‘He didn’t actually do anything sexual but I know that he wanted to. And I know that I was very close.’
Sonia grew up in a loving family in Adelaide where she attended the local state school. ‘I would have been keen at school – you know, wanting to do well.’ When she was 11 years old completing her final year of primary school in the mid-1980s, her class teacher was Mr Mackie. Mackie was 48 years old, married and had daughters of his own, one of whom was not much older than Sonia.
Sonia and her classmates found Mackie ‘creepy’, and noted an unusual affectation he had. ‘He did have a strange habit, which I don’t know how he got away with. In front of the whole class he would sit with his hand inside his trousers, like against his stomach but almost heading there while he was teaching us. Hour upon hours, like a habit of just sitting there like that.’
Mackie’s teaching methods were also unusual and frequently called into question by the parents of Sonia’s classmates.
‘Other parents were often concerned about his methods of teaching and his sort of philosophy. He was pretty off-beat … And there were definitely complaints made about that.’
Mackie took a shine to Sonia and made sure to give her favourable treatment in lessons, which the other students noticed. ‘I felt special and singled out most definitely.’
Sonia’s parents became socially involved with Mackie, and often defended him to the other parents. ‘He befriended my parents … Mum was friendly, going ‘round to his house for cups of tea and they would have dinner parties and things, and make me go.’ Mackie also had a habit of phoning their home at night to speak with Sonia.
‘The only time he got close to groping or whatever, was like a pool party that he’d organised when I had tiny, weeny little baby breasts and he was sort of lifting me up from behind. I could tell he was actually having a bit of a go but trying to pretend he wasn’t. So I pretended I didn’t notice.’
One of Mackie’s teaching methods involved getting students to write in a journal each night and hand it to him in the morning. During the day he would write feedback in the journal and return it to students to take home with them. Through this medium, Mackie started writing affectionate notes in Sonia’s journal. Mackie would write that he loved her even more than he loved his wife and children.
Eventually Sonia ‘got concerned’ about Mackie and ‘wasn’t tolerating as much of his behaviour’. Mackie’s notes in Sonia’s journal became more persistent until he finally wrote a love story about a teacher’s desire to ‘hold and touch’ the young object of his affection, and the tragedy that he could not. Sonia deliberately left the journal in her school bag, which her mother found and questioned her about.
‘She found this note and read it and said “Sonia, what is this?” And I was very uncomfortable about talking about it, but I told her a bit, but not everything. Enough for her to be concerned, I suppose. But also not betraying what I considered to be the confidence that I had, ‘cause I had been told not to tell.’
Sonia’s mother visited the school to confront Mackie about the note but the matter did not progress any further. ‘I think it only went as far as that, I don’t think she spoke to the principal or anything like that. She also didn’t speak to my dad.’ Eventually Sonia was able to sever ties with Mackie when she left primary school for high school. Her parents continued to socialise with Mackie but this eventually ‘petered out’.
Approximately 10 years after leaving primary school, Sonia began to have difficulties with her romantic relationships. ‘I was still very keen on intimacy and things like that, to the point of probably being a bit promiscuous really. And maybe I would rush into things for wanting approval ... I definitely had trouble having a proper long-term relationship.’ She began to experience nausea and when the doctors could not find a physical cause, she sought therapy.
‘So I went to see someone … I was keen on doing hypnotherapy … So he taught me how to do the relaxed state thing and then “When did you first have this feeling?” And it went straight back to the time when [Mackie] kind of went a bit crazy at school and I got scared.’ Sonia has since worked through these issues and now is in a happy long-term relationship.
Sonia never reported Mackie because she cannot cite an incident where he physically molested her. ‘Nothing actually happened sexually with him. But I have always wanted to find some way of protecting others … It just upset me so much.’ Recently she searched his name online and found a social media profile that suggested he is still teaching as well as providing one-on-one tutoring.
‘He’s probably still in situations where this could be happening ... I suppose I’m carrying all this stuff around still, wondering if it’s of any use to anybody.’