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April 10th 2017 print

Geoffrey Luck

Built on a Foundation of Lies

Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar School, nominally dedicated to the principle of truth, is about to open a new library from which the name of a revered headmaster has been stripped for no better reasons than the cowardice of the politically correct, most notably that of Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey

churchieThe Queen’s representatives in Australia perform a range of responsibilities and chores, from ceremonial duties, community events and patronage of worthy charities to presiding over Executive Council meetings to give effect to legislation. Very occasionally, if they are Sir Philip Game or Sir John Kerr, they might venture some constitutional initiatives – to cheers or jeers. But to this day no Governor has been expected to display Olympic-level athleticism. None has been asked to perform a back somersault pike, especially on dry land. On Friday, April 21, at 6.30 PM, the Governor of Queensland, His Excellency Paul de Jersey AC QC will do just that.

Before his elevation in 2014, the Governor was the distinguished Chief Justice of Queensland. He was educated at the Church of England Grammar School (now the Anglican Church Grammar School and best known as ‘Churchie’), one of Queensland leading GPS schools.  Paul de Jersey has close links with the Anglican diocese of Brisbane, having served as Chancellor, the honorary legal advisor to the archbishop until his appointment as Governor.  For many years he was a member of the Churchie school council.

Churchie has been the centre of a simmering dispute for the last year, arising from its controversial decision to remove the name of one of its most important headmasters, Dr Harry Roberts, from a new library building under construction.

Without consultation or conducting a diligent investigation into events half a century ago, the school council succumbed to pressure from the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr. Philip Aspinall. His diocese owns the school and appears to have been most anxious to ingratiate itself with the Royal Commission into Child Abuse in Institutions by demonstrating its distance from paedophilia and its practitioners.

The scandal of the decision, effectively branding the headmaster a protector of paedophiles, was first reported in Quadrant Online in March last year:  Dead Men Can’t Sue – More’s the Pity. In that article I explained how Churchie’s school council blithely decided the headmaster’s method of dealing with allegations of abuse in the 1960s did not match what it termed ‘current standards’. It had determined that, in response to complaints of abuse, he had removed the staff concerned, but taken no further action. Then it succumbed to pressure from “victims” to remove the name.

The current headmaster, Alan Campbell, went along. He did not seem to perceive that this ruthless action contravened the school’s ‘current standards’ of justice and fair play. For the last twelve months, a team of Old Boys, including eminent Brisbane lawyers, has been investigating the basis  for the school council’s decision, which rested on two cases. By researching court records, obtaining statements from former students, even interviewing the one surviving alleged perpetrator,  they proved  the council’s decision not only unjust but also unsupportable.

In one case, the headmaster was condemned for having dismissed a teacher after receiving a complaint of abuse against him, but allowing him to stay on for some weeks till the end of term, so that he could leave without disgrace. Archbishop Aspinall described this as a ‘cover-up’. The truth was that the teacher was the son-in-law of a member of the school council; Charles Elliott was a leading Brisbane stockbroker and a close personal friend of the then Archbishop of Brisbane, Philip Strong. The archbishop was chairman of the school council, and it quickly found a solution to the problem of a potential scandal at the school: the teacher would leave quietly at the end of term and join the Elliott stockbroking firm!

On that evidence, no court would find the headmaster guilty, yet he has been judged solely responsible.

The second case involved a part-time housemaster, a former student who lived-in, unpaid to provide minor services for the boys in a boarding house. When the headmaster heard a rumour of abuse, he was evicted from the boarding house and banished from the school. Sworn declarations by former boarders, prefects and school captains of the time established that the housemaster left and was not seen again – although he did return under subsequent headmasters. The school council and the Archbishop continue to refuse to accept this evidence.

Nearly forty years after the alleged event, four former students brought sixteen charges, which he denied, against the housemaster. Careful study of hundreds of pages of court documents revealed that two of the complainants, responsible for more than half of the charges, were criminals. One had a previous conviction for murder. Their stories of supposed abuse carried the stench of invention and a nose for compensation. One complainant gave evidence of recalling precisely the programme playing on a television set during the alleged abuse, forty years earlier, yet also said he could not remember the names of any fellow students from his three years in the school.

The magistrate who heard the case expressed some reservations about the reliability of the complainants’ evidence. But although commenting that one could reasonably be disbelieved, he said it was for a jury to decide. In the end only five charges went to trial in the District Court; a jury found the housemaster not guilty on all five.

The team of Old Boys that has conducted the only detailed forensic examination of these disputed events of half a century ago is confident of its findings. They demonstrate that the school council’s decision to remove ‘s name from the library was a denial of natural justice, politically motivated, to protect the Anglican Church at a time when the Royal Commission seemed about to investigate the school.

Despite this information being laid before Archbishop Aspinall, he has refused to intervene. Repeatedly, he has asserted, against the evidence in many letters and statutory declarations, that he is not persuaded the council’s decision was unreasonable. In letters to Old Boys who have protested the de-naming, Archbishop Aspinall has invariably replied with a standard, but irrelevant paragraph:

“Given the enormity of child sex abuse that has been revealed in the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sex Abuse, the church has an overriding duty to victims of such abuse. The church must demonstrate it repents of the misdeeds of the past, that it has compassion for all survivors of child abuse and remains focused on ensuring they receive all the care and support they need.”

