‘You want to find out the Forgotten Australians, shave their heads. You’ll see all the scars and marks on their heads.’
After World War II, marriages between Catholics and Protestants were still discouraged. Sherman believes his parents were harassed by ‘the nuns and priests up the road’ because his Catholic mother was not raising her children in the faith. He insists she and his Anglican father were good parents, but believes his mother’s slight disability was used as an excuse to remove the children one by one.
‘That’s no reason to take a child, or children, from my mum and dad’, Sherman said. ‘We had the best mum and dad possible.’
When he was five years old Sherman was sent to live in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns on the New South Wales central coast.
‘Each week we had 90 times we stopped for prayer, benediction, rosary, angelus. Ninety times – and half of that was in Latin. So it was a monastic life.’
He was in this brutal place for seven years. ‘We had a room called the “bashing room”. We were told to go in there – the door was locked behind us – to pull our pants down and wait to be belted.’ Sherman was strapped across his bare buttocks many times. The nuns also struck the children with their fists.
All the boys were told over and over they would be going to hell.
‘And then the showers, where you could not have a shower unless the nuns were watching. Most awkward for us … not that we had a lot of showers.’
When Sherman was 11 he was moved to a senior boys’ dormitory where he witnessed sexual abuse by the nuns. Late at night certain of them would stand next to a child’s bed and put their hands under the blanket. Sherman watched as the boy would start to cry. Sherman questioned the victims later and they confirmed the nuns were groping their genitals.
At 12 Sherman was sent to live with a foster family of strict Catholics. After six years with them, he began his adult life. He was very unsettled and had trouble holding down a job for more than six months.
‘I believe you make a conscious decision when you’re in a home. You submit to them, or you commit to who you are.
‘You commit to who you are you’re more likely to end up in the jail system. If you submit to them you’re more likely to have psychological problems ‘cause you lose your identity. I chose to submit and then I went into my shell. And I had trouble for the next 35 years of putting three or four words together in a day …
‘I found my identity again. Now I’m making up for those 35 years.’
Sherman has spent years tracking down his many siblings. They lost their parents early: ‘Both died while I was in the orphanage. Broke their hearts. They lost all their children.’ Now he has established contact with all his brothers and a sister and their extended families also – scores of relatives who help Sherman anchor himself in the world, along with his own children and grandchildren.
He has also worked for a decade with other Forgotten Australians, survivors of orphanages and other institutions, ‘helping them find themselves again’.
Sherman has disclosed his childhood abuse to his family, but not in great detail. Recently he approached the Catholic Church and is now engaged in the Towards Healing process. A financial settlement is being negotiated.
He’s not likely to approach the police. ‘I believe it’s a long, arduous way of solving what’s happened in the past. I like what they did in Ireland, where anyone who was in the institutions at that time was accepted as being abused virtually … without going to individual cases and fighting it out in the court.’