John Saunders begins on the road to recovery from childhood school abuse

I sat around the table today with five other people, two of them men. We spoke of our school days, and as we did I started to feel self-conscious. One man spoke of the way he was caned at school and how his hands used to bruise and swell up from these canings. He didn't believe that these canings did him much harm, as at his school he knew what was wrong and if you stepped over that line you would get punished and that would be the end of it. He also felt that this was nowhere near as damaging as being psychologically tormented by a teacher, through being humiliated in front of a whole classroom of students. This made me reflect on my time at school. I started feeling very different sitting there at the table and I became very quiet. My abuse at school left me with another wound that I was yet to heal.

The next sequence of events I find extremely distressing to this day, although at times I try to make light of them. At age thirty two, I still had dreams of being victimised at school. I am scared to disclose the following for fear of being judged as weak. I judge myself as weak, and I wish I'd stuck up for myself in some way. At this point I feel my own blanket of shame fall upon me.

With high school being my next stop and my older brother a year ahead of me, I felt safe to move. We would catch the bus in the mornings to school right to the front entrance. My Class Master had only one eye. The other was sewn shut, no one ever asked why. He was a very kind man who would withstand lots of aggravation from the class. His nickname was 'Bernie Bungeye'. This was our term of endearment for him. He had two 'paddles' that he would use on our backsides if we stepped out of line. I believe they were twelve and fifteen inch rulers bound with electric insulating tape. Boy did they sting, even if you had an exercise book down your pants!

The most hits ever recorded in the history of one Bernie Bungeye period was forty five, if I remember correctly. That's one every minute, just for the record! Well the day came around for this figure to be brought down. The period began and we commenced counting each hit in silence, Bernie did his best to keep up the pace, even if he did have to swallow a Bex powder (straight off the folded wrapping paper) to keep up with us. Man as I looked around it was like a war zone, there were boys everywhere jumping up and down and dragging their asses along desk seats to reduce the sting. At the end of the period I remember some of us counting the hits out loud. "43, 44, 45". Then the whole scene turned into slow motion as Bernie's 'electric insulated ruler' connected with some brave war heroes ass for the very last time. The big forty six was struck! We had set a new world record. I think even Bernie enjoyed helping us achieve it. Though there were some sore butts that night, it was worth it!

In one of the semesters of this year I became sick almost constantly and Bernie, God bless him, sent my work home to me. I attended school for one to two weeks of that semester. I felt ashamed that I didn't want to go to school. I felt that I wasn't like the other boys any more, and didn't know why school frightened me. I fell far behind in class. I just wanted to stay home with Mum. I was called a hypochondriac and a Mummy's Boy at school. I really didn't want to be this way, I really wanted to be the same as all the others. Why couldn't I?

I used to get sick in my stomach and throw up from feeling nauseous. I'd tell the teachers that I felt sick and sometimes they wouldn't believe me. This made me feel ashamed and guilty as I couldn't work out why I felt sick. Mum would then come and pick me up to take me to the doctor. I remember sitting in the waiting room feeling so nauseous and guilty because the doctor previously said that he couldn't find anything wrong with me, that there wasn't anything wrong with me.... If there wasn't anything wrong with me then I couldn't be sick, I must have been faking it. What was wrong with me? This would happen many times and was very distressing to me as a young boy. I felt weak, different and separate from the other boys for some reason. I couldn't be the same, I just couldn't, and all I wanted was to be like everyone else.

Some days at school I would feel so cold, and I know now it was not from the weather. I would shiver as if I was in shock and no matter how many jumpers I would throw on I just couldn't seem to get warm. Do you know that feeling? When you're so cold that it passes right through your bones into your core, into your spirit. I believe this was dread. In the years that followed, my scholastic abilities would diminish and I would easily be distracted from my work and find great difficulty in maintaining focus. I realise now that these symptoms were related to my sexual and other abuse in primary school. Unfortunately, more abuse lay ahead.

In years 9 and 10 I would be introduced to two Lay teachers who would be my Class Masters: "Mr. Lensman" and "Mr.Rollo". Mr Lensman used a telephoto lens camera to spy on women walking along the road in their lunch break. Mr. Rollo's nickname was "Persecutor" or "Basher". Everyone knew that if you didn't behave yourself you would be persecuted and then caned (hence the term "Basher"). No one wanted to bring it upon themselves to experience what this nickname meant, especially me, as one day I witnessed an older boy being harassed by this teacher. The boy was broken, in tears and in pain. This was not just because he had been given 'six of the best' across his hands. There was something else that he had experienced that had a more far reaching effect on him than just the caning. Regrettably, in the last years of my schooling I and others would experience this teacher's abuse on many occasions.

This excerpt from John Saunder's book has benefited from editorial comments & suggestions by John Foster. Prospective publishers can contact John on 02 6685 4894 Mob. 0412639442.

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