Ballarat and central Victorian survivors of child sexual abuse are trying to put the past behind them and look towards the future.
They agree the city has had to endure a dark reputation as one of the worst centres of clergy and institutional child sexual abuse and want it become a city of healing, an example for others to follow.
Dominic Ridsdale, now known as Nick because Dominic sounds “too Catholic”, says he is in a better place than he was a year ago.
“I am looking to the future, focusing on my family. I want to see my children grow up,” he said.
It hasn’t always been like that, he said, and the broken sleep, persistent dreams and intrusive suicidal thoughts still occur, but less than they used to.
“Sometimes I get down and I think, ‘No, I’m stronger than this.”
He says his family, his wife’s support and focusing on work saves him. “If I sit at home, I’ll go crazy.”
He also finds that each time he talks or writes about the horrific abuse he endured at the hands of his paedophile uncle and laicised Catholic priest, Gerald Ridsdale, it removes some of the poison. He says he wants to send the ‘garbage back where it belongs’.”
Mr Ridsdale was one of 14 Ballarat clerical abuse victims who travelled to Rome in 2016 to watch Cardinal Pell give evidence via videolink to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Mr Ridsdale said when he got home from Rome, everything had built up and he spent some time in a psychiatric ward.
While it stopped him from “doing something stupid” he wants to avoid returning there. He is also grateful to a psychiatrist who has given him some wise advice about reframing his view of things.
He does still get angry when the Catholic Church is in the news though, and asks, “What makes the church think it is different to everyone else?”
There are changes that could be easily implemented to make the church a safer place for children, he said, including an upper age limit on children going to confession and having another adult (unaffiliated with the church) in attendance at times when children are involved in church ceremonies.
Survivor Brett Mathews has experienced significant trauma, but shuns medication and practices meditation and alternative therapies, saying he tries to stay grateful for what he has in his life.
“My bosses have said I work like three men. I have never been one to stay in bed, I push my body to block out the other stuff … I know all my trigger points now and what to do. When I was younger, I just used to go to the pub, and that doesn’t help.”
“So many survivors stay in the negativity. You become a prisoner of your own misery … I have been there and it’s not a nice place to be.”
“You have to get that positive thinking happening. Go for a walk, prune the roses for the 95 year-old woman next door, do something active,” he said.
Mr Mathews said he wants to become qualified in social welfare so he can help other troubled boys and would like to see camps for men where they can talk and cry and get back to nature.
“The bush is what kept me alive,” he said.
Mr Mathews also wants a health centre for survivors, offering therapies such as acupuncture, mindfulness, massage and support, “somewhere for people to heal.”
For help and information: Ballarat CASA – Crisis Care 24 hours free call 1800 806 292.