Schools Speaking up

  • By Louise Swinn
  • This article was published more than 8 months ago.
  • 28 Jul 2023
Glenn Fearnett. Photo: Meredith O’Shea

Teacher Glen Fearnett has talked courageously about the abuse he suffered on a school camp as a child.

Design technology teacher Glen Fearnett has recently been on a journey of recollection.

“It all sort of started when there was an article written by [journalist] Russell Jackson about a St Kilda footballer who used to live in my street. I saw that article, I started to read the story, and the box I’d kept everything in opened and it all came flowing out from there, because his story was similar to mine. 

“There’s a lot of information we know now. Different teachers at the same school. So, I contacted Russell and he’d had knowledge of the teacher that assaulted me, and we started a conversation.”

Glen, who is now 60 years old, says he vividly recalls the night he was abused by his teacher, Gary Mitchell, while on Grade 5 camp with Beaumaris Primary School. This happened in 1972, when Glen was ten years old, and he had not spoken about it to anyone before seeing Russell’s story. 

What I’ve found over the journey is that the more I share it, the more other people help carry the burden.

The article detailed the case of the young footballer, who also attended Beaumaris Primary, where he was molested by teacher, librarian, and cricket coach Darrell Ray. This boy’s life was derailed as a result of the abuse by the trusted elder, spiralling into drugs and, ultimately, time in jail.

Upon reading it, Glen turned to his wife and told her his own story of abuse. “She had no idea. But what I’ve found over the journey is that the more I share it, the more other people help carry the burden.”

Glen has come forward with his own story to stand beside his former neighbour, and to help others reveal their own experiences of abuse. He knows of fellow students who ended up taking their own lives, and he is keen to shed light on the subject to prevent this from happening again.

Since he has come forward, further evidence has come to light. Glen believes there is more to uncover, but some of the perpetrators have already been taken to court. Gary Mitchell has been sentenced five times for child sex abuse, dating from 1967 to 2001. Darrell Ray pleaded guilty in 2000 in Melbourne County Court to 27 counts of indecently assaulting 19 boys at two schools between 1967 and 1976.

Glen is driven to unearth the facts and to help other survivors. “One of the driving forces is that, for whatever reason, I have been allowed to speak up,” he says. “My lawyer has let me speak.”

We are surrounded by good teachers. There is no question that we are way better than we’ve ever been.

Growing up, Glen’s father was a teacher and his mother worked in an administrative role in a high school office, so he has always been surrounded by teachers and a belief in education. He feels lucky to have received great support within his own workplace since his story was published in the mainstream media.

“We are surrounded by good teachers. There is no question that we are way better than we’ve ever been,” he says. “Teachers here, and the principal in my school – they’ve been awesome. So supportive.”

The Andrews state government has committed to formally apologising to victims of abuse in public schools, and Glen met with the Premier earlier this year.

“We are still waiting on follow-up from that. I’m hoping for an apology moving forwards. He [Premier Daniel Andrews] was really sincere and genuine. It’s just taking a long time for follow-up.

“He said to us: an apology isn’t going to change anything – and he’s right – except it means we have a place to put the burden of this information. That’s on them now, and we can move away. For some of us, it will help.”

For others, it’s too late. And so, to honour all those who have suffered, Glen and his fellow survivors would also like a formal apology from the Department of Education. For Glen, “It’s a bit like the burden shared is a burden halved.”

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For anyone experiencing violence and abuse, support is available at 1800respect.org.au. For children dealing with trauma, find resources at kidsfirstaustralia.org.au.

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