WARREN RODWELL In-Depth Personal Interview : by Lannah Sawers-Diggins (WR : International Adventurer / Hostage Survivor / Speaker / Songwriter
- Please tell us a little bit about your childhood, your background;
- You have led an amazing life to date, including being held captive for 472 days. Please tell us something about this;
- How exactly did this come about?
- Because of this nightmare, you have been extensively interviewed in Australia, the USA,the UK, Europe, The Middle East and Asia. Has this been through all forms of media? Can you please tell us a little bit about this?
- And the Government now will not compensate you. What is their reasoning for this?
- You also have many other skills. What exactly are they?
- You are also a songwriter for the group ‘Mad Cowboy Disease’. How long have you been doing this for? Do you write all the songs for the group? Do you also sing and/or play an instrument?
- You have many other interests as well. What do you enjoy doing in your ‘spare’ time?
- You have also amassed numerous awards. Please tell us about that;
- What are your short and long term goals for the future?
- Is there anything further you would like to add to this to share with the world?
- Please tell us a little bit about your childhood, your background;
I am a W.A.S.P. (White Anglo Saxon Protestant), born on 16th June 1958 at Inglemere Private Hospital in Homebush, a suburb of Sydney, famous these days for the Olympic stadium. My mother often claimed, in all seriousness, that my father (deceased 1990) never paid the hospital bill.
My ancestry is British, with the first of my namesake forebears being transported in 1838 from Salisbury, Wiltshire, England at the age of 19 to Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for stealing five silk handkerchiefs. After emancipation, David Rodwell and his young family (including my great, great grandfather David Cornelius Rodwell) followed the gold rush to Victoria.
In the early 20th Century, David’s grandson (my great grandfather Samuel Richard Rodwell) pursued the lure of gold in western New South Wales, where he subsequently coughed himself to death through years of labouring in coal mines and a cement works. His son (my grandfather Stephen David Cornelius Rodwell) and bride, along with their three primary school age children (including my father, David Richard Rodwell, who later became a bricklayer), moved to Sydney during the Depression years. At the start of World War II. Stephen enlisted in the Australian Army. However, his marriage did not survive afterwards.
My mother, Ellen Scott, had served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during WWII. Her family and free settler English/ (paternal) Scottish grandparents hailed from the New England region of northern NSW. Ellen’s father and grandfather were government railway employees during both world wars. My parents were keen dancers. This is how they met in the early 1950s in Sydney.
I have an older brother and sister, with whom I have intentionally maintained relatively close and continuous contact with over the years. Our mother suffered with serious physical and mental health problems. She split up with our father and firstly placed us in St Christopher’s (Church of England) Home for Little Children, Taree NSW when I was 18 months old. Most of my formative years were in institutional Protestant care. There has been media mention in recent years that I was a ward of the state. This is not correct.
We were placed voluntarily in church care due to family circumstances, ill health and poverty. In fact, the official title given to children of that era/scenario is “The Forgotten Australians” (FA). A national apology to some 500,000 FA’s (including voluntary placements, state wards and British child migrants) was given by the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and Federal Opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, on 16th November 2009.
On 23rd May 1965 (approximately three weeks before my seventh birthday), Ellen Rodwell (nee Scott) managed to get us out of Burnside Presbyterian Children’s Homes in North Parramatta (Sydney) once she was able to secure a centrally located two bedroom State Housing Commission flat in her hometown of Tamworth NSW and an invalid pension. Two pounds (four dollars) was all she had in the first month. There were no supporting parent benefits or community support programmes at that time.
Coincidentally, Ellen Rodwell died (at age 55) 16 years later on the same day – 23rd May. The causes of death were recorded as: i) acute heart failure (days); ii) emphysema (years); iii) ulcers (years) and iv) malnutrition (years). Her demise can only be regarded as nothing less than a merciful release. The inscription I created for her cemetery plaque reads, “The suffering is over, but the pain lives on for those who remember our ever-loving mother”.
Tamworth West Public School was diagonally across the road from us. Classroom learning and after hours study captured my young imagination and suited the quiet home environment my sick mother required. A few years earlier, at the age of four in church homes, it was noticed that I had not started speaking. Apparently, my speech was undeveloped. My siblings and I were in different age groups and church homes and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to anyway. I attended speech therapy whilst in third and fourth grades, absorbing myself in as much formal education as I could. Here was a field of endeavour, in which I was free to research, ask questions and explore to my heart’s content.
For most subjects, I was placed in classes two years ahead of my age. By the end of primary, I was school dux and vice-captain making public speeches (on auspicious occasions, such as ANZAC Day and Easter), as well as a recipient of a bursary for the first four years of high school.
Swimming (and sunbaking) at the town public baths was my preferred sport/pastime during summer. Any coastal vacations were relished. Playing and tackling as a rugby league second rower during winter, provided me with camaraderie and some useful strategic skills and attitudes for life. We did not have a family car, so the main modes of transport available were walking or bike riding. My older brother introduced me to cycling as an interest and sport.
By the age of 12, all seemed stable, even dandy, until my mother’s health deteriorated further. She suffered greatly through intense bouts of loneliness and depression, accompanied by a nasty addiction to prescribed medication. My siblings had already left school and home, and were working.
