It was those same colleagues who, through sheer hard work and persistence, gradually changed The Hermitage, first from a chaotic jungle into a zoo, and then from a zoo into a school. Countless words, on endless pieces of paper, recorded evidence of misbehaviour by thieves, thugs and bullies who were out of control outside school, but who eventually learnt to change their behaviours once inside the school gate. Detention classes of fifty or sixty students slowly dwindled to five or ten, and then to three or four. Kids who had not had the chance to learn because of periods of bedlam in their classrooms, started to feel safe and secure, and to enjoy being at school.
Soon after joining The Hermitage, Mayhew had informally set himself the goal of significantly changing the school’s culture within about eighteen months. Thanks to the efforts of his colleagues, this target was met and exceeded within ten. Everyone, staff, students and parents, seemed to sense that Fauntleroy’s reign as tyrant was over. Even Chauncey himself seemed resigned to the fact that he could no longer ride roughshod over people, and Mayhew’s second and final year of working with the fool was relatively low key.
The fact that Fauntleroy was now less of a problem, however, didn’t lessen the workload. If anything, everyone seemed to put in that little bit extra, and Mayhew didn’t take a backward step. He would frequently engage with disgruntled parents, impose sanctions on violent students, be called to the school by police in the middle of the night to attend another “break and enter” (this last being a responsibility of the principal “delegated” to him by Fauntleroy), but he could also praise and reward kids who were giving their best and support the excellent teachers with whom he worked. Forgetting his vow of “family first”, Mayhew spent many more hours per week than he should have done, working on Hermitage issues.
By the end of his second year at The Hermitage, Jeremy could look back on some very destructive experiences, but also on some remarkable achievements. When the Christmas holidays finally arrived, Mayhew was feeling the strain badly, but even more refreshing than the prospect of a six week break, was the realisation that Fauntleroy would be moving on to work his wonders in another unfortunate school.
Jack Roberts had visited the school prior to Fauntleroy’s departure in order to meet his new staff. He impressed Jeremy as a genuine person who would give his best to the school and to its students. Having been briefed by Chauncey, Jack, accompanied by the incoming deputy principal, also met with Jeremy and his executive colleague Dan Askin. The two junior executives gave Roberts a clear and unembellished description of the school, which he would be leading in the coming year. Their views, Jack later revealed, had been very different to those expressed by Chauncey, and their briefing had given Roberts a realistic picture of the difficulties which he would face as he tackled the task of cleaning up after Fauntleroy, and proceeded with the job of repairing the damage which Chauncey had done.
At this point Jeremy should have forced himself to retreat a little from the front line. However, following the Christmas vacation, he foolishly stepped up his efforts. He told himself that, if he could give maximum support to Roberts during the transition, all of his work of the previous two years, along with the efforts of his colleagues, would be rewarded with a dramatically improved school, in which the needs of the kids came first. (Jeremy later wondered whether it had not been just a case of pandering to his own ego and his need to prove himself worthwhile.)
With ten weeks of school left for the year, Mayhew one morning found himself sitting in his office crying uncontrollably. His body was heavy, incredibly heavy, his head hung forward and his hands were hanging by his sides. He was seated thus when Jack found him and quietly closed the door.
Mayhew was without the words to answer Jack’s question, or to explain the incredible fatigue which gripped his body and his mind. The weight of his being was intolerable. He wanted to stop crying but didn’t care if he never stopped. He needed to get control of himself but couldn’t care less if he were to sit there forever, flooding the floor with liquid grief. He wanted to refuse this behaviour, to have it stop, but he didn’t care if it went on and on, until his body and mind were drained of identity and he simply wasted away. The sense of despair was unbearable, a burden which could not be carried.
Roberts could do nothing. He was powerless to make any difference. He could see the physical manifestation of Mayhew’s trauma, but could not begin to imagine what was happening inside the man’s head. Jack called for his new deputy to watch over Jeremy until the suffering had subsided and then, when Mayhew had appeared to recover his self-control, spent a minute to assure himself that Jeremy could safely drive himself home.
The swell rose and fell beneath the board. Not big, but consistent – wrapping around the point. Warming sun, warm clear water over a sandy bottom and wispy fronds of weed brushing past the dangling feet. A moment’s respite from the rush of the breaking wave, the excitement of the forward lunge, the drop and turn to climb to the lip and drop again, fluid curves effortlessly arcing across the wave’s surface time and again. How could it be that such a simple act could bring such peace, such serenity, purity and clarity to the mind? How could it be that after less than twenty yearsof life, one could have such a burning need for this relief?
Mayhew was dazed, confused and ashamed. He was scared. He knew that something was seriously wrong, but he couldn’t understand what it was. He couldn’t explain to himself what had happened, let alone tell Jenni what was going on. The episode had rushed upon him without apparent warning, sweeping him up and then dumping him unceremoniously upon his doorstep.
As usual, Jenni provided the anchor. She had always done so, and always would. Jeremy was sent to the family’s doctor. James Yip diagnosed reactive depression* and referred Jeremy to a psychiatrist for specialist treatment. The specialist diagnosis was “burnout”, a fair description of the illness which had struck Jeremy so suddenly. Jeremy’s efforts to bring about change at The Hermitage had been successful to a degree, but that success had been achieved at an enormous cost to Jeremy’s mental health, and then with unforeseen impact upon Jenni and the kids.
* Reactive depression differs from endogenous depression in its cause, although the effects of both forms of the illness are essentially similar. Whereas endogenous depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, reactive depression tends to be the result of “reaction” to a trauma of some sort. This trauma may be such as is caused by a single incident, such as bereavement, a relationship breakdown or a physical injury, or it may result from on-going exposure to emotional and/or physical stresses. A single incident may trigger the reaction. In the case of a major trauma, the incident itself is enough to produce an episode of major depression, whereas, in the case of on-going stresses, an apparently minor incident may act as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. It is important to recognise that different people manage stress differently, and that it is unwise to try to compare the impact of similar events upon different people.
