Friday, 13 September 2013


   Matters relating to very serious child abuse that occurred during the 20th century have been brought to the public's attention during the last 20 years and are well-documented. I refer to the theft of Aboriginal kids, sexual abuse of kids in institutions and the abuse and virtual slavery of Pommie orphans who were placed in Australian institutions after WW2.
  It is because corporal punishment in schools during the 20th Century was mainstream, of a less immoral nature than child theft or sexual abuse and usually carried out with the permission of parents, the matter has been virtually ignored and is not at all well-documented. With this in mind the purpose of this particular yarn/rant is to record incidences of legalised child abuse in schools in the Canberra district during the 20
th century which involved humiliating kids or perpetrating acts of physical violence upon them.
   It of course occurred throughout Australia during this period, but as this blog is Canberra and districts-centric I am confining the documentation to Canberra and surrounding districts. 

   Corporal punishment was a part of the culture at the time, and this was probably because of the biblical notion of sparing the rod and spoiling the child, although such ideology based on Christian dogma obviously spread into secular society.    
  I can recall while attending Maclean Public school in 2nd class (Year 2) seeing one particular lad whacked because he was writing with his left hand. Apparently there is some primitive association in Christianity between left handedness and Satan.
   In documenting abuse in Canberra and district schools I will start with the public school system. I will begin by recounting what my mum told me about the violence she witnessed while she attended a public school in Queanbeyan in the 1930’s, during the Depression.
   She recalled to me how during that period she saw poverty-stricken kids come to school in the winter with bare feet. Some kids had burst eardrums from untreated infections and others suffered rickets, goiter and other diseases caused by poor nutrition. 
   She also told me of one particular lad who came from a very poor family who was a bit slow, and at the age of around 7 or 8 he was regularly beaten over the knuckles for not being able to answer questions which were obviously far too difficult for him to answer. He would stand there sobbing, and of course my mum and other more sensitive kids suffered vicariously. She also told me of one little girl who was made to stand up inside a chimney and how the teacher beat her because she got soot on her dress.
   In regard to my own experiences, when I first came to Canberra in 1961 I was 8, turning 9 and in 3rd class (Year 3) attending North Ainslie Primary. Not long after I arrived I received a hard caning (2 cuts) on the hand from a male teacher who held a senior position and I almost passed out from the pain and trauma.
   During my 4 years at North Ainslie I saw and experienced much in the way of physical and verbal violence towards kids. When in year 4 my mates and I were whacked regularly on the arse, usually 3 or 4 times, with a large blackboard ruler. It was very painful and left bruises. I suspect the perpetrator got a sexual thrill from it.
    The worst form of humiliation at North Ainslie I witnessed was that of a mate who, like me, had no interest in school. When he didn't know what a verb was he was asked to stand up for an extended period. Several kids from years below us were asked to come into the classroom and tell our class what a verb was in order to humiliate him by demonstrating how far behind he was in his work. I think he was caned after the humiliation but I am unsure. 

   Violence seemed completely acceptable in those times, or at least not taken too seriously. I can recall when I was in 4th class seeing a fight between a large kid in 6th class and a smaller kid about the same age, where the smaller kid was knocked unconscious. He was dragged away to the sick room by a teacher. Apparently the perpetrator received a couple of cuts of the cane, which would have been no more than what he would have received had he have been sent out of class for talking. Today such an offence would have been taken much more seriously. 
   I was contacted by a person who attended North Ainslie primary several years after me who had the following to say regarding physical abuse by way of the regular caning of a lad who may have turned out to be gay. If so it would have been the equivalent of caning a little girl. I have copied and pasted that person’s words below.
