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Rowan James's story

The teachers at his state high school in Tasmania were a real mix, Rowan told the Commission. Some of the younger teachers encouraged the kids to call them by their first names, which was unusual back in the 1970s. But some of the older teachers were embittered, burnt out and took their frustration out on the kids.

Mr Alan Richmond in particular had a black cloud hanging over him and was dogged by rumours. He didn’t teach Rowan, but Rowan could see for himself that he was explosive, irritable and according to rumour ‘a bit dodgy’. The gossip was that Richmond ‘liked a bit of boy’ and that something bizarre happened at his last posting, a Catholic school, that meant he was bustled out of there quick smart.

The best policy was to avoid Richmond but unluckily, when Rowan was 14, Richmond caught him peeping through a hole in the wall into another classroom. He grabbed Rowan, pushed him up against a wall and screamed at him. He then dragged him into the classroom he’d been looking into and yelled, ‘I’ve just caught this ape looking through the doors at you’.

He hit Rowan’s buttocks five times, each time grabbing them harshly. On the last whack, he pushed his fingers up into Rowan’s rectum.

‘I think the children were so busy amongst themselves – they saw me getting whacked but they didn’t see what he did at the end of it.’

Rowan didn’t feel he could tell anyone, even any of the friendly new wave of teachers. They were a tightly knit bunch. ‘I couldn’t confide in them. I didn’t know what sort of reaction I’d get. And I couldn’t talk about it.’ Most of the teachers were females and that made it hard as well.

Nor did Rowan tell his own parents, who had their own problems after bushfires had sent their business to the wall. He did tell his doctor, who he saw quite regularly, for sports injuries. But his doctor simply said, ‘that’s what happens’.

So it was up to Rowan to find his own way of surviving Richmond’s abuse and bouncing back. He did three things: he avoided Richmond ‘like the plague’; he lost himself in music – ‘I just sank myself into music … It was my medicine at the time’; and he read voraciously.

He became very wary of other teachers as well, including one called Hanson, who was infamous for preying on male students. Hanson was also bad-tempered and irrational and once punished Rowan with lunchtime and recess detention for an entire year.

In the end, Rowan’s coping mechanisms didn’t succeed completely and he left school at 15.

‘I just couldn’t get on with it somehow. It made me very disillusioned with the system and I regret now not having further education but I just couldn’t wait to get out.’

Rowan’s carried the memory of Richmond’s abuse all his life and in the years following high school he started to suffer from depression and anxiety. He’s now seeing a good psychologist.

Rowan recommended that all schools have a trustworthy counsellor, specifically one who’s not aligned with the teachers. If he’d had that at school, he said, it may have helped him disclose the abuse when it happened.

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