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Stew's story

‘This school and others like it are not interested in anything but their own continuance.’

Stew grew up in a wealthy farming family. In the early 1970s he was sent to board at a prestigious boys’ school run by the Anglican Church in Sydney. Both his father and grandfather were alumni of the school.

‘I was constantly and continually assaulted and abused by older boys’, Stew told the Commissioner, ‘right under the nose of masters and teachers’.

The school was run along military lines, with a strong ‘pecking order’ among the boys according to age and status. Discipline was largely left to the boys; seniors were expected to hand out punishments to juniors who broke the rules. The punishments were meant to take the form of jobs or physical challenges. But with little adult supervision the hierarchy among the boys led to entrenched violence and abuse.

‘I am always moments away from this six year trauma, if that be the total failure of the system to protect me – a child – the system run by a gang of bullies, who meted out punishment with their fists and worse.’

In the first month at the school, Stew was subjected to pornography shared by the older boys, and was threatened and bashed by older students as an ‘initiation’. Stew tried complaining to a teacher: ‘I tested whether one should talk to an adult in the school only to find out that was the fucking worst thing you could do.’ No action was taken and Stew was beaten up for informing.

A few weeks after his arrival Stew walked in on an older boy, Andrew Lawson, in the dormitory. Lawson was naked on a bed, masturbating over a pornographic magazine. ‘I will never forget how shocked I was, how I could not move, how I had never seen a man’s erection, how I froze, how I freeze inside now.’

‘He got hold of me and made me wait until he had finished. And then when he’d finished he got hold of me and he said if I ever told anyone what I had just witnessed he would beat the shit out of me. That night – he beat the shit out of me.’

Walking back across the school grounds one weekend Stew was grabbed by a group of boys. They bashed him, then held him down and forced mud and sticks into his shorts and underwear. One boy put his thumb into Stew’s anus. It was after this that the boys decided to label Stew as ‘gay,’ which was seen as the worst possible thing to be labelled at the school. He was further victimised as a result.

‘I was less than a man, I was poorer as a child. I was raped before my 12th birthday by a pack of boys. I was tormented, assaulted and abused systematically with no redress, not a jot of help.’

School represents six years of torture for Stew. His schoolwork suffered and he failed academically, for which he was vilified by his teachers and his unsympathetic family. His parents refused to let him leave the school; Stew felt too ashamed to tell them what his life there was really like.

Stew took up photography so that he could lock himself in the dark room for hours to escape the torment. ‘It was my only place. There was no safe place for me at school.’ As he grew older and bigger he began to fight back. He broke bones in his hand more than once. By the time he was 15 Stew had attempted suicide – only luck saved him. After that day he endured two more years of school before he walked free one November afternoon. His parents were not there to pick him up.

Stew’s life has been blighted by his school experience.
‘I have spent hours and hours over the last 40 year or more in doctors’ offices, therapists of all kinds. I joined a cult, I was addicted to drugs, I was a drunk. I abused people.’

Stew has had serious ongoing mental health issues. He has needed help from psychiatrists and psychologists, and in recent years has relied heavily on his second wife. ‘My wife is the strongest thing in my life. I have her, and her father, who took me in … he saw in me a man who was a victim of war, a fellow sufferer of PTSD.’

Stew believes not much has changed over the years at his old school. ‘This school is a law unto itself … It may well behave like most of these major institutions and be a little sorry for what happened. “But that was a long time ago and some of these people should just grow up and get on with it.” That’s the take home message.’

When the Royal Commission began, Stew left Australia. The revelations in the media around schools and child abuse were triggering his depression. But eventually he decided he had to return and tell his story.

‘This is part of trying to stop a whole lot of generational abuse. If my father couldn’t talk about it and his father couldn’t talk about it, there has to be a point where someone has to fucking talk about it.’

‘The only way it’s going to happen is people like me doing stuff like this.’

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