Our childhood lives – in our own words

This is a lightly edited version of a short presentation I gave as a panel member at the Archivists Society of Australia (ASA) in  Parramatta NSW, on 20 October 2016.

Other members of the Panel, which was chaired by Joanne Evans of Monash University, were:

  • Bonney Djuric – artist, author, activist and founder of Parragirls and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project, which supports Parragirls to document their stories and preserve the Girls Home and adjacent Female Factory as Australia’s first Site of Conscience. 
  • Barbara Reed – a consultant in the field of records, archives and information management. She has been involved in a number of project, including the recently published Best Practice Access Principles and Guidelines for Care Leavers Records. Barbara has also been a consultant on records for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
  • Sue McKemmish – Associate Dean of Graduate Research and Director of the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics at Monash University. Since 1990, Sue has developed and taught Australia’s leading professionally accredited graduate program in archives and recordkeeping. Her research focusses on archives and human rights, and the participatory or inclusive archive.

In the hour before our panel, Justice Jennifer Coate, of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, gave a most interesting address on the Royal Commission’s perspectives on records and archives. I will post a link to her speech when it is posted on the Commission’s website.


The Royal Commission provides a fresh and insightful assessment of the state of play in historic recordkeeping practices. The Commission frames the discussion through the twin concepts of

  • records as core business and
  • records as in the best interests of the child.

These are both critically important. The real challenge is making those concepts work in reality.

However, the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference have created problems. As Justice Coate explained, the vast array of institutions it encompasses vary enormously in scope, what they do for children, and the way they operate. It is difficult to offer advice about records that is pertinent to all.[1]

The records that should be kept about 24/7 ‘locked-in’ children must necessarily be very different from those kept about a child who voluntarily attends a sporting club or a community organisation on a sessional basis.

By contrast to that broad remit, the Commission is limited to a narrow focus on matters relating to sexual abuse. We at CLAN say that accurate records must be kept about all critical events affecting the nurturing and protection of the child in care, not just sexual abuse.

We envy the records of childhood that others take for granted—birth certificates, photographs, artworks, school reports and medical histories, and other childhood mementos.

Reaching back to a strange past

We survivors of 24/7 ‘locked-in’ institutions reach back into a strange past where birthdays, anniversaries, christenings and other family occasions were never celebrated. We reach back to a past where there were no family stories handed down by parents and other relatives. A past which disconnected us from family and community.

In reaching back to this past, we apply for our ‘file’ expecting to find detailed, accurate records about our time in ‘care’ and the answers to questions about our childhood, e.g.

  • Who put me into ‘care’? Why? Many think we must have done something wrong.
  • Where were my parents? Many of us were told, sometimes maliciously, that our parents did not love us, were dead, or were bad people.
  • What became of my brothers and sisters? Many of us were split up.
  • What medical treatments and vaccinations did I receive? I feel a goose when the doctor asks and I can’t tell her.
  • Did I have school reports and certificates?
  • Why was I transferred to other placements?
  • Who were the staff who looked after me? Did they record the fights I had?

In short, the archived records represent a repository of hope where we will find answers to questions that have nagged away at us, all the years of our adulthood.

Hopes dashed

Many Care Leavers are profoundly disappointed, even shocked and sometimes re-traumatised because, if their records haven’t been lost or destroyed:

  • Many have large gaps in information, meaning it is not possible to create a coherent story
  • Many contain inaccurate or misleading statements
  • Official records are almost entirely negative. Far from finding milestones and achievements as we grew older, we discover the content is almost always about us as problems and we find insulting and demeaning, or downright hostile comments about us or our parents[2]

Parents and children were rarely encouraged to keep in contact. Letters were rare; and even when they were written, sometimes they were not given to the child to whom they were addressed.  Nobody thought it important to keep alive the prospect of reunion or reconnection with our family in the future. The records were never envisaged as an important resource to that end.

Records are one-dimensional

We Care Leavers were never given the opportunity to contribute to our personal record—so what passes as an account of our childhood is one-dimensional. It’s clear that the writers of those records never imagined that the subject of their writings might one day read what was written about them and their families. The makers of records could write opinions masquerading as facts without being made accountable for their value judgements. In effect, they compiled secret dossiers—and were never called to account.

Rights to records

The Royal Commission’s Consultation Paper on Records and Recordmaking does not give sufficient weight to fundamental issues relating to rights about personal records.

The United Nation’s Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) declares

  • the right of the child to an identity,
  • the right to maintain contact with parents,
  • the right to have a say in decisions that affect them.[3]

The Convention should influence how records are made and gaining access to them.

Some of you may know the National Standards for out-of-home care, which were agreed across the national child protection community in 2011. Standard 10 states:

Children and young people in care are supported tohave their life history recorded as they grow upto help them recall the people and events that have shaped their lives.

CLAN has written its own Charter of Rights to Childhood Records.[4]  High on the agenda is the retrospective application to Care Leavers of the right of the child to contribute to the making of the record and the right of the child to share ownership of the record once it is made.

We agree with David Denborough who says:

Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.[5]

Counter-narratives: hearing the silenced voices

It is not too late to learn the importance of involving children in contributing to their own story. Children in Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) today can and should have the right to make a contribution to their record as it develops. This can be done in a range of creative ways other than by written documents.

Is there a way of doing this retrospectively for Care Leavers? In the vast majority of cases, the official records do not supply a coherent narrative that meets the need to know the truth about the past, and to tell the truth to others such as our children.

Therefore, CLAN is encouraging a process of creating a counter-narrative that is richer and more psychologically satisfying for Care Leavers, and to offer a more balanced history to other Australians.

In part, this can be in the form of using existing rights to add our own version of events to official records where they are inaccurate or misleading—or incomplete.

Preferably, it means writing our own versions of our stories gleaned from sources outside official records, and publishing them in a variety of modes and spaces. This is happening more and more, and we urge more Care Leavers to get to work on their stories.

Interpreting the metaphors of our lives

Let me finish with an anecdote to make the point that paper documents sent to the archives are not the only truth. It concerns the former Ballarat Orphanage, my home for eleven years. This struggle will interest Bonney Djuric and others who fought to preserve the historic Parramatta site.

In 2011, former residents of the Orphanage began a long campaign to constrain the demolition plans of the new owner of the privatised heritage site. Facing the Victorian Heritage Council, and later the City Council and the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal, the developer commissioned a history. This old brick wall circa 1880s was under scrutiny. 


