Normie William's story

Almost all of the children in Normie’s large family ended up in care, and he himself was placed into a babies’ home in the early 1950s. ‘Apparently I was found wandering the streets when I was about one and a half, two, something like that.’ When he got his records many years later, he found out he had also been made a ward of the state.

Normie was not aware of the existence of his brothers and sisters until he was around six and had been living alongside them in a regional Victorian Government orphanage for a few years. Up until then ‘I knew these kids had the same name as me, but I thought that was funny’.

Mr Grantham ‘was one of the carers there’ and took a particular interest in Normie. He took Normie out for trips in his red car and started giving him ‘little presents, little toys and things like that’ and said that Normie was ‘his special friend’.

One time they went for a picnic by a lake. ‘He wanted me to play with him, and you know, vice versa.’ The sexual abuse happened on numerous other occasions, with Grantham forcing Normie ‘to suck him off’ and raping him.

‘I think I was about seven, was when the first time he actually penetrated me. I complained, I complained a lot ... it hurt.’

Normie started wetting the bed after the abuse by Grantham began, and received ‘such a flogging for it’ from one of the other officers, Mr Milton. ‘I had to sleep in the same bed, without changing the sheets, I wasn’t allowed to change the sheets for a whole week. I mean a whole week. And I had to wear the same pyjamas.’

Grantham, who is now deceased, told Normie that what was happening was ‘our secret’, and that if he disclosed the abuse ‘it will be your word against mine’. This abuse continued for years, ending when he was 17 and left the orphanage.

Normie was also aware of girls being sexually abused by staff at night. When his sisters would go to bed ‘they all used to pull their sheets up over their head, and the guys would come through going “Hmm, whose turn will it be tonight?” It was just like a smorgasbord to them’.

There was an incident too, when Normie was playing hide and seek with some of the children and decided to hide in the gym, which was out of bounds. There he witnessed two staff members, including Milton, raping one of the girls. ‘They had a little girl on the table, with her dress up around her neck.’

Normie ‘bolted out of the door’ but fell over and made a noise, alerting the men to his presence. Milton pushed him against the wall then ‘threw me down to the ground like a little rag doll’, threatening to kill him if he told anyone what he had seen. ‘After that my life got worse.’

Knowing what he did about other children being sexually abused, he believed his own experiences were ‘standard procedure, they were allowed to do things, ’cause they’re big people and we’re just little people’.

He did not disclose any of the abuse at the time, partly because ‘I was too ashamed to say anything’, and tried to just put it out of his mind afterwards. ‘I’ve never really thought about it until the Royal Commission’s actually started.’

As a young man ‘I was pretty angry, pretty upset, wouldn’t listen to me mum and dad ... I wouldn’t listen to anybody’. In an early job a manager tried to tell him what to do ‘and I just snotted him and walked out. It’s just the way I was, ’cause once I left there I thought “Well, I’m big enough now and I’m out in the big world, I don’t have to listen to anybody, and I don’t have to put up with stuff like that anymore”’.

Normie had already come to the attention of police by the time he left the orphanage, and was unable to follow his life’s dream of joining the military because of his criminal record. ‘I put it all down to that place, the way that place brought me up.’

It was in jail during his 20s that Normie first encountered the word ‘paedophile’ in relation to another inmate. He was shocked to learn that ‘they’re the people that play with little kids’, and this activity was a crime. ‘I said “But that’s standard procedure in the orphanages”.’ After this, ‘I just blocked everything out again’.

Despite his troubles Normie stayed married to his wife for almost 40 years, until she passed away. He tried to tell her about the abuse at the orphanage, but she had grown up in care herself and was not receptive to hearing about it.

Normie still experiences nightmares and flashbacks to being sexually and physically abused, and grinds his teeth because of stress and anxiety. A few years ago he was chatting to a man in the tea room at work one day, who asked him ‘Are you a Forgotten Australian?’ after they realised they had both been raised in an orphanage.

He was confused by this question until his colleague explained this was a term for people who were in care as children, and gave him information about a support organisation. They were able to reconnect him with some of the siblings he had not seen for decades and helped him access his records.

Normie accessed psychological care through them too, and for the first time he fully disclosed the abuse. He’s attended a couple of reunions with other ‘homies’ [people raised in care] but doesn’t do that anymore as ‘it just brings backs memories I want to try and avoid’.

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