On many occasions over the last two and half years the Courier has articulated the belief that The Loud Fence is a movement Ballarat should be proud of. Not proud of the dark past out of which it has grown but rather in the fluttering bright gesture that represents some of the best elements that have grown out of the whole awful history of sexual abuse; courage, honesty and community support. The Courier has also argued the qualities these ribbons symbolise; the courage to face the past, the honesty to learn its lessons and the solidarity needed to heel it, are qualities a community cannot live without.
Symbols can matter a great deal when these vital qualities can be obscured in a world too prone to forgetfulness, indifference, tribal prejudice and self-interest. For those whose own lives have been darkened by sexual abuse, and in Ballarat both for the victims and their families and friends these are many, these symbols may well have been life-saving. So distress and anger at those individuals who dont want these symbols and have taken to furtively chopping them down is understandable.
While other churches in other places have resisted the grassroots Loud Fence, the latest incidents cannot be blamed on the Diocese of Ballarat. While so troubled by a history of abuse, it has in this new era shown some leadership and genuine pastoral empathy. It proceeded with its permanent memorial on Lyons Street but was also open to consultation and a rethink when there was a strong call to keep the ribbons flying.
This declaration in Ballarat that the church was willing and even active in working with survivors may not seem like much to an outsider but it is a huge step compared to the intractability, evasion and obfuscation of the past and is in many ways a model of what could and should be achieved in many other dioceses and churches. At a local level it is also a signal of a willingness for genuine change and that sends a note of hope that accords well with Loud Fence.
Some people have dismissed Loud Fence with the comment;‘time to move on’. But no community can move on unless it has faced the past and these ribbons represent just that; a willingness to face the past no matter how dark. Not to obscure it in silence but rather in that reflection to seek the way to redress, healing and future prevention. For those who refuse, we offer a variation on Santayana’s famous line; those who seek to silence the past are doomed to repeat it.