‘Oh God, he so was a Rolf Harris kind of character, except that we were not casual things, we were his collection.’
In the late 60s, when Teri was around 11 years old, she started attending a children’s drama school run by Rod Corkry. ‘He was very charismatic … Very talented, very intelligent. We were all in his sway.’
Corkry soon invited Teri to come in for one-on-one acting lessons.
‘It was all pretty straightforward sort of exercises, and I thought it made a lot of sense to me and I learned a great deal from it.
‘And I came from a family … where it wasn’t a big issue to be nude. It wasn’t a big issue to go skinny dipping up in the bush, so I didn’t think anything of it when I started being asked to do my exercises with my clothes off … It was all about freeing yourself, you know, and being comfortable in your body ...
‘And he would just keep talking to me, and it was all so soothing and supportive and you were going to be fabulous and it was just … it was very seductive …
‘But at the same time … I don’t remember why, but at the same time I knew it was something I couldn’t tell my parents … I kind of knew that that was something we shouldn’t be doing, but if I told them, I wouldn’t be able to go to drama anymore.’
Corkry then started doing one-on-one teaching with other girls from the school, as well as one of their mothers. ‘So I went, “Oh, well, if they’re going to private lessons, it must be okay …” And they were going, “Well, if Teri goes to private lessons it must be okay”.’
But, by her mid-teens, Teri was becoming ‘spooked’ by Corkry. She had a chance to be an exchange student, and went to live overseas.
‘The other kids later on said to me, “You escaped. I was so angry with you for a while because you escaped”, because they didn’t know how to get out of it, either.’
While she was away, two girls made a complaint and Corkry was charged with sexual offences against them. ‘When I came home my parents said, “Oh, there’s been this terrible trouble. Did he ever do anything to you?” And my parents were so strict and judgmental, I thought, “No, I can’t tell them. I can’t tell them. It’s all over. He didn’t really do anything to me”. Except that a 16-year-old, 17-year-old’s version of, “No, nothing really happened” wasn’t correct.’
Corkry was convicted, but the case didn’t receive any media attention. Teri didn’t really know the details, but she believed he was banned from working with children.
In a career that involved working with children herself, Teri sometimes had to deal with issues of sexual abuse. ‘It meant, you know, I could believe. I could understand. People are going, “Why don’t people say anything?” I go, “Because they don’t. Because they don’t”.’
In the early 2010s, when she became aware of the Royal Commission, Teri tried to find out about Corkry’s court case through freedom of information channels. After her applications were denied she went to the police, and then told her family about the sexual abuse she had experienced.
Before the police investigation was completed, Corkry died. It was then that former students from the 80s, 90s and 2000s started coming forward, hailing him as a great teacher and mentor. ‘I realised that our belief that’d he’d never dealt with kids was wrong … that’s 30 more years of kids. And maybe he reformed, but maybe he didn’t. And that’s when I started trying to reconnect with people.
‘Exactly what I feared is that the grooming that I went through and the pattern that I went through was just the start … I feel like he’s robbed a great deal from me but his behaviour was much stronger with the other girls … Everybody took stuff out of it, and everybody took scars away from it.’
Eventually, Teri managed to see the records from Corkry’s trial. ‘It’s indecent assault of a girl, three charges. Aggravated assault on a female, two charges, aggravated assault on a female, a range of things. And the girls were mostly 15 when they complained about this, even though they said it’s been going on for three years ... He got a $200 fine ... and a good behaviour bond … And, as far as we can see, he just carried on.’
Teri believes that because the case never made the news, parents wouldn’t have known about his conviction. And in those days, there was no register of sex offenders.
Teri and some of the others have now formed a survivors group, where they can share their experiences and draw strength from each other. Coming to the Royal Commission was part of that journey.
‘I feel like this was my job … You’ve got the story, people have found out, and the girls have access to counsellors, and they have a chance to tell their story. So I feel like I’ve actually done some of what I should’ve done a long time ago.’
When Teri spoke with the Commissioner, she had one simple recommendation. ‘Parents need to keep that open dialogue with their kids. It was because I couldn’t talk to my parents and wouldn’t speak to them. And we’ve always tried to have that with our kids … we’ve tried to make it clear that they can talk about anything.’
She was also grateful for being heard. ‘Just thank you for being here and doing this, and I have to say it’s been really easy. Once the first phone call was made, you get a sympathetic person on the other end of the phone … knowing someone’s prepared to listen has made all the difference. Which meant I’d go and say to the other girls, “It’s okay. Just ring them”.’