Zander attended an all-boys Catholic school in Sydney, where he was an avid sports player. At 13 years old his peers began to bully him because they learned he was adopted. Despite coming from a supportive family Zander found comfort in confiding in the school’s counsellor with this issue. He believes this bullying made him vulnerable.
In the late 1980s Zander and his school friend George were waiting at the school counsellor’s house to be taken to their water polo match after school. Their mathematics teacher, Mr Swindon, was there too, and sexually abused both boys while they waited.
Later, Zander learned that Mr Swindon lived with the school counsellor. From that moment, Zander could no longer attend sessions with the counsellor.
Mathematics had always been a strong subject for Zander, but in the months that followed the abuse Mr Swindon’s classes were tough to handle. The teacher would ‘always make me wait behind’ and he ‘would get the strap every single day’. He went from the top of the class to the bottom but no one questioned his change in marks or behaviour.
Zander deliberately tried to ‘fail so I could move out of the class’. ‘The test results always came back perfect. There were tests I didn’t even write things on, tests I didn’t even put my name on and this man kept me in his class.’
In the aftermath of the abuse, Zander suffered intense migraines and nightmares. He was fearful of becoming an offender himself, and believed that he must be a homosexual. The years following the abuse were ‘a blur’. He focused on his elite sport commitments because they were able to take his mind off the suffering.
‘“Does this mean that when I grow up, I’m going to be a paedophile?” Those thoughts carried on until I was well into my 30s, so much to the point I thought that I can’t have children.’
Zander and George never spoke of the abuse, but George suicided after dropping out of high school. His friend’s death brought guilt upon Zander, and he believes that George’s parents never knew of this abuse.
Mr Swindon left the school not long after the abuse took place. After graduating high school in the early 1990s, Zander decided on becoming a school teacher, to try and prevent abuse happening to kids ‘on his watch’.
His time at university still presented confusing questions about his sexuality, which had affected his relationships and sexual performance. The ‘physical, sexual side of a relationship’ was something that he ‘couldn’t bring himself to do’. He was also in and out of counselling for a large part of his adult life, and he continues counselling today.
It took many years for Zander to tell his parents about the abuse. His father accompanied him to report to the Catholic Church and he sought compensation through Towards Healing. However, through a meeting with Bishop Reading, Zander became angered through both the bishop’s lack of compassion and the agreement settlement amount.
‘He looked at me and said, “This happened a long time ago, you should really try to find it in your heart to forgive this man”. I launched out of my seat … I launched myself at him and grabbed his neck and had him on the ground with my fingers in his throat. I said “I’m going to kill this guy, how dare you say that. He has no idea of the pain he has caused”.’
In the early 2000s Zander discovered Mr Swindon had died – finding out through a staff meeting while teaching at the school he attended as a student.
‘I thought I said it in my mind but I had actually said it out loud. I said “I hope someone had killed him”. From that point right then, my life went into a spiral.’
The principal of the school showed Zander several letters of complaint about Mr Swindon, some dating back to the 1970s. After this revelation Zander began taking drugs and drinking heavily to the point where he stopped turning up to work. He resigned and went travelling for an extended period of time.
Zander returned to his old school as a teacher after his travels. He found that the students could confide in him and he could spot inappropriate behaviour towards school boys from others quite easily. He would report this behaviour to the principal, but nothing further was done so resigned and found work at another school.