From age seven, Phillip attended a boarding school run by the Freemasons. It was a harsh place where strict rules were brutally enforced.
‘Normal routine’, said Phillip, ‘is get up in the morning, make your bed. You couldn’t speak. If you spoke you got belted. Go down and have a cold shower, polish the floors by hand so you can see your faces in them. If it wasn’t up to scratch you got belted again, with belts, but with the buckle part. Shoes got chucked at you, brooms. Or hands. Whatever.’
When Phillip was 12 years old, the school matron summoned him to her office, supposedly to do some cleaning. ‘I started cleaning. She said her shoulder was sore. So – you know it’s sort of wrong but you don’t know – so I just rubbed her shoulder for her.’
Some days later Phillip was called back into the office, and this time the matron complained of cramps in her legs and asked him to rub them. A few days after that the cramp had moved to her thigh. When Phillip touched her she grabbed his hand and put it up her dress.
Afterwards, Phillip mentioned the incident to some close mates. They weren’t surprised, and told him about the matron’s habit of entering the shower block and trying to pull the towels off the boys.
This discovery confirmed Phillip’s instinct that the matron’s activities ‘just weren’t right’ and he returned to her office to confront her. But he was just a boy, and she managed to twist the situation to her favour.
‘Sort of like the guilt got put on me and she said, “I’m going to tell your mother that you did this”. I said, “I’ll tell my mum”. She said, “No, I’ll tell your mother what you did to me”. So you get back straight away and you go, “I’m not going to say a word”.’
From then on, Phillip kept quiet about the matron, and she didn’t try to abuse him again. Sadly, this didn’t mean that he was safe at the school. Around this time he was targeted by a boy in the year above him.
‘He got me in the end and he forced me to put his penis in me mouth, you know, and stuff like that. And I fought like hell.’
Because he fought back, Phillip wasn’t preyed on as much as other kids were. He tried to protect the younger ones from the boy’s attacks.
‘I used to get all the younger blokes in there and showered and get them out before he came in. Kept an eye on them. But sometimes he’d just get them. I couldn’t help it.’
Eventually Phillip gathered a group of kids together and marched down to the superintendent’s office and reported what the boy had been doing. The boy was expelled. ‘That was it. Nothing else ever happened again. It’s just out of sight, out of mind. It’s done with. Move on.’
At 14, Phillip moved to another school. But he found that he couldn’t get the abuse out of his head. Traumatised and desperate for help, he told his mother what had happened.
‘My mum said, “Didn’t happen. Don’t believe you”. So I got to a point where I felt bad … It got to me. I stuck a slug gun in my mouth, I was going to pull the trigger.’
Somehow, Phillip stopped himself. It wasn’t easy but he pushed on, finishing school and then gradually building a career that put him face-to-face with trauma survivors on a daily basis. He found that he was able to help others much better than he could help himself.
‘I’d stick up for anybody, but I can’t stick up for myself … I can do this for people but it’s virtually impossible to do it for myself. On the outside you present really cool and calm but on the inside you’re not.’
To this day Phillip is haunted by nightmares and flashbacks. He finds that the constant fear that he felt as a child has warped the way he thinks, causing him to plot and plan every moment of his life, as if the slightest slip-up could lead to catastrophe.
‘In my head I’ve learnt to have, like, three different scenarios going at once because if I do this, as a kid, this could happen. If I do that, or do this. And I’ve kept that all my life. Sometimes it can be good, sometimes it can be bad.’
The first time Phillip really spoke about the abuse was to his wife.
‘I said to my wife about what had happened to me at school. And she’s just said, “You’re just dirty. Damaged goods”. And she told my kids that. That was just being nasty, telling my kids. So that sort of puts you back down.’
The marriage ended and in the aftermath Phillip got some support from a psychologist. Feeling stronger he decided that he had to confront the school. His first step was to contact the Grand Master of the Freemasons.
‘The Grand Master was too busy to see me. So he sent me to a senior warder … I spoke to him about what had happened to me, the beatings and stuff like that, and the sexual assaults. [He said] “Yes, we’ll do something about that. Yes, yes”. And I tried to ring him back and never heard a word.’
Phillip tries to give credit to the Freemasons, acknowledging all the good they’ve done. But he sees no excuse for the dismissive way they’ve treated him and other survivors of child sexual abuse.
‘What I don’t forgive is that they turned their backs on us, didn’t believe us, wouldn’t do anything.’