- DUST TO DUST.
By the end of March, Jeremy was proving to be an invaluable assistant to Tony O’Brien. His immersion in facts and figures, formulae and calculations, provided a welcome distraction from the feelings of anger, hatred and despair. Having sought and secured Mayhew’s approval to put the resolution of his complaint “on-hold”, Don Lane took to checking on Mayhew regularly. Against his usual practice, Lane would stop for a moment and chat informally with Mayhew. It was almost an undeclared sign of understanding and support. Mayhew was not aware, at this time, of the on-going interaction between Don and the Banksia House principal. Blewit was already in trouble.
Support came too from Leah Brandt and Jennifer Beare. These two women, whose job it was to provide welfare support for teachers in the district, formed a formidable team. Leah was skilled in counselling and knowledgeable in staff welfare issues, while Jennifer had forgotten more than most of her contemporaries had ever known, about the technical matters of sick leave, workers compensation and so on. With Tony O’Brien thrown into the mix, Jeremy was getting the best possible advice and care available in the workplace. Jenni and the kids kept Jeremy propped up at home, allowing him to fall and rise through the really bad weeks, being powerless to do anything to bring the depression to an end, but always being there.
Mayhew himself was also powerless to end the depression. He was constantly frustrated, feeling that he should be able to exercise greater self-control, and put the dark thoughts out of his head, but, such is the nature of depression as an illness, that a sufferer is largely at the mercy of the sickness. As a child, Jeremy had needed to be in control of his life, as far as this was possible for a kid who lived with poverty and systemic social abuse, in order to simply survive. Into adulthood, the lessons learned and the habits established, meant that he always needed to feel that he was in control of himself and of his destiny. The depression deprived him of all feelings of control, and the impact upon his ego was crushing.
Jeremy needed all of the support which he could get, since the investigator’s promised “few weeks”, drew on into months. Singer Berger and Fiona Hamilton and others kept in touch, Singer and Fiona visiting Jeremy and Jenni at home regularly. Their news of Banksia was always of continued conflicts. Jeremy sought information from the CPD. He wanted to know when he would be told the specifics of the allegations. He would have found it less destructive to know that he was accused of pushing a student over, rather than sexual assault of a thirteen year old girl. As it was, despite his innocence of any wrong-doing, he still did not know the seriousness of the charges. Being guilty until proven innocent is not easy to live with.
For reasons unknown to Mayhew, Don Lane’s attitude towards him continued to mellow, so much so that, one morning, while passing the desk at which Jeremy was working, Lane placed his hand upon Mayhew’s shoulder and inquired as to his welfare. Jeremy was a little surprised, but the rest of the office, once the word got around, was stunned at such a show of familiarity from the Iron Man. Had Jeremy known what was beginning to happen between Don Lane and Phil Blewit, he might have better understood Lane’s apparent softening towards him.
Mayhew had just come to feel that he could rely on Lane’s support, when the bureaucrat was called up the ladder, to a higher rung, which necessitated his working in the city. His temporary replacement was Waldo Garrison, known universally as The Great Waldo. Garrison was principal of one of the largest and best managed schools in the district. Mayhew had met him years before when Waldo was a lowly deputy principal, and he had been impressed by the man, even then. The climb up the ladder has a way of changing people though, and the rarefied atmosphere at the greater height has been known to turn good people into self-serving hypocrites. Jeremy was hoping that Garrison was not greatly changed.
Waldo brought a “lightness” to the district office. A big man, tall and heavy set, his cheerful morning greetings to all and sundry were appreciated, and he soon made his colleagues feel comfortable in his presence. However, anyone who took him for a “softy” who would accept second best in the workplace, would have been making a serious mistake. Garrison’s brain was razor sharp and he knew how to play the game and win. Before long, Don Lane gave up keeping a critical eye on Waldo’s performance, and let the man get on with his job.
Garrison’s job included the continued sorting of the mess which was Banksia House School, and the care of Jeremy Mayhew, a teacher who was suffering under the burden of, as yet, unspecified charges of improper conduct towards students. Having been thoroughly briefed, Waldo was acutely aware of the connection between these two extremely important tasks. He called Mayhew to an informal meeting soon after taking charge of the office.
In Tony O’Brien’s presence, Waldo took some pains to assure Mayhew that the change in leadership would not alter Jeremy’s position in the office, and that Garrison’s support could be relied upon. Waldo expressed some regret that he was unable to hasten the notification by the CPD of the specific charges facing Mayhew. In the following months, Waldo would, on several occasions, make representations to the CPD on Jeremy’s behalf, with mixed results on each occasion.
The important thing for Jeremy at that time, was that he could feel some security in the knowledge that Garrison was concerned about his welfare. Waldo’s regular “check-up” sessions were greatly appreciated, and had a very real impact upon Jeremy’s morale.
After five months of fear and uncertainty, Jeremy finally received the CPD letter which accused him of assaulting students. The letter was delivered to him by Waldo, who asked Tony to join them while Mayhew opened it.
Any last vestiges of doubt about Fracks’ involvement in this despicable scheme vanished as soon as Jeremy read the allegations, nine charges in all. Each charge related to a situation in which Mayhew had been obliged to restrain a violent student. Indeed, the bulk of the information contained in the allegations had been supplied by Mayhew himself, through the formal Incident Reports, which he had completed every time such an action was required. Fracks had accessed the computer records, drawn the basic data she required, and then embellished the facts to make it look as though Mayhew had acted in an extreme and inappropriate manner.
Jeremy was incredibly relieved. He knew that he could disprove Fracks’ allegations with little effort. Once he had provided copies of the Incident Reports, and asked those colleagues who had assisted him, when restraints were needed, for their statements, this whole thing would be over within weeks. The relief on Mayhew’s face was evident to both Tony and Waldo, but both men advised caution and neither would allow Jeremy to leave the meeting until he could convince them that he was not likely to do anything drastic.
