Placed in a Queensland orphanage as a baby, Hermann grew up not knowing his family. From an early age he experienced a painful condition on the soles of his feet. When they discovered this, his adoptive parents returned Hermann to the orphanage despite it not causing any physical or other disadvantage for him. As a result, Hermann lived at the orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy until he was 16 years old.
In the mid-1950s when he was 10, Hermann was taken by one of the Sisters to a specialist for treatment on his feet. The nun waited outside while Hermann was seen by three physicians. He recalled that the three men ‘squirted’ some kind of liquid on his anus and then proceeded to penetrate him with a piece of equipment. Hermann did not know what was happening and was too scared to speak up.
‘I was on my own and she [the nun] was in the waiting room. She looked at me when I come out. “Are you all right?” I didn’t say nothing, I didn’t say nothing to her. What do I say? I don’t know. I was shocked.’
Some months later Hermann was taken back to the specialists for more of the same treatment, however this time the outcome was entirely different.
‘I missed breakfast and I got a pie at the station, and all the way in it just went straight through me. It was worse on the train. I had to hold it and hold it and hold it. So anyhow when I got in there and the same thing happened, they squirted the thing and too late, boom! It just went everywhere, come out of me like that. Just went all over ‘em. I got a flogging for that. Urine and poo everywhere, all over the place. That was the last time that happened there.’
While some of the nuns at the orphanage could be kind, others were harsh disciplinarians who would beat Hermann for very small misdemeanours. When he was 11, Hermann was performing the duties of an altar boy when a friend warned him to avoid being left alone with the priest.
‘You’re sweeping the floor and you’re cleaning up round the back and that and he come up and ask you “Are you circumcised?” If you say “What’s that?” Bang! Over to his place.’
From his early adolescence Hermann began to grow rapidly, becoming strong and showing great athletic potential. He was 12 when Victor Gossage, who would have been in his late 20s, started teaching gymnastics to the boys at school every Friday. One Friday, Gossage picked up a small group of the boys, including Hermann, in his car and took them training. On his way home he stopped off at his house and directed the boys inside.
‘There was four of us in his house. And then he’d say “Right, I want you to go and have a shower, one by one”. And that’s when he’d attack us one by one when we got into the shower. That’s when I first learned don’t drop the soap. I never went back there again to gymnastics.’
After that incident Hermann stopped doing gymnastics and took up other sports while Gossage continued to teach at the school. Hermann and the other boys never discussed that afternoon because it was ‘taboo’, and he never told anyone what had happened.
‘You don’t know. You think “What’s the normal thing?” you know. What’s normal, what’s not? … I was 12 going on 13.’
As Hermann grew older he would got more trouble with the nuns and received regular beatings with the strap that left ‘red raw’ marks on him. Eventually the nuns put him to work on the farm, which Hermann enjoyed.
‘I had a good experience on the farm. I didn’t even say nothing about my feet because they were getting wet all the time, the wetter they get in the winter time the worse they get. But I just wanted to stay out of the orphanage, I didn’t want to go back there.’
At 16 Hermann left the orphanage and got a trade. He was 18 when he and seven friends decided to visit Gossage in his home and confront him. ‘Couldn’t find him, he’d moved. People said they didn’t know where he got to. House was still there.’ Despite this, Hermann still had not spoken to anyone about what had happened that day, and continues to have difficulty with the subject.
‘No one else knows about it. I don’t sort of talk about, that’s it, no one really knows.’
‘I’m a self-made man now. I had to make myself. I was going down the wrong road there at one particular stage there …. With the boxing and that I had to look after myself, so I wasn’t being led by other people.’
In later years, Hermann researched his family and was able to find out more about his parents while connecting with lost siblings. Currently living on the pension, he engaged a solicitor to assist him with making a claim against the Sisters of Mercy, however it ‘didn’t go anywhere’.
Hermann has never reported Gossage to the police but is now looking to do so. He hopes to see a movie made about the Royal Commission with profits directed towards survivor compensation. He believes that no institution like the orphanage he grew up in should exist ever again and will readily defend vulnerable people against bullies.
‘I always looked after the little bloke.’