‘Once all the kids were asleep, that’s when you felt the tap on the shoulder. And you had no choice, you had to follow him into his room.’
As soon as they were alone in the room together, Brother Frank would make Norman take off his pants. He would then kiss Norman on the mouth and fondle his penis.
Brother Frank was one of the Christian Brothers who ran an orphanage in Melbourne in the 1960s. Norman arrived at the orphanage when he was about 10 years old. At that age he was too young to understand what the Brother was doing to him, which only made the experience more frightening.
Almost every morning Norman woke between sheets soaked with his own urine. He and other ‘bed-wetters’ would be marched to the bathrooms and forced to stand under cold showers. If they moved they were punished.
Norman recalled one time when a boy ‘had a bit of a dance’ in the shower to avoid the icy water. Brother Frank punched him so hard in the ear that the boy was made permanently deaf.
The threat of violence was constant, not just from Brother Frank but from the other clergymen as well. In the yard one time, Norman saw Brother Brunetti curl his fist around a set of keys and then ‘beat the living hell out of this kid. And I mean “beat the hell”. Blood came from everywhere’.
At the end of the day it was back to bed, where Norman would lie awake, waiting for that tap on the shoulder. At the time he thought he was the only one who had to suffer Brother Frank’s nighttime attacks. Because he was alone he felt scared, and because he was scared he never told anyone what was going on.
When Norman was in his early teens, and still at the home, Brother Frank died.
‘The most sickening part of all – I think it’s the most sickening – is they made me kiss him in his coffin when he was dead and cold. I refused to and I got punched in the back of the head and forced – they pushed me, pushed me head into his. You could feel the freezing cold sweat on his head.’
Sometime later, when Norman was 15 years old, one of the Brothers told him to pack his stuff, he’d be leaving the next day. Thrilled, Norman went straight upstairs and starting jamming things into his bag.
‘I got that feeling, that sense of someone behind me. It was a big dormitory but I could still feel someone behind me. And I was on me knees. I looked around and there’s Brother Brunetti. He said, “Norman, I’m gonna give you something to remember me by”. And that’s when he gave me grown-up men’s punches to the face, non-stop … I fought back. For the first time, I gave what he gave. I had to. He was going to kill me.’
Another Brother intervened, dragging Brunetti away and sending Norman off to the showers to clean himself up. ‘Once again the old velvet soap, boy did that sting. But I didn’t care. I was going home tomorrow.’
Norman left the home the next day and went to live with his parents. He worked hard and built a good life. But the memories of the abuse stuck with him. Over the years he’s experienced many flashbacks. He’s had a tough time trusting people and has always been very protective of his kids.
‘[They] always said to me, “Why can’t I do this?” and “Why can’t I do that?” And the words were, “Shut up. You will understand”. And they tell me now – they’re married with kids of their own and they’ve told me plenty of times – I done the right thing.’
A few years ago Norman told his wife and kids about the abuse. It’s helped them to understand him. His wife said, ‘Any wonder you’re so full of aggro’. He has also shared his story with some old friends from the orphanage, and this has helped him to feel less alone.
In the early 2010s Norman took legal action against the Catholic Church and received a compensation payment. It was disappointing, he said, not because of the ‘pathetic’ amount of money they offered but because he didn’t get a chance to put his concerns directly to the Church representative.
‘I wanted him to look me in the eye and tell me why he’s covering up for them.’
Now Norman is thinking about reigniting his case and going back to the Church so they can deal with the matter properly.
‘I want to spring all this out in the open. And I’ve done so well and I’m so proud of myself that I’ve come this far, but I want it burst open. I want it all got at. They’ve all got to suffer for what we had to suffer for.’