As part of our 15th birthday celebrations, we’ve trawled through the archives to bring you some of the best, weirdest and most salacious articles published on Crikey since our launch on February 14, 2000.

*This article was originally published on February 25, 2009.

Three teachers from Sydney’s Knox Grammar school have been arrested by police on charges of indecently assaulting children. The acts allegedly occurred in 1979, 1984 and 1987, which suggests the victims have brooded over the assault for decades.

Some students from Knox came to the court after learning of the arrests and said they were shocked. One boy blurted out that “the school has a proud tradition, and this is very disturbing”, which is true. When I attended the school half a century ago, assaults on children were almost a daily occurrence. A current charge relates to a teacher “repeatedly stroking a boy’s penis with his hands”, while in my day, the teachers repeatedly stroked our bare bottoms with canes.

Afterwards they said, “Let this be a lesson to you”.

Such assaults were vicious and had been going on since 1924, when Knox was founded by the Presbyterian Church (now the Uniting Church). It is why the school’s official colours are black and blue. Even today, a journal of Knox rugby supporters is proudly entitled Black&Blue.

Even the school song emphasises the hands-on physicality of a Knox education: “Do not think that we’ll forget, the lessons that we treasure yet”. It seems the students who filed the latest complaints have not forgotten their lessons.

It was at prep school in the 1950s where some of the teachers unleashed their inner sadists. I saw boarders as young as seven caned for minuscule infringements as soon as they stepped out of the shower, watched by trembling infants. An older boy was flogged until his backside bled, which elicited a rare complaint from the steely matron to the icy house-master, himself a dab hand with the lash. The victim’s crime? Caught red-handed at the back of the bicycle shed stroking his penis. Keep in mind that the school motto, Virile Agitur, means “doing the manly thing”.

In 1953, Knox acquired a new headmaster from Scotland, John Couper, who wanted to focus on music and art, and always carried a souvenir of his homeland, a tawse, a thick leather strap used for the purpose of teaching Latin. Despite this, he was at heart a dreamy poet, and was sacked by the governors in 1956. Most of the teachers went on strike in his support and were sacked. Knox became known as the school without a head. It never had much of a heart, and by now it hardly had any teachers, though school fees were not reduced. Our class pretty much put itself through the final year without being distracted by teachers or corporal punishment.

It was long after my day that some of the Knox staff seemed to have initiated a cultural shift from spanking to wanking. Perhaps they were trying to keep up with the times. In one of the recent assaults on a student body, a teacher allegedly recorded it on a digital camera.

As today’s revelations of alleged Knox goings-on may unleash a witch hunt against gay teachers, I should mention that in my era of “beat ’em black & blue”, the most compassionate teachers were closet homosexuals, who rarely resorted to violence. Back then, the “stroking of penis” activities usually took place between the boys, often in the back of the classroom, and did not require a teacher’s helping hand.

As I write, sexual assault complaints from former students at Knox continue to roll in and the school has offered counselling to former pupils. This will be interesting. Ian Paterson, headmaster of the school during the 1980s, said he would not comment on the recently aired allegations, except to express his disbelief that such a thing could have occurred.

“I hadn’t a clue what was going on,” Paterson said, but headmasters rarely do. So let this be a lesson to you, sir.

Richard Neville and the Under-13 Bs

Peter Fray

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