‘So I’m here as a serial whistleblower, and I’m also an expert on what doesn’t happen.’
Teena is an educated and qualified professional who was a ‘precocious’ boy at an Anglican boys’ school in New South Wales in the 1970s before identifying as transgendered.
Her parents had fostered children who had been sexually abused, so from a young age Teena recognised behaviour from such children.
From Year 8, Teena became aware of teachers who ‘fancied little boys’, and during her high school years, she heard repeated rumours involving several masters of subjects, including the headmaster, Phillip Fotheringham.
Teena began learning an instrument from Neil Simpson who judged her to be very talented. Whenever she caught the early bus, she would break into a room early in the morning to practise for several hours. One morning, when she couldn’t enter the room, she tried to attract Simpson’s attention until he threw her the keys from his residence on the school premises.
‘While I was doing this, a Year 7 boy who was a boarder came down the back stairs. He had obviously been asleep and he had only just put his clothes back on.’
Despite needing his tutelage for her later music studies, Teena said that ‘I never spoke to Neil Simpson again’. This action resulted in her ‘career [being] completely changed’.
Teena did not think Fotheringham, given a variety of rumours she had heard, would be receptive to her concerns about Simpson. She was aware of his views on Hamlet’s sexual inclination towards his mother, and had heard that for him sex was not for recreational purposes, only for procreation.
‘Friends of mine who were boarding house monitors were moving the times of the showers of the Year 7 kids because Fotheringham would take a chair and sit in the middle of the communal showers and perv.’
Teena said another senior teacher began collecting statutory declarations from parents, boys and teachers about perceived misconduct at the school, some of which had led to boys running away and also attempting suicide. The teacher also approached the school board but the board later ‘sanctioned his sacking’ not long before the Higher School Certificate exams one year.
‘There was a culture of intimidation and a culture of silence.’
Teena is not sure whether the police were informed at the time when the parents of a number of boys, and several others who had banded together, had no evidence against the headmaster. Their concerns were nonetheless legitimate because ‘his discussions were inappropriate, he was raising topics that shouldn’t be raised … then it got more and more serious’.
‘Bad things happened to every one of them’, Teena said. Ramifications to members of the group, she said, included abusive phone calls at night, business dropping off, ‘victimisation’ at the school, and a psychiatric disorder for one parent.
Her own father approached a bishop but ‘got nowhere with him’.
Even a senior politician who was approached told the group that ‘nobody takes on the Anglican Church over headmasters and little boys. They would not survive. I’d love to help but there’s nothing I can do’.
Whistleblowing in relation to child abuse, both at the school and in relation to another serious matter involving the Church, ruined their lives, Teena said.
‘In both cases … the bishops hung us out to dry. With the school affair whichever bishop was in charge of that area didn’t want to know about it.’
Later, Teena said she heard through a bishop that Simpson got ‘caught out’ for sexual offences against children and was forced out of the school, but he doesn’t know when. Fotheringham retired.
In Teena’s long experience of whistleblowing in a variety of situations there might be ‘one in 30, one in 100 – that’s the people that you [have] to go to [who] actually want to hear what you’ve got to say’.
‘So all of my efforts and that of other whistleblowers and the legislative changes, changes in policy and procedures that arise from this Royal Commission will be of limited use unless every jurisdiction in Australia changes how it treats whistleblowers.
‘They’ve not only got to change the legislation but they’ve got to make it imperative on the statutory office holders … The public interest disclosures do not make it imperative on any statutory office holder to protect a whistleblower. It is [only] an option.
‘Nobody has been prosecuted in Australia’, and ‘it gets back to … the culture of you don’t dob’, said Teena. Another problem was the existing legislation under which it is an offence to ‘out’ whistleblowers in order to restore their reputations once they have already been ‘persecuted, vilified, hung out to dry’.
The whistleblowers have no protection’, she said, ‘so you kill the messenger’.
‘That’s the reason I’m here’, said Teena.