Before he left work that afternoon, Jeremy wrote and faxed a letter to Phil Blewit, asking him to provide copies of the Incident Reports, written by all staff involved in the incidents in question. Jeremy could have gone back to Banksia after hours and secured the copies himself, had the files not been reorganised by Mick Hunter, at Fracks’ direction, during the first weeks of the year. As a result of this reorganisation Mayhew no longer had access to all of the statements which he required. Mayhew impressed upon Phil the importance of having the documents without delay, and, expecting them to appear within days, he prepared his written response to the charges.
A week passed and Jeremy had heard nothing from Phil, so he wrote again, emphasising the need for speed and attaching a copy of his original letter, which had clearly stated the dates of the incidents and the names of all parties involved. When again there was no response, Mayhew asked Waldo to intervene. Garrison assured Mayhew that he would take steps to secure the necessary documents, and again Mayhew waited.
This time, there was a response, of sorts. Blewit appeared at the district office one afternoon with a manila envelope and handed it to Jeremy. He looked like death, worse than Mayhew had ever seen, mumbled to the floor something about documents, and, without at any time making eye contact with Jeremy, escaped. The significance of Phil’s behaviour was not lost upon Tony, Leah and Jennifer, who had witnessed the delivery.
Mayhew wasn’t especially concerned about Blewit. He’d made his own bed and he could lie in it, with or without a particular female companion. Jeremy should have opened the package there and then, but he couldn’t imagine that Blewit would not supply the documents requested.
Mayhew was wrong, again. By the time he opened the envelope, Blewit had left the building, and Jeremy was denied the opportunity to attack the coward. The envelope contained almost useless reports relating to three of the most minor matters, and nothing else of any value at all. Mayhew had been set up, again, this time by Phil Blewit.
Jeremy was angry, but he was calm too. That was strange. He realised that his anger could be productive if he managed it well. It replaced the energy which the depression sapped from him. At the first opportunity Mayhew spoke with Waldo, showing him the list of requested items and Blewit’s pathetic offering. Waldo was not amused, but said nothing other than that he would look into the matter further.
July’s winter was very cold, but Mayhew was hot. It was six months since he’d been slammed by the CPD letter. Six months of misery, fear, hopelessness, outrage. Six months of being a lousy husband and father. His desire for revenge was almost tangible. When the insomnia was really hitting him badly, Mayhew would lie awake in the early hours of the morning, concocting plans to bring Fracks and company down.
He knew where she lived. He could surely plan and execute a revenge attack without getting caught. Each time a new and more devious plan was created, and forgotten. Jeremy was never sure whether his eventual decision to leave Fracks undamaged, was, in some way, due to his desire to maintain himself above the level of her scumbag behaviour, or whether he just wasn’t prepared to risk getting caught.
There was one thing of which he was certain, however. Any system which promoted the situation in which he had been placed, had to be changed. In addition to preparing his reply to the allegations, Mayhew now began the first of several letters to the Director of the CPD.
Without the documents, which Blewit had failed to provide, Jeremy’s initial answer to the charges had to be based upon an explanation of each incident, showing how the facts had been distorted to make it appear as though he were a violent thug. He advised the CPD to speak with those staff he named as assisting him in each case, and indicated that, when he could access the original Incident Reports, he would forward these.
Even as he was writing, Mayhew questioned why the CPD itself, hadn’t demanded copies of the reports, or sought to interview those staff who had assisted him. It seemed as though the CPD policy was not to conduct a proactive and impartial investigation, which might exonerate an accused just as well as convict him, but to accuse and then stand back, while the victim of the accusations desperately tried to prove his innocence.
His preliminary reply forwarded, and with Garrison having given Blewit a direct instruction to provide the documents requested, Mayhew turned his attentions to the CPD. Jeremy knew that he was almost certainly pissing into the wind, yet again, but he didn’t care. If nobody ever spoke up against this system, nothing could ever be changed. Besides, the simple act of putting his thoughts on paper stimulated his mind, and an active mind was less affected by the depression, than an inactive one. Just like the little Housing Commission kid, he was at least fighting back.
Blewit failed to follow Garrison’s instruction to provide copies of the Incident Reports required by Mayhew. Phil had been called to district office for conferences with Waldo and, after one of these meetings, Blewit needed to take sick leave for a short period. This left Laura Norder as acting principal at Banksia House. Laura began meeting with Waldo and it was apparent that Garrison was adopting a very “hands on” approach to supporting the school.
Mayhew’s deadline for a formal reply to the allegations had been extended, as a result of Blewit’s refusal to supply documentation, and when the extension also expired without the reports having been provided, Mayhew had no alternative but to fall back upon his memory and his word. He had given his best to refute Fracks’ allegations, now he had just to wait for the CPD to make their decision.
Several weeks after his reply to the CPD had been forwarded, Waldo called Jeremy into his office, along with Tony, whose responsibility in this instance was to support Jeremy. Garrison was poker-faced as he handed Jeremy a letter, which bore the CPD swastika. Excited and nervous with anticipation, Jeremy had already decided that this was Waldo’s single most aggravating personal trait. You could never read the man when you most needed to, and he gave nothing away. Both transparent and opaque, Garrison was the most politically correct person anyone could meet. Mayhew’s pulse quickened and, smiling, he leaned forward, elbows on the table, and opened the envelope.
The contents were not what he had expected.
- DOWN AND DIRTY.
