It seemed like a perfect day. I was soaking up some rays on the beach. My youngest brother Sam was inside the caravan playing games with his teacher. It was clear I wasn’t welcome because the teacher latched the door of the caravan. I was OK with that. Playing board games wasn’t my thing anyway.
At that time, Darrel George Harrington, a young science teacher and sport’s coach had taken a keen interest in my youngest brother Sam. He seemed to be drawn towards his brightest students. It seemed like a happy time for Sam. He was twelve and it was his first year of high school. As a student, he excelled in all his subjects, so my parents didn’t think it was unusual when Harrington dropped Sam home from school that first time.
He befriended the family
After that, Harrington became a regular visitor to our place and soon befriended the family. My father was probably quite happy that Harrington often picked Sam up for different activities. He always arrived early for ‘the pick-ups’ and made himself at home in the loungeroom. He seemed to enjoy great conversations with Mum on a wide variety of subjects while Dad made the coffee. He was even invited for dinner a few times. Although he was very friendly, I can’t remember him ever really speaking to me.
Why did he really hang around so much?
Despite that, I was so naïve and thought that Harrington was interested in me. Why else would he spend so much time at our place? Surely it wasn’t just to spend time with one of his brightest students after- school hours. Or just to chat to Mum. After all, he was 26 years of age, only four years older than me and single. And so was I.
Did Mum suspect something?
The day that Harrington invited Sam to his property at Little Swanport, Mum said he could only go “if Annette goes too”. I sat in the back of the car, invisible, as Harrington drove for a couple of hours to a remote location. We were nearly at the end of the journey when he drove off the main road and down an unsealed road for at least five kilometers. The landscape was dull and lifeless. There was nothing to be seen until the big caravan came into view.
That’s where the journey ended. And so did Sam’s childhood that day.
Three decades later ….
Sam stayed at my place for a few months while his own place was being renovated. He seemed really depressed and was drinking excessively until the early hours of the morning. I have no idea how he managed to get to work each day after such long, tough nights. At that time, he was a cardiac care nurse, a stressful job with enormous responsibilities. One day I noticed an open letter on his bedside table from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse inviting him to make a statement. A statement about what? My mind drifted back to that bizarre trip to Little Swanport. Did something happen in that caravan? Why was the door locked from the inside?
A few weeks after discovering the letter ….
Sam had just moved back to his own place when I had an unexpected visit from him one night. He said he had to tell me something but “don’t be sad for me”. Suddenly I felt an agony that I’d never known before; something more like a deep pain that wouldn’t go away. I listened as he told me that the Little Swanport trip was just the beginning of the sexual abuse he endured throughout his high school years. I had unanswered questions; one in particular that I’ll never know the answer to. Did Mum make me go that day to protect Sam? Unfortunately, her life ended about the same time the Royal Commission was established.
I was mortified when I read that email
At that time, I happened to be a teacher at the same high school Sam attended. When the news became public, the school principal sent an email to all staff stating that the information was incorrect and that at no time did “our school’ employ a paedophile teacher. After reading that, I barged into the office of an empathetic colleague armed with the “show and tell all’ edition of the Hobart Mercury. An image of “our school” was emblazoned within the pages of the newspaper along with details of that fateful day at Little Swanport.
It was hard to utter more than a few words at a time between sobs. “That did happen. The article is about my brother Sam. Harrington taught him at this school. Every word is true. I was there. If I’d known what was going on I could’ve protected him”.
I became suspicious
When I finally gathered my composure a few days later, I began to look at some of the older teachers (my current colleagues) with suspicion. I couldn’t help it. They were teachers at this school when my brother was attending. Did any of them know or teach Sam? Surely someone knew something was going on. Why didn’t anyone protect him?
….. because the perpetrator gets protected
Sam paved the way for others to come forward and he soon discovered that he was not the only victim of this sexual predator. Harrington’s evil tirade continued for three decades. Over that time, he became ‘the victim’ and was protected by his superiors in the Education Department. Just like the priests who were sent from parish to parish, Harrington was sent from school to school to continue sexually abusing children without consequences.
A happy day in court
Finally in 2015, Darrel George Harrington pleaded guilty to historical child sex offences involving numerous young boys over three decades. He was jailed for seven years which was later increased to twelve years.
Tasmanian Commission of Inquiry
The Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the Tasmanian government’s responses to child sexual abuse in state institutions. The Inquiry will allow people to speak directly with a Commissioner about their experience and any views they may have about what needs to change to prevent child sexual abuse and improve responses to, and reporting of, abuse in institutional settings”. Direct quote: https://www.commissionofinquiry.tas.gov.au/home
I’m so proud of Sam
Today is 11 May 2022, a significant day not just Sam but everyone affected by child sexual abuse. Together, Sam and his nephew, my son Adam for support, will attend the Inquiry. It’s Sam’s turn to give his witness impact statement at the public hearing and make his recommendations for changes. My greatest hope is that the statements from Sam and other victims and their supporters will be the catalyst for change so that child sexual abuse will become a thing of the past.
Featured image: free image from Dreamtime.com. Thank you