Menu

We need to talk about St Kevin’s

Feb 26, 2020 • 14m 25s

In today’s episode, we speak to former St Kevin’s student Luke Macaronas about what stops elite private schools and other powerful institutions from addressing issues of abuse.

play

 

We need to talk about St Kevin’s

170 • Feb 26, 2020

We need to talk about St Kevin’s

LUKE:

My name's Luke. I'm a former student from St Kevin's and I graduated in 2016.

St Kevins is many things to many people. Primarily, it's one of the most successful private schools in Australia, in Toorak, one of the wealthiest suburbs in Melbourne.

It's where a lot of boys would say they have some of their best memories from their childhood.

Also a Catholic school and of course, it is a boys school.

Archival Tape -- St Kevin’s tram chant:

“I wish that all the ladies, (i wish that all the ladies)

were waves in the ocean (were waves in the ocean)”

LUKE:

So it's a school. Built around a very specific tradition of boys education,

Archival Tape -- St Kevin’s tram chant:

“I wish that all the ladies, (i wish that all the ladies)

were holes in the road (were holes in the road)”

LUKE:

as you can see in that chant, it absolutely has some very ugly sides.

Archival Tape -- St Kevin’s tram chant:

“and if I was a dump truck i’d fill it with my load (and if I was a dump truck i’d fill it with my load)”

LUKE:

I think the chant shows the chauvinistic and misogynistic attitudes that undercut and underlie a lot of the ways in which this community is shaped - and this community operates.

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones this is 7am.

Today - we’re talking to Luke Macaronas, a former St Kevins student.

He wrote for The Saturday Paper about the way toxic masculinity defines elite private schools and other powerful institutions, and stops them from addressing issues of abuse.

He also featured in the Four Corners report on the culture at his old school.

LUKE:

Yeah, this report is really, really confronting and very upsetting. For many boys, I think it came as a bit of a surprise because the school community is so tight and so close knit.

So I think the biggest reaction was one of shock and also one of grief, because this report aired a lot of dirty laundry that kind of sparked a conversation that we haven't been having for a very, very long time.

RUBY:

And Luke, this Four Corners report. Can you talk me through what it actually exposed?

LUKE:

It centred around a case of grooming at the school in around 2013-2014 by an athletics coach.

Archival Tape -- Four Corners:

“Tonight on Four Corners, what’s going on inside the elite boys school St Kevins College. We investigate how a desire to protect reputation at all costs is causing a toxic culture.”

LUKE:

And the report was actually about how the school handled the prosecution and the fallout after the coach was convicted of grooming.

Archival Tape -- Four Corners: Paris Street:

“I had a Japanese oral presentation that I needed to finish and he said that’s not the only oral you’ll have to do.”

Archival Tape -- Four Corners reporter:

“What did you think when he said that?”

Archival Tape -- Four Corners: Paris Street:

“I felt very uncomfortable. But felt like I was in a position where I couldn’t do anything.”

LUKE:

And the boy, Paris Street, was really, really unfairly treated by the school in quite a few different ways.

Like, his concerns were initially brushed off by the school. The school seemed to take steps to protect the accused abuser, like the principal writing a character reference for him in court.

Archival Tape -- Four Corners reporter:

“How did you feel about that?”

Archival Tape -- Four Corners: Paris Street:

“Just gutted. Gutted and. Just like flicked off like. This is how we think about you. We don't care like we... Yeah.”

LUKE:

So the report has kind of thrown up all these really, really big questions about in a kind of post royal commission world, how are schools actually responding to the need and the new calls to reinforce child safety?

And is it actually happening? And I think the report was really concerning because it kind of showed up that while maybe things are being done differently, they're not actually being done better and they're still not actually protecting the people at the core of this problem, which are children and students.

RUBY:

So the Principal at St Kevin's wrote a character reference for a teacher who had groomed a student. What happened after that was made public?

LUKE:

So obviously there was huge outrage and a lot of shock from the community. The headmaster seemed to dig his heels in a bit, but eventually took the fall and stepped down

Archival Tape -- Unidentified reporter:

“The headmaster of St Kevin's College, Stephen Russell, admits he regrets writing a character reference for a colleague convicted of sexually grooming a student.”

LUKE:

But following that a deputy headmaster who stepped into that role as acting head has also had to step down because of allegations about her responses to this problem as well.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified reporter:

“Court documents show Deputy Headmaster Janet Kanae is accused of trying to prevent the school's counsellor from reporting allegations about a teacher to child protection authorities.”

LUKE:

And since then, several other staff members have stepped down or have been removed from the school pending investigations into their behaviour.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified reporter:

“Parents are demanding answers after more teachers were sacked in the wake of the St Kevin's child grooming scandal.”

LUKE:

So this report has been really important to opening up a much, much bigger can of worms about all kinds of cases. I know a lot of parents and a lot of old members of the community stepping forward with concerns they previously didn't think were worthy to voice and are talking about it now.

RUBY:

So it seems like a lot of these issues were fairly well known within the school community. In your experience, what kind of a response did people get when they raised concerns at St Kevin's?

LUKE:

Yeah, look, I don't know if it's necessarily true that this stuff was really, really well known. A lot of boys certainly were in the dark about a lot of this stuff. And I think if people did know, a lot of it hinged on kind of rumour or gossip.

