A former Ballarat orphan has called for elderly victims of childhood abuse to be prioritised in the roll-out of the federal government’s national redress scheme.
Ex-resident of Nazareth House Girls' Home Gabrielle Short said the physical, sexual and psychological abuse which had occurred in the orphanage had destroyed lives with many now dead, homeless or living in poverty.
They’re known as the "forgotten Australians".
And they were Ballarat’s forgotten children.
Helpless and vulnerable, they were subjected to relentless and sadistic abuse at the hands of Catholic Church clergy for years.
“We were defenceless children, the government put us in the hands of people who abused us,” Ms Short said.
“They allowed organisations to abuse us in every horrific way and we had nobody to turn to.”
The federal government announced a compensation scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse last week.
The government will lead the program, while states, territories and institutions, including churches, will be able to opt in.
Victims will be able to access up to $150,000 each.
“Given the fact most of these victims were abused in the 20th century, we’re going back 40 to 50 years,” she said.
“A lot of these people are already in their seventies and coming towards the end of their lives but if there scheme is going to be rolled out over years, there are no guarantees they will receive redress before they die.”
Ms Short said all victims of abuse in state care should received redress including a health care card, financial compensation, aged care and housing support.
She said many survivors had a lifelong fear of institutions and suffered serious health impacts.
“They’re afraid of hospitals and terrified of returning to institutional care in their old age,” she said.
For Gail Fletcher who spent her childhood at the girls’ home the announcement of the redress scheme is bittersweet.
“It’s recognition of the pain and damage which was hidden for far too long,” she said.
But it won’t bring back her sister who was removed from the orphanage by disgraced paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale who was the school’s chaplain in 1963 and 1964.
Ridsdale removed her sister from the orphanage and she was taken to the Larundel Mental Asylum.
After undergoing years of electric shock treatment her sister suicided at 22.
“Nothing will bring my sister back or any other person who have taken their own life when the pain was too much,” she said.
“Their families are still feeling the effects. People have been to hell and back, they’re getting older and they need help now.”
• To contact Centre Against Sexual Assault, located on the corner of Vale and Edwards streets, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.