The hired historian ducked into the paper archives and reconstructed this description of the wall:

the pier-braced brick boundary wall…runs for approximately 100 metres, and most of this is in a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond with three stretchers separating each header. The wall was evidently punctuated by a gateway, as there is a clearly ‘filled-in’ part with much later brick and a dip in cornice height of about 30cm. This section is about 10m-wide in stretcher bond.[6]

I think of all those children whose lives were governed by that wall—and those who used it as their means of escape. I was one who regularly sat on that wall facing the spot where the tram terminated at the Orphanage corner, hoping and yearning to see one of our parents alight. The weeks turned into years before, one day, our father did step off a tram—and after he had gone, the Superintendent told me Dad would not be allowed to visit us any more if he upset me again.

My brothers and I were reunited at the wall 40 years later. In our minds—our personal archives—we would never think of it as ‘a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond’.

BO Three Brothers at Wall

The past can’t remain the exclusive property of the powerful. Ultimately, we are all historians capable of making meanings of the metaphors of our experience.



[1] Institution is an entity that ‘…provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families’ Royal Commission Terms of Reference at: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/about-us/terms-of-reference

[2] For ways in which records re-traumatise Care Leavers see: Jacqueline Z Wilson & Frank Golding, Latent scrutiny: personal archives as perpetual mementos of the official gaze, Archival Science, Vol. No. 1: pp 93-109.

[3] Articles 8, 9, 12 and 13 respectively.

[4] See www.clan.org.au

[5] David Denborough, ‘Narrative Justice Charter of Story-telling Rights’, a working paper, Dulwich Centre, Adelaide, n.d.

[6] Lovell Chen, 2013: A30.

Ideas for Collaborative Research

This is the text of a short presentation I gave at a gathering at Monash University on 14 September 2016.

The occasion was the 10th Anniversary of COSI (the Centre for Organisational & Social Informatics – a flash name for a dynamic group of research academics who work in partnership with community groups on issues around records, archives, information systems, and the management of knowledge).

 Ideas for research 

The first place to look for ideas is the Royal Commission. While we regret that the Abbott/Turnbull governments have so far rejected the Commission’s recommendation for a national independent redress scheme, it would be an utter waste of time (5 years) and public funds (more than $500 million)  if we don’t build on their work in a number of other important areas.

To quote Linda Tilgner from Maria Tumarkin’s essay in The Conversation  last week: 

There is a window of opportunity around the Royal Commission. If that window closes, it’s gone…The danger is that the Royal Commission actually becomes a destructive process because it creates a false perception that we have done something when we haven’t.

The personal files emanating from these private sessions (around 7,000)  will be sealed—not available to researchers for decades—but we have a mountain of aggregated public data that we can and should make use of.

To date there have been

  • 44 Case Studies (with fully indexed transcripts and reports of findings),
  • 26 research reports (with more coming as we speak), and 
  • 13 consultation or issues papers (which have generated nearly 900 public submissions).

Lots of these reports have the capacity to be enriched and developed further, refined, applied—not to forget archived. As recently as Monday this week in his opening remarks at the 44th Case Study, the Chair of the Commission, Justice McLellan said:

Apart from providing a valuable resource for the Commission these reports will be an authoritative source for other research and policy work long after the Commission has completed its final report.[1]

That’s a gilt-edged invitation to researchers and policy wonks to get their sleeves rolled up.

In this gathering, I hardly need mention the Commission’s Consultation Paper on Records and Recordkeeping Practices.[2] The closing date is 3 October and I expect everyone here will be having a close look at the Paper and making a written submission. You have so much to offer. The Paper raises many timely issues. And these will be live in the years ahead.

One of the most striking aspects of the work of the Royal Commission is that the closed institutions—orphanages, children’s Homes, youth detentions centres, and even foster care—are still generating a disproportionate workload. Of the nearly 6,000 private hearings, some 44% of all reported sexual abuse occurred in these closed institutions. Many of them date back 20, 30, 40, 50 and more years ago. History has not done with these victim/survivors (not to mention other forms of child abuse which the Royal Commission hasn’t looked at because of its Terms of Reference being limited to sexual abuse).

And yet, although we have demolished the old warehouses for children, we seem to have solved very little—and learned even less about OHHC (Out-of-Home Care: a modern term for separating children from their families)  Consider this graph from the Productivity Commission:

A startling increase in the number of Australian children who can't live with their parents. And a disturbing disproportionate number of Indigenous children.
A startling increase in the number of Australian children who can’t live with their parents. And a disturbing disproportionate number of Indigenous children.

In the past decade we have seen an 80% increase in the number of Australian children who cannot live with their families. More than enough children to fill Etihad Stadium. And an outrageously high proportion of these castaway children are Indigenous. Imagine the questions the new Royal Commission will be asking in 2030.

There are many questions researchers could apply to the current situation. A couple of  examples:

  • How is the welfare system  handling the rights of these 43,000 children e.g. their right to maintain contact with their families and community?
  • What sort of records are being made? What will change in the archiving practices available to the next Royal Commission?

If you are looking for work projects, look no further than the new wave of OOHC.

One of the recurrent issues arising in the Royal Commission’s research projects is the lack of uniformity across Australia on definitions of key terms and on what is collected and reported.

Time and again, research reports start with a grizzle about the problems of fluctuating terminology. The AIFS compiled a guide to statutory definitions of child sexual abuse in 2013, and even within that limited area, there is no agreement on terminology. Each Australian state and territory has constitutional power to make laws relating to child protection. These laws, created in different jurisdictions at different times, vary in scope and nature and there has never been a unified approach across the nation.[3]

Why do definitions matter?

They matter because they affect how we conceptualise problems, how we prioritise issues, and create policy responses and change practice.

Take terms like ‘emotional abuse’ and ‘psychological abuse’ which appear frequently in reports. Professor Patrick Parkinson advised the Royal Commission against including emotional or psychological abuse within the compass of any national redress scheme because the terms lack objectivity.

Of course, it is equally open to Parkinson to suggest that emotional or psychological abuse be authoritatively defined so that it can be included in redress schemes.

On the other hand, there are terms that are insensitive and even offensive e.g. ‘child sexual abuse perpetrator’, ‘child prostitution’, and ‘child-on-child sexual abuse’ (the latter sadly used without proper care even by the Royal Commission).

So there’s a big job of work to do in analysing the language used in reports and striving for some consensus about what we mean. We could look at the work of ECPAT published just this year: Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, Adopted by the Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 28 January 2016[4]

The National Summit on Rights to Records

I’m hoping the national summit and related projects like Routes to the Past will generate ongoing research; e.g. archiving the counter-narratives.

We know there are hundreds of counter-narratives ‘out there’, and more are coming every week. To a large extent, Care Leavers are driven by their concern that officials have expropriated their stories. And Care Leavers are saying: nothing about us without us!   

I think archivists are getting the message that not all  ‘documents’ are words on  paper. Many Care Leavers were deprived of formal schooling and are not at their best in writing down their thoughts – although I hasten to add that it would be condescending to underestimate them intellectually – as was the case so often when they were children.

