Remembering for the sake of the future

At The Courier there was some hope that the sentencing of notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale might be the last story we ever wrote about him.  Short of his death in prison, which is now looking increasingly likely – an event that is unworthy of anything more than the epilogue of a terrible history - how much more can be said about someone so universally loathed?

The horrible reality is this court procedure is much like so many sordid and destructive stories that came before. So prolific was Ridsdale’s offending, so numerous his atrocities against children, readers would be forgiven for thinking they had heard it all before.  But the one important exception to this sense of weary repetition, is the number of ruined lives left behind. They are and will go on being the story.

Ridsdale's victims number 65 but the number is likely to be much higher. Advocates group Broken Rites believes it may be as high as one thousand children. If anything positive has come from this, the Royal Commission can claim its high-exposure delving into the dark history of Ballarat has unearthed even more victims, more offences and charges and hopefully, with this first step, set them on the path to healing.

The particulars of the court proceedings and each individual crime in turn leads to the broader vision of the Royal Commission’s work into how and why this could have happened, most critically what it was within the culture of the church that allowed such wicked men to thrive protected. This is turn must serve an even more critical purpose of ensuring it never happens again in any organisation. So however you interpret the case, it is an important story to tell.

Nor should a name as black as Ridsdales simply be forgotten. The lesson is in the remembering.  In this case it is the misplaced trust in a man and his sheltering institution that betrayed so many.

Unlike the largely concocted controversy in the latest episode of the “history wars”, this is not a case of erasing someone from history but rather having the courage to face up to the revision of erroneous ideas and reputations when the facts show the error.  

St Patrick’s College which has been an exemplar in addressing this grim part of its history has not removed Ridsdales name from the honour board but rather by drawing a black line through it, shown how great his dishonour. As arguably Ballarat’s worst criminal, this searing memory is not for his worthless sake but for all those to come.