Don Hancock

 

Last year I read this:

 

“Don Hancock [further described as: “suspected to have been part of a pedophile ring linked to a language school established and supervised by the Australian Government”] died on Tuesday in Surabaya, where he was director of studies of the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation. He was found in a hotel room along with a quantity of pills. His door was locked from the inside.

 

http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/australian-pedophile-suspect-dead/2006/08/16/1155407884221.html

 

or at least a similar story in the SMH. 

This got me thinking, because, judging by his age and other information about this life, I think this was almost certainly the Don Hancock who was my choirmaster from about 1969 to 1972 in the Ku-ring-gai Boys’ Choir.  That Don Hancock was in year 12 (actually then known as sixth year) at St Ives High School in 1969 or 1970 (I remember he told us about what happened at their end-of-school muck-up day) and so would have been 17 or 18 then.  This Don Hancock was reported to be 54 in 2006.

Of course, if the Don Hancock of my youth was not the Don Hancock of this sad end, then I have to be careful about what I say about the Don Hancock I knew, but in truth there is little I need to be careful about.

Looking back with hindsight, you have to wonder about some things.  It was a thankless job being choir master, and at the same time a responsibility which these days one can hardly imagine a boy of that age being given, tiny and inconsequential though our little choir was.  We practised in the Turramurra Masonic Hall, and later moved to the Presbyterian Church Hall, also at Turramurra (a few years later, I remember the news, breathlessly relayed to me, of how some school acquaintance of my sister’s was surprised having sex in the changing rooms by the minister’s wife, but that is another story). 

Like all not very good choirs, we seemed to do a lot of practising for not very much performing.  There would be a concert (usually, for the sake of scraping together an audience, with some other group) about once a year, and we sang Christmas carols at Farmers (later, Myers) Gordon, before Christmas and entered the Eisteddfod each year.  We also sang the carols at various old people’s homes – my first (and rather scary) encounter with patients with senile dementia, as well as a children’s convalescent home – any captive audience, I guess. 

Each year we also sang (part of a long roster of cunningly borrowed audiences) at the Lyceum Theatre (Central Methodist Mission) on a Sunday afternoon.  These were broadcast on 2CH.  I still remember the time when, lost on the stage in the big hall and even though accompanied, we lost almost a semitone in each verse of “There is a balm in Gilead,” which only became apparent to us as the piano played the introduction to the next verse. 

Actually, I don’t think Don (to be fair, the Gilead fiasco was after his time) knew much about singing.  He sang in a typical rather nasal teenager’s broken voice, and I suspect our production was adversely influenced by that.

If there were any pedophilic incidents at that time, they were kept from us.  I seem to recall that Don departed rather suddenly, and perhaps there was a story behind that which was kept from us: this was the way such things were handled then (I had a scoutmaster who disappeared all of a sudden and who, in retrospect, I suspect may have departed under a cloud, though this could very easily have been because of the numerous indulgences he showed us and in particular his favourites, rather than any actual sexual allegations). 

I myself was never the subject of any suggestion of an approach from Don.  In fact, in my entire childhood, I only suffered one such approach (see The day I didn’t meet Julian McMahon: to come), and that from an absolute stranger (and not Julian McMahon).  It seems that I entirely lacked the characteristics which invited such an approach, and I wonder why.  So far as the choir is concerned, perhaps it is because I lacked the appropriate angelic voice.  Actually, I could sing high , but I was perennially relegated to lower parts because I could read music and hold a part.

 

Looking back, there is one boy who may have been the object of Don Hancock’s attentions or at least the focus of his desires – though this may just be the jealousy of one relegated to the lower parts!  I have to be careful of what I say, because there could in fact be two “Don Hancocks,” – but I don’t really have to be that careful, because the point is precisely that there is nothing at all that I know or saw, other than the favour and attention which he received, which may have had no untoward motivation at all.  At one concert, this boy sang “How beautiful they are” from The Immortal Hour by Rutland Boughton (a work otherwise consigned to obscurity) arranged for piano and clarinet obbligato.  I can still remember this song, even though I have perhaps heard it two or three times at most since then.  I thought it was beautiful.

 

The Daily Telegraph reported that “The outwardly gregarious Hancock — who taught at Avalon Primary School in the early 1980s — was a predator who used his love of music to lure children into his grasp after school hours.”  That is tabloidese, but you can see why I think that the two Dons are the same.  Still, I do owe him something, whatever his motives might have been, and I am sorry that his life (if is indeed he) ended this way.

