There is physical and psychological pain in being thwarted, discouraged and diminished as a person. To have ability, to feel power you are never allowed to use, can become traumatic. – Bob & Jan Davidson
My brother Dale once explained, ‘The reason why everyone hated Fiona at school was because she was always that little bit better than them at everything.’
That’s not entirely true – they hated me for other reasons.
As my old high school friend Justine Thomas put it, ‘Fiona makes me look at who I really am, and when I do that I don’t like what I see.’ My husband calls this phenomenon The Mirror Effect.
My troubles began in Kindergarten when I was expelled from religion class. The ailing volunteer never divulged what I did to deserve such ostracism but I must have tested Mrs Levett beyond what a Christian could endure. From then on, every week, while the other five-year-olds were grouped according to the only three denominations that existed in 1970’s Sydney, I spent scripture classes alone on a bench in the sun. Perhaps I had asked the wrong type of question… or too many questions. Whatever the cause, it likely stemmed from my mother’s instructions for independent thinking.
If I inquired about a controversial topic, my mother typically followed a certain formula: first she explained what society generally thought about the issue, then she told me what she personally believed and then she would conclude, ‘But now you have to form your own opinion.’
My mother employed ‘big’ words whenever she addressed me and my younger brother Dale. It didn’t matter whether we understood the words, she decided, because through our regularly hearing them in context we would eventually figure out their meaning. Not surprisingly, I was a fluent reader with a large vocabulary long before I commenced Kindergarten. This was just as well because somebody had to help teach the other kids. Seeing I could already read, it was only fair that Miss Angus employed me as a teacher aide. I was assigned three struggling students. We sat on small wooden chairs in a circle as I helped them sound out the words:
Look, Spot, look.
Find Dick and Jane.
Go, Spot, go.
Help Sally find Dick.
Help Sally find Jane.
Go and find Dick.
Go and find Jane.
Run, Spot, run.
Run and find Dick.
Run and find Jane.
Oh, oh, oh.
Spot can find Dick.
Spot can find Jane.
Spot can help Sally.
Spot can play.
I arrived home from my first day of Kindergarten at Revesby Primary School, snatched the Dick and Jane reader from my leather satchel, threw it down on my parents’ coffee table and declared:
‘That is stupid!’
Thus began my non-education. It was the experimental, self-enlightened 1970’s. Under Gough Whitlam’s government it was ‘Time for a Change!’ What a change it was. Times tables, spelling, punctuation, and grammar were tossed out, due to their alleged stifling impact on children’s creativity, in favour of empty communist doctrine. Instead of studying History, English and Geography, the new system asked students to express how we felt about the study of these subjects.
Twenty years later, during a lecture at teachers college, my literacy professor labelled 1970’s New South Wales as ‘the most disastrous period in Australia’s educational history.’ He blamed the curriculum for producing a generation of virtual illiterates. The tragic Dick and Jane readers, he scoffed, were imported to Australia from the USA by the Education Minister’s relative as a private money-making venture.
Yet, the NSW Education Department simultaneously conducted a search for the brightest young primary children to participate in a mysterious government study. I was recruited without my mother’s knowledge or consent.
My family dwelt in a blue asbestos box in Padstow, a poor white suburb in Sydney’s east-west. My mother supplemented the revolutionary state curriculum as best she could, with public library visits plus the odd period of dance or music tuition. I was aged five when I had my first piano lesson. My tutor was convinced I had been taught before. My most vivid memory of piano was crying because I couldn’t play a piece perfectly. Mind you, it was difficult to master the music when I had no piano to practise on. A friend offered our family a sound piano for free and all we needed to do was collect it, but my father didn’t bother. There ended my beloved piano lessons for the next 10 years.
Our mother ensured that Dale and I had a constant supply of art materials to play with. Poverty plus parental disinterest had prevented Mum from pursuing her own dream of Art College admission. She and her nine siblings attended a small convent school in 1940s Brisbane where was she was caned and demeaned by unqualified Irish nuns. Mum attributed the nuns’ insanity to the thick woollen habits they wore throughout the subtropical summer. At 14 years of age, my mother concluded that Catholicism was a fear-based religion and, at risk of being ex-communicated by her family, she abandoned it for life. My academically gifted 14-year-old mother moved to Melbourne alone to work in a canning factory.
