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Vincent Edgar's story

‘I still feel angry with the school. All these years ago it was, and all that’s happened in between, one could easily forget it, but I just still feel that anger. I can’t help that. That’s part of me. So I guess, releasing that anger and working out a way to cope with the anger and deal with it properly rather than just pushing it away and down, is part of why I’m here.’

It was a family tradition for Vincent to attend the prestigious Church-run boarding school in New South Wales. When he first went to the school in the late 1960s, ‘there was a culture of physical abuse as the main mechanism of discipline. The Eton style of boarding house management led to senior boys bullying and physically hitting junior boys for discipline’.

Vincent was a boarder at the school for six years. ‘There was a definite culture of physical abuse within the walls of [the school]. Caning was a daily part of life there.’ One teacher would ask the boys which cane they’d like to be belted with. ‘He had several.’

On his third day at the school, Vincent was ‘set up’ by senior boys to talk at the dining room table, which was against the rules. One of the masters took him outside the dining room and in front of the whole school, he ‘took my pants down, took my underwear down … took two steps back and hit as hard as he could. My bottom … was cut open. My pants were stained with blood. No medical treatment was given to me’.

During his first month at the school, Vincent was ‘black-balled’ by the monitors in charge of his boarding house. ‘Stripped naked and had shoe polish and Vegemite mixed together and rubbed all over my genitals. This was done, they said, as an initiation. Everyone knew, because the showers were open, and I was constantly mocked and pointed at because it took weeks to disappear.’

Vincent was also subjected to sexual abuse by two teachers at the school. One was a housemaster, and he would take Vincent into his room at night, where he would fondle his genitals and digitally penetrate him. He also beat him with a ruler.

‘Most of us kids talked about [him] and about how much the ruler hurt … We talked about how creepy he was, but we never really talked about the actual sexual abuse.’

The other teacher ‘was abusive at cadet camp and in the school armoury … He would rub my genitals with his hands, and rub his genitals up against me’. This teacher also watched the boys when they were in the showers, and was present when they had medical examinations with the school nurse.

‘I feel the Royal Commission needs to understand the culture of sexual abuse is parallel with the culture of bullying, harassment and physical violence at schools.’

Vincent’s schoolwork began to deteriorate, and ‘I first started getting panic attacks at boarding school in Year 8 … Every night I felt terrified that [the housemaster] would come and get me. This led to me not being able to sleep and/or having nightmares …

‘Throughout my life I have always experienced panic attacks and nightmares, sleep disruptions and depression. I have been medicated for this and seen psychiatrists and counsellors. Today I am on a mental health program, and sometimes still feel suicidal.’

Vincent feels he has always lacked focus, and this has been detrimental to his career. ‘I have often made poor decisions based on panic attacks and fear. I believe this fear had its origins for me, at [school].’

Vincent supressed the memory of the abuse he experienced at school until the Royal Commission began. ‘And then it all came up. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated to talk about it, even now. I would not have spoken about it … [but] I feel I wasn’t the only one affected and that the manly ethos at [the school] was flawed …

‘I think the physical and sexual abuse … led to a feeling of being a victim. The victim mentality has always been with me through my life and I am not sure I really felt that way before I went to [the school].’

Vincent told the Commissioner, ‘I must say, before coming over here, I was thinking to myself, “Well, what am I doing all this for? Why am I doing this ?” … I could just forget about it … and walk away from it, but I do want to find some sort of method of either coping with it or … [get] closer to closure, by dealing with the issue, rather than pushing it to the side’.

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