Sullivan grew up in rural Queensland, ‘a normal kid’ who would walk to the local state school.
‘Dad had a bit of an aggression problem, I suppose, in some ways. Mum put up with it ... discipline was enforced, no meant no, and the old rule of seen and not heard.’
In the mid 1980s, towards the end of primary school, Sullivan started having trouble with his eyesight. He couldn’t see the blackboard properly and often wasn’t able to follow the lessons. His teacher, Les Kroll, would then give him detention.
‘Every single day I was getting kept in. So that’s when he would sit there and he starts feeling me, and putting his hands up into your shorts and doing stuff that’s there. And you don’t know what’s going on, you know – you’re a kid.
‘And I would then get driven home, he would sit me in his car … and 'cause I was kept in after school, what would Dad do? Drag me inside, and then get the cane and whip my arse. Pull my pants down and I was caned till there was no tomorrow 'cause I had a detention. Well, I didn’t have a detention, I did nothing wrong. So who do you trust? Can’t even trust my father …
‘You go to school the next day, you have to wear long pants on a hot day because you’ve got welts all up and down your legs and stuff from getting a massive beating at home. Or you’re kept home because you can’t go to school … Who do you talk to in a small town? Where do you go?
‘Then I tried running away and I couldn’t do that. So he came running up the road, dragged me back down, basically by my legs down the road, and then whipped my arse again. So, even to this day I don’t even call him my father ‘cause I have no respect for him whatsoever anymore.’
Sullivan was sexually abused by Kroll for about six months, until the teacher left the school at the end of the year. ‘And that was the biggest relief ever …
‘I know of one other person which it happened to, ‘cause I saw it happen at the same time. I tried to get in contact with him, but he doesn’t want to have anything to do with anything.’
A year or so after the abuse stopped, Sullivan was grabbed by a man in a public toilet. He screamed; his mother came running in and managed to fight the man off.
‘And from then on, I’m thinking, “Is this normal? Is this what goes on?”’
Even after that, Sullivan wasn’t able to tell his mother about Kroll. ‘I couldn’t. She didn’t trust me beforehand, from what happened at school. Because she couldn’t speak up against Dad. What do you do? What do you do? Your own parents, they don’t believe you.
‘Even to this day, Mum still doesn’t believe me.’
Sullivan left home in his mid-teens and has been trying to ‘move on’ ever since. He’s still haunted by memories of the classroom where it happened, and has frightening flashbacks of the abuse.
‘I joined the school Facebook page. And they’ve got all these photos. And there’s a photo of Les, the first photo that pops up … My whole body just went into frozen mode. Went cold with fear, just thinking.
‘We had a school reunion, 25th anniversary … I even asked the principal on that day, who was the principal of our school at the time, if Kroll was actually there, if he’d turned up, ‘cause I was going to name and shame him. Didn’t tell anyone … but I was just going to say something in front of the whole school ‘cause I’m thinking, “I’ve got a captive audience”.
'That ex-school principal said to me, “No, he wouldn’t dare show his face here”. I went, “Oh, so you know”. He pats me on my back and he says, “Well, you’ve done well”. And I thought, “You fucking prick”: basically, “You knew all this time”.’
Sullivan has never had counselling, but he decided to come to the Royal Commission after a lot of support from his brother and close friends.
He’s not interested in compensation, and has never reported Kroll. ‘In my own head I just think that the guy will probably get away with it and nothing will happen. That’s in my mindset. But for me it’s just … get it out.’
After speaking with the Commissioner, Sullivan was considering going to the police.
‘Finally, it’s coming out now.’