As a young girl in the 1950s, Stella attended a Catholic school in a South Australian suburb. The nuns would regularly take Stella and her class to the library.
After the children made their selections, the librarian, Reginald Drummond, would issue their books. The students would often be seated next to him as he completed this task. Drummond was in his 70s, and Stella remembers him as a ‘kindly, elderly man’ and ‘a fatherly type figure’. His work station was obscured by shelving, and not really visible to passers-by.
One day when she was 10, Stella was sitting next to Drummond. ‘In a relatively short period of time I became aware that his hand had gone under my school uniform and up into my pants. I can’t remember truly was I reacted at the time. I felt discomfort.
'Being a child at a Catholic school who were brought up with no sex education at all – sex was just a dirty undesirable thing to propagate the species as far as the nuns were concerned – I didn’t relate it to anything sexual. But it made me feel uncomfortable.’
She did not say anything to Drummond, or tell the nuns from the school what he had done. When she went home that afternoon, she disclosed this incident to her mother. ‘Being the good, fairly prim and proper woman that she was, of course she was just horrified ... From that point on, Mum must have rung the school or the police.’
Three police, included a woman, came out to interview Stella. She was not greatly involved in any legal processes after this, and ‘my life went on relatively normally. I went to school, nobody said anything to me’.
Stella felt, however, that the abuse she had experienced was a great burden on her mother. ‘My mum clearly suffered a deep sense of shame of even being associated with such a matter, and I can clearly remember her walking down the street with her head bowed.’
Drummond was charged with the indecent assault of a schoolgirl which Stella believes was her (the victim was unnamed in court documents). He entered a guilty plea. However, the case did not go to court as he took his life shortly before the hearing was to begin.
Stella felt in some part responsible for Drummond’s death. ‘I suppose I’ll always feel some guilt, that I did something that made another person take their life’.
Drummond’s suicide also raises further questions for her. ‘Can you say he suffered the ultimate thing by taking his life, or can you look at it the other way, as he escaped any public humiliation, he escaped any other normal day to day result of doing such a thing?’
Stella does not know if Drummond had sexually abused children before, but hopes that her early disclosure, and her parents’ prompt action in reporting it, may have prevented him from offending against others.
‘Just educating children at a young age to be upfront with their mums and dads ... at least if someone goes home straight away and tells their parent … that stops it from that point in time. That just cuts it off.’
The matter was not discussed with her again by her family, and she believes that the school considered itself to be ‘off the hook’ after Drummond’s death. There was no counselling offered, and she was never contacted by the library where the abuse occurred. As a result, she feels that she has never had proper closure regarding this incident.
Stella experienced a number of ongoing negative impacts from this abuse. She has suffered depression, struggled with her weight (before developing a love of exercise in her 40s), and the abuse diminished her capacity for sexual enjoyment as an adult. She was not aware she may still be able to apply for compensation, and will consider whether this is something she wishes to pursue.
Stella went on to have a varied and rewarding professional career, raise a family, and is soon to celebrate her golden wedding anniversary. ‘I really count my blessings with that, and in spite of this sort of incident, I would say I’ve had a wonderful life.’