No one disputes that, nor the need for the church to repent its misdeeds. But making a scapegoat of a revered headmaster is scarcely evidence that it repents.

When the intransigence of Archbishop and school became obvious, it became essential that Roberts’s legacy had to be rescued from the calumny unjustly heaped on his name. So I launched a campaign to erect a memorial bronze bust of the headmaster, which we hoped would stand in the foyer of the building from which his name had been stripped. The response was immediate, with pledges from Old Boys covering the entire cost of commissioning the sculptor and casting the bronze. Despite there being no cost to the school, the initiative has been ignored by the school council and brushed aside by the Archbishop. This estsbalished to my satisfaction that, despite statements to the contrary, they wanted to expunge Roberts’s memory.

In its 99 years, Churchie has had eight headmasters. Henry Emmanuel (“Harry”) Roberts was the second, taking over from the founder Canon “Boss” Morris in the early years of recovery after the stagnant war period. In the next 23 years he built it into a roberts centremodern school, well balanced between academic and sporting achievements, and emphasising Christian values. His entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography is testament to his importance as an Australian educationist. His crowning triumph had been the opening of a modern library in 1969, his last year. Fifty years later, when new technologies and pedagogy styles had rendered it obsolete, it was demolished to make way for a more ambitious building (left), costing $23 million.

In November, 2015, while the foundations were still being prepared, Governor de Jersey performed a strange ceremony, purporting to set the foundation stone of the new building. On a stage overlooking the building site, and in the presence of members of the invited Roberts family, the Governor brandished a silver trowel at a photograph of the intended stone, mounted on an easel. The computerised inscription, superimposed on the photograph to give the appearance of incised lettering, proclaimed it:


In his speech, the Governor spoke of his schooling under Dr. Roberts from 1962 to 1965:

“His example indelibly imprinted itself upon the development of my own character and capacities, as I am confident was the case with thousands of young Queenslanders/Australians. My personal affection for this establishment reflects my considerable gratitude for the leadership of Dr. Roberts.”

It was a mystery why the ceremony had been staged without a foundation stone, and long before there was a wall of the building in which to set it, but nobody asked those questions at the time. In the end, that stone was never made. The Governor’s heartfelt tribute to a great headmaster was to be washed away in a disgraceful genuflection to political correctness.

Three months later, in March 2016, the school council’s chairman, Dan O’Connor announced its dramatic decision to de-name the building. That set off the impassioned objections by Old Boys who had known and respected Harry Roberts. As protests poured in from all round Australia and overseas, the school council came up with a stunt that it hoped would silence dissent. In July last year, it announced the building would be named “The Centenary Library”.

The decision had the opposite effect. As Old Boys and historians quickly pointed out, the School’s centenary falls in 2018, not 2017. Fudging the date made matters worse.

Canon Morris had begun his dream of a great public school in the British tradition by teaching three boys in his home in the Brisbane suburb of Toowong in 1912. From there he built it to become the Cathedral School, attached to St John’s Cathedral, and in 1914 changed its name to the Church of England Grammar School. As the chool’s own official history records, “By 1917 student numbers had increased to 117 including 14 boarders…..thirty-three acres of the present site were purchased, and in 1918 the school moved to East Brisbane”.

The transfer had been scheduled for 1917, but wet weather had delayed the construction of the new building, School House, so schooling could not start until the first term in 1918. However, to fit its needs, the school council claims the centenary started from October 10, 1917, the day the foundation stone of the building. was laid. There is no doubt that were it not for the political necessity to find a name to replace the Roberts Centre, the School would not have been saddled with a falsified history. But there is more.

When the scaffolding was taken down and the builder’s detritus cleared away, it was discovered that a foundation stone had indeed been created. It had been set in the wall in a prominent position, at the entrance to the imposing new library.

It reads:

25 NOVEMBER 2015

On April 21, the Governor will open a building, but not the one he named sixteen months earlier. By officiating at this ceremony he will repudiate his own fine words about his old headmaster, instead endorsing the conspiracy to lynch the reputation of Dr. Roberts. Archbishop Aspinall, whose name derives from the Old English aespen, meaning  ‘trembling poplar’, will stand beside the Governor, and bless the building.

Thus is demonstrated the lengths to which an esteemed school, its management council and the Anglican church were all  prepared to go to subvert due process, trample the reputation of one of its finest headmasters in his grave, and re-write history for their own misconceived purposes. Future generations of Churchie students may walk in ignorance past the “foundation” stone and its simple but false message.

In this digital age, however, it is no longer possible to bury unpalatable truths.

This real story — how a proud school disgraced itself by rejecting its core Christian principles and its proclaimed values of honesty and integrity — will live forever in cyberspace. Everyone who reads it will know that Churchie’s impressive Centenary Library is built on a foundation of lies.