The sessions of psychiatric treatment seemed to do little to help Mayhew regain his equilibrium. Perhaps he didn’t want to accept the seriousness of his situation, or admit that he who had always seen himself as mentally tough, a “survivor”, could fall victim to mental breakdown. It may have been that he wasn’t ready to accept the help that he clearly needed in order to come to terms with his illness. Whatever the reason, the problems had not been adequately addressed when Mayhew returned to work at the beginning of the following year.
There was no time for Jeremy to feel any discomfort, or to wonder about the reactions of his colleagues to his extended break. Jack Roberts had been moved on after only one year as principal and the incoming leader had some alarming news for his staff.
Mal Chambers was a really decent person, who had given much of himself to students throughout an illustrious career, but now it was time to consider his family first. His cancer was in remission, but there were no guarantees, and he had taken this principal’s position in order to increase his superannuation payout, in the event that the worst should happen. At least his wife and kids could have a little more financial security after his death.
Mal told this to his staff at the outset, and then set about being the best principal The Hermitage had ever had. Mal’s frequent visits to hospital placed a strain upon Jeremy who had to constantly juggle his teaching role with his administrative duties, but Mayhew was glad to support a man whom he admired and respected. In just a few months, Mal gained the affection of his staff and of his students, and the respect of the community, which made his death so much more difficult to bear.
Jeremy, as the most senior executive, took the role of acting principal. A casual replacement was recruited to teach his class and he began working from the principal’s office. Despite the demands of an unfamiliar role and the need to see his staff and students through the trauma of Mal’s death, Mayhew found that the stress upon himself was much less than it had been when he was trying to teach his class and manage his executive responsibilities as well. He was relieved of the terrible guilt, which he had been feeling every time he had been required to leave his class under the indirect supervision of his neighbouring colleague, in order to deal with a school management problem.
As principal Jeremy was responsible for everything to do with the running of The Hermitage and there was, therefore, no conflict of roles and responsibilities. His management strategy was simple – prioritise all tasks each morning and then complete as many as possible during the day. Anything not completed on one day was carried over into the next, when the process was repeated. Emerging or unforeseen needs were fitted into the list for the day.
In determining priorities, Jeremy followed a simple plan. All actions directly involving people would take precedence over paperwork, and paperwork would be sorted into three piles – “people paper”, which would directly affect staff and students, “administrivia”, which had to be dealt with but did not immediately impact upon people and their needs, and “rubbish”, which included the countless brochures and flyers which appeared each day upon the desk of any principal. In between managing immediate “people matters”, Mayhew would deal with the “people paper”, and then with the “administrivia”. On those exceptionally rare occasions when time was available, he would preview the “rubbish”, before consigning it to the bin or placing it upon the staffroom table for teachers to peruse.
The system seemed to work well. Over a period of two or three months the school recovered from the shock of Mal’s death, staff and students were able to return to teaching and learning, and the school began to function once more. With the support of staff, students and parents, Jeremy Mayhew was doing a good job.
Unfortunately, Jeremy was not technically qualified to do what he was doing. The schooling system’s rules required that the acting principal of The Hermitage should be qualified at the next highest level on the promotions ladder. Chauncey Fauntleroy had been technically qualified at this level and his performance as a principal was destructive and dangerous. It was agreed by the District Inspector that Mayhew was managing very well indeed, but the rules had to be obeyed. Mayhew would have to be replaced as acting principal.
His colleagues greeted this news with feelings ranging from annoyance to outrage, and parents were keen to express their preference that Jeremy should remain in the role until the end of the school year. The Education Department’s plan was to install a “caretaker principal” for the remaining six months of the year, before appointing a new permanent principal at the beginning of the following year. This would have meant that The Hermitage would have suffered years of incompetent management at the hands of Chauncey Fauntleroy, enjoyed a one year respite with Jack Roberts at the helm, experienced the joy of working with Mal Chambers and the sorrow of his death, accommodated a “fill-in” principal for six months and finally, hopefully, returned to some semblance of stability with the appointment of a new permanent principal.
In the two years since the welcome departure of Fauntleroy, the school would have experienced five changes of leadership. It is not necessary to have worked in a school to know that this was a ludicrous proposition, which could only have negative outcomes for the school community.
Mayhew expressed this view in writing to the Regional Director of Education. After correspondence to and fro, Mayhew was eventually informed that a compromise position had been reached. The school’s new principal would be appointed as “caretaker” for the next six months, before becoming permanent at the beginning of the following year. Jeremy was delighted, and surprised, that common sense had prevailed. He was less pleased when he discovered that Dolores Palin was to be the new principal.
Dolores took charge at the beginning of the second semester. She made her presence felt immediately. Neither seeking nor accepting advice in relation to the current workings of the school, Dolores instituted change rapidly. Prior to Mal Chambers’ death, students and teachers had begun to create painted murals on selected brick walls, with a view to enhancing their school environment. Colourful literary characters and indigenous symbols appeared, brightening the drab buildings tremendously. Students, teachers and parents loved it. Unable to find any paperwork from the Education Department which authorised this programme, Dolores put an immediate stop to it.
It didn’t take long for the staff to understand that they would do as they were told, when they were told. Those who had endured the Fauntleroy years could only despair that the wheel had turned full-circle. It was small comfort to them to know that, if they had survived Fauntleroy, they could survive Palin, too.
Mayhew was stunned. If he had not agitated so strongly for the appointment of a new principal, The Hermitage might have been spared an additional six months under Palin. Exhausted and frustrated, his health began to suffer again. He found that he could not support his colleagues properly, and that his work in the classroom was suffering. The depression returned later in the year and Jeremy had to take sick leave in order to make even a limited recovery.
Jeremy’s application for transfer was successful, and his relief was real. It was just as real and as deep as the sorrow which he felt at leaving the students, teachers and parents who had become such an important part of his life during the last four years.
- Castaway. . .