For the first six months of high school, I was placed in the notorious Salvation Army Gill Memorial Home for Boys in Goulburn NSW. Even though the privileges of being No. 1 or head boy were extended to me, I absconded and returned to what I regarded as my hometown, attending Tamworth High School. Over the years since then, the city of Tamworth has become known as the “Country Music Capital of Australia”.
After leaving school, I gained employment with the NSW Railways, completed relevant specialized studies, performed platform and clerical duties in the telegraph/parcels/booking offices and goods shed on the mid north coast, before relocating to the metropolitan network in Sydney. A few months prior to turning 20, I voluntarily enlisted in the Australian Regular Army. This was during peace time.
My mathematical/analytical abilities saw me initially allocated to the Royal Australian Survey Corps (map making). I later transferred to the Royal Australian Engineers corps and trained as what is now referred to as a combat engineer (roads, bridges, airfields, trenches, water supply, booby traps, minefields, explosives, firefighting and first aid). With the rank of sapper; ingenuity, resourcefulness and improvisation were the signature key characteristics.
Upon discharge from the military, my sights were focused on gaining formal tertiary qualifications and hands-on managerial experience in business (finance, property, conveyancing and insurance). As I successfully climbed the corporate ladder, I realized that I did not possess any excessive levels of greed. My conscience steered me away from the commercial world into personal counselling roles, particularly those burdened with monetary concerns, much the same as my own mother, who had spent hours alone crying at night over the kitchen table.
My first wife was from a different part of Australia to me. We met in Brisbane. Our three children (two sons and one daughter) are now adults leading their own independent lives elsewhere.
At the turn of this century, I reassessed and reinvented myself by studying computers (hardware, software, internetworking, website design), thinking such skills would assist when moving abroad as an expatriate. There is no doubt that computer technology has played a significant role for me since hand.
Travel always appealed to me. Apart from broadening the mind, I felt that moving away from Australia and living as an expatriate for an extended period would allow me to better understand myself, the world and others. I had already circled the globe once, so I wasn’t venturing into the total unknown.
At the age of 44, I challenged myself with climatic, linguistic and cultural shock by accepting an English teaching role in socially isolated provincial northern China. You could say that I did the hard strokes and paid my vocational dues there. The next natural step was to do formal training in Thailand the following year in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). I returned to mainland China afterwards via India, Nepal and Tibet.
Better familiarizing myself with the demographics of the People’s Republic, I accepted full time government university teaching jobs in preferred locations. The language departments/faculties taught business, culture, linguistics and literature. Business communication and culture were always my favourites, but I was also introduced to journalism by being given it as a subject to teach for a couple of semesters. Please bear in mind that my students were often post graduates (aged 22 -30) proficient in English as a second language.
Chinese professors shared my philosophy that the purpose of education is to produce enlightened minds. Academia suited me well. Vacation breaks were frequent and lengthy, so I was able to travel extensively, domestically and worldwide. To date, I have been to fifty countries in Asia, Europe, Oceania, South America, the Middle East, and United Kingdom.
Extra curriculum opportunities were often presented to me when contact was made from within and outside the universities that I was associated with. These included judging and compering national English speaking, singing and acting contests; attending official banquets and conferences; writing/editing for newspapers and magazines; involvement as an honorary envoy for the local state association for friendship with foreign countries; collaborating with the production, promotion and distribution of a hardcover publication of a book designed as a comprehensive guide to the culture of Sichuan province in the southwest of China; as well as doing interviews for radio, television and printed media.
Separately, military history intrigued me, so my travels also included Changi Prison and The Battle Box in Singapore; The River Kwai and Death Railway in Thailand; The Killing Fields in Cambodia; The War Museum in Vietnam, The International Peace Centre in Japan and Auschwitz Extermination Camp in Poland.
Having been raised in church homes, and being part of a generation that considered Sunday School to be beneficial and normal, I have been able to travel, work, live and interact in societies with different and mixed religious perspectives (Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Judaism). My most significant voluntary stints to date include teaching English at a Buddhist University in Myanmar (Burma) to monks and local laypeople, plus participation in an education development programme in South America through the United Nations.
In 2009–2010 (aged 51), I returned to Australia for the best part of a year with the intention of completing a course in peace building for the troubled small nations of the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. Dates did not coincide and course structures appeared to have changed. Alternatively, I enrolled in a Christian counselling course at an evangelical college, which was once one of the children’s church homes I had lived in almost half a century earlier. I determined that if counselling fell between the two stools of psychology and theology, then my own personal leaning would be towards humanitarianism. I subsequently did an external Diploma of Community Services (Financial Counselling) over the span of eighteen months through another education provider. However, government funding cuts drastically affected the (NGOs) non-government organizations providing such service to the general public.
An interest in anthropology had developed within me over the years of living in the world at large. Human migration patterns and cultural influences became more obvious. The latter part of 2010, I commenced teaching English at a medical college in the province of Inner Mongolia, northern China. Figuratively speaking, the world had turned by the start of 2011, and I was at a stage of life contemplating my future. Well, at least for the next five to ten years.
Before departing South America in 2009, I had been learning Spanish. I did Latin in high school, so reading Romance languages was not really of concern. The quiet stage of learning another language was passing. I had begun thinking in Spanish, but I wasn’t ready then to totally leave the English-speaking world. Allowing for seasons, a flight valid for one year was booked from Shanghai to the United Kingdom as a gateway to South America. With spare time up my sleeve, I visited South Korea and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The northern winter had been long and I craved some warmth. My life changed completely when I next travelled to The Philippines.