G R O S S   M O R A L   T U R P I T U D E


He had always been interested in his students.



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One of the disconcerting things about contemporary history of this kind is that the scars are still visible, the pain still palpable. Participants in the drama have not conveniently faded into vague memory. I am quite likely to bump into the woman who was once Suzanne Kemp in the supermarket, or encounter any of Sydney Orr's children at a party. How might I defend the unwelcome intrusion of a traumatic past into their present lives? Is my conscientious detective work any different from the salacious voyeurism of those newspaper reporters who filled the Hobart courthouse in 1956 to record every detail of intimate testimony?

To use a legalistic defence, I insist the public has a right to know, some thirty-five years down the track, what the issues in this business really were, once the layers of amnesia and deliberate distortion have been peeled away. If I were being really honest I'd have to add that I found a compelling story underneath the mythology, and I can't resist the storyteller's urge to reconstruct it; but that does not render me insensible to the moral dilemma. People will be hurt; I know that. When strangers ring me, usually anonymously and late at night, to tell me to leave well enough alone, I feel terrible. Yes, people will be hurt, but other people have already been hurt; profound, lasting damage has been done, sometimes to those who were no more than bystanders. And what of the person who said to me: 'Thank God someone is going to write about this, I have had to live with lies about me for thirty-five years and I want to be vindicated before I die'? Or Edwin Tanner, dead now for over ten years, who wrote out his "hell and grief" in a sixty-eight-page document he left among his papers, unknown to his family? I knew as soon as I read it that his voice needed to be heard. There are others, mute but damaged. I want to say something on their behalf. So I tell my late-night callers: "This is history; these events are on the public record" Is that a fair thing? I'm not entirely sure. But I am up to my armpits in it now and couldn't give it away even if I wanted to.

I am telling you all of this because of yet another phone call last night and also because I know how shocked I was to encounter the newspaper reports, neatly clipped and pasted into archive ledgers. It was not that the material was new, I had read it all and more. What shocked me was the sense of a nation of eyes devouring intimate details so foolish, so tacky, so inevitably sordid. Is it possible for me to offer up that same fare without the titillation? But I can't take the sex out of the story: the sex is what the story is all about.


Like most eighteen-year-old girls, Suzanne Kemp was very interested in the opposite sex. The boys she met at parties or during rehearsals for the University Revue were scrutinised, in private, for signs that they might be the one she could love. She was, as the song goes, failing in love with love, but having difficulty finding an object of love and an outlet for her sexual turbulence. Not that the boys were aware of the incipient passion beneath Suzanne's cool exterior. She seemed very shy and aloof, to them, more interested in ideas and music than flirting; an intellectual ill-at-ease with adolescent horseplay. Her nickname among the lads was 'Kelvinator Kemp'. Jan Locher, something of a Lothario, with whom she was linked in later gossip, felt instinctively that she just wasn't the sexual kind. Too cold, too uptight, in his considered judgement. Neither he nor any of her male peer group to whom I spoke remembers scoring more than a timid kiss.

Her teachers, male and female, interested Suzanne more than the callow youths of her acquaintance and her diary admits to a crush on her German teacher (a woman) and her French tutor (a man) of which they were totally oblivious. They were aware of her intoxication with intellectual matters and how she felt a whole new world had opened up to her in contrast to the narrow bourgeois world of her parents. She devoured works by the French existentialists -- Camus, Sartre and de Beauvoir. The idea that thinking was a valid activity was totally new to her and she revelled in it. Any intellectual input aroused her. In her diary she goes overboard for the ancient, and some would say dull, Sir John Shepherd, a visiting academic who gave a lecture on Antigone. In retrospect it is easy to see that she was ripe for the erotic spiritual combination that was fashionable in some intellectual circles. At the time she seemed like a sensible, healthy and hard-working student -- all rosy cheeks and jolly hockey sticks.

The professor of philosophy, on the other hand, did notice something special about the starry-eyed young student. In her first year at university, in 1954, she had felt he had been lecturing to her, singling her out with his piercing eyes. When lectures began again in 1955 she felt drawn even more strongly to him and this worried her. So in April 1955 she begins to confide her feelings to her diary. 'I find my feelings for P Orr very childish ... very immature useless idiotic ... I will try and control my passions. But when one feels something one isn't inclined to 'pacify the feeling. Rather one encourages oneself to swim with the feeling. Not in the open, but in bed for example -- or in one's heart ...'