Postscript Feb 2015

See also Peter FitzSimons’ piece here, responding to the revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse about Knox Grammar. I’d say seeking to vindicate himself from what he perceives as “the impression given from much of the coverage … that Knox was a hotbed of sexual interaction between teachers and students, while the rest of us turned a blind eye” FitzSimons raises the counter-example of Don Hancock, boarding house resident master who disappeared from the boarding house overnight after a year 8 boy reported to an older boy an invitation to sit on DH’s lap.

19 Responses to “Don Hancock”

  1. Bruce Says:

    I too was in the choir and would be extremely sad that Don may have met his end like this.

  2. MM Says:

    I too was in the choir. Don Hancock was a saint and a God with me and everyone of the children that I knew well. It is difficult for me to think that you knew the man but are quite happy to talk about him like this.

    I don’t know if the person who died in Indonesia is the Don Hancock we know from the choir – and neither do you. Even if it was Don, there is no certainty in the article that he was involved in anything at all.

    Vale Don Hancock (if it was you :)) and thanks for being an important part of my great childhood.

    • BS Says:

      I was also in the choir along with a friend whose initials were MM. Could be coincidence. I bumped into Don in the street when I was about 27 and he came to my house and tried to sell me Amway (the name of which he concealed from me until he had finished his spiel). When I politely declined he rang me up and was mildly aggressive at the prospect that I might take this information to my friend and “backdoor” his Amway aspirations. I was thrilled to see him again but it seemed all was really interested in was another notch in his Amway belt. THat was my last contact.

      He was also a critical influence in my childhood and the choir was the first performance opportunity I had and I have gone on to do many many thousands of gigs as a professional musician. I still remember some of the things that I learned in that choir, especially how sing harmonies. I do remember we all went to Hobart for some kind of choral convention in 1976, which I guess I can put down as my first “tour”. I am not sure where they found the money. We also did Joseph and HTCDC which was also fun. I also remember his pointless plea that we don’t run around in the break, which of course we always did.

      But unfortunately as time passes and the realities of seeing the world as a adult are upon us, I can see some credibility on these claims. I have now kind of come to terms with the fact that a childhood hero may not have been all that he seemed. Again, it is second hand, but I came across at least one choir member who remembers Don as not so saintly. His take on things was similar. That only certain boys would be “suitable” and he was just that. I guess the ones who would stay quiet. I have come across others who had strong suspicions before that and this seemed to confirm it.

      I even went out on his boat once as a 15 or 16 Yo with another boy and Don and I remember having a (rather ignorant) conversation with him about how I didn’t understand gay men. Typical idiot boy talk but nonetheless his response was one of defensiveness and trying explain why he thought it was fine. And of course it is, but not with kids. And I now wonder why he would want to spend so much time one on one with under age boys. Being a parent now there is no way I would think it okay. Even when I was younger I would find myself in a car with alone with him (his famous Van) and he would call me a silly goose and “harmlessly” touch my head and my flinching may have saved me.

      I’m sorry to those who have fond memories. There is the choir and the experiences and the other boys and the music. ANd there is Don.

      • MM Says:

        LOL – Amway. No bull?

        If this is who I think it is, contact me by reversing my name with a full stop between @gmail.com (e.g. smith.john@gmail.com). I have two “t”s in my name.

        Funny thing is (if it is you) that I went scouting for you on the internet after reading this article but stopped when I didn’t find an email address or photo at your work site.

        MM

  3. marcellous Says:

    MM

    You are very right and I hope my post was not too flippant about the memory of either the DH who died in Indonesia or the DH who led us in the KBC, whether they are the same DH or not.

    I have only linked to the article from <emThe Age. The other article I refer to, in the Daily Telegraph, makes nastier claims. You can find it preserved in a secondary source by googling for “outwardly gregarious Hancock.”

    I was in the choir for 4-5 years and it was a big part of my life then. Of course, I only knew DH from the perspective of a child. I was shocked to read of the death of the DH in Indonesia. As I point out, there are some indications he may be the same DH, and I mean by that the love of music, the profession and his age rather than the more luridly phrased accusations made by the DT.

