Roland Devere had a heart weakness, and if Tennille didn’t visit him every weekend he would die. Or at least, this is what he told the young theatre student, so that she would keep coming back to see him. When Devere declared that ‘he was in love’ with Tennille, she believed him. Tennille stated that, in a way, ‘I felt really lucky that I had this relationship with him’.
It was the early 1980s, and Devere was the well-known founder of the youth-based theatre company nine-year-old Tennille had recently joined. Tennille became close to Devere during her time there. He took on a kind of ‘father figure’ role, and would encourage her dream of becoming a director. Sometimes he would touch and stroke her hair, which she found annoying, or get her to come into his office to read a poem. While they were alone, he would get her lie down on the couch. Then he would lie on top of her, press his penis into her body, ‘and just hold me or whatever’.
At the time, Tennille ‘was just quite bewildered by the whole thing’. Although she ‘was quite knowledgeable about sex by that age, I knew what it was’, she ‘just kind of accepted it. I don’t even really know why I did ... I just didn’t really feel anything’.
Devere didn’t appear worried that Tennille would tell anyone about what he did to her. He told her the story of Medusa (in one version, Medusa’s monstrous appearance is portrayed as her ‘punishment’ for reporting that she had been raped), and she suspects this was meant to illustrate the consequences of disclosing abuse. ‘That’s how I interpreted it – it was a bad thing to talk about the truth ... It was quite oblique.’
There were other adults around, including a woman she trusted very much. Still, she did not speak about what Devere was doing, which she now considers ‘a reflection of the manipulation’. The abuse continued until she was around 12, after which she did not associate much with the company. Initially, she felt guilty that Devere might die if she did not see him regularly. As she got older she realised that this was not the case, and that ‘something wrong had occurred’.
When Tennille was in her late teens she came back to work on a production with the company. ‘I guess I felt a bit a lost. I felt like I hated myself for going back there, but I felt I had to try and find my creative identity, and that was kind of where it started’. She was angry and aggressive towards Devere, ‘I’d built up a certain amount of resentment in me, and I showed that to him. He didn’t even really seem scared that I would tell anybody’.
After this, Tennille continued to pursue creative work. ‘I tried to reconnect with my theatre interests a little bit, just for my own sake really ... I thought, why should I sacrifice that for him?’ Devere died a short while later, and Tennille disclosed the abuse to her mother, then to various friends who had been involved with the company. One of these friends replied that she had been abused by Devere too, and this surprised Tennille.
‘I guess [it’s] the egocentricity of children – it never really occurred to me that he’d be doing it to anyone else’. Another friend simply dismissed her experiences, saying ‘oh well, that’s what you get with geniuses’.
Tennille ‘was incredibly determined to overcome what had happened to me’. In relationships, ‘I tried to have my power relations sorted out’, and she made a conscious decision not to ever date older men. She told the Royal Commission ‘however much I tried’ she has had problems relating to others, and has not been able to sustain a long-term romantic relationship. Because of this, she did not have a family, and feels guilty for not giving her mum and dad the chance to be grandparents.
The abuse has also caused struggles in her professional life. Many of the characteristics she requires to succeed are also ones which Devere displayed, and she is uncomfortable acting like him in any way. ‘Being a young person who was really interested in the world, I identified with those qualities of being dominant, decisive, following your vision. I actually turned that around, and went the complete opposite ... You try to become the opposite of what the perpetrator is. And in the process of that, I’ve really struggled with developing my creativity, and developing my career ... I’m finding it easier as time goes on.’
Living with anxiety and an obsessive compulsive disorder, Tennille would become distressed if she saw men showing affection towards children. For a while she had trouble with alcohol, and has now been sober for many years with the assistance of Alcoholics Anonymous. She engages with ‘mind-body techniques’ such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation, and tries to eat well.
Tennille has also had support from a variety of therapists, and has consciously developed a mindset of not being a victim. Still, dealing with the impacts of the abuse is an ongoing process. ‘You know, that horrible thing where you are trying so hard in a situation to overcome things that have happened in your past, to deal with the reality of now, and there’s all this backlog of emotion in you.’