My mother commenced art lessons after I started school. Subsequent weekends were marked by reluctant trips to the New South Wales Art Gallery, life drawing classes with models (including 60 Minutes reporter Ian Leslie) who didn’t mind everyone looking at their bits, and landscape sketching trips with women dressed in long paisley skirts and large floppy felt hats. Mum won her first art show when fellow artist Irene Moore (Richard Tognetti’s aunt) framed one of her portraits and entered it in an acquisition competition. The following year, Mum entered a work that she had painted in a Bankstown Art Society class. The judge, Fred Bates, refused to award Mum first prize because he believed her nude was too good to have been painted by a novice. Mum was just emerging on the Sydney art scene and aiming for the Archibald when my father burnt all of her art materials. He destroyed Mum’s art career after we fled what I recall as his first violent outburst.
‘You wait!’ my father shouted from the lounge room where he sat with his half brother. ‘You wait ‘til David leaves!’
Mum lowered Dale and I out our bedroom window. Minutes later, as we trotted down the dark street, I tried to explain: ‘Mum, that wasn’t Dad – that was the devil inside of him.’
My belief in the Biblical God was surprising, considering I was raised an atheist. Apart from a few religion classes at school, my exposure to Western religion consisted of my father hissing ‘f*ing pedophiles!’ through gritted teeth at the sight of any priest.
As for my mother, she embarked upon an Eastern quest for truth and meaning while I was vicariously towed along for the ride. Mum’s spiritual journey began with a weekly philosophy group meeting at our central coast log cabin. Morning yoga sessions, a vegetarian diet and herbal remedies ensued. Strange books appeared on our shelves, with foreign titles like Yin-Yang, Kahlil Gibran and I-Ching. I too was blessed with a new children’s library consisting of books about meditation, finding my inner light and astral travel. I dismissed these concepts as nonsensical and confusing. Yet my grasp of them didn’t matter anyhow because, according to another kiddies’ book, mankind were polluting us all into extinction. Images of planet Earth covered in bandaids and atomic mushroom clouds caused me nightmares. This occurred decades before society accepted the notion of climate change.
Insomnia and vivid nightmares plagued my childhood, as captured in my first poem. I was six years old. As car headlights reflected over my darkened bedroom, I grabbed a pen and wrote under the street light:
With a honk and a beep
I can hear the traffick leap,
And a tiny touch of light
It could hit my feet.
With a bang and a bump,
What a lump!
I can’t get to sleep!
But it would not stop,
No, not a bit.
So I tucked underneath,
And I did get to sleep.
My mother made me present a copy of Traffick to my Grade 2 teacher at Budgewoi primary school on the NSW central coast. Mrs Peach read my poem to the class. The small band of popular girls smiled sweetly at her – before secretly shooting me an acidic scowl. I would be dealt with at lunchtime, as usual. People debate a child’s age of accountability. Following my Grade 2 experience I confidently placed it at age seven.
If Grade 2 turned me off my age peers, Grade 3 completely buried my innate passion for learning.
‘What is it about bald heads and thick glasses that make pedophiles so attractive to children?’ an English comedian once asked. The joke reminded me of my Grade 3 teacher at Budgewoi Primary School, Mr B. When he lost his temper, which was often, Mr B would throw his wooden blackboard duster hard at a boy’s head. Girls were typically demeaned or ignored altogether.
Mr B owned a property and horses at Wyong. During the school holidays, he invited every boy in our class, and a select few boys from other classes, to stay at his farm. As the week went on, the boys gradually returned home until only a few remained. Two of these boys excitedly told me how they had slept in Mr B’s bed. The last child to be collected from Mr B’s farm was a shy blonde boy named Darren.
When school went back after the holidays, I was seated at my desk in our demountable classroom, watching a commotion outside. Darren stood in the playground with his back to the classroom. His head was bowed and his body trembled as he wept uncontrollably. Several children were huddled around his limp form, trying to console him.
Mr B shot out of our classroom and rushed toward Darren. Mr B told the kids to return inside the classroom while he spoke alone with Darren, his arm wrapped around the boy’s small stature.
Inside the classroom, the kids began frantically whispering together.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked the girl next to me.
She tightened her lips and raised her eyebrows: ‘Mr B did something very rude to Darren.’
It was far too rude to repeat.
At Christmas time, Mr B bought the forgiveness of every student in our class with a kilo of lollies, a can of soft drink and a coloured Parker pen. But I never forgave – or forgot. Externally, I maintained a toughened shell to withstand the war zone that was the school playground. But inside, I acknowledged Darren’s demise into misery. Three years later, I understood why tears welled in Darren’s eyes as he threw another boy over his shoulders during a classroom fight. Twenty years later, I did what I had wanted to do at age eight: I formally reported ‘Mr B’ to Taskforce Argos at Queensland’s Police headquarters and signed a witness statement.
