For much of his childhood, Norris lived in a Catholic-run orphanage in regional Victoria. He arrived there as a two-year-old and left about 12 years later, in the late 1950s. The institution was managed by an order of nuns, who routinely physically, emotionally and sexually abused the children in their care.
‘Through their brutality and depravity, this was their way to control our minds and bodies’, Norris recalled in a written statement.
‘As a child they abused me and [I] was always threatened with police or welfare if I didn’t bow to the whims of those who professed they cared …
‘Regimental beatings were meted out like it was the norm; at times I would be stripped naked along with other boys and thrashed with a thick leather strap whilst also made to feel extremely ashamed of our bodies …
‘The number of times as a child I was stripped naked and spreadeagled and flogged – where the nun struck made no difference; in my opinion this was not punishment, it was sexual abuse – this would not stop until the nun would collapse with exhaustion …
‘Regardless of whether you were guilty or not it was kept up until you admitted to something you were not guilty of.’
Norris was also physically and sexually abused by several lay carers at the institution.
As a 14-year-old, he was sent for his holidays to stay with a foster family, the Jaegersons. He persuaded the family to keep him on, so he could get a job. ‘I felt this was a chance to change my situation.’
The family agreed but the arrangement did not work out: ‘A few months went by [and] I soon learned there was an ulterior motive why [Mr Jaegerson] wanted to care for children. He was a paedophile. He would have his way with me, if I were to refuse him he would let me know where I would end up again.’
Norris moved to a hostel, but felt so threatened there he returned to the Jaegersons for a while. Eventually he left, and moved to Sydney.
Norris told the Commissioner he left the orphanage with no skills or education. In his statement he said ‘As a youth I had no idea how to survive on my own, no values, not knowing how to apply for a job! Pay my own way; all of this was absolutely foreign for me. Paying for a train ticket, for a long time I could not understand why, as at the orphanage I had never paid for anything.’
There were other issues, which he was still contending with decades later. Personal hygiene was one, he said.
‘I was never shown or explained to me how important this was in life. I had lost all my teeth by the time I had turned 40 …
‘I was about 45 when I first applied for my Medicare card. Up until then I had never been on the dole and never went to the authorities for assistance. My fear of them and the police was still with me …
‘Up until I turned 50, if I saw a police uniform I’d walk the other way. I’d done nothing wrong, but that’s what I would do.’
Norris lived on the streets for a while as a teenager, and learned what he had to in order to survive. ‘Over the years, what I got away with was probably more through guile and absolute dead cheek. If you were on the streets you had to be smart, you had to be savvy but at the same time you had to be careful ...’
He eventually became a drug dealer, selling marijuana for 40 years. ‘That was the thing that kept a roof over me head.’ He was addicted to marijuana himself, he said, but managed to give it up, and alcohol and cigarettes – cold turkey – in his 50s. He sought out formal education, and though he hasn’t found paid employment in a related field he’s used the skills he gained in volunteer work that he finds very satisfying. He has also helped and financially supported several street kids, now adults, who he has become very close to.
Norris has not reported his abuse to police – ‘Fear was a big thing’ – or sought compensation. ‘I’m screwed over by the statute of limitations – litigation’s out of the question.’ He doesn’t see any meaning in an apology: ‘In my book an apology’s just words’. But he hopes the Commission’s work will result in the Church and government institutions being held accountable for what happened to children such as him.
‘There was not one moment whilst under the care of the nuns that had a profound positive outcome for me. There were no memorable occasions, I can’t remember a birthday or Christmas that put a smile on my face; as a matter of fact there were no good days - it was misery from the time I could remember till the time I got out of there.’