Rhonda hadn’t long moved with her family to Australia when she put her hand up for the free music lessons being offered by the South Australian Education Department through her school. She’d already been teased because of her accent and ‘had a lot of stress around wanting to fit in with other kids and always feeling different and a bit isolated’, so joining the orchestra seemed like a good opportunity to participate in something she liked.
Having excelled through the local group, it was suggested by Rhonda’s teacher that she join the senior, larger orchestra. She started going to rehearsals and loved it, particularly because the conductor, Mr Clayton, was personable, charming and had a wealth of knowledge about composers and music.
On a music camp in the mid-1970s, Rhonda was walking back from the shop when a group of teachers, including Clayton stopped to offer her a lift. ‘I thought, there’s not really any room. He said, “Come on, you can sit on my lap” … So the next thing, I’m sitting on my conductor’s lap in this truck and thinking, this is weird. It sort of felt nice because sitting on someone’s lap is nice, but it just felt strange. I suppose it really wasn’t a normal thing to happen, but I was quite a naive child about sex and so on.’
A year or so later, the orchestra had an end-of-year party. Rhonda had arranged to stay at the nearby home of a friend and Clayton offered to give her a lift. When they got to the house, Clayton started kissing her. ‘I was really, really surprised. Now, I think at that point it must have like got very confusing about this virtual rock star man who we all loved and trusted so much and that he actually seemed to like me or notice me, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to happen and I think I did what you kind of did with boys in those days, which was if you didn’t want to have intercourse with them, you could sort of offer oral sex, which was supposed to be less – and it still is to this day, I think, and it is really sad that girls kind of get told, “You’ve got to give them something”.’
Years later, a counsellor encouraged Rhonda to consider Clayton’s behaviour as abuse and a serious breach of trust. Before that, Rhonda hadn’t disclosed it to anyone, and she realised looking back how much her behaviour had changed. ‘I seemed to go from being a high-achieving golden kid to just [an] emotional, crazy, angry person.' Whenever she’d been with someone who wanted to have sex, she thought she should comply whether she wanted to or not.
Rhonda told the Commissioner the counsellor dissuaded her from reporting the matter to police because it would be a difficult process. ‘She said, “I really think you should think carefully because I have known lots of clients who have had terrible treatment by trying to take these things through court and it is very stressful and they’ll pull out your sexual history and they’ll do this and they’ll do that and it can be really awful”. It’s probably not particularly good advice, but then I guess she’s seen – the people that come to her are the people who are desperate and their lives have fallen apart.'
Rhonda said she had left school early but returned years later to finish and then completed a Bachelor’s degree at university. In the intervening decades she’d had a transient lifestyle and worked in numerous jobs while raising three children within supportive long-term relationships.
At various times, Rhonda noticed that she sabotaged creative opportunities because she distrusted, seemingly without reason, the men around her. She’d become friendly with a woman in the United States whose husband was a producer and he’d told Rhonda that she had ‘a good ear’. He offered to teach her sound engineering, but she ‘felt paralysed and confused’ and didn’t follow up the offer. ‘I just can’t believe that I threw that opportunity away’, she said.
One day, Rhonda approached her first music teacher after seeing him play in a concert. She disclosed Clayton’s abuse and the teacher nodded and recounted that Clayton had had ‘an affair’ with a young girl and separated from his wife. ‘There was a sense that he was all washed up and it had ruined his life’, Rhonda said. The teacher didn’t suggest that she report Clayton’s behaviour to the police or education authorities.
At the concert, Rhonda said she’d seen ‘this wonderful world that I’d never taken part in that I probably could have if I’d kept on with music’. She felt saddened when she saw the accomplishments of her siblings in their music careers. ‘They’ve just built a whole life around it and they’re not on welfare, or anything like that, yeah.’