The detective cheerfully explained that his sex crime unit had been inundated with reports of child abuse, especially involving priests. He talked about how unbelieving the general public were. ‘My own mother-in-law didn’t believe me,’ he chuckled, ‘until we arrested her local parish priest.’ Then the detective looked me dead in the eye and asked, ‘Why are you reporting this?’
Because it happened to me too! I wanted to blurt out but restrained myself. Instead, I affirmed, ‘Because it’s the right thing to do.’
I further reported Mr B to the NSW Education Department’s Child Protection unit which was established following the Wood Royal Commission.
Then I located Mr B working at a newsagency. I phoned him and stated: ‘I know what you did to Darren and I reported you to the police.’ It felt good.
‘Hey!’ Mr B objected, ‘I’ll have you know that I’m still very good friends with some of my students!’
‘Oh, I bet you are…’
The NSW Police sent me a letter in which they claimed that they were unable to locate Darren. The Education Department sent me a letter in which they claimed they could not substantiate my allegation against Mr B and they approved his return to teaching at Budgewoi Primary School.
While lower primary school was a horrendous enough experience, things only got worse for me in high school, especially when adolescence kicked in.
I was 12 years old when my parents reconciled and relocated our family to a northern NSW farm. I attended a public high school in nearby Murwillumbah, or ‘Murhole’ as my sister nicknamed the country town. I renamed Murwillumbah High ‘Pedo High’ – which seemed justified after one of the principals was convicted for sexually abusing a male student. I laughed at the local newspaper’s claim that the remaining staff members were ‘shocked’ by the allegations.
High school was as mind-numbingly tedious as primary school. I resigned myself to learning nothing at a secondary level after my first Grade 8 History project where the teacher, Mr Huxley, gave us the task of constructing a model Viking boat out of cardboard. I threw myself passionately into what I perceived as an enjoyable project and within two days I had crafted and painted a perfect model.
My cardboard boat received a contemptuous reception from the entire class, including Mr Huxley. ‘You cut that out of a magazine!’ one boy accused.
The following lesson, Mr Huxley brought a supply of green cardboard. I was instructed to abandon my completed model boat and join the class assembly line production of 30 stapled, uniform replicas of a basic paper boat.
The following four years were just a variation on that experience and my true ability never really manifested again. I recall a PE session during which I flogged one of the school’s tennis champions, Amanda Swan, after I had never had a single lesson. I also remember the sewing classes during which I consistently earned perfect marks for my professional-standard garments. Apart from these glimpses, I became stuck in a cycle of underachievement and rebellion.
I didn’t misbehave in every class – just those of teachers I disrespected. I didn’t respect the manual arts teacher who exposed himself to me and who joked in my presence about ‘getting into the pants’ of a Grade 12 student. I didn’t respect the science teacher and self-designated school photographer who continually photographed me and who took ‘arty’ shots of my naked classmate. I didn’t respect the PE teacher who had sex with a female classmate. I didn’t respect the English teacher who had a group orgy with her senior surfing students. I didn’t respect the English teacher who had an affair with a Grade 11 student and who flirted with my brother’s girlfriend. I didn’t respect the careers teacher who made advances toward my brother and who drugged a Grade 11 boy at a party. The student awoke in the careers teacher’s bed the following morning, naked with no memory of how he got there. The teacher stood naked in the doorway and minced, ‘It’s okay, sweetie.’
My hidden ability suddenly manifested in Grade 11. For some unknown reason, I began churning out unique interpretations of Hamlet that stunned the only person who showed an appreciation of my ideas – a University of New England professor whose lectures we attended. I took up rowing, won my first regatta race and lost the final to the Australian champion. I commenced Art classes and began painting like a professional. Then I won the female lead in the high school musical when I had not previously sung or acted.
‘You-…You’re not Fiona’s mother are you?!’ the medical receptionist exclaimed when she spied our surname on my brother’s medical file.
‘Y-y-yes,’ Mum hesitated, wondering what I had done wrong this time.
The receptionist disappeared. Minutes later she returned with the entire surgery who were all talking at once: ‘You’re Fiona’s mother! We saw her in the musical last night. She was amazing!’
After seeing the school musical, my art teacher Mr Siddel told me, ‘I just sat there watching you and Zoe and I realised – they’re going to be famous!’
