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For My Beliefs (M/m)

Canings were a matter of routine at my school - some boys were caned virtually weekly, I didn’t get it quite that often, but I got it a fair bit. It was most of our master’s primary method of discipline – it had the virtue of being very quick and simple. There were also certain senior boys with the power to cane – some used it rarely or not at all, most were sparing and a few used it quite a lot.

Because canings were so routine, very serious misbehavior required something on a different level – for the most heinous offences, expulsion was an option, but below that were two other sanctions – a beating or a flogging.

We actually used the terms specifically – generally you were caned. This referred to being punished privately, or in the presence of co-offenders, or rarely, in front of a single class. A caning would generally be of 3 or 4 strokes – occasionally especially when we were younger, you might only receive 1 or two – the maximum permissible was six except by express permission of the headmaster. The Captain of the School, and the House Captains all had the power to cane.

A beating, on the other hand, was formally administered in public – either before your entire form (several classes), before your house, or before the entire school. These occurred very rarely – the vast majority of boys never received one, partly for logistical reasons – as House Captain I had to organize a couple of them, and it took a bit of planning. Up to twelve strokes of the cane could theoretically be administered in a public beating – though I never witnessed that. The most I ever saw was 9 on one occasion. Generally the recipient got six – it was hardly worth doing for less than that – unless it was a number of boys being punished at the same time, in which case they could get significantly less.

A flogging involved being sent to the Headmaster or his Deputy. Not all incidents of corporal punishment by these men involved flogging – often you just got a normal caning. A flogging, however, always consisted of six of the best (six strokes administered ‘with force’) across your bare buttocks. Floggings were relatively rare – I would say that a significant minority of boys (particularly boarders) received a flogging at some point, but I doubt more than a very small number ever received more than three or four of them.

It was never entirely clear which was meant to be the more severe punishment out of a flogging or a beating.

For completeness, I should also mention the Prefect’s Caning – this was a formal punishment administered by the Captain of the School in the presence of the Prefects after a semi-formal ‘trial’. I participated in a few of these as part of my duties as a Prefect but the only two times I ever had to appear as a defendant, I escaped without being caned (dismissed without penalty on one occasion, fined on the other).

I received my first flogging when I was in Form II – I was just eleven.

Many of us took a fairly keen interest in politics – the school produces a reasonable number of movers and shakers of Australian public life and we were generally encouraged to express our opinions. Most of us shared the same general opinions – on most issues we were a fairly conservative bunch (that started to change in my last year or so at the school when the anti-Vietnam movement began to take hold among some students) – so there was little acrimony.

Most of the time. There was an exception.

I assume most people know about the US civil rights movement – well, at the same time that was gaining momentum in the US, the issue of racial equality was becoming prominent in Australia. Australia’s aboriginal population were subjected to discrimination embedded in the Constitution, and under Australian law, the Constitution can only be changed by a national referendum.

I’d been raised to have a social conscience – my mother had been, by the standards of the time something of a radical, and one of her causes had always been aboriginal equality. So despite my age, I took quite an interest in the ‘Yes’ case in the referendum.

To start with, we were allowed to do this – put up posters, have debates, etc – but it started to create significant ill feeling. Fights started to develop. Eventually the Headmaster issued a declaration that seeing we couldn’t discuss this issue calmly and rationally, we couldn’t discuss it at all.

Unfortunately, not everybody complied with that directive – in particular, some total bigots started surreptitiously putting up posters all around the school. They seemed to be getting away with it so I started putting up my own posters (and I wasn’t the only one).

Now my second form master was a rather elderly man – he seemed very old to me, anyway. I guess he was probably in his 60s. And he was openly racist.

Somehow he worked out I was responsible for some of the posters (presumably the ones I’d made myself that had my handwriting on them – OK, I didn’t think that through as well as I should have).

So he summoned me to his office and demanded to know if I was responsible for the posters. I knew I was going to get the cane – I didn’t want to, I was scared of it, but it was becoming just a part of life by this stage. I knew I could take it. I wasn’t ashamed of what I’d done so I admitted it.

 This man then took what I can only describe as a ‘fatherly’ approach to what I’d done – by which I mean he sat down and started to talk to me in a very reasonable fashion – unfortunately what he was saying wasn’t reasonable at all. Basically he seems to have decided he needed to convince me I was misguided in supporting aboriginal equality. He didn’t have a hope – my convictions were strong, and even if they hadn’t been, adopting his party line would have seemed a betrayal of my mother.