Aern Fracks could see that things at Banksia were not going well. Despite having Phylaxis in her pocket, and Hunter and Swayde at her beck and call, she still didn’t have complete control of Laura. Phil wasn’t well. This business with the documents had worried him terribly. Aern wondered whether her idea, of having Mick Hunter “re-arrange” the computer files of Incident Reports, hadn’t back-fired. The idea was to keep them from Mayhew, she’d never thought that he might expect Phil to provide copies. Now Garrison was getting involved.
She would visit Phil at home to see if she could do anything for him. Aern knew that she was the only one who really cared about Phil. Everything she had done had been designed to protect and support him. She knew how much he relied upon her, how much he trusted her, but he’d been very distant lately. Things were getting him down. With Laura Norder in charge, Aern should have had a great deal of say in how things were being done at Banksia, but Garrison was interfering, telling Laura what to do.
Aern knew that Laura couldn’t last the distance. With her family problems causing her maximum stress, Laura wouldn’t be able to manage Banksia, even with Garrison sitting on her shoulder. What if Garrison realised that Laura wasn’t up to the job and decided to bring Mayhew back? That was possible, and it mustn’t be allowed to happen. Aern knew that Mayhew had made his reply to the allegations, and that the investigation could soon be over. Something needed to be done.
In the Fracks family, righteousness was a common trait. Aern wasn’t the only member of her family who worked tirelessly for the benefit of children. Aern’s daughter, Chanteuse, had recently taken a job with the Child Protection Division of the Education Department (the agency investigating Mayhew), after a stint as a field officer with the Department of Child Welfare. Aern was justifiably proud of her daughter, and of her achievements.
Aern remembered the day when, whilst still employed by the Department of Child Welfare, her daughter had visited Banksia House, bringing with her an infant child, whom she had just removed from an incompetent mother. Chanteuse carried the child like a trophy, exclaimed “Look what I’ve just confiscated!”, and described the removal in detail for Aern. Such devotion to children would gladden the heart of any mother.
Mayhew was rocked. The CPD letter did not tell him that the wait was over. It did not tell him that he was innocent. It did not tell him that he could get on with his life now. It told him that he was to be investigated further for child abuse, and went on to list an additional five charges.
Jeremy sat still in the chair, but his mind was whirling. Strangely detached, he could think that it was no wonder that Waldo had been subdued in his manner. Tony, too sat stunned. As was appropriate to his role in managing Jeremy Mayhew, he had never become involved in the process of the investigation, choosing instead to advise Mayhew, when asked for advice, and to keep an eye on Mayhew’s physical and mental health.
However, with the two men working so closely together, he had come to know Jeremy well over the period of six months. He believed in Mayhew’s innocence, not just because he could not conceive of Mayhew assaulting kids, but because his position as district office manager meant that he was an automatic recipient of news from the grapevine. Tony O’Brien knew much more of what was happening at Banksia House than Mayhew could ever have known, despite the information passed on by his colleagues.
Waldo Garrison leaned forward, searching Mayhew’s face for any sign that this would be the stroke which finished Mayhew completely. There was much that Waldo might have said, had he been unable to maintain that professional detachment which was so essential for him to be effective in his job. Personally and privately, Garrison was angry. He shared Tony O’Brien’s view of Jeremy Mayhew, and had even more knowledge of the Banksia House situation than had his office manager. What had happened at the school, and what was continuing to happen was vile. Had it been solely up to him, he might have gone through the place with a flame-thrower, and burned the evil out of it. As it was, the over-riding political agenda would need to take precedence.
Only months before, the Education Department had arranged for a television crew to visit Banksia House in order to put together a “feel good” story to promote the government’s policy on the removal of troublesome students from mainstream schools. When it screened it made the place look a lot better than it was. Thankfully, they’d edited the interview with Blewit pretty strongly, but even the bit they used portrayed him as a bumbling fool. The shots of him standing over kids, trying vainly to engage them in conversation, had been positively embarrassing. Hopefully the viewing public wouldn’t be perceptive enough to see what Waldo had seen.
Then there was his own future to consider. With Don Lane likely to get a promotion before long, his position as District Superintendent would become vacant, and, if Waldo played the game as he knew he must, he would be a strong candidate for the vacancy.
In the meantime, he needed to get Mayhew through this latest crisis, and he knew how much Jeremy had been suffering. Garrison was pleased that Mayhew had taken to confiding in him. The displaced teacher had written to him a couple of times. It was something Mayhew said had helped, especially at three o’clock in the morning, when a phone call might not have been appreciated.
On one occasion Jeremy had been unable to sleep at all, awake throughout an entire Sunday night. At about five in the morning, he had sat at the keyboard and written to Garrison, an articulate and strident expression of his misery, begging for an end to the torture. Waldo had respect for this man. He would try not to let him down.
Jeremy thought about how he would break the news to Jenni. Being a victim, he thought, was a bit like being a cancer patient. It was easier to suffer, than it was to be the person who had to care for the sufferer.
He sat at his desk in the district office and read again the list of accusations. As he did so, the mental numbness began to fade, and Mayhew became slowly energised. The accusations carried within them a clear indication that the bitch was losing it. Each accusation was much more far-fetched than any of the original set, and could be refuted fairly easily. Fracks had even got the days of two events completely wrong. Mayhew could prove that, on the occasion of one alleged assault, the student had not even been at school. The second charge related to the day of the filming of the television propaganda, the day on which Mayhew had needed to remove Jethro from the staffroom and send him home.
Fracks had stated that this event had occurred on the day of the school’s official opening, the two events being separated by many weeks. Furthermore, Fracks had alleged that Mayhew had grabbed Jethro forcefully by the neck and hurled him through the front door. Jeremy almost laughed as he remembered holding Jethro by the upper arm, and Waldo Garrison’s smile as the two men made eye contact, with Jethro walking peacefully to, and through, the door.