    Once such accusations are made, of course, everything takes on a darker slant. Prepared to spend time in a voluntary capacity training boys in a choir? Why! Of course, he was grooming them! A cloud of suspicion can build up and it becomes impossible to prove a negative. Who knows why the boy I mention suddenly left the choir?

    I don’t, though part of my point was that such things, if they arose, were dealt with differently then and in a quite different context. Sometimes (and I don’t mean in the case of Don here, but in the case of my scout master) it may well have been the over-tolerant indulgence (now commonly identified as “grooming” behaviour) which may have attracted disapproval. I suspect that the immediate cause of his (ie, our scout master’s) sudden departure was the result of boys recounting to their parents how, when we went to camp on the Colo, he took us for drives in his work Kombi (he was a tradesman) on various quiet gravel roads through the bush with some of us riding on the roof-rack, one of us perched on each of the running boards (it was an old Kombi) and the patrol leader (sitting possibly on his lap or in front of him on the driver’s seat) driving the van. I certainly knew not to tell any other adult about this. He also loved a wrestle with the lads, but I bet it would have been the driving escapades and other similar indulgences or indisciplines which he permitted (there was also the night we made a soccer ball made out of newspaper soaked in some flammable liquid rolled up in chicken wire, and took it to the local oval, lit it and played with it – I knew not to tell my parents about that, too) rather than any talk of wrestling which would have provoked parental reaction if the news got out.

    I mentioned the boy leaving the choir because this is just the sort of thing where, once suspicion is aroused, in the present climate, everything takes a darker hue. I meant to make it clear and (defensively, here) thought I did make it clear that I knew and know of absolutely nothing untoward at all. I have nothing but good memories of Don, even if he did relegate me to the lower parts and even if now I have a more critical view of his musical capacities and in particular his skill as a choir trainer (I don’t think he was himself a good model of vocal production).

    I assume that the only way you can have found this post is by searching for Don Hancock or the choir or the two combined. After all these years, that is a tribute in itself to the man. I am sure there are many others (allowing that there were not that many of us in absolute terms) who have happy and positive memories of their time in the choir under his leadership and are grateful to him for that. I have and I am, and that’s why the news of the death of the DH in Surabaya, which would have saddened me in any event, saddened me all the more on the possibility that it might have been the Don I knew.

  4. Bruce Fenwick Says:

    I am to sorry to read jaded and sad comments such as this. Don NEVER touched any of us and if anything made our dreary lives a little better for knowing him.
    I regard my times in the choir with Don and Judy as some of my fondest memorys and nota single time of this period was their ant reference to Don as being anyting other than a true gentemen and mentor.
    Mathew get over it and leave the man alone.
    He boughtgreat joy to our lives and should be rememered as such.
    Thanks Don for my time at the KBC.

    • marcellous Says:

      Bruce, I don’t really read anyone’s comments here as jaded and sad. We still don’t know (though I suspect) that the Surabaya DH is the same as the Kuringgai DH.

      I certainly was never “touched” by Don. However, experience in other cases is that this sort of thing can happen to some boys without it being known by others. If it did happen, it is quite unlikely that you or I would ever have heard anything about it. And of course, “touching” is a concept which covers a wide range of conduct and to which different kids could have a wide range of responses – such as the “silly goose” tousling of MM’s hair. It’s pretty sad that such conduct these days itself comes under a cloud of suspicion, as does even being prepared to spend all the time and effort that Don spent in running the choir (he was actually still at school when I first joined the choir).

      I have no bad memories of Don and even if now I don’t think he was such a great choir trainer I remain grateful to him for all that he did for us and for me. As an adult I can now see the possibility that there was some “bad” mixed in with the good. I have no actual knowledge of any such “bad.” Of what person can it not be said that there is bad and good? If there is such bad, it does not rub out the good, despite the current tendency in relation to sexualised conduct with children to think that such persons are evil incarnate.

  5. Jason Salter Says:

    I remember Don and Judy well and my twin brother Judd and I enjoyed our time in the choir.

    It is a pity about his demise, the positives of our experience will far outweigh any negatives from his private life.
    He was talented, enthusiastic and funny. Well respected in the music community, we performed in numerous shopping centres, (Seven Hills, Myer), Turramurra nursing homes and the real highlight was The Willesee program on Channel 7.
    Had a profound influence on many.