My academic turnabout divided the school staff room. On one side sat a minority group of intelligent teachers, like Peter Cross who himself topped the state in History as a school student. These people recognised and valued my ability.
On the opposition sat those teachers who resented their jobs – and me. They especially hated the fact that my new found success highlighted their failure to teach. The main perpetrator of the teacher movement against me was the English/History teacher whom I’ll call ‘Mr Cock’. Mr Cock had obviously never forgiven me for my blatant impertinence concerning his sexual affair with a student – nor for the sailing incident.
The sailing incident occurred during a school sport lesson. Mr Cock prided himself on being a skilled sailor and he taught sailing for school sport. A Japanese exchange student named Nozamu and I paired up to sail a catamaran. Our first and final sailing day was extremely windy. Mr Cock gave our group basic sailing instructions. Unbeknownst to Mr Cock, I had learnt to sail on Budgewoi Lake under a great teacher named Leslie in my own Laser sailing boat in which I won my first race.
That sport day, every catamaran capsized within 10 metres of shore – except the boat Nozamu and I were on. The wind blew us up river, toward a rocky island that stuck out in the middle. It was impossible to simply turn about and aim directly for the boat shed where the other students had resigned. I had to tack against the wind just to get back to our shore. I aimed to land near the rocks upstream, from where Nozamu and I could tow the boat back.
As the winds picked up and the cat almost tipped, Nozamu began panicking at the thought of falling into shark infested waters. His hysteria compromised our chances of staying upright, so I made Nozamu laugh and relax by pretending to be a pirate. Nearing the shore, I yelled out, ‘Abandon ship!’ in an Irish accent, just as Mr Cock approached us. Anticipated congratulations on a fine bit of sailing, I shouted, ‘Aye-aye, Sir!’
‘Get off!’ Mr Cock screamed hysterically at us.
‘Huh?’ I was genuinely confused.
‘You treat everything as a bloody joke, Fiona!’
‘Oh…’ I struggled for a response, ‘Do you want me to take the boat back?’
‘Just get off!’
A bewildered Nozamu muttered in my ear, ‘What we do wrong? What we do wrong?’
‘Never mind, Noza,’ I assured him. ‘Let’s just go.’
Fully clothed in long socks and leather shoes, Mr Cock leapt onto the boat and started sailing it back. Nozamu and I had just started walking back to the boat shed when we witnessed the expert sailor Mr Cock capsize just five metres from the shore.
Mr Cock instigated staff room gossip about me which became so rife, fellow teacher Peter Cross complained about it to the mistress of girls, Mrs Garnham – who in turn told me.
Ailsa Sharland, my private piano teacher, told me she overheard teachers speaking derogatively about me in the staffroom while relief teaching at Murhole High.
‘Are you talking about Fiona?’ Ailsa interrupted them.
‘Yes,’ they admitted.
‘I teach her piano. Fiona’s a genius!’
‘Oh, we know,’ they conceded. ‘We can tell from her essay writing.’
If my teachers thought I was so capable, they certainly never told me. Instead, at the start of Grade 12, Mr. Cock and his incompetent peers pressured the principal to transfer me to neighbouring Tweed River High.
I nicknamed my new school ‘Tweed Slut High’ for good reason. If you have seen the movie Muriel’s Wedding, this is based on a true story set in the Tweed Heads area. My new school was populated with girls who wore their skirts 20cm too short so that they just covered their knickers.
My senior teachers at Murhole had no knowledge of my forced transfer and appeared shocked at the news. My new school did not offer the same subjects or timetable so I had to make major subject changes. I had to drop my top subject, 3U History and pick up General Studies. My teacher for both History and General Studies was not given a record of my Grade 11 History marks, thus he instantly deducted from my final results the percentage of marks carried over from his existing students’ previous year and refused to let me make up the difference.
‘That’s unfair,’ I complained to Mr. Rogers, the deputy principal. ‘You make him change those marks!’ I knew Mr Rogers as the former English master of Murwillumbah High. I had spent most of Grade 9 English sitting outside his office.
‘It’s too late,’ he tried to explain.
‘Then I tell you what,’ I asserted in righteous indignation, ‘I’ll not be attending another one of his Ancient History or General Studies classes. From now on – I’ll teach myself!’
I further complained about my marks for 2U English. My new English teacher had preconceived opinions on me. He was married to one of the teachers from my previous school, one who had campaigned for my transfer – and entertained a group orgy with her surfing students.
‘You read this essay,’ I threw my paper on the deputy’s desk.