What had initially seemed like the last straw, eventually became a glimmer of hope. If Fracks was struggling to put her lies together correctly, the rest of her scheme might be unravelling as well. Comforted by the thought, Jeremy prepared, and faxed to Blewit, a letter requesting copies of the school attendance roll, along with any and all documents relating to any aspect of the alleged incidents. He knew that any expectation of receiving the documents was futile, but it would put Blewit, and therefore Fracks, under greater pressure. School attendance rolls are legal documents, which must be produced in a court of law if required. If Blewit were unable to provide a copy as requested, it would look very bad indeed.
Waldo and Tony both checked again with Jeremy, before letting him climb aboard his bike to go home that afternoon. When Jenni got home from work, Jeremy was pretty relaxed, and he told Jenni of the day’s events. Once her anger had subsided, the two had a laugh at Fracks’ mistakes, and Jenni seemed to be okay. She was still convinced that Waldo and his superiors should intervene in the CPD investigation and support the assertions which Jeremy had made in his correspondence with the division’s head.
Blind Freddy could see that the whole thing was a set up. There was circumstantial evidence surely, but there was also the ongoing tragic farce that Banksia had become. Fracks’ cohort was running the place while Blewit hid, the kids were going steadily more berserk, and the staff were disintegrating. All of this was known to the bureaucrats, but no-one had the guts to put a stop to it. In the meantime, Jenni’s husband and family were expendable.
On the following day, knowing that to wait for the requested documents would again be a waste of time, Jeremy began preparing an interim response to the second set of allegations. When the documents, requested of Blewit, weren’t forthcoming, he sent his response to the CPD. It was now almost nine months since the first contact from the CPD and Mayhew had given just about all he had in trying, not only to clear his name, but to make the division’s bureaucrats aware of the flaws in their despicable system, and he was tired, incredibly tired. Jeremy was almost past caring now. He knew he was innocent. Everyone he cared about knew he was innocent. The rest could go to hell.
The CPD investigator knew almost from day one that he was dealing with a set-up. He’d seen them before and he would see them again, but he had a job to do and the procedures were set in stone. The government had seen to that. Legislation had been created specifically for the purpose of enabling the CPD to deny accused teachers their right to natural justice.
The pretext was protection of the alleged victims, and the accusers. Without protection, accusers would be afraid to come forward, and victims could be open to intimidation. The politicians wanted to be absolutely sure that they could not be accused of running a slack system which didn’t get results, so they devised a strategy whereby the accused, guilty until he could prove his innocence, could never face his accuser or his alleged victims. If this denied the accused his rights under common law, then so be it. When accusations were proven false, the accused, and his grieving family and friends, could be regarded as regrettable casualties.
This one was particularly nasty. If the accused had done any of the things with which he was being charged, his boss would have to have known about it. Parents would have been bashing the principal’s door down and the kids would have been complaining, long and loud. These were tough kids and they didn’t get to Banksia House by accident. Many of them were totally street wise and knew their legal rights. If this teacher was doing what he’d been accused of, the police would have been contacted and he’d have been charged.
The initial interviews with the teacher’s colleagues had been revealing. While some simply said that the accusations were false, one teacher had gone to the extent of stating that the whole show was a set-up, and that Aern Fracks was behind it! He’d even explained about Fracks’ relationship with her boss, and what she was trying to achieve by accusing Mayhew. These people had all been credible and sincere.
Still, the regulations demanded that the process be followed strictly. He had more than just this case to deal with. He’d lied when told the teacher that the whole thing could be over in weeks, but what was he going to say? Should he have said that it could take a year before the teacher was even informed of the allegations? Should he have said that it didn’t matter whether the teacher was guilty or not, that he, his wife and his kids were going to be punished?
- PHOENIX, OR FOWL?
Blewit’s failure to follow Waldo’s instructions and provide the documents which Mayhew needed, was perhaps the final straw where the bureaucrats were concerned. Blewit had been on a downhill slide for a long time, but the steepness and speed of his descent had increased enormously, since Aern Fracks had intervened in order to help him.
In fact, from the outset, it was Fracks who was the catalyst in Phil’s undoing. Certainly Phil was weak, and he was definitely incapable of managing many of the aspects of principalship, but there were forces beyond the control of any individual which predestined his failure, and those of others. The system which allowed his promotion was fatally flawed, partly due to the nature of all bureaucracies, but primarily due to political interference. The task which he undertook was huge, and it overwhelmed other principals as well.
However, despite his failings, Phil was a decent person who, at least in the early days, cared as much about his people as he did about himself. Phil became his own worst enemy but it was the nature, the personality, the character of Aern Fracks which hastened Phil’s demise, and which saw him plummet into a personal and professional purgatory, from which he would never recover.
Had Fracks not been dominated by her own ego, driven by her sense of frustration, and haunted by her perceived failure to reach her potential as a person, she might not have set about building her empire within the walls of Banksia House. Her need for power might not have overcome her judgement. She might not have employed her considerable skills in planning schemes and in manipulating people, to suit her own ends. In truth, Aern Fracks had had the potential to achieve great things for the good of others, but her narcissism consumed her and the opportunity was lost.
Some weeks prior to the end of the third school term, Waldo, having consulted with his superiors, had put Blewit on notice. Phil had to show that he could reverse the ever-deteriorating situation at Banksia, or he would be removed from his position. The increased pressure was never going to do anything, other than add weight to that which was already crushing the life out of Blewit. Phil now worked in a snake pit, vipers hissing all around him.
Aside from Aern herself, the members of Fracks’ cohort were not blessed with great intelligence, but Phylaxis was possessed of native, some would call it “rat”, cunning, and Hunter and Swayde were faithful foot soldiers, willing to carry out orders without question. Laura Norder, grappling to hold on to her children under the glare of scrutiny by the Department of Child Welfare, was easily persuaded to implement Fracks’ policies. From its position of power, the cohort mounted attacks upon anyone who questioned its behaviour. The clashes with Singer Berger and Fiona Hamilton were many and severe, whilst other staff members spoke out infrequently, fearing repercussions. The situation had been out of control for a long time and it was getting rapidly worse, when Phil Blewit was told to take extended leave.