Dolores Palin had been principal at Greenleaf Public School for three years. As she left to take up her promotion at The Hermitage, she left a damaged group behind her. Muriel Scattergood, Greenleaf’s newly appointed principal, found herself faced with teachers who were sceptical and suspicious, defensive and withdrawn. In addition, she needed to create a new executive team which contained three new faces. This was not what she had expected, as she settled in to prepare for her impending retirement.
Jeremy Mayhew and Sean McDermott were her new assistant principals. Of similar age, each impressed Muriel as having knowledge, skill and energy. They could be of great value to her, carrying a large share of the load.
Mayhew and McDermott immediately formed a comfortable working relationship, and, with a class full of good kids, Jeremy could see that there was a future to be had. Muriel seemed reasonable, but then almost anyone would have seemed that way after his experiences with Fauntleroy and Palin. Jeremy enrolled in a part-time course at Wollongong University in order to obtain his education degree. This was considered an essential for anyone with aspirations to a principalship.
February became April, became March, and Mayhew was gaining strength and optimism. Despite carrying a full teaching load, administrative duties and his studies, he was feeling stronger and stronger. Jenni could see that her husband was beginning to move forward, and that he was trying hard to put the lousy experiences of the previous four years behind him. Perhaps some normality might return to her life, too.
Under different circumstances, the letter could have been innocuous, but Mayhew was still a little sensitive. During the last few years he had been ill for lengthy periods of time. The degree of illness varied from instance to instance. Most of the physical illnesses had had their root cause in the stress under which Mayhew had been working. The periods of depression could be directly traced to the destructive nature of the time spent at The Hermitage, particularly under the dictatorship of Fauntleroy and, later, Palin.
Jeremy had used up weeks of sick leave and long-service leave, recovering from what had been work-induced illness, stress-created sickness, for which he was, in fact, entitled to workers’ compensation. James Yip had seen Jeremy through the worst of this time, encouraging and supporting his patient, and teaching Jeremy how to better manage the events which might otherwise have destroyed him. However, the doctor had advised strongly against any claim for workers’ compensation. His reason was simple. James Yip’s experience had taught him that people who sought redress for mental injury through the system, always ended up in court.
The NSWIO was the insurer which carried the workers compensation risk for the state government. Theirs was a business which was focussed utterly upon making a profit, and, as Mayhew was later to learn from horrifying personal experience, the company would do anything and everything it could, to avoid making compensation payments to injured teachers. Where witnesses could testify that a worker had tripped over broken pavement and broken a leg, the company had little option but to pay, but where mental injury was concerned, the NSWIO, and companies like it, could draw upon a range of strategies, which would eventually make it impossible for a claimant for mental injury to succeed, without risking further, serious mental injury.
For this reason James Yip had persuaded Mayhew to refrain from claiming compensation for what was undoubtedly a workplace injury. Now Jeremy had received a letter from the Department of Education, informing him that his sick leave record was unsatisfactory, and that his leave would be monitored from that point on. The implication, as Jeremy read it, was that he had been “taking sickies” ( an allegation no doubt laid by Palin), that he had been abusing the system.
Mayhew was appalled. It was almost as if someone had crept up from behind and bludgeoned him with a brick. He had struggled against all sorts of adversity to give his best to the students at The Hermitage. The effort had cost him dearly and now the Department was suggesting that he was a bludger, a malingerer, someone who put his own wants ahead of the welfare of his students. When the shock was over, Mayhew was furious.
He took the letter, and his anger, to Muriel. Muriel didn’t need to be bothered with this sort of thing. She had more pressing matters with which to deal. She did her best impression of a mother hen, trying to placate Mayhew, but it did no good. Jeremy left school that afternoon, still seething and vowing to reply to the letter.
Although the letter had been signed by some junior bureaucrat, it came above the name of the Assistant Regional Director of Education, Dr. Adrian Knowall. It was to him that Mayhew addressed his reply. When, out of courtesy, he asked Muriel to proof read the document for him, Muriel was worried. She talked about “strong tone” and “over-reaction”, but she couldn’t stop Mayhew from sending it.
The fury and the frustration he had felt during the past four years, was acid in his pen, and it poured onto the page. By now Mayhew knew the system, knew that his words would fall on deaf ears, but at least he would say the words – he wouldn’t sit still and just cop it. He wasn’t surprised, or impressed, when he had a visit from Beau Flashman, Cluster Director. (Cluster Directors had superseded District Inspectors following the latest round of bureaucratic rationalisation. They performed the same tasks, but under a new, improved name.)
Jeremy had known him, in the early seventies, as a rising star. At that time Beau had been teaching at a school not too distant from Western Primary, and he carried a degree of local fame. Mayhew had met him whilst working on music festivals which were an annual event for schools in the district. Beau was earmarked for stardom, a legend in his own lunchtime.
Over the years, through the grapevine, Jeremy had heard of Flashman’s ascendance. Passing smoothly through the executive ranks, Beau had achieved the principalship, and had now gone on to bigger and better things. Flashman was a chameleon. He had the capacity to change his beliefs, values and behaviours to suit his latest level of promotion. He was the consummate bureaucrat. Aside from the amazing flexibility of his credo, Beau’s other great strength lay in the fact that always looked the part. His dress was always impeccable, his grooming immaculate. Beau’s crowning glory was a shock of fair hair which, set perfectly in flowing waves, swept back from his temples, partly covered his ears, and rested upon his perfectly ironed collar.
Such was the vision which greeted Mayhew in Muriel’s office, several weeks after Jeremy’s response to “the letter” had hit Dr Knowall’s desk. An engaging smile and warm handshake were followed by an apparently sincere enquiry as to Jeremy’s health, and repeated assurances to the effect that Jeremy’s dedication to his work had not been in question, that the department’s letter had been simply a matter of form, a “technical requirement”. Dr Knowall was anxious that Jeremy should know that his position was understood.
As he listened, Mayhew wondered why, if the good Doctor were so personally concerned, he had not contacted Jeremy directly, rather than sending a lackey. Beau was good. In fact, he was very good. Beau was smooth, very smooth. Had he been talking to anyone but Jeremy, he might have smoothed things over, but Flashman’s smooth words and smooth manner could not convince Mayhew. Flashman was a bureaucrat, representing another bureaucrat, in a bureaucracy which had promoted and then supported people like Chauncey and Dolores, despite knowing of their incompetence and capacity for wreaking destruction. As Jeremy left the room has was very careful in placing his feet. He hated treading in bovine excreta.