  6. LA Says:

    Don Hancock was my year 5 teacher (he taught a bunch of 10 year olds) and also the school choir master at Avalon Public School. It was 1980. He liked boys. He selected 3 which were his favourites from my class. He sat them in front of his desk and gave them special attention. I remember feeling resentful that he did not like me as much as those boys and he was open about the time he spent with those boys out of school hours and on the weekends, taking them camping. 2 of the boys came from troubled homes or separated parents (which was more rare in those days). By the end of that year those boys did not play with the rest of the class. I personally stayed away from them as they scared me (were rough kids). My recollection of Don Hancock was that in the playground he was like the pied piper. He literally had kids all over him, and following him around the playground. He was very tall (well at least to a 10 year old) – he had the longest arms and legs I had ever seen! I remember asking him what it was like being so tall. He lifted me up above his head and I freaked at how high it was! I really liked Don Hancock, almost idolised him, and now as an adult I have concerns about that, how he could influence and manipulate kids so much. When I went to high school I heard that he had been removed from Avalon Public School due to “messing with kids”and was sent to another local primary school. In those days, I guess they just removed the perpetrator from his victims and relocate him. I have very recently been told by a close friend that one of his victims, one of those poor boys who at the time the rest of the class taunted him with “teacher’s pet” and who came across as being so rough and aggressive committed suicide. Such a sad, horrendous end to a young life. That victim was only 17 years old at the time when he felt he could not go on living. I wonder how many other victims Don Hancock interfered with, how he changed their lives forever…

  7. JA Says:

    I too was in the KB approx 1979- 1983 (I remember the twins). For me it was a wonderful experience. It gave me my first introduction to music – as there was no music at my family and almost none at my school. I thought Don was amazing at making music fun. And I learnt so much. I can still remember the words to the songs he taught us. We performed a lot too. Great experiences. To me he was brilliant. All the boys thought so. My parents did too. The ‘pied piper’ is a good expression!

    He left suddenly around 1980. He was teaching at Avalon Primary then. My parents told me at the time “he had too much on his plate and could no longer go on.” I never heard where he went or what he did after that. The choir was not quite the same after. I missed him terribly.

    If there was anything untoward going on, I had no idea. Even in hindsight, I don’t recall anything that may arouse my suspicions.

    When I read about the DH death in Indonesia, the photos suggested it was the same fellow.

    • marcellous Says:

      JA

      Thanks for making the missing link. If there was any doubt by now, I think you’ve established that it was all the one Don.

      All a bit sad, really.

      Just to clarify one thing: obviously I was in the choir a long time before you. Then Don left for a while – I’m not sure exactly when but that was the time of the “Balm in Gilead” fiasco. Then Don was back, though I’m not sure whether that was before or after I left when my voice broke.

      I remember going to some anniversary thing some years later where embarrassingly to my mother I won more than one prize in the raffle with money she had intended me to give as a donation.

      Later Don must have left again and I think it was around then that I even got roped into helping run the choir for a short period by playing piano for a younger group that was formed. Details of that are blurred with time – it subsequently split off.

  8. sue stanton Says:

    This is a mind blower for me, today I was searching for my second cousin Don Hancock allover the net. Then, I decided to search for old school photos at THS that I attended in 1970-1973.
    This Don Hancock is my cousin, he grew up at Gordon, with his Mother Aunty and Granmother.

  9. Paul Brown Says:

    Whether the Don Hancock mentioned here was a “telented man”, that does not excuse his actions. As a victim of his (when I was an 8 year old boy) I can tell you that no amount of “endearing sentiment” can minimise the pain and harm rendered to children through child abuse. After reading about Don’s demise recently, I have decided to approach the Royal Commission in to Child Abuse to tell my story, now that I know it is backed up with fact. I had for a long time thought I was the only one, yet suspected that there were likely to be others. I had no idea of the scale of the “others”.

    But the responses of people to these claims is indicative of how people deal with paedophilia, dismissing it and labelling the accusers as liars. Nothing has changed in 30 years, when I first informed my mother about the abuse at Don Hancock’s hands that was exactly the response I received. Is it any wonder that child abuse still happens today – because they, to all intents and purposes, look just like the rest of us. Quite often they are “pied pipers”. What is pertinent is that they misuse there ‘talents’ to achieve the confidence of children and their parents.

    There is no excuse, and no excusing, the actions of a person like this. Unless you have been a victim you cannot understand how it feels.