We must never overlook the other forms that are increasingly appearing. Over the past couple of years, I have seen members of CLAN create political and personal ‘documents’ in the following formats:

  • posters
  • oral interviews
  • videos (smart phones give us access  to new creative forms)
  • artworks (ranging from sculpture to  pavement chalk work)
  • songs
  • donations of childhood memorabilia to the Australian Orphanage Museum at CLAN headquarters in Sydney.

It would be great to have an accessible inventory or searchable archive of this rich source of Care Leaver history. CLAN is doing marvellous work but its resources are limited and so are its technical prowess when it comes to archiving.

So there’s an agenda to start with.


[1] Opening Remarks, Case Study 44, 12 September, Sydney

[2] Maria Tumarkin, The Conversation

[3] Ben Mathews, Mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse in Australia: A legislative history,


[4] ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) is a European-based non-governmental organisation and a global network of civil society organisations. ECPAT initiated an Interagency Working Group to draft a set of Terminology Guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The Guidelines were adopted in 2016 in a meeting in Luxembourg (hence dubbed the “Luxembourg Guidelines”). The Guidelines set out three categories of terms.

  1. A term appears to have a generally agreed meaning and/or can be used without stigmatising and/or otherwise harming the child; e.g. child sexual abuse
  2. Where there is some disagreement, special attention should be paid to how this term is used.
  3. The use of a term should be avoided.


Svetlana Alexeviech didn’t make it to the Royal Commission

A brilliant essay given by Maria Tumarkin at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

A short version was published in The Conversation on Friday 9 September – reprinted here with permission.

Among other things, Maria asked: “Have we outsourced the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission?” Some say yes.  Others, like Maria, asks: Who is the ‘we’ in the question?

What is the  link to Svetlana Alexeviech and Chernobyl? Child sexual abuse, says Maria,  is like radiation poisoning, omnipresent and invisible.

 It stays in people’s lives like radiation stays in the soil for thousands of years. It stays in families and physical places. It kills people. It makes people sick for generations to come. It is that future that is already here. No colour. No smell. Nothing to tell us it’s here.

She draws on the words of Psychiatrist , Paul Valent, to introduce  another startling metaphor:

Some people call child sexual abuse ‘soul murder’. It is a real destruction of a person’s value and dignity … Generationally too … It interferes with love. It is the opposite of loving.

Maria argues that, if ‘we’ are outsourcing the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission,  it will count for nothing in the end ‘if we continue relying on it to do the work of public reckoning with the history of systemic sexual abuse of children in this country’. It’s our work.

Grants for Documenting Care Leaver Records

Copy of a  Find & Connect  blog post announcing a new grants round by Genevieve Wauchope  |  RAD2 Grants Officer, Find & Connect project

A new round of the Records Access Documentation grants for organisations to document records relating to care leavers will open in October. Successful projects will be funded to $15 000.

The grants are being funded as part of the National Find and Connect services, to support eligible organisations to describe records relating to children living in ‘care’ during the 1920s-1980s. The purpose is to improve access for past care-leavers to records that have not yet been properly documented.

At the end of the projects, information about the records (not the records themselves) will be included on the Find & Connect website to assist Care Leavers and support services in finding out what documents exist and where they can be found. This will cut back on time and frustration spent trying to trace important records.

The RAD2 Grants Round has taken on feedback from the previous grants round in 2012 and made the application process easier and simpler. Applications will be online and will be open for longer. There is also a project officer based in the Find and Connect web resource team to help out along the way.

Workshops will be held around the country during the application period to discuss potential projects and help records holders decide if they want to apply.  We’ll also be hosting webinars as support for those who can’t attend a workshop in person.   Further workshops will be held in 2017 for successful grant applicants. If you’re interested in attending a workshop later this year, let us know by contacting rad-2@unimelb.edu.au. We’ll go where there’s the greatest demand, so don’t forget to get in touch! For places we can’t get to, we’ll run webinars, so no-one will miss out.

We’ll keep you updated on the blog as the workshops are scheduled and grant applications open. All the grant information will be available from the Find and Connect web resource once the application period opens.

Contact: T: +61 3 9035 8223  E: genevieve.wauchope@unimelb.edu.au   


Ballarat’s Difficult History: Outcast Children

This is an updated version of a paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association in Ballarat July 2016

Scene 1: 1956

I’m 18 and studying at the Ballarat Teachers’ College in Dana Street. It’s our weekly assembly. We all stand up to sing from our blue song-books: ‘Ballaarat’.

A city built on gold , She gave her wealth untold.

It made our land, so great and grand,, A Land of Liberty…

…So let your voices ring, In praise of everything.

At B.A. double L., double A.R.A.T.

Now, more than 50 years on, I can’t believe I sang along ‘in praise of everything’: just three years earlier, I had escaped from the emotional wasteland of the local Orphanage. But I sang as heartily and artlessly as any of my fellow teachers-in-training.

Scene 2: May 2015

The ABC’s 7.30 is on the telly. Leigh Sales stares down the barrel of the camera:

Tomorrow, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heads to Ballarat. The regional Victorian city was home to some of the most notorious paedophiles Australia has ever seen. The effect of the abuse has been felt far wider than simply amongst the many victims. It’s intergenerational and it’s scarred the entire city.[1]

I travel to the County Court in Ballarat the next day with questions on my mind. Will these revelations shake the core beliefs about the city? Will Ballarat people, brought up like me on the stories of Eureka’s ‘wealth untold’ and the birth of liberty, ever look upon their city in the same way again?

How will historians of the future encapsulate this city? Will they agree with David Marr that ‘Ballarat in the 1970s…was one of the unsafest places for a Catholic child to grow up…’?[2] Why just Catholic children?

CLAN - long-term advocates for Royal Commission
CLAN – long-term advocates for Royal Commission

Scene 3: back to the 1850s

I put those thoughts on hold while I meditate on a largely invisible part of Ballarat’s history. Over the years, Ballarat has created some 19 institutions for its outcast children. I grew up in one of them.

It is painful to track the many ways we children were described. In the nineteenth century we were: criminal, neglected, destitute, abandoned, illegitimate, wayward, waifs and strays, urchins and vagabonds, street Arabs and youthful Bedouins. In the twentieth century we were children without sufficient means, or, more recently, children in need of care and protection.

