Herman John's story

In the early 1950s, when Herman was five, his parents separated and he and his siblings went to live with his grandparents. They stayed there for several months before Herman and one of his brothers were placed in an Anglican children’s home in Sydney.

Herman was separated from his brother, who was sent to another area. He stayed at the home until he was 13 years old.

He remembers seeing younger children being given a hard time by older boys. He was beaten many times himself by these boys and assumed it was normal.

‘We went to bed … The bigger boys would hold us out on two chairs and cane our backside. Then they would lock us in the toilet … [Every night] they’d repeat the same process.’

In the home, workers delegated chores to all residents. Whenever they weren’t completed to the standards of the matron, Herman and other boys were caned across the knuckles. He remembers also being beaten by several other workers for no apparent reason.

When Herman was eight, he and other residents were forced to attend a Catholic church every week. The church was close to the home, Herman recalled. He became an altar boy after attending church a few times and remembers feeling excited about it.

Herman worked closely with Father Barnaby Wilks, the parish priest, for three years. After mass Herman helped Wilks with his robes in the vestry. Wilks used these opportunities to sexually abuse Herman. Wilks was always calm and never threatened Herman not to tell anyone about the abuse.

Herman was also sexually abused by Frank Weston, a previous resident of the home, who taught the kids every Sunday. Weston was a young man in his 20s and Herman believes he was allowed to stay on at the home because of his teaching role.

The abuse started when Herman was 10 and continued for two years. Whenever Weston finished lessons, he invited Herman back to his room and fondled him. Herman didn’t tell anyone what was happening because he didn’t know it was wrong.

‘We trusted him. At that age you don’t know what is right and what’s wrong … We had no parents to instruct us … We just assumed what he did, as a trusted person, was right. We didn’t know that it wasn’t a normal thing for someone to do. Well I didn’t anyway.’

At school, Herman became an aggressive child. He often threw other student’s belongings across the school yard and he would always look for fights. He didn’t think of it as bullying others. He saw it as a way to get his anger out.

Once Herman had turned 13 and started high school, the sexual abuse ceased. He stopped attending church and he never saw or heard of Wilks again. Herman also stopped going to Weston’s lessons, but he did see Weston at the home. ‘He was hard to miss.’

Herman and his brother left the home several months later to live at their mother’s house, but Herman found it very difficult to relate to her. Because their mother was always working when they were younger, he and his brother had to look after themselves a lot, and Herman found it difficult to understand why she hadn’t taken care of them.

In the early 1960s, Herman met a girl at school who showed him how to respect and trust others. With her help, Herman decided to put the abuse aside and concentrate on his education and sports. He was overwhelmed with her support and wanted to do right not only by her but also for himself.

‘I made my mind up at school that I was as good as anybody. There was nothing I couldn’t do. Just ’cause they’ve got a family or they’re well educated … There’s nothing they can do that I can’t. I learned to like myself.’

Herman got a job straight out of high school and has been working casual jobs ever since, although he has found it difficult to settle in one work place. He married the girl he’d met at school when he was 18 and they’ve been together for over 50 years.

‘I don’t know how she’s put up with me.’

Herman and his wife have several children, but he has always felt that he let them down. He threw himself into work as a way of dealing with the abuse and this meant that he often wasn’t at home. He doesn’t like that his relationship with his children is strained.

It wasn’t until the announcement of the Royal Commission that Herman disclosed details of his abuse. He found talking about it difficult because he didn’t think people would understand. He said he’d tried to ‘get over it’, but didn’t want to report the perpetrators to police or the Anglican or Catholic Churches.

‘It’s done.’

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