The biggest problem with managing depression is that you often don’t get any warning that it’s coming. This is particularly true of reactive depression, the one that is triggered by some event, usually traumatic even if it doesn’t appear so at the time. Another problem lies in the fact that, what may be for one person a minor setback, can be for another so serious as to send that second person spinning, out of control, into “the pit”.
Mayhew had seen at first hand, through the impact upon Bob Cartwright at Western Primary School almost twenty years before, what could happen to a genuine teacher whose commitment to the job had been called into question. Despite Beau’s gleaming smile and soothing assurances, Mayhew still felt insulted, denigrated and diminished. And the anger wouldn’t go away. Still, he hadn’t expected that the department’s letter would have the impact which it eventually did have.
The weeks following Flashman’s visit passed in apparent normality. Mayhew was earning the respect of his new colleagues, his class was running smoothly and producing promising outcomes for his students. Cycling to and from work was having the desired effect upon his physical fitness and his mind was pleasantly stimulated by his studies. No-one was more shocked than Mayhew himself when, after feeling a little unwell for a day or two, minor headaches and an upset stomach, he found himself sitting in Muriel’s office, unable to control the tears which washed down his face.
He was stunned, but he knew what was happening. His feelings and his body’s reactions were almost identical to those he had experienced a couple of years earlier, sitting powerless in his office at The Hermitage. Muriel was flustered. She didn’t know what to do, but she did know that she didn’t want the responsibility of looking after this human wreckage. As soon as Mayhew was able to be moved, she sent him home and rang the Cluster Director.
James Yip knew what was happening, too. He immediately referred Jeremy to the psychiatrist who had treated him during the last major episode. A fourfold increase in medication saw Jeremy pacified within days, the anxiety numbed and the panic controlled. Jenni could do no more than be there, suppressing her own fears and ignoring her own need for support and comfort, for the sake of her drifting husband, and her children. At thirteen, Damon had seen his father disintegrate before his eyes, and seven year old Erin knew that Dad was sick, but couldn’t really understand how.
Mayhew would never know, and could never know, just how his illness had affected those he loved most. Even years after his recovery from this episode, he was never able to properly appreciate what Jenni and his children had experienced. Some would suggest that a depressed person is simply selfish, and given to wallowing in self-pity. Their remedy lies in encouraging the patient to “get over it”, and they offer helpful advice such as “it’s not really that big a deal” or “just ignore it and get on with your life”. These are the reactions of people who have no fundamental understanding of what depression is about.
Jenni had to learn about depression, manage an afflicted husband, care for two children, deal with her own fears, and work full-time. There was no certainty that Jeremy would ever recover enough to work again. Despite being advised to pack up, take the kids and move out, she stayed. She’s still stays today, many years and a thousand further dramas on.
At first the place to which Mayhew’s depression carried him, was very broad and very black. Jeremy wasn’t confined there all the time, but his early visits were regular and each one lasted for quite some time. In his perception, his being was encased in darkness, wrapped up as if in a cloak, but able to move about. The space had no walls and it went on forever, and Jeremy could feel that he was free to move anywhere he chose, but no matter where he moved, he found that he was facing more of the same – a clinging darkness which separated him from everyone and removed him from himself. Sleep was the escape. After eating breakfast with the family and watching Jenni leave for work and the kids head off to school, Mayhew retreated to his bed, where he slept until the kids came home.
One of the most disabling aspects of depression, lies in the patient’s inability to communicate with those around him. At the dinner table, Mayhew could talk, ask and answer questions, comment on the news of the day, but he couldn’t communicate where the important stuff was concerned. Not only could he not get the messages out, but it was very difficult for him to take in what was really being said. He heard the words but couldn’t interpret the expressions. It was almost as if he were hearing through ear muffs, which filtered out the nuances of the language. He was hearing and speaking mechanically, and not with his heart and mind.
Even today, Jeremy is unable to adequately explain what depression is, what it does, how it disempowers, unless he speaks with someone who has had first-hand experience of the condition, or who, like Jenni, has lived with and cared for someone for many years.
It was weeks before the black space began to fade, leaving Jeremy enveloped in a world of grey. This greyness, too, slowly receded, and Jeremy found himself sleeping less during the day, and able to manage some household tasks. He began to feel less of the self-loathing and uselessness, which he had experienced during the preceding weeks.
His awareness began to return, and with it came the realisation that, with sick-leave exhausted and his long-service leave severely depleted, he would soon cease earning salary. Few things motivated Jeremy better than the fear of poverty. Beau Flashman’s phone call brought an invitation to visit him at his office.
Beau had a plan. Beau said that he could see that Jeremy would never be able to resume his duties as an assistant principal, the stress would be just too much for him to handle. Beau said that he could understand Jeremy’s situation. He had had some experience of depression through a relative who had been affected. Flashman offered Jeremy a lifeline.
At Grace Bussell Primary School, which was just around the corner from The Hermitage, and served a similar community, there was a teacher whose role was to provide relief for absent teachers in local schools. Her base was at Grace Bussell, but the majority of her time was to have been spent at other schools. Unfortunately, most of her time had been spent looking after classes for executive teachers at Grace Bussell, and she was feeling the strain very badly.
The principal of Grace Bussell was a very close friend of Flashman’s, and his plan to help Mayhew was also going to relieve the distress of the relief-teacher, and solve a problem which had been causing considerable nuisance for his good friend. Mayhew would relinquish his position as assistant principal at Greenleaf, and apply for a transfer to Grace Bussell, where he would be based as a relief-teacher for the district. The incumbent relief-teacher, who had been quite ill as a result of the stress created by her job, would be transferred to Greenleaf, to take up Jeremy’s classroom teaching role. Everyone would be happy, especially the principal of Grace Bussell, and therefore Beau Flashman.
