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Australia School removes statue resembling teacher after abuse claims

15:15  25 february  2020
15:15  25 february  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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a group of people posing for the camera: The Armidale School has removed a statue resembling late housemaster Desmond Lyle ‘Jim’ Graham, seen (left) at a party. © Supplied The Armidale School has removed a statue resembling late housemaster Desmond Lyle ‘Jim’ Graham, seen (left) at a party.

A NSW private school that erected a statue resembling a celebrated former teacher accused of inflicting physical and sexual abuse upon students has removed the sculpture within days of a public outcry from alleged victims.

But despite its distinct similarity to Desmond Lyle 'Jim' Graham, an Order of Australia recipient and veteran staff member of The Armidale School (TAS), headmaster Alan Jones and chairman Sebastian Hempel repeated previous assertions the bronze figure unveiled during a tribute concert for the late teacher was not him.

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a man sitting in front of a building: Former TAS student Comrie Bucknell says he was sexually abused by Mr Graham. © Nick Moir Former TAS student Comrie Bucknell says he was sexually abused by Mr Graham.

"However, it is clear that a number of former students who see a likeness to Jim Graham associate the statue with their painful and unhappy experience at TAS," the pair said in a letter to the school community on Tuesday afternoon.

"While acknowledging the positive contribution Jim Graham made to many TAS students and created a strong legacy in creative arts during his 43 years at the school, in light of these fresh allegations, the school has decided the statue will be removed out of respect for those to whom it causes pain and suffering."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Desmond Lyle 'Jim' Graham. © The Armidale School Desmond Lyle 'Jim' Graham.

The school said the statue, titled The Spark, wasn't a tribute to anyone in particular, but depicted an educational moment between a teacher and student.

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Former pupil Comrie Bucknell, who attended the boarding school between 1966 and 1971, said he had been sexually abused while being caned by Mr Graham.

He was one of several ex-students who claimed they had been physically harmed by Mr Graham - who still has a scholarship for the humanities, music and drama named after him - and who called for the statue to be taken down.

The allegations come days after prestigious Melbourne school St Kevin’s College was rocked by an abuse scandal that led to the resignation of its headmaster after he provided a reference for a convicted sex offender.

This week Newington College in Sydney's inner west reported a former teacher to police after ex- students alleged incidents of inappropriate behaviour following his death.

Mr Jones and Mr Hempel said before an article in the Herald, the school wasn't aware of the sexual abuse allegation against Mr Graham, who worked there between 1956 and 1999. He died in 2016.

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"This allegation of sexual abuse has not been taken lightly and we will work with the appropriate authorities," the pair said, adding other claims of physical abuse had since come to light. They urged victims of past abuse to report their experience to the school or police.

Last year, another former TAS student, Donald Makim, wrote to then-headmaster Murray Guest to say he had been "violently physically abused" by Mr Graham on many occasions.

"My analysis is that Mr Graham practiced a culture of fear, harassment, bullying, depravation, violence and cover-up at TAS during his tenure," Mr Makim, who went to the school from 1967 to 1971, wrote.

The school last week removed web pages dedicated to Mr Graham after facing questions over allegations of abuse.

In 2019, the school committed to joining the National Redress Scheme, which provides compensation and access to counselling for survivors of institutional sexual abuse.

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