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She lost her husband to drugs at 32. Now, she's continuing his legacy in her work.

“This is a stunning case of the debilitating nature of abuse and how this can cut anyone down, no matter who they are.”

Nineties football legend Peter Jackson was famous for his athleticism on the field and for his humour and high spirits off it.

He is described as ‘the Matty Johns of his era’. To his contemporaries, he was the man least likely to be hiding a devastating secret.

Broncos coach Wayne Bennett puts it this way: “He was so gifted, so much ability and … then the devil would come along”.

Jackson died of a heroin overdose in Brisbane in 1997. He was only 33 years old.

Only after his death was his troubled personal history revealed. He had been a victim of sexual abuse by a house master and football coach while he was in his early teens at boarding school.

“Jackson died of a heroin overdose in Brisbane in 1997. He was only 33 years old.”

Bennett recalls his last meeting with Jackson in which the former player said he had been having some counselling.

“He said it’s helped me see the big picture for the first time in my life, but it really scares me, you know.”

ABC News 24 presenter Joe O’Brien, Jackson’s brother-in-law, said he was a different man in his private life than he was on the field.

“There is the popular image of Peter Jackson as someone so strong…but it’s a stunning case of the debilitating nature of abuse and how this can cut anyone down, no matter who they are.”

Related: ‘A heroin overdose killed my brother. But I stand for mercy.’

Now, there is a happier sequel unfolding 20 years on in the classrooms of a remote Indigenous community.

For the last year, Jackson’s widow Siobhan has been principal of the Lockhart River School, working on the educational front line in an Indigenous community that faces its share of addiction and abuse issues.

She is credited with improving attendance rates and with introducing initiatives that have broken down racial barriers.

“There is the popular image of Peter Jackson as someone so strong…but it’s a stunning case of the debilitating nature of abuse and how this can cut anyone down, no matter who they are.”

Peter Jackson was always a promising sportsman – right from his school days.

However while he was shining in public as a rising star on the rugby union field, he was privately falling victim to a paedophile, a former Marist brother called Hugh “Ossie” McNamara.

McNamara was not only Jackson’s footy coach, but his boarding master as well.

When Jackson was aged fourteen, McNamara started sexual abuse which continued for over a year.

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Jackson told no-one and continued his ‘life of the party’ trajectory into his professional football career.

The dam broke one night, walking through Randwick in Sydney.

Related: “My mother was a heroin addict.”

Siobhan recalls that he suddenly broke down and told her what had happened.

“My instant reaction was, ‘Oh, it’s not your fault, don’t be ashamed’, but that was the first time Peter had told anyone and that was 12 years that he’d kept that to himself,” she said.

As Jackson’s former football coach and long time friend Bennett told Australian Story: “He was such a man’s man, the way he’d been brought up… for him to make an admission about something that may have happened in his life would never have been easy for him.

“He wouldn’t have seen that as a manly thing to do.”

In the 90s Jackson’s rugby league skills were much admired by the crowd, the media and especially fellow players.

peter jackson widow
Siobhan Jackson. Image via ABC.

When his football career ended, he transitioned seamlessly into TV as a sports journalist and commentator.

He was known for his crazy humour and non-PC wit. He appeared regularly on The Footy Show, The Midday Show, and with Andrew Denton.

But at the time though he was slipping further into depression and heroin addiction.

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A year before his death Siobhan discovered white powder in his pocket and he admitted it was heroin.

As his brother-in-law O’Brien said, Jackson struggled with his demons throughout his career.

“This is a stunning case of the debilitating nature of abuse and how this can cut anyone down, no matter who they are,” he said.

Related: Ashley Judd writes powerfully about her history of sexual abuse and incest.

“He seemed to act erratically once on one of the talk shows and you got the feeling that’s pretty full on and it seemed too out of control there.”

Siobhan did fight to keep her husband afloat, but with three young children, she had to step away.

“Up to a point we fought it together, but the only person that was going to be able to overcome this was him,” she said. “I had three little children and I felt really guilty about that and I lost faith in my own altruism.”

“Up to a point we fought it together, but the only person that was going to be able to overcome this was him,” she said. “I had three little children and I felt really guilty about that and I lost faith in my own altruism.”

In the end, Peter Jackson died alone in a hotel room. The coroner ruled that it was an accidental death. He had, during his final year, been through a cycle of overdosing and rehab four times.

After Jackson’s death, Siobhan sought for charges to be laid against McNamara, but she said with the complainant dead no action was possible.

But it did emerge that McNamara had gone on to abuse other boys after Peter Jackson.

He was convicted of sex offences against other youngsters in 1995 and for a physical assault in 1998. He died in 2012.

Siobhan was left to raise the couple’s three children, all under the age of 10.

She said she never shied away from discussing all aspects of Peter’s life and death with her children – both the good times and the bad.

“In the end, Peter Jackson died alone in a hotel room.”

Peter and Siobhan’s daughter Lucy said her mother had shared her father’s life with her and her siblings.

“Mum, ever since the second that it happened, was always very open about what happened and who our dad was. We always spoke about him all the time so it never became like a taboo or weird thing for us to discuss him, or how he died, or anything that happened ever.”

Son Ned Jackson says he and his brother Jim are happy to share memories of their father.

“Me and Jim have some of dad’s clothes that we wear, like I have a shirt of dad’s that I wear – at least once a week probably, it’s such an awesome shirt and I love it,” he said.

Siobhan moved her three children from Sydney back to the land of her youth, living at Mission Beach near her parents home in Far North Queensland and then re-entered the teaching profession.

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Related: The two words that say so much about this culture of abuse and shame.

When her last child finished school, she finally got to fulfil “a life-long dream” and move to the very remote Indigenous community of Lockhart River, the most northerly town on Australia’s east coast.

She has been in Lockhart River for a year and has brought sweeping changes to its school, but not without some resistance.

Lockhart River mayor Wayne Butcher recalls: ‘There were some old teachers that basically said, “We can’t work with this woman”.

“Siobhan was left to raise the couple’s three children, all under the age of 10.”

“They just didn’t want to change their old way of doing things – and then I watched her change the whole school environment.”

Dr Chris Sarra, who runs the Stronger Smarter Institute, an Indigenous education initiative, said Siobhan Jackson had made big changes to improve the educational prospects of the Aboriginal children in her care.

“In remote communities, school has existed as essentially a white institution inside a black community,” he said.

“The key is to embrace the local community so that school and community can be working in partnership. I know that’s been manifested under Siobhan’s leadership today”.

Mr Butcher said he was impressed by Siobhan Jackson’s move to employ 40 new local Aboriginal staff.

“You see the value of ownership coming from the community. I mean, that’s the largest number of local employment that we’ve ever [seen] I think in the history of that school”.

Latest attendance figures show primary attendance at between 80 per cent and 90 per cent. In some classes it is 100 per cent.

Siobhan said her experience of her life with her husband was never far from her mind in her role with vulnerable children, some of them exposed to violence and sexual abuse.

“I’ve done some work in schools about drug awareness and about sexual abuse awareness, and definitely as a principal it’s something that needs to be on your radar,” she said.

Peter Jackson’s life was blighted and eventually destroyed by the worst form of ‘rotten apple’ in the teaching barrel.

Siobhan Jackson’s work as the Lockhart River Principal certainly looks like an redemptive example from the other side of the classroom ledger.