Ramsay grew up in Tasmania in the 1940s with his sister and very busy parents. His father was a prominent member of the community and his mother had her own career so they were often away from the family home.
When he was eight, Ramsay was sent to board at the Anglican school his father had also attended. He described it as ‘an ugly stone prison’, with no heating and harsh conditions.
‘The physical abuse started from when you started school. Tasmania was more like England than England was. There was class separation and things like that. And the school had the old Etonian institution of fagging. And that’s where a lot of it started, because we were bullied and it was accepted practice. It was the old boys’ tradition.’
Fagging is a practice in British boarding schools where junior boys are forced to act as personal servants to senior boys.
‘I went to my father and complained about this and he turned around and said “Oh, it’ll make a man of you”.’
Ramsay found being a boarder very hard, from the lack of freedom of movement compared to the day boys, to the restricted access to girls. Over time he became a bit of loner.
‘That was probably another problem I had because people don’t like associating with sons of [people] who are well known around the streets. Everyone knows your face. And if they see you doing something it goes straight back to your parents or someone … Being a loner makes you very susceptible to this sort of approach by these sort of people. You’re vulnerable, you’ve been bullied, you’re fagging.’
Ramsay was targeted by one of the teachers at the school, Mr Hardgreave, when he was 16. He said kids knew nothing of the idea of sexual abuse in those days and were taught to trust and respect their teachers.
‘He gradually sought to be friendly with me. He did boarding house duties. He used to take me for a drive on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday afternoon, and we’d go up into the bush.’
Hardgreave would abuse Ramsay on each of these occasions, until one day he pushed things too far and Ramsay fought back.
‘I got really angry with him. I just didn’t want to be raped. That was the point where I said this is enough. ’Cause I had already said to my father about it and he said the same thing, he said “Make a man of you”. So that’s when I said it’s no good reporting it to anyone. It’s no good going anywhere.'
‘That put-down was probably as bad as anything. That really broke my spirit. Because you knew then that there was nothing you could do about it.’
Ramsay never raised it with his father again, and did not report it to the school. Hardgreave left him alone then and Ramsay finished Year 12 without further incidents.
He said of his father’s response: ‘It might’ve been too hard for him to handle. He mightn’t have known what to do. But it was more likely that the bad publicity could affect the school. It was the old thing, you know, there was a lot of building work done by parents, paid for by parents.'
‘It was my belief in myself that was ruined. I still don’t trust people. I don’t trust men. I didn’t have any faith in myself and I couldn’t relate with other people, even with my own age … That really, really ruined my life. I couldn’t handle being around people. You think they know and they’re looking at you. And thinking you’re strange, you’re weird. It just destroys everything.’
He worked in Hobart for a year then got a job on mainland Australia and moved away. He immersed himself in work and hobbies and led a fairly quiet life. He married and had children, but the relationship didn’t last.
Ramsay didn’t disclose to anybody else until the mid-2010s when a friend of his was going through her own sexual abuse court case. He said it felt good to be able to sit down with someone and talk about it. He then told a cousin back in Tasmania, who advised him to report to the school. He did so and they put him in touch with some counsellors but offered nothing else.
He said he does get angry sometimes, when he thinks about it. But he gets through by playing music that reminds him of his early teenage years, which helps him think about the good times in his life and block out the bad.
‘It’s always there. But I’ve never let it destroy me completely. I often go back and think “What if?” … But I haven’t let it get me down. I think it’d be fairly easy to let it take over. It’ll never go away.’
He said if bullying can be stopped in schools, children would be less vulnerable as targets for sexual abuse. And if there were easy and safe places to report, that would stop children from feeling guilty when sexual abuse happens to them.
As for what happened to him, he has no interest in taking it any further through police or lawyers.
‘I’ve never really thought about compensation. And 50 years is too long for an apology. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s going to be some letter on school letterhead, blah blah blah. The real reason I came here is to try and help so we can talk about how it doesn’t happen again. That’s the important thing – that it really doesn’t happen again.’