Mayhew’s prime imperative was to stay employed, and earning salary. This, coupled with the fact that he was not yet recovered from the depression, masked any concerns as to the likely outcome of Beau’s plan. (How smart was it to replace a teacher suffering from workplace stress with a teacher experiencing severe depression, as a result of workplace stress?) Jeremy could trust Beau, couldn’t he? Beau would look after him, wouldn’t he? In the final analysis Mayhew had had no choice, and in the absence of any useful alternative advice, he agreed to follow Flashman’s suggestion.
Jeremy lasted one week and one day at Grace Bussell. On all but his first day in the new job, he had been required to take classes for missing executive teachers at Grace Bussell. Given that the standard of student behaviour and discipline at this school was roughly equivalent to that which he had found upon first joining The Hermitage, he never really stood a chance of survival.
His resignation followed a fairly typical morning session. All but two of the school’s executive members were absent on that day. Beau’s close friend, the principal, was upwardly mobile and seeking the promotion which would ultimately release her from the hell-hole which was Grace Bussell Primary School. She and two deputy principals were away conducting a special course for talented children. Strangely, none of the children who attended Grace Bussell Primary School were attending the special course. The primary department’s assistant principal was attending an in-service course, and the school had been left in the incompetent hands of the the most junior executive teacher.
Mayhew had inherited his class and discovered that the young executive’s teaching skills were no more advanced than his leadership skills. The class required more tolerance than Mayhew possessed and, when he felt it likely that he would become violent towards one particularly aggressive and obnoxious student, Jeremy collected his belongings and left the premises.
The fog closed in again and Jeremy couldn’t raise the energy to be surprised or annoyed when Beau Flashman didn’t seem particularly concerned that his plan had failed.
As far as Beau was concerned, his good friend the principal at Grace Bussell would no longer have to supervise relief-teachers who couldn’t handle the job, and Mayhew’s predecessor in the impossible job was now comfortably accommodated at Greenleaf. Two out of three ain’t bad. Mayhew had resigned, and need no longer be of any concern to Beau, who could get on with the business of furthering his own career.
The depression was neither as deep, nor as long-lasting this time, and Jeremy was ready to start looking for a new job, just as his superannuation payout was beginning to disappear. Jenni had lived through the experience again, somehow. She had protected the kids as much as it was possible to do so, and supported Jeremy as he focussed on moving forward.
Mayhew had all sorts of ideas. Maybe they could buy a milk-delivery business, or he could become a courier, do something which would get him away from the past. They could sell the house and move the family to a small village just outside Cooma, where they had bought a small block of land. Without a mortgage, they could manage if Jeremy got any sort of work. Jenni would be able to raise border collies on their one acre block . . .
She listened to his ramblings, knowing that they were entirely impractical, and knowing too, that her family’s security depended entirely upon her keeping her present job, and maintaining the family members in their home. Faced with this need, Jenni realised that she had no alternative but to ask her employer to pay her what she was worth, and not what she had been getting. Faced with the prospect of losing his right-hand, her boss decided that he would finally have to pay her what she had always deserved.
With five long days each week at work in a high-pressure job, the task of caring for two children who had felt the impact of the turmoil which their father’s circumstances had wrought upon the family, and the need to rehabilitate her husband, Jennifer Mayhew had more than enough responsibility to keep three adults occupied. However, with Jenni firmly in control, the family began to recover.
It was Jenni who found the ad in the local paper. The district’s TAFE college was seeking teachers of literacy and numeracy to work in the Labour Market Programmes, a federal government initiative which was designed to make the unemployed more employable. There was nothing else going and Jeremy thought that it would be worth a look, even if only in the short term. When he appeared at the administration office and said that he was interested in the advertised position, the receptionist phoned through to the Programme Co-ordinator, who instructed the receptionist to tie Mayhew into a chair, so that he could not escape, while she hurried from her office. He started work the next day.
It felt good to be back in front of a class again, and these students were different. Most of them didn’t mind being there. Young and not so young adults, many of them seemed to appreciate that Mayhew had something to offer them. He must have done a reasonable job, too, because within weeks he had an invitation to teach at a second college, and finally, the Regional Co-ordinator asked Jeremy to teach one course at her TAFE college, and to design, teach and manage another. Before long, Mayhew was working up to thirty six hours a week, part-time, at three different campuses.
His work in TAFE convinced Mayhew of two things. The first was that he still had what it took to be a class act in front of a class, that it had never been students who had contributed to his fall from grace. The second was that, while the schooling system, at all levels, continued to be managed for the good of the bureaucrats and politicians, real education would never be served. The TAFE system, just like the primary and secondary school systems, was almost certainly riddled with incompetence and with the potential for corruption. Throughout all tiers of the system, beyond the teachers who gave their best in classrooms, there existed a culture of self-promotion at the expense of students.
- Rescued, or not.
The TAFE courses were winding down towards the end of the year and Jeremy found that he had the occasional day free. A friend who worked as a school assistant in the office at Macarthur Vale Public School, about twenty minutes from Jeremy’s home, asked Mayhew if he would be interested in taking a day or two as a casual teacher. He discussed the suggestion with Jenni and they decided that it was worth a try.
Mayhew met the principal, Carl Hanwood, who showed him to the classroom where he would spend his first day. They were a year six group who might need a firm hand, Carl told him. Jeremy wondered if he hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew, but at the end of the day the kids were asking if he would come back tomorrow. Jeremy spent several more days at Macarthur Vale before the year was out, and enjoyed every one. He was still shaky, and watchful for any signs of his anxiety increasing, but he slowly gained strength and his confidence began to return.
Carl had been watching Mayhew’s progress and he was sufficiently impressed as to offer Jeremy a lengthy period of work, at least one term and possibly the whole year, to commence after the Christmas holidays. Before agreeing to talk with Jenni and with James Yip, about the offer, Jeremy gave Carl an abbreviated history of his mental health problems and their impact upon his previous work. He wanted the principal to know what he was buying. Carl seemed unconcerned about the past, and soon the deal was done.
