Rowland’s parent used to argue a lot when he was young, mostly over money. He remembers his dad as not being good at communicating, and his mum being ‘hysterical’ at times.
Mostly, Rowland lived in an atmosphere of fear at home, although there were some happy times too. The family had a farm, and he enjoyed working with his father, driving a tractor and chopping wood.
Rowland was popular at his state high school in regional New South Wales, excelling at sports and playing in a band. It was the late 1960s, and ‘the pop culture at the time was all about let it go, let it all hang out – it was promiscuous’.
When Rowland was in fourth form, his science teacher, Ian Neville, organised for a group of students to go on a working bee together. The students were to help renovate some beach cabins Neville’s wife owned, to raise money for the school. Neville later asked Rowland down to the cabins on his own, and sexually abused him there.
‘On a subsequent occasion, I’d been invited down by myself. … He was washing up, and I was drying the dishes. And we just happened to rub against each other, at the hip level, side to side. And then the talk just gravitated towards what he used to do at uni, what he called lying with fellow students. ...
‘I was young, impressionable, highly sexualised, charged. And I just fell into some sort of an entrapment by him that night, and a few subsequent nights.’
Rowland thought of himself as being in a relationship with Neville. ‘He used to make me feel special in some ways, like he waited on me hand and foot at meal times. And he gave me the car to use.’ The sexual activity always happened in the cabins, never at the school or elsewhere.
When Rowland was 17, his family moved out of the area, and he moved to a different school. Neville pursued him, finding out where he was living, and the abuse continued. It finally ended after Rowland became ill the next year, losing contact with Neville.
Sometime later, Rowland ran into Neville and his wife in the street. ‘He told me that they’d just had a new child, and they were naming him Rowland. I didn’t know quite what to make of that.’
Rowland began drinking heavily. He was very angry, and looked for fights on the streets. Even now, ‘I find it sometimes hard to trust men that I form relationships with. ... I’m always on my guard’. For a while he was homeless, then lived in a caravan park.
He married his first wife, and had children. In his 20s, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his symptoms left him ‘virtually useless’ to assume his usual family responsibilities. His marriage ended, and he eventually quit his job too.
He spent time in a psychiatric unit, participated in mental health research, and worked as a consumer representative for a schizophrenia organisation. Medication helps him to keep in control of his mental health.
Sometimes he experiences auditory hallucinations which relate to the abuse by Neville. He is linked in with a male sexual assault counsellor to help him manage ‘those features of the illness that seem to be related to sexual abuse’.
Rowland disclosed the abuse to his first wife a long time ago, but did not tell anyone else until quite recently. ‘I was feeling guilt, because of what I’d done. ... At the time, I was struggling to come to terms with being a Christian.’ He spoke to his local minister about the abuse.
Although Rowland met Neville the context of the high school, Neville was also a Sunday school teacher in the Anglican Church. The Anglican Professional Standards Unit became involved, and arranged for Rowland to meet with Neville in person.
During this interaction Neville admitted guilt, and apologised for the abuse. Rowland felt Neville ‘was a bit of a slimeball’, and ‘didn’t seem penitent’. ‘I thought it was the right thing to do, to forgive him, from what I’d read in the Scriptures. ... What I really wanted to do was pick him up by the scruff of the neck.’
Rowland has not contacted the school to seek compensation. He received a financial settlement from Neville, after agreeing not to report the abuse to police, and signing a confidentiality agreement. He has since sought further legal advice, and is considering his option to make a police statement about the matter.
Rowland is largely distant from his adult children, but has a good and supportive relationship with his wife, Elaine. They share a strong Christian faith – and it is this faith which has prevented Rowland from serious self-harm and suicide. ‘When I go down to the pits of despair, it’s Christ that pulls me out. Or the love and care that he shows through other people.’