    Most Sincerely,

    Paul Brown

  10. AP Says:

    I was a member of this choir during the periods mentioned above. I watched a movie on a choir last week which reminded me of my time in kur ring Gai boys choir, I googled the choir and stumbled apon this page.

    I only remember good times, I remember going to Hobart with the choir, performing on the Willesee show, performing at Pymble community centre performing Jason amazing colour dream coat and traveling in Dons Kombie several times going to different places to sing.

    I don’t remember anything that was inappropriate.

    • mm Says:

      I find it difficult to believe how painful reading all this is for me.

      To any one of you who had an actual experience of abuse from Don (rather than people who are joining selected dots), I am so sorry. I was there for a long time (was involved in the ‘training choir’ that is mentioned above) knew nothing and now feel utterly confused about the whole experience. Good luck doing whatever you need to do to find peace.

      […..and hello to the Salter twins and Bruce Fenwick]

      Matt

  11. Maxi Erang Says:

    In 1995 I employed Don at the Australian Centre for Education in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He came to us from Australia with very good academic credentials and proved a very competent and effective teacher in ELT. I have to say that I do believe he was the DH of KBC, as, though he never exhibited any interest or ability in music to us in Cambodia, I subsequently met him a number of times in Gordon and Pymble – he was staying with an aunt there, and he told me of attending school in Gordon, and teaching at Avalon.

    Unhappily, I have to say that Don had a peculiar peripatetic habit of moving around Asia; from Cambodia to Laos to Vietnam to Indonesia, moving every year or two, sometimes quickly and mysteriously,and whenever I visited him (Laos and Indonesia) he always had in his employ a live-in housekeeper with a young son. To be honest, at the time we always thought that Don was having a relationship with the housekeepers, and any other form of activity never occurred to us. Subsequently, we found that Don had succeeded in bringing one of the boys to Australia, in order to give him more opportunities. This, I believe, did not work out, and I never heard of any incident that Don had taken advantage of, nor had a relationship with any of these boys.

    The ‘pied-piper’ character I know well. I should say that Don seemed to go out of his way to put himself in situations to play this role. In Indonesia he would be a frequent visitor to local public swimming pools – please be aware that other ex-pats would never visit these pools, they are overcrowded and unclean and any white would be harassed endlessly – and I have seen him cavorting and carrying on with mass crowds of delighted young boys. It should also be kept in mind that expat exoticness and comparative huge wealth in Indonesia gives one tremendous power and power of attraction for locals, while also making one a target of the more unscrupulous ones.

    I knew Don for a long time, and worked with him in Cambodia, Indonesia and at the University of Sydney, and all the while thought he was odd, at times evasive, a good teacher and worker, a smart man, but when we heard of the Surabaya incident, many unusual incidents and anecdotes did kind of fall into place, though I never saw nor heard directly of Don perpetrating sexual enormities upon young boys.

    I have to, finally, mention how I came to your site. I attended a seminar on the Whitlam dismissal this week at USyd, and this got me to thinking once again about Don. How so? Don told me a number of times that his father, also called Don Hancock, had worked for Whitlam, was on his private staff, and that Don Snr. had once or twice got Don Jnr. involved in ‘undercover’ activities!! He maintained that Whitlam attended once a birthday party for Don’s dad. Finally, he told me that his father once went in disguise to stay in an old people’s home in Narrabeen, in a room next to John Kerr’s brother, which Don’s dad bugged, and reported back to Whitlam on conversations taped when John Kerr came to see his sibling!

    • Maxi Erang Says:

      Don’s father abandoned his mother and Don when Don was under 10 yrs old, only some time later, as far as I can remember, when Don was in his 20s did his father make contact again and sporadically thereafter.

    • marcellous Says:

      Further to my earlier reply, I take my scepticism back. Google has told me (as it may have you) that there was a Don Hancock who was Whitlam’s manager in the electorate of Werriwa and also involved in trade union politics (on the right wing, I think), whom one of the Gietzelt brothers suspected of ASIO involvement (see review in The Hummer) and who was at one stage living in Narrabeen, so the plot thickens.

  12. marcellous Says:

    Maxi,

    Thanks for the very informative comment. What a fanciful story about the old people’s home in Narrabeen! Given that someone identifying herself as Don’s cousin has said that Don grew up in Gordon with his mother, his aunty and his grandmother, I doubt if Don’s father was on the scene post 1975.

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