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Philip John's story

‘I was running around with a smile on my face all the time. I was completely oblivious to the outside world in a sense. I was just involved in what I was doing as a kid and enjoying myself. My parents, obviously coming from a generation before us, had suffered different things that we hadn’t and hardships and whatnot, and they wanted, particularly myself, to have a really good education.’

Philip’s first two years at a Uniting Church primary boys’ school in Sydney in the mid-1980s were happy. He made friends easily and was involved in sport and various other activities in the school. He recalled teachers as being ‘touchy-feely’ – tucking boys’ shirts in, pulling their socks up for them and playing lots of physical games.

During a conversation in a school office one day, teacher Norm Hunter put his hand on Philip’s leg. The action seemed in keeping with other teacher behaviour and Philip ‘didn’t think much of it’. However after being called into Hunter’s office and this happening three or four more times, Hunter one day put his hand down Philip’s pants and started rubbing his penis. Philip got a spontaneous erection, ‘knew that something wasn’t right’, and ran from the room.

Thereafter he tried to avoid Hunter, but the teacher ‘had a knack of finding people if he wanted to’. After again being accosted by Hunter, Philip one day went to the vice-principal and told him, ‘Mr Hunter touches me funny and I don’t like it’.

‘I don’t know, looking back on it now whether he took that in the wrong context, because he basically shrugged it off and said, “Look, he is just funny. Don’t worry about it”. And there were those words, “Don’t worry about it”, and I turned around. I didn’t want to backchat him and get in trouble …

‘I walked out of his office with my stomach in my mouth and I didn’t know what to do then. I just felt empty. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t say anything to Mum and Dad. I felt there was no way I was going to be able to tell any of the other teachers. You know, if the top person didn’t want to know about it then why would anyone else?’

About six months after his disclosure, Philip was sent to the vice-principal’s office for a minor disciplinary matter and received a severe beating with the cane. When his parents saw the bruises they requested a meeting and complained about the excessive corporal punishment. The vice-principal dismissed their complaint and told them not to tell him how to do his job.

Philip said he became ‘a bit of a loner’ afterwards. ‘I’d see all the other kids laughing and playing and carrying on and I didn’t know how or why I wasn’t fitting in.’

He started being bullied and this ‘got quite bad’. The culture of the school seemed to allow it and Philip doesn’t understand now how the teachers – ‘just a big band of bullies’ themselves – stood by and ignored it.

Philip began to ‘just turn up for appearance’ at school. He started drinking alcohol at 11 and by secondary school he was smoking marijuana, and seen as a troubled and difficult student. No one ever really spoke to him about what was going on.

‘They had counsellors there, they had a nursing post, there were form teachers, you had a school house where you did sports, and you had housemasters there, you had year masters, and no one ever asked me what was wrong.’

He started ‘questioning and doubting’ himself and came to the conclusion because he wasn’t ‘strong enough to stop the bullying’ that ‘yes, I am the problem’.

After leaving school he got an apprenticeship and increasingly distanced himself from his family. He sought work interstate because he didn’t want to be in the vicinity of the school, and when colleagues or work situations brought up feelings associated with the abuse and bullying he’d move on.

In the late 2000s Philip heard media reports of sexual abuse at his old school. He was driving at the time and had to pull over to the side of the road. He soon visited a police station to make a report about Hunter but, when he sat down with a detective, he had a panic attack and couldn’t go through with it.

In the mid-2010s he became aware of the work of the Royal Commission and disclosed the abuse to his father who was ‘furious’, but believed him immediately and asked what he could do to help.

‘Having distanced myself from my family so much I felt like I’d sort of missed out on having a reasonable relationship with anyone in my family’, Philip said.

In preceding decades Philip had had several episodes of panic attacks, severe depression and he’d been treated for suicidal ideation. Even though he’d seen counsellors he’d never told them about the abuse. One meeting had taken place in an office where Philip felt the association with the location of the abuse was so strong that he’d barely been able to speak.

Philip told the Commissioner he was considering revisiting NSW Police to make a formal statement. He’d recently spoken to a legal representative about taking action against the school and he was thinking of going to group counselling through a specialist organisation he’d heard of.

‘I realise now I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t have to be embarrassed about it. To speak to peers and they don’t necessarily have to come from [the school]. I’d probably prefer they didn’t actually, but to speak to other people around my age group who have gone through the same thing and realise that I can stand on my own two feet and be proud of who I am, and not feel scared or in fear of anything coming of it.’

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