 I tried being polite to him – thinking that maybe if I was non-committal and seemed compliant, I might escape the cane. Maybe he took that as a sign I was taking on board what he said. Eventually though he asked me a direct question about whether I agreed with one of his points.

 And I gave him a direct answer – that I did not. He shook his head and asked me whether I thought I was smarter than he was.

 And I said something like “Sir, I can’t see how an intelligent man can hold the views you do.” I wasn’t really intending to be rude.

At that point, he lost it. He began spewing out all sorts of racist claptrap at me. I just sat there – there wasn’t anything else I could do.

When I didn’t respond, he told me to stand up and bend over.

And I refused.

I basically decided on the spur of the moment that I was not going to be caned by this bigot. I wasn’t going to obey him.

It shut him up. Eventually he sat down and wrote a note.

“Rysher. I’m going to give you one chance. You can bend over and take your punishment from me – or you can take this note to the Headmaster.”

“I’ll take the note, Sir.”

He handed it to me – and I left and began the trek to the old building where the Headmaster had his study. As I walked I began to seriously doubt the wisdom of my decision – you know, this happened a lot. I got into trouble for spur of the moment decision that I regretted an instant later. I didn’t regret this exactly – but the Headmaster was a figure of considerable terror to me at the time. I thought of walking back – but really, I didn’t see much that that would accomplish.

I headed in to old building through the side door we boys had to use and then realized that I really didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t even sure precisely where the headmasters office was. I wandered around looking for a few minutes before I finally found a door bearing the legend ‘Headmaster’ and I knocked.

“Come in.”

I walked in to a rather impressive study. The Headmaster was sitting behind a rather large desk that was covered in papers. He looked up at me.

“Rysher, isn’t it. May I help you?”

I walked across the rug to his desk and handed him the note. I didn’t feel able to speak. He took it, and read it.

“You refused to take a caning from your Form Master? Would you care to explain this to me.”

I did – I wasn’t exactly clear at first, but the Headmaster quizzed me and asked searching questions until he had a pretty clear understanding of what had happened. Then he stood and went to a cupboard.

“Rysher – you have violated my directive concerning discussion of this issue, and your Form Master was well within his rights to punish you for that, whatever you may think of his political position. I will not tolerate any boy refusing to accept punishment he deserves. I have one penalty for this. I am going to have to flog you.”

I’ve mentioned that word had a specific meaning – and it did, and I knew what it was. But it didn’t immediately sink in.

“Rysher – stand next to that armchair, would you?”

I went and stood where he gestured.

“Next to the door – there’s a footstool – fetch it and place it behind the armchair.”

I did as I was told. And as I stood up, I saw he had a cane in his hand.

“Rysher – stand on the stool, facing the back of the chair and undo your shorts.”

I undid my belt and the buttons of my shorts. By now I’d worked it out.

“Pull your shorts and underpants down – all the way down.”

I obeyed his instructions – it’s worth pointing out at this point that I wasn’t particularly embarrassed by this. I was boarding at the school – nudity was a part of life. We had communal showers every morning, in summer we swam nude in the pool. And for that matter, I had heard plenty of stories about boys being caned on the bare bottom, and I’d received a couple of bare bottom spankings from our Matron.

I was concerned about how exposed I was – but that was because I knew that in a few short seconds the Head was going to be striking me on a totally unprotected area.

“Bend over the chair – all the way over.”

I did.

“Now, stay down.”

And he cut me in half – that’s pretty much how I remember it feeling. I can’t be certain – but knowing how seriously this man took his responsibilities and knowing that a flogging was meant to involve six strokes delivered with force, I don’t think he made much allowance for my age. The pain was absolutely excruciating, for the first two strokes. After that, it wasn’t quite as bad – he’d placed his hand in the small of my back to stop me standing and I think this impeded his swing a bit. It was still an awful experience.

When he’d finished – he told me to stand up and pull up my underpants and trousers. He told me that in future he knew I would never refuse to take reasonable punishment, and that I should return to my class.

I did so – but I didn’t pay attention to anything for the rest of the day. I really don’t remember much until that evening when everybody in the boarding house – everybody all the way up to the House Captain – wanted to see my backside. And it was impressive – covered with bruising lines.

The next day I had to see my Form Master – and he told me that as far as he was concerned, the matter was at a close and he bore me no ill will.

I held my tongue in response.

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