You can tell from the labels that there was compassion, but it was never far from other emotions: fear, loathing and blame. As early as 1856, the Ballarat Star pleaded for compassion for the child casualties of the gold rush:

[P]rosperity and progress seem fairly to be our destiny. On the other hand, want and woe, vice and crime, are fearfully prominent in our community. In many a desolate tent…lies the subject of conjugal or parental desertion; or the unhappy victim of “sickness unto death,”…the most abject destitution.[3]

The Star also cited a number of cases of appalling sexual exploitation of young girls. The writer called on Ballarat’s civic leaders:

to initiate a project for the establishment of an institution which shall combine in its organisation the features of an orphan and destitute asylum, a female penitentiary, and an immigrant depot

Three years later, the Star was running a ‘law and order’ crusade: to rid the streets of urchins who were, it said, …‘hastening with a fatal facility into an appalling precocity in vice and crime’.[4] Children had to be rescued from drunken fathers, vicious mothers, grown-up sisters working as prostitutes, and the ‘fatal influence of parental example’.[5]

With a Benevolent Asylum for the aged and infirm about to open its doors, the paper made a plea for a section to be set aside for children.

The Star made a distinction between ‘young vagrants and criminals’ on the one hand, and the ‘yet uncriminal orphans’ on the other hand. A separate reformatory and district orphanage were called for.[6]

The Benevolent Asylum opened in 1860, and by 1864 there were more than enough children to warrant a large school on site.[7] The Victorian government paid a subsidy to the Asylum of £3 per month per ‘orphan’, but it was clear that it was not desirable for children to be housed together with unmarried mothers (‘fallen women’) and people who were aged or chronically ill.[8]

Ballarat Benevolent Asylum

These children were gradually removed. The older ones were indentured as servants. Some were despatched to industrial schools (including the new Ballarat Industrial School for girls which opened in 1869). Others ‘considered too “superior” for State care’ were transferred to the new Orphan Asylum which opened its doors late in 1865 at the other end of town.[9]

The Orphan Asylum’s Committee of Management made it clear from the outset that while it would take in children of ‘the Orphans of honorable parents’ (‘the perishing classes’) it did not want children of ‘the criminal and abandoned’ (‘the dangerous classes’). Parents and guardians would be put straight if they ‘labored under the impression that all Orphans, without regard to legitimacy, morals or respectability, were to be received’ into the Asylum.[10]

No child would be admitted without a birth certificate and a marriage certificate showing father’s name; and a doctor’s certificate declaring that the child was free of contagious diseases. The dichotomy of the deserving and undeserving poor lingered for decades. In 1943, when I was admitted to the Ballarat Orphanage (the tag was changed in 1909), my medical report declared me free of syphilis and epilepsy (but, ‘without blood tests’). At least the requirement to show a marriage certificate had been waived.

Ballarat Orphanage, my home from the age of 4 to 15
Ballarat Orphanage, my home from the age of 4 to 15

The Ballarat Orphanage warehoused more than 200 children at any one time, including many wards of the state. Most were not orphans: they were children whose parents were incapacitated through illness, or whose families were unable to look after them because of poverty or homelessness or family breakdown, desertion or – despite the original rules – children of unmarried mothers or those with a parent in prison.

The Catholics, of course, had additional, separatist reasons for setting up two large institutions of their own: Nazareth House in Mill Street and St Joseph’s in Sebastopol.

Nazareth House 1900
Nazareth House 1900

Some institutionalised children were not locals. Despite serious opposition in Ballarat, a Boys’ Reformatory‘a receptacle for the scum of Victoria’[11] – was opened in 1879 on the site of the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ (previously the site of the Girls’ Industrial School). More than 100 boys were transferred from the gaol at Jika (Coburg) and many of them immediately absconded.[12] Later, some of the ‘reformed’ boys defied attempts to place them in passive service and these resisters were then housed at the Probationary School for Boys at Alfredton (1890-92).

Towards the end of the century, a private reformatory for girls, Brookside, was opened by a Mrs Rowe at Cape Clear, but after runaway girls told police about floggings, having their hair cut, being confined to bed, bread-and-water diets, and other brutalities, the reformatory closed.[13]

There was another large group brought in to Ballarat – Aboriginal children. It is instructive to read a speech by Catherine King, MHR for Ballarat. She told the Australian Parliament in 2008:

The four children’s institutions in Ballarat — Nazareth babies home, Ballarat babies home, Ballarat Orphanage and St Josephs — were all recipients of stolen generation children, many of them coming from as far away as Gippsland. I am ashamed to say that, as a 20-year-old working in what was the Ballarat Orphanage, I did not know its part in the history of this generation of children and I would like to add an apology for my ignorance and my lack of curiosity about the history of the institution I worked in.[14]

All told, over the years, tens of thousands of children spent time in one or other of these 19 closed institutions in Ballarat. And in addition, hundreds of destitute children were boarded out in private homes – a foster ‘care’ system which commended itself to government because it was cheaper than keeping children in large institutions. In 1914, for example, in and around Ballarat, there were nearly 500 children boarded out, many to their own mothers.[15]

Child and family welfare, then, has a substantial – but grossly neglected –presence in Ballarat’s history. The little that has been published is, with notable exceptions, benign, shallow and self-congratulatory – in some cases no better than lipstick on a pig – and blind to the widespread abuse of the vulnerable children taken into ‘care’ whose voices are never heard.[16]

A case in point is the responses to former inmates of the Ballarat Orphanage who requested Heritage Victoria (HV) in 2012 to place the site, now in the hands of private developers, on the Victorian heritage list. The Executive Director of HV delivered to the Heritage Council a contrary presentation which included 60 photographs, only two of which included people – and none of these were children.

HV was fixated on the built form of the place and it seemed incapable of seeing the value of the place to those who once lived there.

Charitable institutions in the nineteenth century were often constructed as grand and publicly visible buildings, reflecting the importance the society placed on providing for its underprivileged population.[17]

We former inmates begged to differ. We wanted the ‘remnant fabric’ of the place protected because what remained represented our extraordinary childhood – a total institutional experience removed from family and normal community. Behind the grand façade we ate, played, fought, slept, darned socks, washed and mended clothes, worked the farm and the vegetable garden, swept the yard, polished the floors and went to the elementary school on site.

We wanted to be able to tell our children in years to come about the communal baths and showers, lack of privacy, harsh discipline, physical and sexual assaults, the ever-pressing hunger, the chilling cold of the nights and wetting the bed, being separated from our siblings and missing our parents and not knowing why we were there.

The historian hired by the private developer asserted that the place evoked ‘mixed emotions’ and our valuing of the place seemed to be a ‘very personal response’ – as if that was our weakness.[18] Although both parties argued for its retention, the 1880s brick wall illustrates the gulf in understanding. The historian described it this way:

the pier-braced brick boundary wall to Stawell Street runs for approximately 100 metres, and most of this is in a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond with three stretchers separating each header. The wall was evidently punctuated by a gateway, as there is a clearly ‘filled-in’ part with much later brick and a dip in cornice height of about 30cm. This section is about 10m-wide in stretcher bond.[19]


I thought of all those children who experienced the wall in other ways. Some once clambered over it in search of freedom, or their parents. I was one of many who sat on the wall facing the tram terminus, hoping and yearning to see one of our parents alight.

