The sick rituals that ruined firemen's lives

charles norville

Scars ... Former A former member of the NSW's Fire Brigade Charles Norville who worked out of the Stanmore Station in 1981. Picture: Robert Mckell Source: The Sunday Telegraph

A RETIRED fire fighter who was the victim of an alleged bastardisation ritual at a Sydney fire station in the early 1980s has told how the experience ruined his marriage and left him with a psychological disorder.

Charles Norville, 58, who served 14 years in the NSW Fire Brigades until 1995, is the first employee publicly to identify himself as a victim of the bastardisation culture which dominated the NSWFB in the 1970s and '80s.

Mr Norville said he was abused in 1981 where eight firefighters allegedly stripped him naked, put a vacuum cleaner on his genitals and photographed him on a cross during a mock crucifixion.
The incident was detailed in lawyers' documents which were part of a workers compensation case he pursued against the NSWFB. He won a $30,000 payout in 1996.

NSWFB Commissioner Greg Mullins has told The Sunday Telegraph he first knew of the severity of ritualistic abuse only a month ago when he read accounts of such behaviour in this newspaper.

Mr Mullins' predecessor, Ian MacDougall, said last week he too had been unaware of the problem.
There is no suggestion that either Mr Mullins or Mr MacDougall were involved in any abuse.
In the fourth week of The Sunday Telegraph's investigation into fire brigade rituals, a current firefighter has also come forward claiming he was sexually abused on several occasions by a senior officer in the 1980s and '90s.

The firefighter, who asked to remain anonymous, said the alleged incidents included a senior officer stripping him naked, demanding oral sex and placing his genitals on the firefighter's shoulder and in his ears while he was eating.

In Mr Norville's case a psychological report conducted in 1995 said his alleged bastardisation was the "primary contributor" to a mental disorder he developed and to the break-up of his marriage.

"Years after, if I saw rape on TV or in movies, I'd break out in a sweat," Mr Norville told The Sunday Telegraph. "It would take me back to that moment.".

He said the attack allegedly occurred on a night shift when he was a new recruit.
"They held me down and stripped me naked while one of them put a vacuum cleaner on my genitals in an attempt to produce an erection," Mr Norville said.

"I was tied to a cross and they made me walk to the (fire) truck naked, where they took pictures of me, put glue on me and threw glitter on me so it would stick."

According to Mr Norville, one the firefighters later said: "You're one of us now."
Mr Norville said he complained to his station officer, but little action was taken and the matter was "dealt with in-house".

"They started calling me a rat after that," he said.

His psychological report said the incident contributed to a diagnosis of adjustment disorder - a mental condition related to a psychological response to a stressful event.

After the attack, Mr Norville became a malcontent who said he was resentful towards the brigade and waged battles against it on several fronts before being retired on medical grounds in 1995 with a personality disorder.

A summary of his case in the NSW Compensation Court said he had been "assaulted by other employees" in 1981.

A NSWFB spokeswoman on Friday referred the allegation to police after being informed of the case by The Sunday Telegraph.

The current serving firefighter claimed he was sexually assaulted on several occasions at western Sydney fire stations between 1987 and 1991.
Now in his 40s, he said the practice was part of NSWFB culture.
"It was just sport for these guys," he said. "They were just deviants."

State Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said the NSWFB had taken steps to deal with actions of the past culture that existed at "certain stations".

"There are currently police investigations, matters before the court and an ICAC investigation underway, as well as our independently chaired inquiry," he said. The inquiry was expected to report back in April.