Laura Norder once again became acting principal. Waldo Garrison became her shadow. Aern did her best to maintain her position. She could largely manipulate or ignore Laura alone, but Garrison was a real threat. Aern told Phil all about the problems that she faced, when she visited him at home. She could see no way around Waldo Garrison, but she promised Phil that she would keep fighting for him until his return.
Phil Blewit did return to Banksia House, but only to remove his personal property from the office. A new job had been found for Phil. He was to work at the department’s head office, utilising his computer skills in creating various data bases. The news stunned Aern Fracks, but it quickly paled into insignificance when she was told that she would also be taking leave, prior to her transfer to a new location.
Fracks’ world dissolved before her eyes. How could this happen? She had given so much. She had served faithfully and tirelessly, done the menial tasks, as well as those more appropriate to her elevated status, never questioning, never asking anything in return. Banksia House would have been nothing without her. Random thoughts and memories rushed in, clouding her brain. . . .This place wouldn’t even have lawns if I hadn’t put the sprinklers on at weekends and during the holidays. What about those times when I started work at six-thirty in the morning and stayed back with Phil until seven at night? No-one else could have done what I’ve done . . .
Fracks was quickly replaced.
The management team at Banksia House now consisted of Jeremy Mayhew, absent serving an informal sentence for alleged assaults upon children and replaced by Hannah Phylaxis, an incapable executive teacher and incompetent person, Laura Norder, struggling to keep her life together under pressure from the Department of Child Welfare, her child-like husband and her domineering mother, and two newly introduced members.
This was hardly a recipe for success, but Waldo’s superiors could not afford to take any action that might attract the unwelcome attention of their political masters. To properly deal with the problem would have meant the temporary closure of the school, the transfer of all competent staff to suitable positions elsewhere and the implementation of a planned re-building programme.
However, such drastic action would constitute an admission of failure, by the government, to properly cater to the needs of troubled students, and it could never have escaped the notice of the media. Any sort of public scandal would have resulted in heads rolling, or at least suffering severe bruising, courtesy of some highly polished boot leather.
Rather than excising the cancer altogether, Dr Garrison would remove the largest and most obvious infection first, hoping that by doing so, the remaining damaged parts would slowly heal themselves. It would prolong the agony for those who suffered, innocent staff and students, but it would create less fuss.
The two new members of the management team were imported specifically to meet short-term needs, but each was given the distinct impression that, if he did well in stemming the flow of blood from the gaping wounds in Banksia House, he might be successful in establishing himself as the school’s new long-term leader.
Ernest Hamming could see himself as a messiah, and the bureaucrats on the higher rungs knew that he was on his way up the ladder. Highly creative and with enormous energy, Ernest also had the capacity, at least in the short-term, to get people to do what he wanted. He had had no experience in running a special school, but he had had some experience of working with troubled kids in a mainstream setting. He would provide the organisational skills and the vision to bring about sorely-needed change at Banksia. He would promote the school and himself at the same time.
A younger man, John Fairley, was borrowed from a school that served the educational needs of juvenile offenders, to provide additional specific skills for managing Banksia’s students. John was highly regarded and respected as a teacher and as a person. His secondment to Banksia was, potentially, a very sound strategy.
However, a new dynamic was to emerge. With its head lopped from its shoulders, Fracks’ monster should have died, but it didn’t. Instead, Phylaxis rose to assume Fracks’ position on the campus. (It was highly likely that Fracks was still active in the group from the outside. Without any hope of return, the best she could hope to do now, was to bring the whole place tumbling down as well.)
Laura Norder was overwhelmed by the speed and the impact of the changes. The introduction of two new executive left her feeling uncertain about her own position and she clung to Phylaxis and Swayde for support. Phylaxis assessed Hamming as being the more likely of the new boys to be influenced by her group, and she set about making herself useful, with a view to becoming indispensable in the future. She had learnt much from Aern Fracks.
John Fairley took little time to assess his new colleagues. He could see that Ernest Hamming had his own personal agenda. He was able to recognise immediately that Phylaxis and Swayde had no business being in a school for troubled youngsters, neither woman being capable of managing them, and it was plain that Laura was existing in a state of perpetual distress. Berger and Hamilton were clearly the educational leaders, with other staff looking to them for guidance. Fairley wondered if he had been asked to bite off more than he could chew.
Hannah Phylaxis had come to relish the power which she gained from being an executive member, even if only in an acting capacity. She liked being able to make decisions. She loved being able to tell others what to do and she delighted especially in exercising power over the likes of Berger and Hamilton. They might think that they were better teachers, but it was Hannah who was giving the orders. Hannah knew that Ernest valued her. After all, she was doing a huge amount of administrative work, which would probably not have been done otherwise. Shellby Swayde doted on Hannah , at work and at home, and Hannah and Mick were getting on very well. Laura was always in such a mess it was easy for Hannah to gradually assume a number of her responsibilities as well. Life was good.
While Ernest had ideas, and organised things to happen, John Fairley got down to the business of making things better for students and for staff. He brought some sanity to the chaos, introducing two-way radios for staff use, so that moment-to-moment communication could be immediate and effective, and supporting his colleagues by imposing fair and reasonable consequences for inappropriate behaviour by students. Gradually, things started to quieten a little. John was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, when it was Ernest who was made acting principal at the end of the year.
Although John was still needed at Banksia, the bureaucrats decided that he could no longer be afforded there, and he was returned to his own school.