The weeks turned into years before, one day, my father did step off a tram – and after he had gone, Superintendent Morton told me he would not be allowed to visit us any more if he upset me again. He didn’t ask me why I was upset. It certainty was not my father’s visit. When my two brothers and I reunited at the wall in the 1990s, none of us thought of the wall as ‘a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond’.

BO Three Brothers at Wall

It is only recently, through a chain of formal inquiries[20] – and through the work of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) and other advocates — that the voices of survivors are now being heard, and those voices are seriously challenging the traditional narrative of bountiful compassion.

Full marks to Catherine King MHR for acknowledging that when she was 20 she was both ignorant and lacking in curiosity about the children she looked after. She was an insider, working close to these children; imagine what that might say about other citizens of Ballarat who did not take the trouble to look over the wall.

When the royal commission came to town, many Ballarat citizens and historians were totally unaware that the golden city sat on a time-bomb of institutional child abuse.

Can we be optimistic that in future citizens of Ballarat will be more curious, and historians more inquiring, of the ‘care and protection’ provided to our most vulnerable children?



[1] The ABC’s 7.30 18/05/2015.

[2] David Marr in Conversation with Heather Ewart at The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, 21.10. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYz4gn-HlDY

[3] Ballarat Star, 28.8.1856: 2.

[4] Ballarat Star, 5.12.1859: 2.

[5] Ballarat Star, 22.10.1859: 2.

[6] Ballarat Star, 12.12.1859: 2, 3.

[7] Doreen Bauer, Institutions without walls: A brief history of geriatric services 1856-1985, Waller & Chester, Ballarat

[8] Dorothy Wickham (2003): Beyond the Wall: Ballarat Female Refuge, A Case Study in Moral Authority. M.Phil. Thesis, ACU, Melbourne: 54.

[9] Wickham (2003): 55.

[10] Ballarat Orphan Asylum, Committee of Management, 2nd Annual Report 1866:12. See also Nell Musgrove (2013) The Scars Remain: A long history of forgotten Australians and children’s institutions, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly: 18-26.

[11] Ballarat Star 23.12.1879: 2; Ballarat Star 19.9.1879: 2.

[12] Ballarat Star 25.9.1879: 3; 5.12.1879: 2; 15.12.1879: 2, 7.

[13] The Argus 17.7.1899: 5; 2.8.1899: 4. See also Sophia Callaghan (2004) Towards submission and servitude: The punitive reformation of juvenile female offenders at the Brookside Reformatory for Protestant girls, 1887-1903. BA (Hons) Thesis, University of Melbourne; and Helen Doxford Harris, Criminal & Other Case Files at: http://helendoxfordharris.com.au/archives/240.

[14] Hansard, 14 February 2008: 457. See also Ballarat & District Aboriginal Co-operative Ltd., Faded Footprints: Walking the past, (The Co-operative, Ballarat, n.d. 2008?). My own memory is that around 10 per cent of the children I lived with in the Ballarat Orphanage were Aboriginal: Frank Golding (2005) An Orphan’s Escape: Memories of a lost childhood, Lothian, Melbourne.

[15] Ballarat Courier, 25.12.1914, p. 7. See also Shurlee Swain (2012) ‘Making Their Case: Archival Traces of Mothers and Children in Negotiation with Child Welfare Officials’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 11.

http://prov.vic.gov.au/publications/provenance/provenance2012/making-their-case; see also Department for Neglected Children & Reformatory Schools, Annual Report for the Year 1916: 3.

[16] See e.g. Wilson, Jacqueline Z., & Frank Golding (2015) ‘Caring about the Past or Past Caring: The Contested Narratives of Memory’, in Shurlee Swain & Joanna Skold (eds), In the Midst of Apology: Professionals and the Legacy of Abuse amongst Children in ‘Care’, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

[17] Heritage Victoria, (2011) Executive Director’s Assessment Report: 5.

[18] Lovell Chen (2011) Former Ballarat Orphanage 200 Victoria Street, Ballarat East: Conservation Management Plan Prepared for Victoria Street Developments Pty Ltd: 95.

[19] Lovell Chen (2013) Former Ballarat Orphanage 200 Victoria Street, Ballarat East: Conservation Management Plan Prepared for Victoria Street Developments Pty Ltd: A30.


Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has recently released 55 submissions in response to their ‘Consultation Paper: Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care’

You can download and read the submissions here.

This is my submission dated 11 March 2016.

I became aware of the above Consultation Paper only yesterday, and as I am leaving the country on Tuesday 15 March for a month I have time to make just a few comments on some selected aspects of the Paper. I wish I had more time because I think it is a very important area of discussion.

1. The Royal Commission’s attention to OOHC

My observation is that the Commission has not done nearly enough in this sector which is commonly described as crisis-driven. The Commission reports that OOHC is by far the largest category of institutions identified in the more than 4,700 private sessions. More than 40 per cent of all reports of child sexual abuse were located in the OOHC sector. (Footnote 1: Depending on how tight the definition of OOHC, this figure could be as high as 46%.)

Yet only 11 of the public hearings of 37 to date have examined OOHC. This is unjustifiably disproportionate. The Commission has allocated far more time to Case Studies involving churches and schools than to OOHC.

The OOHC Round Table conducted by the Commission in April 2014 was profoundly disappointing, and Case Study 24 held in Sydney in March and June 2015 more closely resembled a cheerful seminar than rigorous examination of experts and the hard facts.

It was dominated by agencies with a vested interest in putting their best foot forward while advocacy representatives were accorded inadequate opportunity to give their insights. The commissioned research on the evaluation of OOHC practices that prevent child sexual abuse was depressingly inadequate.

2. The poor state of knowledge throughout Australia in relation to the incidence of child sexual abuse in OOHC (pp. 27-31)

The lack of accurate, consistent and complete data is a major problem which the Royal Commission must address in its final report—or preferably by commissioning more research as a matter of urgency. It is difficult to know what changes might be effective, as the Paper says, without knowing ‘the true shape and size of the problem’ (p. 28)

Yet, we need not be totally paralysed by this lack of national data. Some data produced by and for the Royal Commission to date should be taken as symptomatic of issues where immediate action (or at least further investigation) is warranted. The high incidence of sexual abuse in residential ‘care’ compared with other forms of OOHC is a case in point.

It is remarkable—and great cause for concern—that while only 5 per cent of children in OOHC are in residential settings, 33 per cent of reports of child sexual abuse in the period 2012-2014 come from residential facilities (Charts 1.1 & 1.2).

This raises questions such as the quality of supervision of residents, the training and professional development of staff, and, indeed, the process of determining which children are placed in residential facilities and why, and the relationship which is allowed (or not) between inmates and their families.