She continued to notice his attention in classes and accepted a few lifts with him, along with other girls. And he 'showed some reaction to me after drinking quite a bit of whisky'. In April she had heard gossip about Orr having got a girl into trouble in Melbourne, 'and she was not the first.' This was tantalising: 'I can believe that and I feel a peculiar excitement. I don't admire him much. Is he honourable? If I can expect anything from him then No ... It makes life a bit more interesting if one has an object of feeling but if it goes any further what then? ... It seems so ridiculous that a professor, married -- should interest himself in a student. Still it does seem possible.' Alone with her feelings, Suzanne spent most of Sunday pondering this: 'One can argue that [it is wrong] only in relation to accepted moral behaviour, that if it is the natural expression of personality, if it is genuine feeling, then it is quite moral -- one even should do it.' These were the professor's ideas, as she acknowledged by adding: 'Does he believe that? God!'

Suzanne took advantage of her parents' absence to hold a party on 25 April to which Orr came, with his wife Sadie. Suzanne was not going to give up on her professor, now that she was sure he was interested in her. Still, her ambivalence remained: 'Oh how weak people are -- no self-control, but because he is weak, because no one likes him very much -- that is why I must love him. But I am in such a muddle.' The day following her party she was sure that Orr had spoken directly to her in his lecture and was so overwrought she would not go the movies with her friends: 'I am too worked up inside to sit passively and be more worked up.'

Her turbulent state continued all week, even invading he sleep. 'I dreamt that obeying moral laws was alright for ordinary people, but that I was above the law and should do what I feel is genuine.' She had to talk to him about it. On Friday she sat outside the lecture theatre until he came by. We talked about marriage -- that one should be able to have outside relations, and he asked if there were a sect on campus which believed in free love. Then he invited her to visit his room the next Monday. Suzanne knew this was all wrong; that she should not be enticing her weak-willed professor in this way. 'The power one has over men is rather terrifying,' she naively asserts, 'if only one could experiment without hurting others.' To her relief her parents returned from their trip away that weekend. 'I wanted Mummy home very much ... Mummy will never do anything idiotic and will not allow me to do something silly.' Too late.

On Monday Suzanne went to her professor's room and came away in an absolutely feverish state. He had wanted to know what she was thinking; wanted to know why, if she believed it was possible to base life on genuine feeling, wouldn't she tell him. Suzanne thought he knew her thoughts and she was ashamed to voice them. 'And his eyes -- they did something to me -- overpowered me.' She was very confused. 'I wish everything about me was written where I could go and look up myself.' She had to see him again. The next day she deliberately went past the block where Orr was building his new house, and yes, he was there. And yes, he was pleased to see her.

The May holidays whisked Suzanne away from Hobart for two weeks but when she returned to university her infatuation was not cured. Again she went to see Orr in his room and he told her to come again at night, since he had so many meetings during the day. 'I will go of course. But why do I feel so nervous. I trust him, I do. I will.'

She went on the night of Friday 12 June. She wrote up the next day a breathless account of the experience 'in German so no-one else can read it'. At first Orr talked to her about Milanov and then he said to her: 'I like it very much sitting here with you.' She admitted she liked it too. 'And so it began. Little by little we revealed we felt an attraction for each other. Nicely and delicately -- he said "you have such deep eyes the deepest I have ever seen. sphinxlike. So peaceful, so silent." I gave him a sense of well-being.' The professor told her it was inevitable that people have crushes on their teachers and that someone had said that she had a crush on him. He felt it was his moral duty to tell her that, in case he was leading her on unconsciously, and so free her to make her own choices. But then she was a mature women, and he could tell from her deep, questioning eyes that she was past crushes. As for himself, he had to admit he was emotionally involved. That had never happened to him before, he told her, and he didn't know where it would end. If she never wanted to visit him again he would respect her wishes, but would always love her.

Suzanne felt impelled by this honesty to tell her side: how she knew this would happen and feared she had power over him and was abusing it.

He seemed more and more astounded, that I, so he said, had so much depth and insight ... he spoke freely to me -- sometimes a little embarrassed, but spoke so much that when we said goodbye he was quite surprised that he could have said so much. It is not easy to tell a student the most important and deepest things in life. Certainly I must be very important and good for him ... I was amazed when we discovered it was 11 o'clock.
As the tumultuous evening wound up Orr asked Suzanne 'if anyone had made love to me, what did I feel? Would I feel the same if he did?' Suzanne didn't know. 'But I know that he will do it, although I don't know how far it will go.'

