POLICE spent most of Wednesday combing the area behind the Ballarat Orphanage, searching for human remains.
The excavation work began on Monday and is focused on two specific sites behind the now-deserted Victoria Street buildings.
While little is known as to what has been the main cause for the start of the archaeological-style dig, Ballarat Superintendent Andrew Allen said testing done on the surface of the area had been one of the reasons for the search.
Superintendent Allen could not say what type of testing was done, however said it possibly included sonar testing.
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He said Ballarat police were acting on behalf of the coroner in conducting the work at the site.
The rumours of bodies being buried at the site were first publicly raised in 2013.
“It’s been a process since 2013 and it’s been a matter of going through a legal framework and identifying what [the] location [of the bodies] might be,” Superintendent Allen said. “There was some previous testing done at the site which led us to commencing the excavation in the last couple of days.
“There were indications that took us back to the coroner and as a consequence of that we’re now excavating an area on the site of the Ballarat Orphanage.”
It is expected the work will continue until the end of the week. “It’s a little bit hard to say. The experts are in the field, it could be two days, it could be three days ,subject to the depth and the area to be excavated,” Superintendent Allen said. Former residents visited the site on the day.
Former orphanage resident ‘Possum’ Clarke arrived at the scene and said he didn’t expect police would find anything.
“The only thing the kids might have seen were some holes up the back where they used to bury pigs and cows,” he said.
Mr Clarke, who arrived at the orphanage when he was seven years old, said he had seen both good times and bad at the facility.
The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Office of Aboriginal Affairs and Victoria Police forensic specialists were on the scene on Wednesday.
Aunty Phylis Read and her twin sister, Aunty Edith Orr, were the first women to raise the issue publicly in 2013 at a City of Ballarat council meeting.
The pair visited the site on Wednesday, as they have been doing every day.
When asked if she believed some of the children had been murdered, she said: “When you are in your bed trying to sleep and you are a small child and an adult comes across you and is raping you and strangles you and you are not there the next morning, what do you call that?”
Ms Read said she had witnessed many of these things take placee.
“We lived here, we spoke with the staff and the gardener who maintained the burial site, who has since passed which is a pity because he would have spoken out, I know he would have,” she said.
The pair have been campaigning for the site after they made a promise to the children at the age of six to look after them and bring the issue to light.
“I made a promise to my brothers and sisters. I will never break that promise,” she said.
Ms Read and Ms Orr kept a vigil at the site on Wednesday and planned to stay overnight to “be with our brothers and sisters”.
The search could become one of many around the country, according to Ms Read, who said she believed the same practice took place everywhere.
“It will open up the floodgates for many orphanages and institutions,” she said. “If they don’t get investigated it is disgusting because it was common practice. If you died at the home, you were buried out the back.”
Ms Read has been in constant contact with police who have told her an archaeological-style dig would take place on the site since other people came forward with similar stories.
She also said she was certain police would find human remains on the site.
The Courier spoke to former residents Debbie Findlay and Murray Harrison on Tuesday night – both saying they had not seen anything to suggest that children were buried on the site.
“In my 14 years there, I certainly had no knowledge of kids being buried there,” Ms Findlay said.
“If it turns out there are children there, it needs to be done respectfully and with dignity.”