The cruelty of children knows no bounds.
The cruelty of children knows no bounds.

My great shame: I was a bully

LURKING at the far edge of memory is a girl who came to our little school some time in the early 1950s.

I can see her still - painfully thin, long straggly hair, daggy dress - but can't quite find her name.

She and her brother were from a family newly arrived from the Midlands of England. They came from over the seas and from the wrong side of the tracks to make new lives.

I dearly hope they did because we kids did precious little in the way of giving them a hand up.

They were seen as dirty, even in the grubby, tin-bath culture of country 1950s, and spoke with an incomprehensible accent.

We taunted them with awful names and paraded our superiority before them, although I can't imagine where we got on our high horses.

I don't think they were subjected to violence but they were certainly bullied.

And those who didn't bully them kept their silence lest they suffer the same.

I thought of these kids recently when I read a Facebook post from a bloke I worked with years ago.

It was from Richard "Tommy" Campion, a photographer who, in later life, stood up to the Anglican Church and won a measure of justice for the cruelties meted out in its Lismore children's home.

Tommy didn't revisit those horrors but recalled the bullying he and other kids from the home suffered when they went to school.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk holds a two-day meeting to discuss the issue of bullying earlier this year. (Pic: Nigel Hallett)
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk holds a two-day meeting to discuss the issue of bullying earlier this year. (Pic: Nigel Hallett)

Like the English kids of my childhood, I guess he and his mates stood out like the proverbial.

These young innocents were scorned with names such as "dirty home kid", "scum kid", and "thief and liar".

"I was given so many other childish names that made me so embarrassed and shy I couldn't look people in the eye,'' he wrote.

"It was said I had nits, ringworms and boils and children were ordered not to touch me.

"There was a stigma attached to living in a home, so most children avoided me like the plague.

"I had no real friends except for the other children from the home.''

And the deprivations of the church home ("home" must be the greatest misnomer of all) followed him to school.

"The lack of food was always a problem so I ratted through the playground rubbish bins for scraps.

"I scavenged and ate apple cores, banana and orange skins and chewed on old bread crusts.''

Richard
Richard "Tommy" Campion was a victim of terrible systematic bullying.

This, of course, was a red flag to the bullies, who mocked him and up-ended him in the very bins in which he found nourishment.

"I was punched, pushed and abused nearly every day.

"The bullies would lie in wait after school just to bash me. I was pushed into muddy puddles, cow poo, thorn bushes and thrown over fences.''

"There's a whole chapter in the (obscenity) teachers - but I won't go into that now.

"The bullying was so constant and brutal that a few times I wagged school, only to be beaten by the matron and staff employed by the Anglican Church when I arrived home.''

For all, that Tommy survived by coming to the conclusion that school was still better than the so-called Christian home.

After a troubled life Tommy has his act together these days and counsels fellow abuse survivors but his experiences have made him desperately worried about kids who are bullied at school.

His story reminded me of the cruelty of children and to wonder why?

Is it because of parental influence? My parents were rough diamonds but they would have slapped me into the middle of next week if they'd thought I was bullying someone.

Is it a transference of fears and inferiorities to those seen to be weaker and more vulnerable? Certainly, even with the arse out of our pants, we were princes compared with those poor kids from England.

Did our teachers do enough (or anything) to stop it? I can't recall any action although, apart from the casual racism that was part of life in those days, they were generally good and kind people.

I have no answers except I now recognise the cyclic and serial nature of bullying.

Those who, through no fault of their own, exhibit differences or weaknesses are sport for others with little true self esteem.

As we bullied those kids just because they were different, so Tommy was bullied because he was different.

We heaped insult upon injury.

After tough times Tommy grew above it all, as I hope did those mites we treated so badly.

However, many of those who can't break out of the cycle wear it like a brand and are doomed to suffered until they crack.

(Actually I just remembered the name of those kids. I won't repeat it because it might still bring hurt and I still bear the shame.)



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