  "When I was a student at North Ainslie Primary School in the late 1960's the boys were often caned and the girls received a ruler to the back of the legs, as was the norm in all schools at that time. This however was just the physical punishment received by those who had allegedly erred. Psychologically the ripple effect was also at play. What still stays with me today is hearing the sickening pleas and cries from a boy in the classroom next door to mine when in Year 4 or 5. He would cry and plead "Please Sir, please don't hit me" and when I would eventually hear the inevitable thwack from the cane hitting his hands, he'd scream at the top of his voice with every stroke. Inside our classroom, and possibly inside the others along the corridor within earshot of the caning, we would all be absolutely silent and our heads would be bowed down at our books trying not to listen. I remember feeling like I was going to be sick. I can still hear the terrified cries today and remember how it affected me at the time. I can't imagine the effect it must have had on him." 
       Another person who contacted me regarding North Ainslie Primary was 3 years ahead of me. He told me of a bloke who came to the school on several occasions to give students IQ tests, which would have eventually guided the high schools in regard to which classes kids should have been placed in.
   When he mentioned the IQ tester's name I could recall the man, and my memory of him produces in me visions of a bloke I thought at the time was angry, violent and bullying. According to the bloke who contacted me, just before his class was about to sit for one of their final IQ tests the apparent sadistic bully gave a lad a hard slap across the face. If this did occur, with the shock of it all I can only imagine how poorly the boy performed in his test on that day and how his poor performance would have affected how he was placed when he reached high school. 
   When I went on to Dickson High in 1965 the caning culture continued along with other forms of physical and psychological abuse. One particular male teacher at Dickson High who was there in 1965 was an absolute psycho. I won't name him, but any student who was at Dickson High at the time will know exactly who he is. 
   I was in 1st form (Year 7) and aged 12 turning 13 that year, when he walked past our classroom. We were making a noise as our teacher had to step out, so when he saw my mate, Jan Aamodt, and me turned around and talking to the kids behind us he walked over to us and slapped us both across the face. Jan got one hard slap but I got 2 and felt some concussion at the time. I was very frustrated by the fact that I did not have the physical capacity to give him a hiding. I was told however, he received a couple of hidings from older kids at various times during his teaching career. What a piece of shit! I really hope he's dead. 
    A year later I was picked up and thrown by a very powerful teacher, and a year after that he caned Slob Kirby and me. I once received 6 on each hand from another teacher but there was no comparison between the 12 I received on that occasion and the 4 we each received on the occasion I am referring to. I don't know how it didn't break the bones in our hands! We each had bruising and blood blisters running the entire width of our hands from each stroke we received and the pain after the event was intense.
   The male teachers were by no means the only perpetrators of violence and therefore not the only ones who should be vilified for acts of child abuse. Most female teachers were more  than willing to send kids to male teachers knowing full well it would result in the kids being caned, which meant they may as well have been doing it themselves. It's no different than a person paying a hitman to murder someone and then somehow trying to claim he is less immoral than the hitman.
    I can also remember a female teacher we had ordering the late Bluey Cowan to put a small rubbish bin on his head. He quite rightly refused, so she threatened to send him to the headmaster to be caned. He then told her that if she sent him to the headmaster he would get his father involved. So realising the repercussions of the situation she backed down, but when doing so she called him a weak person for resorting to the use of his father. 
   Even at that age I could see the large flaw in her argument. She was happy to bully him when she thought she had the weight of the Australian government backing her up but she thought Bluey weak for threatening to use his father to challenge the system. What a sack of shit she was!   
    In regard to Catholic schools, there was also obviously abuse, although I never went to one. I have however, debated over the years with some of my mates who went to Daramalan College as to whether the teachers at Dickson High were more brutal and abusive than those who taught at Daramalan. 
   As far at the secular vs religious schools brutality debate goes, from what my mate who bordered at Yanco Agricultural College told me it would seem that the secular schools were far more brutal, at least as far as boarding schools were concerned. Having said that, I do not know anyone my age who went to a Protestant or Catholic boarding school. When my mate and I started the equivalent of Year 7 in 1965, (he went to Yanco and I went to Dickson High) the most senior year was Year 11 (or 5th form). My mate tells me that at Yanco during that period their prefects, who would have been kids who were 16 turning 17, were given the authority to cane kids who they thought were misbehaving after school hours. Apparently they did not hesitate. My mate needs to write something about his experiences at Yanco Agricultural College. I will not say anymore in this post about the place because this site is Canberra and districts centric. If anyone who went to Yanco Ag College during that time thinks I have it wrong let me know and I will publish your comments.