December 2002 brought with it the anniversary of the incident in which Fracks and Legge had insulted Mayhew in the staffroom at Banksia House, the event which had precipitated Jeremy’s formal complaint, and Fracks’ retaliation through her bogus allegations to the CPD.
It also brought an end to the CPD investigation. Garrison was obviously pleased when the letter which he had handed to Mayhew moments before, revealed that “insufficient evidence had been found to support the allegations”. Tony O’Brien grinned widely and he, and then Waldo, shook Mayhew’s hand warmly.
Jeremy was not elated. He didn’t throw his hands in the air and whoop for joy. He could scarcely even raise a smile. It was as though all of the emotion had been drained from him during the desperation of the last twelve months. There was a sense of relief, certainly, but the over-riding feeling was one of numbness.
In the midst of Mayhew’s daze, only one thing was certain. He had to phone Jenni at work immediately.
He could hear the relief in her voice and he wished he could reach out and put his arms around her, there and then. She hadn’t deserved the horrendous stress of the last year. In fact, she hadn’t deserved any of the turmoil which being married to Mayhew had brought her during the previous thirty years, but she had never walked away. Whether it was love, devotion, commitment or masochism, she was still there, still hanging on.
Erin, Damon and Cassandra greeted the news with relief. They had shared their family’s anxieties, fears and frustrations, unable to do anything other than be there and keep watch. Mayhew wondered if they could ever know how much their support had meant to him. He wondered if they could ever know how much they meant to him.
The weeks before Christmas were blurred. Jeremy didn’t know what he would do next, and he didn’t care. All he wanted was for the pain to go away, the nagging ache that permeated his body and his brain. It was a little like recovering from anaesthetic, he remembered, but it took a lot longer. What Jeremy did come to understand during the holiday period, was that nothing beyond a family tragedy could ever really hurt him again. As he said to Jenni, he’d been afraid for all of his life, and now he had nothing to fear.
The CPD investigation, courtesy of Aern Fracks and the New South Wales state government, had been the single worst experience of his life. The mental breakdowns, the periods of depression and the strain of fighting for that elusive justice for himself, and his students, taken together, had not tested Mayhew in the same way as the allegations and the investigation had done.
Fracks’ plan had been brilliant in its simplicity and in its targeting of its victim. Allegations of any wrong-doing against children, no matter how minor, hit at the very essence of Jeremy Mayhew. They attacked his identity and questioned his reason for being. “Teaching is not what I do, it’s what I am.” Mayhew had often said that. His work defined him as a person. (This was his fatal flaw, a carryover from his childhood when his search for an identity had defeated him.)
As a child, he had been subject to the whims of others – an absent father, a depressed mother, petty bureaucrats who worked for the Department of Social Services and the Housing Commission, the local shopkeeper who could grant or refuse credit, and who therefore had the power to decide whether or not his family ate. He was powerless and constantly afraid. As an adult he had pledged himself to making kids’ lives better, and his obsession had become his identity. Fracks had struck at Mayhew’s most vulnerable point, his soul.
“I’m still standing” (with apologies to Elton John). Despite the torments, Jeremy had remained upright and mobile. Several times, Jeremy had been asked by psychologists and psychiatrists if he’d had thoughts of suicide, and his answer was always the same. In the deepest and darkest moments, Mayhew had thought that being dead might be better than being alive, but killing himself had never been an option. He had been run over by some pretty big trucks, but each time he’d managed to get up again.
Two thoughts ensured that Jeremy would never willingly stop breathing. Mayhew knew that, with Jenni, he had played a major part in the creation of something special, something sacred. His family had given him the greatest pleasure and the greatest satisfaction in his life, and there was still more to be enjoyed. His family had endured much without complaining, their love and loyalty unstinting. They had all worked incredibly hard to keep Jeremy afloat, and for Jeremy to waste all of their efforts by disposing of himself, would be the greatest of insults to them.
Fracks, and the system, had inadvertently done Jeremy Mayhew a huge favour. Despite their best efforts, Mayhew had survived, and he now knew that he had nothing more to fear. That knowledge enabled Jeremy to avoid being seriously injured by the next truck, which, unbeknownst to him, was already heading down the road towards him.
The Great Waldo, like all good circus ringmasters, knew that, when the clown fell from his bike and hurt himself during a performance, it was vital that the fellow get back on the bike again, as soon as he was able. Garrison knew that, if he were to rehabilitate Jeremy Mayhew, it would have to happen sooner rather than later, and it would need to be managed very carefully, so that Mayhew had time to recover from his injuries. Perhaps better than anyone outside Mayhew’s family, Waldo could appreciate the depth of the teacher’s suffering. Mayhew had placed his trust in Garrison. Jeremy, through his letters to the superintendent, and in their sometimes harrowing conversations, had revealed his innermost self, made himself totally vulnerable. Waldo knew that this was someone worth saving.
Mayhew was back at the district office for less than a week, when Waldo called him into a meeting. Leah Brandt was called in, too. Leah would be Jeremy’s rehabilitation manager. Any suggestion of an immediate return to Banksia House was out of the question.
Mayhew had suffered a serious injury in the workplace. He was not, nor would he be for some time, fit to return to normal duties. Had Jeremy fallen whilst teaching gymnastics, and badly broken his leg, he’d have been entitled to workers’ compensation and, after a suitable recovery period, he’d have been able to return to work, albeit with some restrictions on duties in place, until his leg was completely healed. Jeremy’s injury had been serious enough, but it was psychological, not physical, and the government had enacted clever legislation, which meant that people like Jeremy were not entitled to compensation for their injuries.