And I think the reason for that is because the school was so good at controlling a narrative and controlling the way that people acted and people understood things. So I know a lot of staff who definitely had concerns and definitely tried to work to protect boys. And a lot of the time their complaints were brushed off.

And in many, many cases if they were trying to raise concerns about members of the leadership team, they didn't feel safe to do that because they would be complaining to the people about themselves.
I think for a lot of boys, it's not necessarily that they wanted to speak and they weren't listened to. I think it's more that the way that private boys education operates is very militaristic, it's very strict, and it doesn't really trust boys to speak up and it doesn't really invite boys to articulate their own experiences.

It's very focused on hard work and being successful and being a good like a strong man.

And I remember being at the school and boy, saying to me, they felt uncomfortable about a teacher's actions or trying to explain, but they were unsure of a situation but that’s kind of where the conversation would end.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:

Luke, you were a student at St Kevins. And you've written a piece in the Saturday paper that criticizes the way in which toxic masculinity operates at the school and also in other institutions. Can you tell me what it is exactly that you're critiquing here?

LUKE:

I've been speaking for quite a while now about why locker room culture and toxic masculinity is so dangerous for these kinds of places. And I think this is actually a really, really good example, because, of course, it's important to recognize that bullying happens and kind of competitiveness happens and locker room culture happens at all kinds of schools. But it's only at elite private boys schools that that is used as a brand, that that is used as something that schools want to promote because it gives them a difference. It gives them a chance to sell this very particular experience. And that's not all bad. Right. That's a lot of what makes the school so successful. But I think the problem is that a lot of the time that's a really, really narrow image of what it means to be a man that doesn't allow for things that fall outside of the tough and the buff.

I'm a gay kid at a Catholic school, I have a bit of an experience where my identity didn't fit that image and that just meant like I could never fit in at that school. And it was really hard to be heard by the boys. It's really hard to be recognized.

I think a lot of kids' lives are shaped by conformity.

If you don't fit in, then often you're pushed until you do fit in or you get out.

The problem may be at places that are dominated by men. Is that, that image that you have to conform to is really, really narrow.
You have to be like a strong, tall, straight guy. There's no room in that image for any difference.

So the reason this is connected to like systems of abuse is because part of that masculine image, right, is one of silence. Like you suck it up like boys don't cry.

And that becomes a really, really big problem when those people are shaping. Our institutions, often they're the wealthiest and the most powerful people and they're going to be making the calls about a lot of things. And this image has no space for vulnerability. It has no space for failure. It doesn't even really have a language yet. There aren't words built into our language to begin to talk about our vulnerability as men. So without that, it's really difficult to make space for difference and make space for difficult things and to make space for failure. Right. Because this in this case, particularly, there's a really huge incident of institutional failure.

And I think that there's a really clear connection between the way that men are told to be men and the kind of institutions that we see and how they think their responses are appropriate to crisis.

RUBY:

So Luke, do you see any of this changing?

LUKE:

My response should be, yes, it should be really, really positive. And of course, it's true. This stuff is absolutely changing. I I don't think a story like this would have got so much traction even 10, 20 years ago. So this is a really, really big step. Absolutely. In the right direction.

But I'm skeptical because there's a really long way to go. And I think particularly in this context where something really bad has happened and we've crucified the people that needed to be crucified but failed in this situation. But that's not actually solved the problem. That's not actually going to fix what's wrong. We need to have a much bigger conversation about our culture and the way that we perpetuate masculine culture, patriarchal system and begin to move away from those not not that entire image. There is such a thing as positive masculinity. I see it modeled by all kinds of people in my life. I see it modeled by my family. I see it modeled by my friends. But there has to be a shift away from behaviors that are violent, that are elitist and that are prejudiced. And that's a very long path ahead.

RUBY:

Luke, thanks so much for talking to me today.

LUKE:

Not at all. Thanks so much.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:

Also in the news...

Details about a war crimes inquiry investigating whether Australian special forces in Afghanistan killed civilians unlawfully have been exposed in Parliament for the first time.
The investigation is being conducted by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force.

The inquiry is examining 55 separate incidents of alleged breaches of the rules of war in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. 336 people have given evidence to the probe so far.

And, Norwegian oil giant Equinor has abandoned its 200 million dollar deepwater drilling project in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park. Equinor is now the third major company to scrap plans to drill for oil off the coast of South Australia.

The company said it had concluded that its exploration drilling plan was "not commercially competitive”. The decision has been welcomed by environment groups. The federal minister for resources, Keith Pitt, said the government was disappointed by Equinor’s decision. He said the government remained committed to “encouraging the safe development of Australia’s offshore petroleum resources.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

In today’s episode we speak to Luke Macaronas, a former St Kevin’s student. He wrote for The Saturday Paper about the way toxic masculinity defines elite private schools and other powerful institutions, and how it stops them from addressing issues of abuse.

Guest: Former St Kevin’s student Luke Macaronas.

Background reading:

St Kevin’s College, abuse and the language of pain in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

Apple podcasts Google podcasts Listen on Spotify

Share:

7am is hosted by Ruby Jones. The show is produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, Elle Marsh and Michelle Macklem. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

Tags

stkevins privateschools toxicmasculinity




Subscribe to hear every episode in your favourite podcast app:
Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify

00:00
14:25
170: We need to talk about St Kevin’s