Mr. Rogers read it carefully. It was a critique of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a novel I despised from its opening multi-page description of a cow paddock. The essay question asked students to argue whether Tess was seduced or raped. I addressed the moral and political incorrectness of the essay question.
‘Fiona,’ Mr. Rogers sighed, ‘you write this sort of thing at university. For now you’re at high school and you must conform.’
I refused to conform. I refused to write another essay on Tess of the d’Urbervilles. My stance cost me my English result and my overall tertiary entrance score. My final Higher School Certificate exam results read:
Ancient History 91%
General Studies 88%
Art (Advanced) 88%
English (Advanced) 82%
It was a miracle that I completed high school at all. Throughout my school years, my father constantly reminded me that I was a ‘f*wit,’ ‘shit-for-brains’ and a ‘moron.’ His attack on my studies intensified during my HSC exam preparation. The highlight of the month-long study period was when my father decided to sandblast the house wall just outside my bedroom window where my study desk sat.
‘YOU’RE GONNA FAIL!’ his screaming could only just be heard over the shrill of the machine. ‘YOU’RE F*ING HOPELESS! YOU’RE GONNA FAIL!’
I learned how to balance academic study with my father’s regular violence.
His most memorable outburst was the cat incident. This occurred on our way to our piano lessons. It was dark. My father screamed hysterically at me in the manner which typically ended in his beating me in the stomach or head. But this time I was spared. At the end of our dirt road, our headlights shone on a box of abandoned kittens. Dad slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car, and started throwing rocks at a kitten’s head. I started screaming hysterically, jumped out of the car and ran barefoot down the road. I glanced back to see my father’s figure silhouetted against the headlights. He was beating a kitten to death over the bonnet of the car. I stayed up all night, processing the incident in a painting that I titled Dad Hates Cats.
People often accuse child abuse victims: Why didn’t you tell anyone? In my case, I did tell someone. I told my school Principal, Wally Wardman, who contested, ‘But you never come to school with any bruises on you.’ I didn’t bother explaining I showed no physical evidence because my father knew how to beat me without leaving any signs. After meeting my father, the Principal described him as, ‘gentle as a lamb.’
I reported my father’s domestic violence to the local Tweed Heads child protection agency (DOCS) who dismissed my report and labelled me a ‘drama queen’ – even after my mother directly confirmed my testimony to them.
I even called the local police who were subsequently easily convinced by my father that I was just ‘making shit up.’ Immediately after the police left, my father flew into his most violent rage and threw me out of home. Consequently, I spent half of Grade 12 living at other peoples’ homes.
By the end of high school, I was too mentally exhausted to attend university and sit more exams. So, I attended Art College instead.
My mother did her best to talk me out of attending art college: ‘It takes ten years to undo the damage art college does to an artist,’ she warned. She wanted me to study English literature instead.
While delivering me the ‘you’re expelled’ lecture, Murwillumbah Principal Mr Dowling simultaneously commended my acting skills and ordered me to major in English and Drama at UNE.
Meanwhile, my piano teacher told me, ‘If you take next year off and practise eight hours a day, the following year you will get into the Sydney Conservatorium as a concert pianist.’
I interviewed at Sydney’s City Art Institute in Paddington. Outside the interview room I sat amidst a trembling group of candidates who clasped their professionally produced portfolio.
‘What other art schools have you applied for?’ the panel asked me.
‘None. This is the best. Why would I bother going elsewhere?’
The three of them stared like stunned mullets.
I broke the silence, ‘Would you like to see my folio?’
They sighed collectively, ‘Oh, you have a folio?’
I pulled out a small wad of instant photographs that I had taken of my paintings and drawings and handed them to the panel.
‘Wow,’ one interviewer shook her head.
‘Who taught you to draw?’ one lecturer asked.
‘No-one. I taught myself.’
‘Who taught you to paint like this?’
‘Klimt, Whiteley and Picasso,’ I responded confidently.
Art College was everything my mother warned me it would be. I loathed every day of it. Art College was not about learning. I was never given explicit instruction in such basics as colour mixing or canvas stretching. Art College was about anticipating what the lecturers wanted. By the end of third year, painting students were expected to display their own ‘style’ – despite the fact that it took Picasso a lifetime to develop his characteristic style.
Art College was not about creativity. It was about conformity to the lecturers’ personal tastes. I recall the day I told my history theory lecturer Tess that I considered Brett Whiteley to be one of Australia’s master painters. She laughed condescendingly and said something so coded in ‘art speak’ even my brain could not process it.
