Long history of suffering at Ballarat orphanage

MORE than 25 children aged between two and 15 died as a result of abuse or neglect at the former Ballarat Orphanage, an inquiry will hear today. 

Names of the children, who are thought to have died between 1875 and 1939, will be included in evidence considered by the Victorian inquiry into the handling of child abuse in Melbourne. 

In the final hearing day of the year, representatives of the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) will tell the inquiry that children in state and religious-run homes and orphanages were subject to abuse and neglect and that the Victorian government failed in its duty of care by enabling alleged criminal treatment of children by religious and charity organisations. 

The submission includes 10 later references to abuse and neglect at the Ballarat Orphanage and St Joseph’s Children’s Home. 

CLAN executive officer Leonie Sheedy said volunteers had found records of more than 1500 children running away from state care in Victoria Police gazette papers. 

“We have found official records of 1528 children running away from orphanages and nobody thought to ask why it was happening,” she said. 

“In one week 17 children ran away in Victoria alone. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we counted and I can’t believe anyone in higher authority wouldn’t have wondered why.” 

Ms Sheedy said the Victorian inquiry should have broader terms of reference to consider abuse in state-run organisations. 

“It is important for the public to know that this abuse wasn’t just from priests and brothers and nuns, but also happened by matrons and workers around Victoria,” she said. 

Representatives of the Law Institute of Victoria and Melbourne law firm Ryan Carlisle Thomas will also give evidence today, telling the inquiry that legislation should be introduced to allow for civil actions against the property trust that owns Catholic Church assets in Victoria. 

A detailed submission by lawyer Angela Sdrinis includes allegations that Catholic nuns “procured children” for notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale and that he sexually abused and raped a young woman in Ballarat in 1962 and 1963.

The submission also includes an October 1995 letter from Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns to the Victoria Police Rape Squad after an investigation into his conduct was launched, in which he denies “any suggestion of criminal activity” expressing devastation at Ridsdale’s activities. 

In 2006, Ridsdale was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for his crimes.

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