Nearly nine hundred students attended Macarthur Vale, along with about forty teachers. Lyn McDermott, the wife of Sean, Jeremy’s colleague at Greenleaf, was there, as was Anne-Marie Williams, wife of Andy who had been a senior teacher during Jeremy’s time at Western and a man who had greatly influenced Mayhew’s thinking about education. Andy was now a principal, and a very good one.
Unfortunately Sean was not faring as well. Muriel Scattergood was proving to be more than a little dictatorial and dogmatic in her management style, and she apparently did not welcome Sean’s forthright expression of his views. Lyn told Mayhew that Sean was becoming increasingly dissatisfied.
Although sympathetic to Sean’s situation, Jeremy had more than enough of his own concerns to deal with. He lived in a constant state of fear. He was managing his class well, and his teaching was strong and effective. His students showed that they appreciated him as a teacher, and as a person. But the fear was always there. What if the severe depression returned? Could he handle another major episode and come through it in one piece? What would happen to his family if he got sick again? The doubts did not engage his mind full time, but they were always there, tucked away at the back. What if?
Carl Hanwood made his thoughts known very clearly. Barely three months had passed since Mayhew had taken his place at Mac Vale, when Carl sat down beside Mayhew in the staffroom one morning. Having dispensed with the usual greetings, Carl got straight to the point. Jeremy should immediately apply for reinstatement to the teaching service as a permanent teacher, and having been granted that status, he should also apply for executive positions in selected schools.
Mayhew was a little taken aback. He had already come to like and respect Hanwood as a principal who put the interests of his students first, and as someone who would look after his teachers, so that they could look after his students. He knew that he had Carl’s support, but the idea of returning to teaching permanently hadn’t entered his head. Any suggestion that he should return to an executive role was beyond consideration. Having thanked the principal for his support, Mayhew agreed to think about Carl’s suggestion, and promptly put the whole idea out of his mind. He knew that he simply lacked the strength to deal with it.
Carl Hanwood had anticipated Mayhew’s reaction. He had merely wanted to plant the seed, believing that Mayhew was a “natural” teacher, and that he would ultimately find the return to a permanent teaching role, impossible to resist. Carl was right. After six months at Mac Vale, Jeremy was being interviewed for a permanent position. Now all he had to do was get an appointment to Mac Vale.
The message came during the Christmas holidays and Jeremy, Jenni and their kids could not have had a better Christmas present. For Jenni, Erin and Damon it meant a return to something like normality. It was a bit like getting their husband and father back. For Jeremy it meant security. He could provide for the family again and take some of the financial strain off Jenni, but more than anything he felt a degree of safety, which he had not experienced for a very long time.
Mayhew knew that Carl understood his circumstances and respected his ability as a teacher. He could be confident of the principal’s support, if things got rough. Mayhew knew, too, that his colleagues, after spending a full year with the “new” member of the team, had no doubts about his ability to carry his weight. Jeremy had made no secret of his mental illness, speaking openly in the staffroom whenever such issues were discussed and, rather than creating a rift between him and his colleagues, it seemed to create a bridge.
Moreover, the students had taken a liking to him. Even those who weren’t in his own class seemed keen to get to know him. Mayhew never did his playground duty without the company of a small group of kids.
Very slowly, the fears receded. They didn’t disappear, and many years later still lurked in the background, but their presence was less menacing. During the early years at Mac Vale, Jeremy gradually became happy in his work once more. Some normality returned to the family. Jenni was able to relax a little, not needing to be constantly on her guard and watching for the warning signs, which might signal another episode of depression in her husband.
She could never be free of worry however, and the next turn of events brought her fears rushing back.
Week by week and month by month, Jeremy gained strength and confidence, but the anger never left him. Whilst he had been ill, and later during the long and slow recovery period, Mayhew had had no energy for anger. His entire focus had been upon recovery, and feeling anger had slipped to the bottom of the heap where his priorities were concerned. But with a couple of more comfortable years behind him, Jeremy became increasingly aware of the smouldering anger which had been suppressed for so long.
Mayhew could never tell, even years later, whether his decision was driven by a selfish need for revenge, or by some altruistic motive such as the desire to change an evil system, so that others need never have similar experiences to those which had almost destroyed himself. He genuinely believed that by having the history of events at The Hermitage, and then at Greenleaf, examined in an open court, someone would have to acknowledge that the system was rotten and urgently needed change. Whatever the motivation, Mayhew announced to Jenni that he wanted to make a claim for workers’ compensation for the periods of illness, starting at the time of his exposure to Chauncey Fauntleroy at The Hermitage.
Like Jenni, James Yip was not impressed. He knew what Mayhew’s wife and children had been through. He had been an important part of their survival and he had first-hand knowledge of the battles which they had fought to bring Jeremy back from the pit. Mayhew’s proposal could do no good, and might well undo years of work. He made no secret of his view that Jeremy was selfish and thoughtless. He warned Mayhew that a court case was inevitable, and that, where dollars were concerned, insurance companies would go to extreme lengths to avoid making a payout.
Though not convinced that he was right, Mayhew went ahead and contacted his union for support. He told himself that this was his one way of finishing unfinished business. If he didn’t sort this out, there was a good chance that the anger would eat away at him forever.
One thing you learn when you live in a housing commission “community” is that you don’t just take it, when you get hit. You’ve got to get back at anyone who tries to hurt you, because if you don’t, they’ll know you’re weak and they’ll do it to you again.
If you’re a skinny, weedy kid and someone belts you up, you can’t fight back because you’ll only get hurt worse, so you have to be smarter than they are, and work out some way to hurt them, without them knowing it was you. If you can’t actually do it, then you just think about it – you dream of what it would be like to be a winner for a change. And then, because dreams never come true, you realise that you’re really a coward, that you’ve got no power, and you never will have. You learn that you’ll be scared forever.