3. Child-on-child sexual abuse

The Paper states: ‘We have been told that more needs to be done to better protect children from, and respond to, issues of child-to-child sexual abuse in OOHC’ (p. 6). I think this is a very complex issue and should not be rolled out so glibly. The Paper states: ‘We have heard evidence in public hearings that child-to-child sexual abuse is a serious and common problem in contemporary OOHC’ (p. 6).

It is disappointing that this statement is so vague. What evidence? Who provided it? Was it substantiated evidence? Some of this evidence may have been coloured by the first version of the commissioned research (now amended) which made a wholly unsubstantiated claim about child-on-child sexual abuse which was picked up and repeated by Counsel Assisting the Commission on 10 March 2015 who stated:

The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child to child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care. (Footnote 2: Gail Furness SC, Public Hearing, 10 March 2015, para. 96, p. 22)

This fallacious and damaging statement has not been publicly corrected and remains a permanent part of the Commission’s official record. Much better research is needed in this area—as a matter of some urgency. In the meantime, sweeping generalisations should be avoided.

Likewise, the use of terms like ‘perpetrator’ and ‘abuser’ should not be applied to children in OOHC without sensitive and nuanced discussion about what such labels imply in the context of closed institutions and the ethics of labelling victims/ survivors/ perpetrators.

Moreover, the phenomenon of child-on-child sexual abuse needs to be better defined, described and analysed. It is most unlikely that all incidents allotted to this category of events are conceptually the same.

Issues such as the age gap between the two children, their relative lengths of time in ‘care’, and any prior history of sexualised behaviour could be significant variables in differentiating types of incidents—and the ways they are best handled.

4. Historical sexual abuse

In reference to sexual abuse that occurred in OHHC many years ago, the Consultation Paper states that ‘We have heard numerous accounts of the significant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children that occurred in these institutions and its detrimental impact on many people’s lives’ (p. 4).

It is disappointing that the Paper then dismisses what it calls ‘Historical context’ and then ‘Shifting attitudes’ in a single page (p. 20). This suggests to me the writer of the Paper is much too ready to dismiss historical experience as irrelevant to contemporary OOHS and, worse, to suggest that somehow times have changed.

This is a concern because we know that, while closed institutions like orphanages and other forms of residential life have changed in terms of architecture, size and human scale, many of the features of the old culture have not changed.

This is illustrated by the report of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People which is cited in the Paper. (Footnote 3:  Inquiry into the adequacy of the provision of residential care services to Victorian children and young people who have been subject to sexual abuse or sexual exploitation whilst residing in residential care, 2015.) 

Social history is rarely marked by sudden shifts in policies and institutional practices and the then-but-now syndrome can be hazardous.

Moreover, survivors of sexual abuse, even when it occurred decades ago, hardly ever think of that experience as ‘historical’. Many of them attest to the fact that the past is always with them. Many of them have come forward to the Commission precisely because they think there is something to be learned from their ‘historical’ experience. They don’t want the lessons of the past to be ignored.

In addition, it is well known anecdotally among Care Leavers that many children in OHHC today are the children and grandchildren of former state wards and Homies. I know of no systematic research that assesses the incidence of inter-generational institutionalisation. None of the relevant authorities think this data could be useful to them, but I beg to differ because such a study would shed some light on how families get on, and stay on the welfare treadmill—and thus become potentially the next generation of abused residents.

5. Access to Care Leaver records and information

It is pleasing to note that the Commission is working in the important area of access to records. The summary on pages 118-19 is a very good listing. However, I think there are three very important elements that the Paper misses because it focuses only on the problems of access.

The first of these is related to the participation of the young person in OOHC in constructing the record. The young person’s voice is almost always silent in these records because agencies who make and keep the records rarely think to invite the subject person to make a contribution to the record. This is a significant omission because critical incidents are always recorded from an adult’s perspective whereas the child is likely to have some important insights worth recording.

One result of not engaging the young person is that when they do gain access to their records, they are often shocked by the prevailing negativity of the contents, especially when value judgments of the adult writer are so obviously unwarranted or unfair.

Many Care Leavers complain about omissions from their records especially when they recall events such as a complaint they made about their treatment. Involving the young person in contributing to the records would almost certainly make it a more balanced narrative of their life in OOHC.

Likewise, there are some legislated opportunities for Care Leavers to challenge usually by adding another version of events to the record. However, this opportunity is rarely exercised for a variety of reasons not the least being the government and non-government agencies rarely publicise the existence of this provision.

The second and related issue is that of ownership. Care Leavers often speak of making application for ‘my file’ in the mistaken expectation that as adults they own the record made about them as children and can go and pick it up. They are genuinely shocked to be told by record keepers that the Department, or the agency, owns the file and the best they can expect is a photocopy of it, or some of it. This mismatch of expectations with harsh and unreasonable legal reality is the cause of considerable angst.

In some cases, Care Leavers, especially those who may have been abused and are considering taking an action for redress, are suspicious of agencies’ motives in withholding material. It is my contention that there is little justification for government and non-government agencies being so precious about their control of these records. A change of legislation accompanied by a change in culture is required.

The third issue that the paper omits is reference to statutory obligations related to record making and keeping. It beggars belief that a government or non-government agency can hold custody of a child sometimes for years and not be required by law to construct and maintain an official record of the child’s time in their custody. But such has been the practice in many cases that records were never kept or were so superficial as to offer no insights into the circumstances at a later time. It should not be difficult to develop a list of essential items of information that should be kept in every child’s record.

These would be matters relevant to

  •  identity such as birth certificate, name and last known address of immediate family members, and evidence of family religious affiliations such as the child’s baptism certificate or similar;
  • reasons for the child’s initial admission to OOHC including any court orders;
  •  medical conditions and treatments;
  •  school progress;
  •  details of all changes of placements including reasons for transfer;
  •  names of any person who visits the child while in care;
  •  critical incidents that affected the child’s development positively or negatively; and
  •  arrangements made when the child or young person was to be discharged for OOHC.

It should not be difficult to mandate that these primary documents must be safeguarded by the relevant agency and their loss or destruction should result in a penalty for the offending agency.

I trust you will find what I have written in haste to be of relevance to the Royal Commission’s further work in this somewhat neglected area.

Yours sincerely

Frank Golding


Our Side of the Story

As a guest blogger, I posted this on the Find & Connect website today.  

Other Care Leavers share with me their shock at some of what we find in our records. The language hits us between the eyes. Our counterparts in the nineteenth century were tagged by a battalion of adjectives: criminal or neglected, destitute, abandoned, deserted, unkempt, illegitimate, wayward, slovenly, deserving or undeserving.

When the makers of records ran out of adjectives, they paraded a platoon of nouns: vagabonds, vagrants, urchins, waifs and strays, delinquents, slum kids, wards.

