In the 1990s a couple of priests in Warwick’s area of regional New South Wales, where Warwick also grew up, were charged with multiple child sex offences. This led Warwick to contact the Marist Brothers and report Brother Norman, who had been his primary school teacher.
Norman was a ‘peculiar, strange teacher’ who was around 30 when he taught 10-year-old Warwick in the 1970s.
The first strange aspect to Norman as a teacher was that he chose six class monitors. Their ‘primary task was to monitor the behaviour of the other children and to obsessively tittle-tat and tittle-tat and tittle-tat on a daily basis. So they received, I suppose more favours, brownie points’.
These monitors also had another role, one that enabled Norman’s abuse and grooming.
One hot day, Norman was conducting discussions in class about how pigs and humans each had different ways of regulating body temperature. Pigs could roll in the mud to keep cool whereas human couldn’t do that, particularly when in class.
‘He misinformed us, clearly, that there was a need to quickly get our clothes off because we could suffer from dehydration. We’d get headaches. We would feel sick. And humans needed to do this … It was absolutely mandatory that we all had to remove our clothes.’
They remained naked for the whole day.
This happened on about three occasions in the classroom. Norman posted the monitors outside the classroom to be on watch. If they saw someone coming they would pass the message down the line to each other and into the classroom. Then the students would quickly put their clothes back on. This procedure was even drilled so they all became fast at getting dressed. It was seen as a ‘procedural matter’.
On one of these occasions, Norman had prevented their class from going on the buses to sports day. That meant they were alone with him in the school.
Warwick remembers a fellow student being forced to bend over and being caned by Norman, not just on the buttocks but in the scrotum area. ‘He was in tears.’ Later that boy’s father came into class and verbally threatened Norman. Another time, a different father rammed Norman against the blackboard. This was after another occasion of physical abuse by Norman against a student.
Norman also selected Warwick and five other boys to be part of the end-of-year performance. They rehearsed after school, again when no one was around, as well as in the sacristy of the church next door. They were required to rehearse naked. Norman didn’t touch the boys but he ‘had us singing and running, dancing, bending, did all sorts of gymnastics’. Norman would lock the door of the sacristy and if anyone knocked the boys would quickly get dressed before he opened it.
Halfway through the following year, Norman ‘vanished’. He was transferred elsewhere.
It wasn’t until Warwick was about 16 that he thought, ‘Hang on, this bloke was a child abuser’. He thinks it was around this time that he mentioned it to his parents but he doesn’t remember it being discussed. It came up in passing in subsequent years but it wasn’t until Warwick had kids of his own that he discussed it in more detail with his mother.
‘I remember her mouth open, really quite stunned and she wanted to know if I’d raised it, if I’d complained about it.’
In the late 1990s Warwick did report the abuse to the Marist Brothers. He spoke to someone who could have been a lawyer, though Warwick had the impression he was a clergyman. Warwick was told that Norman had left the Brothers and they didn’t know where he was. He was advised he was unlikely to get anywhere in regard to taking action. He wasn’t referred to any follow-up process.
Warwick isn’t interested in taking action on his own behalf but he wanted to report in case other boys came forward who may have had more serious crimes committed against them by Brother Norman.
More recently, Warwick also reported to Broken Rites, and coming to the Commission was part of that reporting process. He’s not trying to get even, he said, but ‘if I did see Brother Norman around the place I probably would give him a mouthful’.