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Stewart John's story

In the late 1970s, Stewart moved from his state high school to begin Year 10 at a prestigious Anglican school in Brisbane. He was enrolled as a boarder, following in the footsteps of his older brother and other family members before him. Three years after starting, he completed Year 12 at the school.

Stewart was excited to be in his new environment, but found it ‘somewhat daunting’, he said. ‘It was well out of my comfort zone.’

He wasn’t bookish; he much preferred sport and outdoor activities. He described himself as a very poor student and ‘not meeting his potential’ was the common theme of his school reports.

He also got a tough time from some of the housemasters. So when his father contacted him to tell him he was remarrying – he’d separated from Stewart’s mum some years before – it all added up to enough stress to make Stewart feel he needed some support. In his second year at the school he sought out the help of the school counsellor, Hector Martindale.

‘It was somewhere to go and get a sympathetic ear … but also – look, I knew I wasn’t very good academically, not very good at studying … I was sort of looking for help about how I might be able to meet the requirements that were being asked of me there as well.’

Martindale didn’t just listen sympathetically. He also hypnotised Stewart, and sexually assaulted him. Stewart doesn’t know exactly what happened. ‘The nature of the abuse … I don’t know. I know I’d come out of hypnosis with my strides round my ankles. The extent of what happened to me? I couldn’t put my hand on the Bible and tell you.’

Nor did he know exactly how often he was abused. ‘But it was regular enough and it was often enough.’

Stewart was in his 50s when he spoke to the Commissioner. His working life had been largely in rural industries, living in some remote parts of Australia. He’d had a 20 year marriage, and several children, adults now, and he got on with them. His partner, Roberta, had become the second person he disclosed his abuse to, just several years earlier.

The first was another ex-student of the school, Peter Wilkins, who’d also been sexually abused by Martindale. Wilkins was seeking compensation for what had happened to him. In a conversation with Stewart, Wilkins reported what he’d been told by the school’s principal: that probably Martindale had abused other students, yet to come forward.

‘I said, “Yeah, I’m one of them”’, Stewart recalled. ‘It was one of those moments where you just think, "Shit, I’ve said it". It’s a weight off your shoulders but also, like, scratch the sore again.’

Martindale was later charged over sexual offences against students at Stewart’s and other schools. He took his own life before he went to trial. Stewart eventually took legal advice and decided to take action against the school. He was motived in part by his belief that the principal at the time was well aware that Martindale was sexually assaulting students.

‘I’ll put it on the record: I have no doubt that [he] knew what was going on. No doubt at all … It all happened under his watch. Well, sorry – he did it too … He not only enabled it, he by default supported it.’

After a process that took some years, Stewart received a $30,000 payment. ‘I don’t feel that pleased’, he told the Commissioner. He felt the school had handled the case as a commercial matter, not a personal one. His account of what Martindale had done to him was never questioned by the school, but no one was interested in the impact of the abuse. ‘I was never asked, to be honest.’

One positive experience was seeing a therapist, recommended by and paid for by the school. ‘They offered it, I said, “I don’t think I need it”, they turned round and said “Well, we encourage you to” so I said, “All right then, I will”. And I thank them for that. It was a good session.’ It was the first time he’d seen a therapist or counsellor since meeting with Martindale, all those years before.

‘Getting the opportunity I guess to talk … that’s been the biggest circuit breaker.’

Stewart told the Commissioner that it’s difficult to identify the consequences of Martindale’s abuse.

‘The impact I find quite hard to describe or answer – purely because … you got no base level to judge it against. So what would I have been like if it hadn’t happened? I’ve got no idea – never will know. Now whether that’s stolen something off me or whether it has or hasn’t, who knows?'

‘It is one of those things – it’s a thing that’s sort of like someone tapping you in the back of the head with a finger for thirty odd years. One little tap doesn’t hurt but thirty thousand of them do, on the same spot.’

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