where he attended a state school, to a Presbyterian boys’ school in Sydney. The idea was for him to finish the last two years of his education there.

As a boarder, he slept in dorms with at least 10 other boys. There were bars on the windows and he didn’t understand why. ‘I was very lonely. I didn’t like the move … The people that I boarded with had been there for years … had their own little circles … Also I was placed into some classes where I just couldn’t cope.’ For example, high level maths.

That class was run by Roger Carlson. One day Carlson caught Norman doodling and berated him. ‘I’ll see you in my office after this lesson.’

‘He took me to his office … went into the room and then he locked the door … I remember him talking to me for a while … Somehow it got around to him saying, “Okay, I want you to stand up and take your pants off”. [I thought] he wants to give me the stick … If you got caned in the country you got it on the hand. But I knew that, you know, being on the bum was on the cards in private school.

‘He said … “I want you to take your pants off and I want you to take your underpants off”. I remember those words clear as a bell. I remember saying to him, “Look if you want to give me the cane, I’ll have it on the hand please”. And something about the way he looked at me ... I thought, “Hello. Something’s wrong here”. And I knew he’d locked the door. And I let fly at him. I said, “I’m not taking my effing pants off for anyone”. I abused him. I yelled at him and I took off out the door.’

Later, Norman was sent to the principal’s office, who told him he should apologise to Carlson for using bad language. Norman told the principal what happened. Not only was Norman not believed, he was expelled.

When Norman told his parents what Carlson had done, the response from them was, ‘“Oh, come on … He wouldn’t have done that” … I can see that was a pretty average reaction in the 1960s for most people.’

After boarding for just a matter of weeks, Norman returned home and completed his education at his old school. He has no idea if his parents, who were upset ‘no end’, were refunded his school fees. Norman’s younger brothers went to the same boys’ school and, Norman found out recently, were often victimised by Carlson as well as several other teachers.

‘I came to suspect that maybe [Carlson] was hauled in front of the principal and spoken to about what I’d said he’d said. But they didn’t believe me.

‘So the ramifications of the whole thing have stuck with me a very long time. Nobody’s ever been interested in listening so I thought, “Blow this”. After this nonsense [public hearing findings] with [the school] I’m going to put my word in because this fellow’s name didn’t ever come up.

‘It’s really annoyed me … He scared me, this fellow … I knew what he was going to do. I knew he didn’t want to cane me.’

Norman never reported the abuse to police. He would be interested in seeking compensation if his parents were never given a refund. As a result of the abuse he believes he became more wary as a parent. And while it hasn’t affected his life, it has been on his mind.

‘I’ve pushed it away but it’s always been there and I’ve thought “One day”, and when this opportunity came I thought, “Here it is. I’ve got an opportunity now to go and tell someone about this. They might believe me”.’

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