For five months, Jeremy had lived with the knowledge that he had been accused of abusing children, knowing neither the number nor the seriousness of the allegations. He was not allowed to know who had accused him, or whom he had allegedly abused. Had he been accused as a private citizen, of physically assaulting someone, he would have known these things immediately, he’d have had access to legal representation, and his trial would very likely have been over and done with already.
Mayhew had spent another five months trying, against the odds, to prove his innocence. The degree of psychological damage suffered could only be fully appreciated by someone who had had a similar experience. It was as severe and as significant as a physical injury, but it had been caused through “the reasonable action of the employer”!
Even if credibility were stretched to its most extreme limits, the injury suffered by Mayhew could never have been attributed to “reasonable action”. The CPD investigation was “lawful” – the government had legislated to ensure that – but in no way could it be called “fair”, “just” or “reasonable”.
The Education Department would have to accept responsibility for Mayhew’s rehabilitation, and Waldo Garrison had begun the process. Under the watchful eye of Leah Brandt, Jeremy would continue with his work at the district office, but he would spend increasing periods of time back in a school.
John Fairley had returned to Winchester School, in the grounds of the nearby Juvenile Justice Centre, for a brief time only. In recognition of his work at Banksia House, John had been given a position supervising the team of itinerant teachers, known as the District Behaviour Team, who worked at schools throughout the district, attending to the needs of students with behaviour problems.
Winchester had a new boss, Jack Moran, an energetic and very experienced principal, who understood the juvenile justice system as well as he did the school system. It was Jack who had agreed, when asked by Waldo, to take Jeremy on-board during the early period of his return to work. Mayhew found Jack to be inspirational, an outstanding leader who had a clear view of where he wanted his school to go, and whose staff would willingly travel along with him. The two men immediately understood each other. Jeremy could not have asked for a more suitable place to continue his recovery.
Mayhew’s work at Winchester initially consisted of administrative duties. Jack had asked him to do some groundwork in the preparation of the school’s health and safety policies, but when Moran viewed Mayhew’s preliminary work, Jeremy got the job of producing the whole show. At first, he would spend an hour or two each day at Winchester, and then make his way to the district office to assist Tony O’Brien again.
Jeremy could not believe how much he had been affected by his ordeal at the hands of the CPD. Without fear and a self-defence mentality to drive him, Jeremy found himself flattened by lethargy. For several weeks, he found himself almost asleep at his computer by ten o’clock each morning. Over time, he found that the drowsiness would leave him alone until around ten-thirty, and then eleven. By the end of the first term of school, he was staying awake until around midday.
As his condition improved, Mayhew was able to spend more time at Winchester and less at the district office. Tony missed his “project officer”, but he knew that Jeremy was getting better, and he was delighted at that. During the second school term, Jeremy began to spend full days at Winchester, and his work at the district office naturally scaled down. Jack Moran valued Jeremy’s work, and his presence in the school, but he, too, knew that Mayhew would be moving on before long.
Where Jeremy Mayhew would go was the big question. John Fairley had returned to Winchester, following a political “stuff-up” which saw Lydia Potts, an assistant principal at another behaviour school, apply for, and succeed in getting the job, which had been ear-marked by the bureaucrats, for John Fairley. For his work at Banksia House, John Fairley walked away with nothing but experience, and the feeling that he had a long, thin, sharp implement protruding from his back.
He did get to work with Mayhew, however, and the two men were able to share stories from time to time. John had once commented to Jeremy that he had felt physically unsafe for much of his time at Banksia, and Mayhew was prompted to consider that, although the Winchester students were detained for crimes ranging from theft to murder, the Winchester environment was, indeed, safer than Banksia House.
“Stupid” is an uncomfortable word. Even when it’s not being used to denigrate someone, it grates on the ear as one of the most destructive words in our language. It can carry tremendous force, and it can be used to great effect to destroy self-esteem. Jeremy had heard the word used many times, often in reference to students who were not gifted, and it troubled him. On those occasions when he needed to convince a child that he or she was not “stupid”, he would use this example: “If you try to pat a dog, and the dog sinks its teeth into your hand, and, with blood dripping from your wound you immediately try to pat the dog again, you’re stupid.”
Mayhew had never thought of himself as stupid. He had been foolish, perhaps impulsive, definitely obsessive, and more than a little narcissistic, but not quite stupid. His decision to return to Banksia House might be seen to challenge that assertion.
Waldo Garrison was against it. Leah Brandt was against it. Jennifer Beare was against it. Each of these people had Mayhew’s best interests at heart. (Waldo was also concerned about the probable repercussions at the school, but that was a separate issue.) Jeremy had thought long and hard about his future. Any thought of a career had been destroyed long ago. Mayhew no longer had the confidence or the energy to work towards becoming a principal, which was probably just as well, since the role of school principal had been so seriously corrupted by a succession of government and bureaucratic betrayals, as to be untenable for an educator.
Mayhew had considered his options. Returning to a mainstream school could have meant falling back into the same situation as that from which he had escaped when he left Dick King and Mac Vale. There were now many school principals who felt an increased need to guard their own backs, to toe the party line, to sacrifice their educational ideals for job security. Mayhew, a security freak for his entire life, couldn’t blame them, but nor could he sit still in a staff meeting as yet another bureaucratic policy which dragged teaching away from education and into politics, was trundled out as the next new, “good thing”.
If he found himself supervised by another “poliprincicrat”, the two would butt heads, and Mayhew knew that he would be the one to come away with the headache. No, despite the fact that he had only a few years to serve before retirement, a return to mainstream was not really an option.
He might have stayed with Jack Moran and John Fairley at Winchester School. The staff there had welcomed him and he had begun to form some good working relationships, particularly with the Aboriginal students, but Jeremy would have been “one cook too many”. There was a position available at another Juvenile Justice school, south of Wollongong. With Jack’s encouragement, Mayhew visited the place for a day but found that it lacked inspiration, and the prospect of two hours travelling each day was not attractive.
