December 2021


Abused schoolboy awarded $2.6m

by Resolve Editor Kate Tilley

The Victorian Supreme Court has awarded more than $2.6 million to a man who suffered childhood sexual abuse from an older man who, while not a schoolmaster, had access to the boy via his college.

Justice Stephen O’Meara said: “That abuse has had very significant psychiatric effects on [PCB] across his life and will continue to have effects on him very likely for the rest of his life.” He found Geelong College had breached its duty of care owed to PCB as a student.

PCB, who was born in 1975, was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom attended Geelong College.

PCB started there in 1987 and in late 1988 first attended the school’s House of Guilds, where students participated woodwork, ceramics and other crafts during school hours and after school.

Bert Palframan, who died in about 1999, was in his early 70s at the time and an honorary member of the House of Guilds. He attended the woodwork room regularly but had no formal status as a teacher paid by the school.

Justice O’Meara said there was no dispute that, on many occasions from late 1988 to mid-1990, Palframan sexually abused PCB, after he was “groomed” at the House of Guilds. Abuse occurred in the woodwork room, in Palframan’s car, at his unit in Geelong, and once in PCB’s home, after Palframan had developed a friendship with the boy’s parents. The abuse ended in mid-1990 after PCB refused the abuse.

PCB told the court he was unable to “break the cycle” of abuse, which Palframan described as “our secret”. He suffered nightmares, feelings of guilt and shame, and said he no longer knew what was right or wrong. He told no one, until after an incident in 2007.

PCB said he had not been educated about sexual consent or child abuse, had no idea about the concept of paedophilia, and had not been instructed about any pathway for complaints.

After completing school, he had enrolled in university, but was initially unsuccessful. He met his now wife while both were working at Geelong’s Eureka Hotel while studying.

In late 2004, with his wife’s encouragement, he moved to a role with liquor company Diageo.

In mid-2007, while at a training course in Sydney he suffered a breakdown. “He had thoughts of self-harm and harming others. He gave evidence that he experienced nightmares [about] the abuse and, in particular, struggled with travelling for work and feelings of distress and being out of control,” Justice O’Meara said.

PCB told his wife and family of the abuse and started treatment with psychologists. He stopped work with Diageo in late 2011 and did not work again until about July 2012.

In September 2017 he began work as a regional manager with Treasury Wine Estates, but again struggled in his employment, especially with travel, and was made redundant in August 2019. Justice O’Meara said he was “consumed with anger and distress” and has not worked since.

PCB gave evidence of his struggles, especially when travelling for work. Justice O’Meara said: “He had haunting memories and would have his wife on the phone. He was unable to sleep. When he could sleep, he had nightmares. He would take family members with him. He flew his mother to London to accompany him on a business trip. He said he tried to ‘control’ the situation. He was fearful work colleagues would find out that he needed support in this way.”

PCB said “the complex impacts of what this monster did” were beyond those relating to travel. He tried to keep up a façade, but his behaviour at work was affected. He was jealous of others and tried to control situations.

Justice O’Meara said evidence from another student at the time identified that Geelong College had received specific warnings of the risk to students posed by Palframan in the House of Guilds, but “the school did nothing”.

The school ought to have realised “the broader risk that students in the House of Guilds could be exposed to a risk of inappropriate sexual conduct was real and not fanciful”.

“Palframan should have been either excluded from the House of Guilds, or ‘watched like a hawk’.”

Instead, the school facilitated him interacting with young, vulnerable students over several years, during which he abused at least PCB and the other student who gave evidence, while not attending to any particular woodwork or other projects of his own that any witness could remember, “which should have been the very reason why he was there”.

Justice O’Meara said PCB’s wife’s evidence was impressive about the impacts on her husband and “her steadfast endeavours to support him and alleviate his suffering”.

“I accept the evidence which supports the view the abuse had an effect on [PCB] from his adolescence. He was evidently acutely ashamed and embarrassed about the abuse and frightened it would be uncovered and, in effect, reflect upon him in some way. He responded in various maladaptive ways, such as with anger and isolation, about which his brothers gave evidence.”

The $2,632,319.25 damages assessment consisted of: pain and suffering – $300,000; past loss of earnings – $676,583.05; future loss of earnings – $1,634,995.20; and other damages and medical costs – $20,741.

PCB v Geelong College [2021] VSC 633

IMAGE: By Marcus Wong Wongm - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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