And a squadron of slogans: street Arabs and youthful Bedouins, orphans of the living, out of control, lapsing into immorality, being without sufficient means. It shocks us to learn that we, the children, were charged with being in need of care and protection.

The language reflects an unholy union between the welfare and penal systems: when we were little children we were charged and committed, released on probation (if we were lucky), and eventually discharged. Some of us were sentenced to solitary confinement and even to floggings. If we ran away, we were listed as absconders in the Police Gazettes until we were captured.

Many of our substitute parents didn’t think much of us. They expected the worst. In one of the orphanages I grew up in, the management made it clear that “parents and guardians who labored under the impression that all Orphans, without regard to legitimacy, morals or respectability” would be taken in had better think again. No child would be admitted to that place without a marriage certificate showing the father’s name, the child’s birth certificate, and a doctor’s certificate declaring that the child was free of contagious diseases. The ‘undeserving’ would have to go elsewhere.

Like one-time British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, many in the Australian welfare system believed that family crisis resulted from individuals’ personality defects. Poverty was their own fault, they claimed. The records explain very little about the social conditions in which our parents made heart-breaking decisions to put their children in the ‘care’ of the welfare people.

We find nothing in the archives that explains the story behind the story – the misery of grinding poverty that dogged the lives of working-class parents who, with little schooling, found themselves trapped in long-term unemployment and unstable accommodation, or enmeshed in military service or domestic violence or chronic illness.

These hardships – often hitting families more than one at a time – placed unbearable pressures on families. In the absence of support, many did not have the resilience in a crisis to survive. Our parents were sometimes the subject of the most vile slander by those who had never known hardship themselves. Some parents were accused of being keen to be rid of their children – and only sought to have them returned when they were old enough to earn a living. Chronic poverty is not about a lack of moral character. It’s about not having money, resources and support in your time of greatest need.

Many of us find our personal records are almost entirely negative. Sometimes they incorporate police reports that, by definition, were aimed at winning a conviction. From that poor start, welfare workers recorded only problems. Care Leavers often search their records in vain for positive achievements, but the archives are brimming with examples of our minders’ low expectations. Some of us who are perfectly intelligent have found in our records that we were described as ‘slow-witted’, even ‘low-grade mental defective’. Almost all of us were expected to leave school as soon as the law allowed – to go into menial jobs for the rest of our lives.

The Head Teacher of my on-site Ballarat Orphanage primary school told the Education Department in 1948 that none of the 18 children in Grade Six would progress to secondary school because of the ‘extra responsibility’ involved, and because of ‘the prior history of the children’. In my own file I found this note in answer to the question: should the boy be allowed to finish Year 10?

Undoubtedly, all the boys will return to the mother and Golding in due course and it is just a question of whether he should be retained and given an education at the expense of the State when his future earnings will probably be collected by the mother.

That makes me angry because I know my mother never thought that at all. Welfare workers could record any opinion that reflected their own prejudices in preference to the relevant facts. And no one called them to account. Clearly, these files were never meant to be read by us, or our parents.

We all remember events that loom large in our memory that were never recorded, or have been glossed over. We have a very different view of our childhood reality from the one that is our records. My official record declares that my fathers’ visits upset me; but I know the opposite was the case. I was never asked. My voice was silenced.

We don’t have to accept these misleading bureaucratic accounts of our childhood. Our stories ought to be heard. Under FOI laws in each state and territory (e.g. s39-49 of the Victorian Act) there is usually a right for Care Leavers to challenge questionable information and to ask for our own version of incidents to be placed in the files. We should be queuing up to tell our side of the story.

Putting the Children and their Families Back into Orphanage History

This is the inaugural Frank Golding Lecture presented at the Official Opening of the Legacy & Research Centre at Ballarat Child & Family Services (CAFS), 7 May 2016

I solemnly swear to tell you the truth and nothing but the truth about the history of the Ballarat Orphan Asylum (born 1865) and its child, the Ballarat Orphanage (born 1909) and its grandchild, the Ballarat Children’s Home (born 1968). But I can’t swear to tell you the whole truth. History can never tell the complete story. On the one hand, there are too many events to choose from. On the other hand, only a highly selective slice of life is ever recorded.

To illustrate, let me take you back 50 years to 1965 when the Orphanage was 100 years old. The Board of Management commissioned Ethel Morris to compile an official history to mark the centenary. For many, Morris’s A Century of Child Care[1] is the definitive history of the first 100 years, but to a reader who was a child resident it is a perplexing publication. Her institution seems peopled almost exclusively with adults. They are mentioned by individual names 240 times: I’ve counted them. Board or committee members (100 times); staff including honorary medical and other professionals, teachers, volunteers and managers (82); eminent visitors (35), and financial benefactors (23)—although the three ‘Chinese’ donors and the ‘poor widow who set aside proceeds from the sale of eggs each Sunday’ remain anonymous.[2]

By contrast, Morris mentions fewer than ten children by name, several of them former residents who had done well and left generous bequests. We also learn that three boys gained scholarships and a girl graduated as a trained nurse—but they are nameless and we learn nothing more about them. We learn that the boys’ band was often successful but the praise goes to the bandmasters. We learn that the boys made lots of sturdy boots, were handy on the farm, and later made good soldiers for King and Country, and that the girls made excellent clothing and bedding. The eminent visitors who came to brighten the children’s lives (for an hour or two) are mentioned, but there is nothing about the daily life of children—the rowdiness, the fights, the collective laughter, the sirens that marked the routine of repetitive days and nights, the queues for porridge, rabbit stew, or laxatives. Nor is there anything about how the children coped with feelings of being abandoned and not wanted, and the harsh punishment meted out by untrained and overworked staff.

Throughout this history, which is based almost entirely on picking highlights from the Annual Reports (which were themselves a selection of events each year), not a page is turned that does not mention funding, buildings and facilities. It is reasonable to conclude that the publication was written primarily to impress benefactors and appeal to potential donors. Every historian has a particular life experience, a point of view and a purpose when selecting and interpreting the events they write about. In that sense, no history can ever be entirely neutral.

More recently, a pair of histories of the institution was written in 2011 for a completely different purpose, and it shows. Defending a preservation claim by former residents of the Orphanage at Heritage Victoria, Victoria Street Developments Pty Ltd commissioned a history as part of a Conservation Management Plan.[3] A few months later, Ballarat City Council commissioned its own history as part of a heritage assessment of the site[4]. Both versions were then used in a series of contested sessions at Council meetings and at the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal in 2013-14. No prize for guessing that the history the developers paid for stressed how the building fabric that was then still on site had been changed beyond recognition and therefore should be demolished—with the exception of the 1929 Toddlers’ Block (which the developers intended to recycle as a medical centre). The Council’s version of the history was more nuanced because former residents and their allies including the Ballarat Trades Hall Council had lobbied them to retain the school. The Council’s historian found that the 1919 schoolhouse had significance, whereas the developer’s historian said it had no heritage value because its roofline had been altered.