   I was also told by a mate who went to Marist College here in Canberra many years after I had left school that Marist kept a large, thick strap, and many parents signed a note giving permission for it to be used on their kids. The older teachers at Marist also apparently continued to use the cane for some time. 
   I received the following from a mate who attended St Pat's in Braddon in the fifties.
   I started primary school at St Pat's School in Braddon in 1957. A few years later they changed the name to "Our Lady of Mercy" but a more appropriate name could have been "Our Lady of No Mercy." I remember a nun who taught me in second class who was prone to violent outbursts. She must have had training in martial arts as she did not use weapons to discipline children and instead used her hands and fists. She would grasp the child by the hair from behind, reef the head back and simultaneously punch them in the back. I can't remember it happening to me most likely because I was careful to avoid doing anything to warrant such treatment.
   Let's however, go back in time to when Benedict House in Queanbeyan, which is now a cafe, restaurant and craft shop, was running as St Benedict's Convent. If the following information supplied to me by a person who recently visited the place is correct it would seem the abuse at St Benedict's was rife until its closure.
     "Last month I had lunch at the cafe at Benedict House. As I was interested in the story of the old building I asked one of the women working there about its history. She explained the rooms downstairs were once classrooms and the nuns and the female students slept upstairs. She said that many nuns and ex students had visited in recent years and their memories have been written down and a book has been produced. She said there seemed to be too much of an emphasis in the book on the punishments the nuns gave the girls rather than an emphasis made of the positive happenings at that time. Therefore they weren't making the book available for sale to the public." 
  Footnote on the above- If anyone would like to contact me disputing the information I was given regarding the said book about St Benedicts being withdrawn from sale for the reasons stated please do so. 
   The Australian historians who, through self-censorship during the 20th century, decided to distort our history by not telling students about Aboriginal massacres and the abuse of Aboriginal children, are now despised for revisionism by way of ommission. If the previously mentioned book that records memories of Benedict House is not being made available to the public because of a desire to censor history those responsible should also be condemned.
   In regard to further comment about abuse in Catholic Schools, I can recall many years ago being told by a girl several years older than me who had attended Catholic Girls' High in or around 1960, (It is now called Merici College), about a nun allegedly hitting a little puppy which was running around the playground on the head with a heavy stick, causing its death. I worked with a temporary worker about 10 years ago who had attended the school during that period and when I asked her about it she told me she had witnessed the event and that what I had been told was accurate. She also told me she cried her eyes out for the rest of the day and all that night and that it caused her a lot of trauma.
  If anyone would like to dispute the event regarding the puppy occurring please contact me. 
   This post will be an ongoing project with stories of abuse I receive added on as I receive them. If anyone would like to contact me giving details of abuse they have suffered or witnessed in schools in the ACT or surrounding districts during the 20th Century please do so by email by clicking on the contact button above. Your name does not need to be published and the teacher/s responsible for the abuse will not be named. 
Dave Wheeler
UPDATE 12/2/16
I received yesterday the following email. For legal reasons I am not publishing the name of the author of the email or the teacher he is referring to. 

Hi Dave,
I read your piece on corporal punishment and violent Canberra teachers. I wonder if you have any information on a teacher called Mr----------- who was at Campbell Primary school around 1969 and the early 1970's. He was a true sadist and psychopath. He was obsessed with building canes in the craft/woodwork room and loved caning children. He provided his caning service for all the school with such a passion and urgency. He actually whimpered audibly with excitement when he did it.
Aside from caning he could be very violent physically and I was one of many kids that was violently assaulted by him. Today he would be jailed for a fraction of what he did to children.