All practical considerations pointed directly to a return to Banksia House, but there was more than just practicality behind Mayhew’s decision. Jeremy had never left anything in his professional life unfinished. Having given a commitment to a task, he would see it through, and, from the outset, he had made a very big commitment to Banksia House, to its students and to his colleagues. Mayhew knew that he had a lot of unfinished business at Banksia, and this knowledge rankled him.
Dozens of “pros” and “cons” raced around his brain and Jeremy’s analytical streak tried vainly to sort and assess them. He’d be back with his students. He’d be back with Singer, Fiona and the good guys. He’d be back with Phylaxis and Laura Norder. He’d be supporting a principal who was very inexperienced. Walking away would feel like an admission of failure. He’d be trying to help re-build a school which had sunk into a mire . . .
Eventually, Jeremy went with his instinct. It felt right to go back and Jenni had agreed.
Waldo wasn’t happy about the idea, but he couldn’t deny Jeremy his right to return to his chosen school. Garrison and Leah took care to brief Mayhew, as far as they could, whilst remaining politically correct. Jeremy knew that the Banksia situation was still volatile. Phylaxis, Swayde and Norder had formed a power group of their own. Phylaxis and Norder particularly, were anxious to keep Ernest Hamming on the back foot, Phylaxis so that she could retain her position of power over staff and students, and Norder for fear that Hamming would look closely at her work and find that she wasn’t coping. Swayde was just happy to go along. While Hannah was happy, Shellby was happy. (Mick Hunter had taken leave and found himself a job as a development officer with a local sporting group, but he was still available to satisfy Hannah’s needs at home.)
Ernest had brought with him from his previous school (by very special invitation, according to the woman herself), a teachers’ aide who was so similar in behaviour to Aern Fracks that it was almost frightening. Within days, Dodie Krutch had been assimilated by the governing body. Dodie was to prove invaluable to Phylaxis, since Ernest was foolish enough to have given Krutch credibility and power beyond her capacity to manage, and Dodie, being very “suggestible”, could be fed ideas and suggestions, which she would then take to Ernest.
Although alarmingly similar in their personal character, Krutch and Fracks were at opposite ends of the spectrum in every other respect. Where Fracks had been a “largish” woman, with ample bosom (frequently displayed) and broad behind, Dodie had both the personality and physical characteristics of a weasel. Sharp-featured and very slim, she was most easily distinguished by her shocking burgundy hair and her overly-tanned face which was framed by tortoise-shell spectacles. Fracks had the flowing physical movements of a whale. Krutch, on the other hand, darted about like a rodent in search of food-scraps.
Aern frequently wore a favourite outfit – lime-green knee length skin tight pants, topped by a brilliant green and yellow blouse, smothered in ruffles, which was cut just low enough to reveal ample cleavage. Her matching lime-green sandals set the outfit off beautifully. It had been universally agreed that this was pretty daring stuff for a pudgy fifty-something. Krutch dressed for action – jeans or tracksuit and a pair of trainers – very sensible clothing for her job as guardian and counsellor to all students and adviser/confidante to Ernest Hamming.
Fracks took her rightful place at or near the top of the social ladder. (Hers was a local ladder. The much longer, global social ladder was out of her reach, although Susan Downia-Legge was probably still managing to cling to its lower rungs.) Aern and her husband, who seemed to have vanished from Aern’s thoughts, and certainly from her conversation, following her attachment to Phil Blewit, would sip champagne on the deck of their yacht, or trip down the coast to their holiday house on the Bay. Dodie was more than satisfied with a few beers in front of the telly, watching the football on Friday and Saturday nights. Had the two women inhabited the same space at the same time, the clashes would have been memorable.
The faction, which had been headed by Fracks, had changed slightly in terms of personnel, but under the leadership of Hannah Phylaxis, it was just as dangerous. Hannah had proven that to be true. Fed up with the opposition of Hamilton and Berger, whose criticisms of her inept student management were most often made in a professional manner, and at an appropriate time and place, Phylaxis determined to be rid of at least one, if not both. Hannah followed her mentor’s lead. If Aern Fracks had been able to get rid of Jeremy Mayhew by making accusations of child-abuse, Phylaxis might use a less dramatic but equally effective strategy.
Anna decided that, by virtue of her greater experience and more aggressive character, Fiona Hamilton should be the one to go. Singer Berger would then be isolated and far more vulnerable – Hannah could probably squash her effectively with a few crude staffroom comments about her relationship with Mick Hunter – and Shellby would always be there to back her up. Phylaxis didn’t have long to wait for an opportunity to strike, and she didn’t even have to fabricate a story or manipulate an incident.
One of Hannah’s regular student management disasters brought a comment from Hamilton. Phylaxis burst into tears and headed straight for Ernest. Her formal complaint, citing unprofessional conduct on Fiona’s part, was lodged the next day. In order to protect Fiona from a homicide charge, Waldo took her into his care at district office.
With Fiona out of the picture, it was open slather on Singer Berger, and it wasn’t long before non-aligned members of the staff had started to isolate the young teacher, for fear that, if they supported her, they might find themselves on the Phylaxis hit-list.
Meanwhile, Laura Norder was valiantly treading water. As long as Ernest left Laura alone to continue her survival at work, Norder didn’t care what Hannah Phylaxis did. After all, Fiona and Singer had deserted her when she needed them most. She owed them nothing. She’d be only too pleased to see the backs of each of them.
Waldo took pains to make sure that Mayhew understood what he would be walking back into. Jeremy had been kept informed by his colleagues, but he appreciated the superintendent’s concern. Mayhew knew pretty well what to expect upon his return to Banksia, and he had given Waldo a promise. Jeremy was determined to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem at his school.