In the early 1950s, when he was three years old, Warren was placed in a children’s home in regional New South Wales. He was only there for a couple of months, but remembers it as ‘a total loveless institution … You never got love given to you by anybody’.
Warren was then sent to a Catholic home run by the Daughters of Charity, where he stayed until he was nine. He and the other children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused at the home.
The violence left him permanently injured. ‘One of the nuns belted me over the head with a lump of wood … been deaf ever since’, and ‘I’ve got scars there along my back and everything from the cat-o’-nine tails and also the big long canes with nails in them’.
The children were forced to watch the nuns having sex with priests. The nuns would then sexually abuse them, forcing their heads in between their legs or under their breasts. They were also sexually abused by one of the gardeners, and a priest who visited the home.
There was one person at the home who ‘shared a bit of love with us … an elderly woman, she had crippled hands … she opened her arms up just to give you a bit of a cuddle and I tell you what, I remember those days … Out of all the people … in those places, she was the only one who gave a bit of love and compassion towards the children’.
Warren told the Commissioner that he saw the remains of children and babies in the barn and under a building at the home. When he tried to report this to the police they didn’t believe him. They beat him and told him that nuns didn’t do things like that.
There were a number of very cruel nuns at the home, but the worst one was ‘a real devil’. One time she falsely blamed him for eating a cake that had been placed on a window sill to cool, grabbed him by his neck, and punched him in the face, stomach and groin. Another time, she hosed him down with cold water in the middle of winter as punishment for another misdemeanour.
There was a local police officer who would ‘see the boys from the boys’ home and punch ‘em up and kick ‘em and all kinds of things’. He and two other boys got some rope and ‘put it round the diff under his … brand new car’ and began to yell taunts at the man. When the police officer tried to drive off to chase the boys, they watched as ‘the diff came straight out the back of it … I can still remember that as clear as day. It was freezing cold but we were having a lot of fun’.
When he was nine, Warren was sent to a Catholic home in Sydney, run by the Marist Brothers, and remained there until he was 13. This home was even worse than the previous one, and he was physically and sexually abused by four of the Brothers there. ‘I ran off from there and hid … [a Brother] got hold of me … he give me such a bashing and thrashing and everything.’
Warren tried once again to report the abuse to the police, but ‘got a heck of a bashing out of that’. He was told, ‘Marist Brothers and Catholic priests and nuns … don’t do things like that’. He ended up in hospital for about three or four weeks after this beating.
One of the Brothers apologised to Warren some years ago, and he has forgiven him. ‘He was the only one who apologised.’
Warren suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and nightmares, and he has struggled with relationships throughout his life.
‘I live with this thing. It just takes something on the TV and … it triggers, and I try not to say anything and I’m thinking “God, I was like that once”.’
Because he has had little education, he feels that ‘I’ve had to cheat my way through life … I’ve been living a lie, yes, but I’ve had to cheat my way through’.
‘Just being here today has put a bit more focus on what’s been going on around me. There are people that do care. That’s what I say … If I had them in front of me these people, I’d be saying, “You can’t hurt me no more. I’m too old to be bothered with you”. All I wanted was an apology from them. Not from someone else, but from those characters.’