After two years the Loud Fence movement is coming to the close of its first chapter. While the monuments to victims of sexual abuse will live on in new forms such as the St Patrick’s College garden opening this week, the website and formal side of the popular awareness campaign in Ballarat- signified by so many ribbons will end. The Courier talks to founder and organiser Maureen Hatcher about what it has achieved and where to next.
Why did you start Loud Fence?
It started as a reaction to the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse when it was being held in Ballarat. So many people I knew were shocked and saddened by what they were hearing and were saying they wanted to do something but didn’t know what. I knew there had to be something.
How did the name Loud Fence come about?
A couple of us that went to school together decided to tie ribbons on the fence of the former St Alipius Boys’ School. There were already ribbons appearing at St Patricks College. I remember we were discussing what colour they should be and I said they had to be colourful and loud as there had been too much silence. I very quickly created a facebook page to invite people to join us and it needed a title. “Loud Fence” came to mind.
Could you have ever imagined how much it would grow?
No I had no idea. I think because tying a ribbon is such an easy thing to do, but it is such a visually and emotionally powerful statement, that it just took off. Before long Loud Fences were appearing all over Australia and eventually the world. I have literally hundreds of photos where people have shown their support.
When did you know that Loud Fence meant so much to people?
I think that was when I saw the ribbon tied to the fence in Victoria Street that said “For all my schoolmates who didn’t make it and the ones still in despair”. I got to meet the survivor who wrote it and realised how important those ribbons really were and how much they were needed.
What has been achieved through Loud Fence?
I would like to think more people have been brave enough to come forward because they know they will be believed and supported. And I believe there is greater awareness in the community.
What have been some of the highlights in the campaign?
The first few weeks were exciting with so many people sending photos of ribbons and joining the movement. The community marches have been amazing and I do hope they continue. The first photo of ribbons tied to a fence at the Vatican was surreal. I never actually thought that would happen, and that was before the guys went to Rome. I was really excited when Tim Minchin released his Pell song and of course the trip to Rome showed the survivors just how much support they had in the wider community. That was a chaotic week with so many messages and photos of support coming in as well as media. The Courier front cover of survivors as children was huge, and that cover will remain on my office wall. And to see so many survivors leading the way at the community march last Sunday was just incredible. They have come a long way in two years.
What have been some of the challenges?
There have been many. The biggest challenge has been working with broken people. I was constantly taking on their stories and their emotion. As you can imagine, that is exhausting especially for someone without a background in counselling. Also having trusted people and being let down has been tough, along with some harsh harassment and false accusations on social media. You try not to let it get to you but it really takes its toll and then affects your personal life. And sadly, what I hoped would be a very positive final week for me, has been particularly difficult in that aspect this past week.
What do you think you will reflect back on in years to come about Loud Fence?
I’ll think of all the incredible people Loud Fence gave me the opportunity to meet from survivors, families of suicide victims, ribbon bombers, journalists, counsellors, and so many other passionate people. Many of whom I know I will have long lasting friendships with. And I may even look back and think how incredible it all was.
What have you been most proud of?
Amongst all the murkiness that surrounds child sexual abuse, I am proud that I managed to keep the Loud Fence Facebook page a positive and safe place most of the time. I consulted with the Centre Against Sexual Assault early on and it was suggested that certain articles and photos may be triggering to survivors so I tried my best to avoid them. I am also proud when I hear from survivors how much the movement has helped them. The ribbons have allowed so many to speak out and to know they are no longer being swept under the carpet. They know we care now and that makes me proud.
What made you decide it was time to leave?
At one stage I thought it would happen mid last year but it just didn’t feel right then. I have been doing this for two years and it’s time for LOUD fence and me to move on. So many people are aware of the campaign now and I know the ribbon tying will continue regardless. But I can’t keep posting photos of ribbons on Facebook forever. Loud Fence deserves to be more than that. It’s time for it to evolve further and reinvent itself.
I finally made a definite decision last Friday, the day of Peter Blenkiron’s exhibition opening. It seemed fitting to leave at the end of the Loud Ballarat ~no more silence~ Week as I knew, during the week, I would be seeing most of the people I have had the pleasure to get to know in the past two years.
What is your hope for the future of Loud Fence, where do you want it to end up?
Loud Fence doesn’t need a social media page anymore or one person to be the face of it or to steer it. It’s always belonged to the community so its needs giving Loud Fence to the Ballarat community. It now needs organisations and people to step up, collaborate and decide what next. There should be a group of representatives from survivors, schools, City of Ballarat, the churches, other local leaders and local counselling services who meet regularly to ensure our children are kept safe. I think there could be a Loud Fence scholarship to aid children who have been abused or children caught in the ripple effect of child sexual abuse. There could be Loud Fence funding set up to support schools to educate children and their families about body safety. I would like to see more organisations take example from St Patrick’s College and Food Is Free Laneway and create spaces to help survivors to heal.
The only thing I ask is that I will be consulted about any ideas the community proposes as I actually own the Loud Fence trademark . I am not going to join a multitude of committees. I just need to protect the Loud Fence name. I have worked too hard and given too much time.
What now for you?
I hope to spend more time with my family and friends, and less time on a screen and at meetings. I do actually work but with less time spent on Loud Fence I may actually get some down time now and I’m looking forward to that. Thank-you to everyone who has trusted me with their stories and to the community for getting behind these broken people, and me, and showing your support. Remember together we are fearless.