Art College was not about artistic talent. Students were marked on their personalities, not their art. I recall a class in which a third year student had not produced any work whatsoever, but because he could waffle art speak about the ‘process’ – he passed. I laughed, ‘The emperor is naked!’
Art College was not about producing aesthetically pleasing images. It was about glorifying the grotesque. I recall a piece of work that was displayed in a glass podium. It was an essay which began, ‘There once was a C*nt…’ I recall another piece of work which received a good grade – a four foot high sculpture of an erect penis. That student went on to exhibit photographs of pus-ridden skin diseases.
I later attended the top art colleges in Queensland and Western Australia and found them to teach the same crap. In the foyer of Queensland College of Art was displayed an exhibition of photographs featuring a decapitated pigs head and sexualised women dressed in leather outfits and whips. The student artist went onto be implicated in a notorious vampire murder involving a lesbian Satanist who routinely drank pigs blood.
I committed the minimal time and effort required to obtain my first undergraduate degree. Every spare moment was spent attending theatre classes at Phillip Street Theatre, the Australian Theatre for Young People, followed by The Actors Centre where I benefited from NIDA teachers who had recently left over political issues. The highlight of my first year of tertiary education was a cabaret show held at ATYP. I was designated the role of a punk at a dinner party. I painted my face grotesquely, scrawled ‘KILL’ across my torn shirt and got lost in the improvisation. My performance brought the house down. The French mime teacher accosted me excitedly at the end of the show: ‘Your face!’ he delighted, ‘It was like a mask! It was fantastic!’
‘Here she is – the star!’ another staff member declared. ‘You were the funniest thing I have seen in ten years!’
After a year of attending more drama than art classes, I applied for NIDA, the Sydney based drama school. I was just 18 years old when I ignored warnings that I was well below the average age of 22 to get in. The first panel of judges were obviously impressed with my performance because they singled me out and excitedly asked, ‘Where did you obtain your piece? Where have you worked before?’ But the moment I heard who was judging my second audition I knew my acting days were over. The person in question had rushed back from interstate auditioning to be there – on my day. I recognised him from my secret childhood.
‘I’m surprised,’ my private drama coach, another NIDA graduate, concluded. ‘I thought you would get in.’
Disappointed, I simultaneously sensed that acting was a dangerous choice for someone with my background. The acting techniques I had been taught at The Actors Centre included shamanic practises of centring, meditation, dissociation and channelling. I demonstrated a seemingly natural ability to completely lose myself in character, something which impressed others – but was spiritually unhealthy. Today, I appreciate that I was spared the fate of most successful actors. If an actor is not born into ritual abuse, they will pay for their fame one way or another, be it via the mandatory casting couch, drug abuse or forced to star in underground snuff and porn films.
My passion was for musical theatre. Consequently, my focus switched to classical singing. I had transferred to Art College in Brisbane when I auditioned at the Queensland Conservatorium for an evening course in concert and stagecraft for singers. At that point the Queensland Con was the place for singing in Australia. I was accepted and once in, I harassed the teacher, Leonard Lee, for private singing lessons. Leonard eventually agreed to give me a 30 minute trial lesson to explore my potential that he doubted I had. He played some scales and gave me instructions which I promptly followed. ‘Hmm,’ he raised his brow at my typically rapid response to teaching. ‘Okay,’ he conceded, ‘I’ll teach you.’ His ‘intercostal diaphragmatic breathing’ technique well suited my dramatic mezzo soprano voice. A short time later, his tune completely changed:
‘You’ve leaned more in two months than my students typically learn in two years! It’s a big voice and difficult to control.’ I was subsequently overwhelmed with free lessons and talk of managing me in Europe.
Both my singing and piano teachers were world class musicians whose careers had been prematurely ended by tragedy. Being a perfectionist, the additional pressure I felt from them to succeed was suffocating. I just wanted to learn to sing and play before making any great life decisions. So, I quit music.
But perhaps the greatest impact on my confidence to pursue a career in music or theatre stemmed from something deeper and darker. I had just turned 16 when I made the decision to cut off from the Sydney-based pedophile network that abused and controlled me from my earliest memory. Psychologist and UTS lecturer Dr Antony Kidman led the inner Sydney branch of this network. In response to my announcement that I was leaving their organisation and did not want their support to ‘make it’ in any industry, Kidman slammed my fingers between a piano keyboard and lid, and hissed:
‘You will be nothing without us!’