Historical abuse suffered at the hands of some fellow students and staff at Dilworth School have been outlined to the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care. Neil Harding, who is 55, went to the Anglican boarding school in Auckland in 1977. A number of men are before the courts charged with indecent assault relating to historical abuse at the school. Published in Radio New Zealand

Harding was 11-years-old when he started at Dilworth.

He describes it has a harsh military-style establishment that brutally punished those who did not conform immediately to the Dilworth way.

“It was brutal and I saw quite quickly there was injustice. There was all sorts of stuff going on that was a real shock to me.”

Harding said the boys were not treated as individuals and were often referred to by just a number.

He said the culture in his dormitory was a free for all.

“The older kids did just what they wanted to the younger kids and I just don’t think we were supervised adequately I would say. The degree of supervision allowed the boys to do what they did. It was a consequence of whatever supervison was or wasn’t.”

A lot of the violence was student-on-student, he said.

“We would get night raids where we were asleep in bed and a dorm of older boys would attack the dorm of younger boys. Each one would just pick a bed and you would wake up being violently punched an kicked through your bedding which didn’t provide much protection.

“Going to sleep at night there was a sense of terror, ‘am I going to be violently assaulted and woken up while I am sleeping’.”

Harding said there was some irony in a book he studied in his English class.

“You know, my time at Dilworth was really much of a Lord of the Flies kind of environment where the big boys made up the rules – but the difference was for me, we were being predated upon by staff.”

He started to receive the attention of the Chaplain, Peter Taylor, in what he now knows was grooming.

At one stage he was invited to Taylor’s home.

“I had to sit down on the ground in the corner of the room cross-legged and then he sat down cross-legged directly facing me and I was trapped.

“My alarm bells were kind of- something didn’t quite feel right about that. He then proceeded to place his left hand on his right knee and started moving his hand up my thigh. I grabbed his hand, pushed it away and leapt to my feet and got out of there.”

He said he fled in fear but didn’t tell anyone.

“The culture of the school was cop it and shut up. I was conditioned not to say anything about anything to anybody.

“I do remember racing back to my house feeling terror of the fact that what I thought was safe wasn’t.”

Another of Harding’s teachers at Dilworth also displayed abusive tendencies.

The man told him that he wanted to cane him and would be watching him closely and would pounce as soon as he did something wrong.

This came when he was caught playing cards during prep.

“The canes were lined up like pool cues on a rack and he took them one at a time and I was thinking ‘I hope he picks the thick one’. The thin one hurts more but leaves less of a bruise – but no he picked the thin one and proceeded to cane me.

“Again it was a feeling of processing a combination of fear and terror that someone who is supposed to be protecting me – that has a duty of care, responsibility for me – is playing some sadistic game.”

Harding left Dilworth after two years, going on to Takapuna Grammar where his next five years were happy and safe.

By Andrew McRae
Published in Radio New Zealand
7 Dec 2020