The union listened to his case, made sympathetic noises and referred him to their solicitors for advice. The solicitors tried to persuade Mayhew that the case was difficult. The nature of the illness . . . the uncertainty of the law . . . “psychological injury is very hard to prove” . . . the passage of time . . .
Resistance from the legal people served only to make Jeremy more determined. If the law was a problem, then the law should be changed. Maybe this was a case which might make a difference in the long term, and on quite a large scale. “Don” Jeremy Mayhew mounted his trusty steed, seized his lance, and set forth to tilt at the windmills.
After weeks of debate, the taking and re-taking of statements, some brief soul-searching on Mayhew’s behalf, and continuing anxiety for Jenni, the solicitors finally agreed to take the matter forward, and the union would foot the bill. Next followed a round of psychiatric assessments, some sought by his own solicitors and some demanded by the NSWIO. Reports from James Yip and Mayhew’s psychiatrist were requested. Eventually a day was set down for the case to be heard in the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Jeremy was managing. Jenni was, as ever, still supporting, all the while holding her breath and crossing her fingers that the whole thing didn’t blow up in their faces. She didn’t relish the prospect of seeing her husband back in the land of darkness. She didn’t know if she had the strength to drag him out again.
One morning, some weeks before the case was due to be heard, she headed off to work as usual. When she reached the freeway heading for Liverpool she noticed that a car seemed to be following her. She changed lanes several times, sped up and slowed down, and the other car duplicated her movements. After ten minutes she was worried and she didn’t feel any better when she left the freeway at the Liverpool exit, and the other vehicle continued to shadow her.
It tracked her all the way through the back streets of Liverpool, only disappearing when she turned into her carpark. By now Jenni was scared, and she looked as carefully as she could for any sign of the following driver, before she left her car and walked quickly to her office.
The police expressed real concern when, after taking some time to recover from the ordeal, Jenni reported the incident. They advised her to contact Jeremy and to have him collect Erin from school at the end of the day. Her boss made sure that she was accompanied by two of her male colleagues as she returned to her car that afternoon, and her trip home was distressing but uneventful.
Conversation at that evening’s meal centred on the incident. The entire Mayhew family was confused, angry and more than a little worried about the peculiar occurrence, but it was decided that things should go on as normal, albeit with great care being taken to stay safe.
Damon and his father looked around outside the house before Damon left for work next morning. Everything seemed normal, and Damon set off for the city. He had been gone about twenty minutes when the phone rang and Jeremy answered.
It was Damon. He had been followed since leaving the house. The car which had scared the life out of his mother the day before, had followed him along the expressway, breaking off only when they had reached the toll gates past Liverpool.
The police were notified and action was promised. For the second consecutive day the Mayhews experienced real fear.
The knock on the door at 6:00 a.m. next morning was greeted with caution. Jeremy, flanked by his son, first checked through the adjacent window, and then opened the door to greet two police detectives. They had just apprehended the driver of the mystery car, parked in a side-street about fifty metres away from the Mayhew’s house.
He had satisfied the detectives that he was a private investigator, who had been hired by an insurance company to carry out surveillance on a person who was making a workers’ compensation claim. He could not explain why he had chosen to follow Jenni or Damon, so the police advised him not to be anywhere near the Mayhew family again.
It didn’t take long for the realisation of what he had done, to impact upon Mayhew. Due to his desire to chase justice, he had endangered his family. There had been a very real possibility that his wife, or his son, might have been involved in a major accident, as they were being pursued at a hundred and ten kilometres per hour along the freeway. James Yip had warned him about the tactics used by some insurance companies to avoid paying compensation, but he hadn’t expected this kind of harassment. To be targeted personally was one thing, but to have his family attacked was something else.
Jenni and Jeremy had some serious talking to do. He was considering pulling out of the case, given the effect it was having on the family, but Jenni, supported by Damon and Erin, wouldn’t hear of it. As with everything else she had done in her life, with or without Jeremy, Jenni had made a commitment and she would see it through.
Although it did not have any impact upon their decision to continue with the case, Lyn McDermott’s story confirmed that there was a need for someone to reveal the level of abuse, incompetence and corruption which existed in the system.
Muriel Scattergood had taken some well-earned long-service leave from Greenleaf, leaving Sean McDermott as acting principal. Muriel had recently had some difficulty in managing a student, or more particularly, the family of a student. The student (we’ll call him Ed) had a record of violence, including assaults upon students and teachers, stretching back to kindergarten and he had been supported in his behaviour by his parents. His father was violent, but his mother preferred to use the legal system to intimidate anyone who upset her, or her son.
The mother’s legal actions had frightened bureaucrats, who sat towards the very top of the tree. None wanted to have any negative publicity attached to their name, since this could bring the wrath of the politicians and perhaps the loss of powerful and well-paid positions. Word had doubtless been passed down the line and Muriel was probably under instruction to keep things quiet at Greenleaf. When Ed threatened to kill Sean, Muriel was anxious that Sean should not take the matter further. She made it clear to Sean that she would not be pleased if he were to do so.
During Muriel’s absence a situation developed which required Sean to intervene. A teacher on playground duty had reported seeing Ed carrying a knife and brandishing it near other students. Upon investigation Sean discovered that this was true, and when Ed produced a hunting knife from his bag, the education department’s own policy left Sean no option but to suspend the boy immediately.
Upon her return from leave Muriel had probably had an earful from the bureaucrats, and she, in turn, vented her spleen on Sean. In the ensuing months she harassed and tormented Sean to the point where he was unable to take any more, and he broke down completely. His life had been threatened by a student, who had the physical and emotional capability to carry out the threat. Shortly after the threats had been made, the student had brought to school, a weapon which was purpose built for killing. The system, which was supposed to protect people from such situations, had then proceeded to persecute the victim. Plunged into a deep depression, Sean had been severely punished for his refusal to accept the abuse and violent behaviour of Ed and his family.
It has since been suggested that Muriel didn’t escape retribution for her part in the destruction of a dedicated teacher. Her plan for a comfortable retirement from Greenleaf was brought to an abrupt halt, when she was diagnosed with the illness which claimed her life a short time later.