As is the way of these things, her parents discovered about the party held in their absence and that a married student of whom her father disapproved had been present. Her father was furious. He and Suzanne had another of their arguments. Reg Kemp was an authoritarian and overbearing man who had no grasp of his daughter's intellectual yearning. He wanted her to do as she was told, to be a conventional, good girl. Suzanne resented it. 'Fight, fight, hide, say nothing, do everything right, so that it doesn't hurt anyone. He believes I am completely without responsibility, incapable of looking after myself. And if he knew of P.Orr. My God, I can't imagine what would happen.'

The resentment and the fear of her father's reaction to her infatuation with Orr festered through the week till on Sunday she confided: 'I have fought for so long against something indefinable now I see it, as P.O. says, is my father. What right has he to decide my life and love? Why can he, who sees everything opposite from me, make me destroy my love? That is how I will hurt him. I will deny him. How can he when it is against my own ideas and feelings, make me hold myself back.' Now that Professor Orr had opened her eyes to her possibilities, and the inhibiting influence of her staid parents, caution seemed unworthy. Unlike her father, with his blind adherence to convention, 'P. Orr loves me for myself, he understands me instinctively, what I say, even what I don't say better than myself'. After all, Professor Orr had told her, 'it would be worth my whole life only to be with you here a moment and hold you in my arms. What has the outside world to do with us?' Father, mother, Mrs Orr, even her friends, were all cast aside in her dream of love.

One evening a few days later, Suzanne met Professor Orr on the post office steps, having told her parents she was going to a concert. He took her in his car to look at his house site and then suggested a drive to a secluded park at the top of Mt Nelson above the city to look at the lights of the city. 'It was beautiful . . . he kissed me so softly as if he were afraid of breaking me.' Unfortunately another car came by so they went halfway down the hill to another parking spot. 'He wanted so much to love me. At first he was gentle. He had to sit on my left side. Took off his overcoat. Held me to him. Said I was beautiful. Didn't I know? He wanted to find me, bring me out of myself.' However much she may have anticipated this attention, Suzanne was a bit uptight. Why could she not relax, her professor wanted to know. 'Because I didn't love him completely? Because I thought it was wrong? Because I am incapable of being led by my feelings? Perhaps a bit of each.' By contrast he was 'hard and vital' and somewhat insistent. He asked if she wanted to begin her sexual experience with him.

God, how can I say that? He said I did want it very much ... he held me tightly, like a man who knows what he is doing and what he wants ... he said I would never find anyone who would love me so much and understand me. It was not only sex this desire for me. One can, through physical contact, express something deeper than sex.
This kind of talk was just what Suzanne craved, but she wasn't ready for sexual initiation and told him not to go any further: 'I only wanted to sit and lay my head on his shoulder and that he should hold me in his strong arms.

There were a few more night-time drives to secluded spots and bouts of what her peers would have called heavy petting -- 'we just touched one another' -- before she could write in July: 'So it has happened and 1 -- 1 am no longer a virgin.' She wasn't overwhelmed with the experience, as she may have hoped. 'I love him -- yes. I cannot deny that. But my love for him will certainly not, cannot, become the highest fulfillment, the love of my life. I know that and therefore I should not look for fulfillment in physical love-sex. I should not go any further.'

But she did. In court Suzanne gave details of regular assignations at several different beaches, usually sandbanks (the professor carried a rug in his car) and once on a piece of Burnie-board at his partially completed house. In most cases they were unobserved, although 'two men and a dog' passed close by on one beach and at Bellerive beach Orr's car got stuck in a ditch and they had togo to a nearby house to get a tow. Once the university accountant saw her at the house site, even though she tried to hide. Some time after her nineteenth birthday they moved Indoors to the bedroom at his home. It was, after all, the middle of winter.

When questioned about why she did not resist Orr, Suzanne said 'he did have some sort of power over me ... all through our association I held back and was talked into things by Professor Orr.' She had not intended the sexual relationship 'but I suppose I got into such a state that I thought it would be rather peculiar if I didn't or that it would be wrong or something like that.' She felt that Orr did have a powerful hold on her. She was very suggestible. Over two years of lectures she had come to identify totally with his ideas. 'His ideas on love especially influenced me,' she told the court, 'he used to say that he felt love in all its forms to be supreme and good, and whether it was expressed conventionally, that is by marriage, or outside the conventions, it was still ... the highest value in his life.' Suzanne was impressed too with the parallels Orr drew between himself and Christ. 'He said that both Christ and he were illegitimate ... that was a great burden to carry through life and Christ had overcome his through love, and I think, although he did not say it exactly, he was drawing a comparison in that respect, and imagined that he ... was overcoming his affliction by love also. ' Whatever the reason, Jesus and the professor were firmly aligned in Suzanne's mind. 'I did think of Professor Orr as I thought of Christ,' she told the judge.


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