Patrice grew up with her family in regional Victoria where she attended the local state primary school. She was six years old in the early 1950s when her teacher, Mr Paget, called her up to his desk at the front of the class and ‘massaged’ her under her skirt. Although she knew this was wrong, she didn’t tell her mother about it because she didn’t think she would be believed.
‘Mum never believed anything. I wasn’t a liar. If I was sick she didn’t believe me …
‘I did think it felt nice. And then perhaps that’s another reason I didn’t want to tell Mum, because I might’ve felt guilty. As well as everything else I probably felt guilty, because I probably knew it was wrong.’
Patrice told the Commissioner that in those days, teachers were more feared than parents, which was another barrier to disclosing Paget’s abuse.
‘Teachers were like gods and they had the power. See, I didn’t get hit by my parents. I don’t think my mother was a good mother at all, but she wasn’t a violent mother. I think that you were more scared of your teachers because they could strap you and they did. I mean, they were forever hitting us.’
Patrice doesn’t know if other students were molested by Paget in this manner but does recall later during the year there was a ‘bus rebellion’.
‘Perhaps he molested one of a boy’s sisters or something, because kids never got cheeky with teachers when I was young. But this rebellion in the bus, all the kids seemed to be yelling things at him … I didn’t really know what was going on … I can’t remember what they were saying.’
A short time after the ‘bus rebellion’, Patrice’s mother told her that Paget had been removed from the school for abusing children. She expected her mother would ask if she had been molested by Paget and was prepared to disclose it. But Patrice’s mother finished the conversation without asking, and Patrice never told her. Patrice never found out what happened to Paget.
Some years later, Patrice had another teacher, Mrs Van Der Sang, a very old lady who punished the children by making the girls line up in front of the boys.
‘She’d have you stand up there, and she’d bring the ruler back and just when she’s about to whip it down (you’re facing the boys, mind you) she’d flick up your dress and hit you on the fanny … I didn’t remember it hurting, it was just the humiliation. I didn’t know about kinky things then. I was just humiliated.’
Patrice recalls this happened on more than one occasion, and she frequently witnessed Van Der Sang ‘punishing’ other girls in this manner. It was only in later years it occurred to her ‘I think she got a kinky thrill’.
Patrice did not disclose Paget or Van Der Sang’s abuse until she was in her 30s. She has never made a report to the police but strongly believes that when a perpetrator has been identified, all the children they had contact with should see a counsellor.
‘The whole class should have been asked by a counsellor, every individual child … When something happens they should have to ask all the kids individually. And if they’ve got to have a mother there then I suppose they have to. But I think they’re better off not having a mother [there] … I think to get truthfulness from children you’re better off to talk without the parents there.’