Lyn then, like Jenni, nursed her husband and her family through a nightmare which lasted for several years. Try as he might, Sean could not return to teaching, and it was thought later, that the stress of seeing her husband so cruelly destroyed, was a major factor in Lyn’s death from cancer.
Sean and Lyn would not be the last victims, as the bureaucrats refused to deal with Ed and his family. These people were to have a part to play in the last great attack which the system would make upon Jeremy Mayhew.
After the incident with the private investigator, Jeremy was increasingly anxious to get the matter over with. His anxiety was heightened when, after appearing at the Commission on the appointed day, the hearing was adjourned because the opposition had failed to arrange for their witnesses to appear. The delay was almost enough to convince Jenni and Jeremy that the fight was too big for them to win, but they didn’t give up, instead waiting for a seemingly endless period, before receiving notice of a second appearance date.
In the meantime, the delaying tactics almost paid dividends for the opposition. The stress resulted in Jeremy’s inability to maintain himself in Mac Vale, and, with intervention from Carl Hanwood, no doubt, Mayhew was invited to spend some recovery time working in the Regional Office, under the care of the Regional Staff Welfare Officer. For the first time in twenty-five years, the bureaucracy was taking positive steps to support teachers who had been disabled by the system.
Jeremy and Jenni arrived at the hearing rooms early enough to have a meeting with the new barrister who would argue their case. Supported by two friends who had agreed to testify on Mayhew’s behalf, they sat waiting for the clock to tick over to the appointed hour, when the trio of witnesses for the opposition arrived. The triplets were dressed in almost matching dark suits, and as they entered the waiting area they reminded Jeremy of a string of elephants, each holding in its trunk, the tail of the beast in front. Flashman led, of course, followed closely by Jack Roberts. Chauncey Fauntleroy brought up the rear.
Mayhew could barely control his excitement. At last, Fauntleroy and the system would be subject to scrutiny in the clinical atmosphere of a courtroom. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, Mayhew would have succeeded in exposing the corruption which had enabled and protected Chauncey, and others of his ilk, in their persecution of teachers and students. When other victims heard of the case, as they certainly would, more would come forward with their stories. This was to be the beginning of something truly worthwhile.
Mayhew’s naivety was palpable.
He took the stand at about ten-thirty and, as a practising atheist, gave his affirmation. Guided by his barristers questions, Mayhew described the environment at The Hermitage, giving a clear account of the problems which he and his colleagues had faced. Fauntleroy’s behaviour was closely scrutinised. Mayhew broke down and wept as he described the incident in which Chauncey had caned the four shoplifters, and then handed the weapon to Mayhew, with instructions to use it in the future.
After a short break during which Mayhew was able to regather himself, the opposition’s barrister went into action. He questioned Mayhew closely and repeatedly, trying to find some inconsistency in his account. The man returned several times, to the matter of Mayhew’s meeting with Jack Roberts, which had taken place prior to Roberts’ assumption of the leadership at The Hermitage. Mayhew was puzzled at first by the barrister’s emphasis upon this point. The man rephrased his question each time, but the thrust was the same – Mayhew was “mistaken”. This meeting had never taken place.
Quickly the realisation dawned upon Jeremy. Jack Roberts, in a bid to protect himself from accusations of unprofessional behaviour, had denied meeting with Mayhew and Dan Askin, and he would undoubtedly give evidence to this effect. Mayhew’s certainty upon the witness stand had convinced the opposition barrister that Roberts was lying, and he was now faced with the task of destroying Mayhew’s credibility.
By three in the afternoon, the barrister had had to admit defeat on the issue of the meeting with Roberts. Mayhew had withstood the inquisition, sticking fast to the truth. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jeremy and Jenni left the commission and drove home.
During the hours which passed while Jeremy was in the witness stand, Jenni had sat and waited in the ante-room.This was how it had been for a thousand years. Jeremy did what he needed to do. He pushed and pushed until he fell down. Jenni waited. She waited for him to do what he had to do, and then she dealt with the outcomes. She waited for him to fall down, and then she picked him up. She waited while he pursued justice ( a fruitless pursuit, as anyone experienced in the game will confirm) and then waited for him to recover from his exertions. She worked at work, and she worked at home. She struggled to lessen the impact of Mayhew’s quest upon their children. She kept the family together, and she kept them reasonably sane.
Mayhew had the best of it all. He was active. He was obvious. He had something to drive him on, something to provide the energy which was needed to maintain the attack. Jenni was trapped, unable to do much, other than support her husband and protect her children. She was forced to wait, and the waiting, the uncertainty, the fear that Jeremy would collapse at any moment, drove her crazy.
Only those who have known the deepest love, who have witnessed the greatest courage, who have appreciated the truest dedication, can hope to understand why she survived then, and why she continues to survive today.
A date for the continuation of the hearing had been set for one month, hence. Jenni and Jeremy waited again at the Commission’s rooms. They had had their early briefing with their barrister, and were surprised to see that the three elephants had not appeared. Well after the appointed hour, Mayhew and his barrister finally entered the court to hear that the opposition was unable to proceed, since their witness, a Dolores Palin, had failed to arrive.
The Commissioner did little to disguise his anger. He informed both barristers that, in his view, this matter should never have reached his court, and that, if the parties were unable to reach a settlement out of court, it was highly likely that his judgement would bring neither party what it was that they desired. He ordered the parties to leave the room and to confer.
Mayhew had little choice other than to agree to a settlement. Even if he ignored the Commissioner’s warning, he could not continue to put his family through this torment. He might endure the madness himself, although it would surely have brought him down eventually, but he was perceptive enough to know that it was time to call it quits.
Fauntleroy and Palin would both still be running (or was it ruining?) schools. Flashman had returned to a primary school principal’s job, having ultimately failed to hold on to his more senior job, following yet another bureaucratic restructure.
They, and the system itself, would avoid having to account for their actions in public.
The settlement would pay for some of the sick leave and long-service leave which Mayhew had lost, but the money issue had never been very important. Mayhew had failed to achieve his primary goal.