The brick wall facing Stawell Street stands as a powerful testament. For one of the hired historians, the wall has this significance:

the pier-braced brick boundary wall to Stawell Street runs for approximately 100 metres, and most of this is in a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond with three stretchers separating each header. The wall was evidently punctuated by a gateway, as there is a clearly ‘filled-in’ part with much later brick and a dip in cornice height of about 30cm. This section is about 10m-wide in stretcher bond.[5]


I think of all those children who experienced the wall in other ways. I was one who sat on the wall facing the spot where the tram terminated at the Orphanage corner, hoping and yearning to see one of our parents alight. The weeks turned into years before, one day, our father did step off a tram—and after he had gone, Superintendent Morton told me he would not be allowed to visit us any more if he upset me again. The wall survives today—and I would never think of it as ‘a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond’.

Just as Ethel Morris was fixated on funding and facilities, these later histories share a fixation with the bricks and mortar. None of these writers seemed capable of seeing the history of the Orphanage as the story of the thousands of children who lived in that place.


Those of you who grew up in a ‘normal’ family will have a deep-seated sense of continuity, of belonging to a family story which reaches back into the past. Your story comes from direct experience and family anecdotes told around the dinner table, being spoiled rotten by proud grandparents at Christmas and birthdays. You have photograph albums and family memorabilia tucked away in shoeboxes under the bed or on top of wardrobes which you can retrieve any time you feel like it. It’s not like that for Orphanage children. Mothers’ Day will be observed quite differently tomorrow for those of us separated from our mother when we were children. Many of us who have looked for a family narrative in our official childhood records have discovered that files were written for a particular purpose and audience—and that certainly was never intended to be the child or the adult the child would become. In some cases what was recorded is painful to read not only because of what was recorded as fact when it was inaccurate, but also for the disparaging slander about parents that freely littered the files. In other cases the story is woefully inadequate with long gaps in time when nothing was recorded and an overall lack of crucial information such as medical episodes, or educational achievements, or any record of family visits.

An abiding memory:

In those cold dormitory mornings when I was 4 and 5 and 6 and 7, the siren shattered my recurring dream of my mother. Where was she? Was she sick or dying? Was my dad away at the war? When were they going to come and take us home? Why wouldn’t anyone tell me? No one answered.

For decades those unanswered questions itched like scabs that would not heal. I needed to understand why healthy, intelligent parents would separate from their children, or put them into an orphanage. I would have to re-construct my childhood, starting with what documents survived in the archives and CAFS and in the state ward records held by the Department in Melbourne. In those archives I found vital clues that gave the bloodhound in me a scent to follow. Yet those records were only fragments of the story and could only hint at the astonishing story that would emerge from my quest.

I was to discover that my family has a long and intimate relationship with the Ballarat Orphanage at 200 Victoria Street. My mother’s grandfather, Edward Sinnett, could have been its very first inmate when it opened its doors for children in October 1865. He was a Ballarat boy sleeping rough on the streets among the growing band of ‘waifs and strays, street Arabs and youthful Bedouins’.[6] But just a few months before the doors of the Ballarat Orphan Asylum opened for the first time, he had already been sent to the Melbourne Industrial School. In 1865, the year the Ballarat Orphan Asylum opened, Edward was the 707th child rounded up by the police and incarcerated in makeshift accommodation in Melbourne.[7] Edward was aged 11 whereas three-quarters of these children were under the age of ten. I know my great grandfather was the 707th of the 868 children because they were given a registration number in order of admission—and the sequence continued up to 1962. In 1940, I became ward of the State of Victoria number 66852.[8]

Why was young Edward in trouble? The short story is: his stepfather was a violent brute. When Edward was seven years old, his stepfather was charged at the Police Court at Geelong with battering Edward black and blue. Edward’s mother hesitantly confessed to the court that her new husband was knocking her about too. Despite the evidence, the magistrate issued a simple caution, and Stokes strolled home a free man with his wife and stepson two paces behind. Six months later, Stokes placed an advertisement in the local newspaper offering a £1 reward for the return of his stepson.[9]

Immediately above this notice was another advertisement offering a reward of £10 for missing horses plus £5 for information leading to the conviction of the thief.

One Pound for Edward

Stepfather Stokes used Edward as an unpaid labourer, and thrashed him regularly. When the family shifted to Ballarat, he ran away and lived off his wits on the streets. It was only a matter of time before he was caught committing an ‘instance of juvenile depravity’–namely stealing a watch. [10] The sympathetic owner shed a tear of sympathy and withdrew the charge. The police returned Edward to his mother and stepfather with a stern warning to mend his ways.

A year later he was in court again. The local paper, the Ballarat Star, gave this report [11]:

Vagrancy aged 11

Strictly speaking, Edward was not charged with the crime of vagrancy, but with its juvenile equivalent—being a neglected child. Under the new Criminal & Neglected Children’s Act 1864, if the parents declared they were unable to control their child, and agreed to pay maintenance (in this case 3/6d a month), the child could be put away. The magistrates sentenced Edward to four years in the Melbourne Industrial School then situated near Princes Bridge on the Yarra River. He eventually served five years—the extra year was for, you guessed it—absconding.

Had its doors opened a few months sooner, the local Orphan Asylum may have been a much better option for Edward, but he would have been disqualified anyway because the Orphanage governors would only accept ‘the Orphans of honorable parents in contradistinction to those Institutions established for the reception of the criminal and abandoned’. Our Orphanage would be very vigilant about ‘legitimacy, morals [and] respectability’. [12]

I don’t have time today to deal with Edward’s terrible life spent in the several reformatories including two unseaworthy hulks, the Sir Harry Smith and the old battleship, the Nelson, moored off Williamstown, but I’m sure those lost years affected his view of the world and how he raised his children. I wonder if his life—and those of his children and grandchildren—would have been different had he become an inmate of the Ballarat Orphan Asylum?

The former battleship Nelson used as a boys' reformatory by the Victorian government unprepared for the number of 'wayward' boys.
The former battleship Nelson used as a boys’ reformatory by the Victorian government unprepared for the number of ‘wayward’ boys.


I would love to have time to tell you about Samuel alias Henry, Edward’s oldest son who followed his father into juvenile detention, but I’d rather talk about his brother, William Francis Salvador Sinnett, my mother’s father, because of the close connection to the Ballarat Orphanage.

Bill Sinnett was 20, and married just a few weeks, when he sailed to join the Great War in 1915. Like many young men, he paid an awful price; and so did his family. David Stephens is right to remind us that, ‘Ultimately, what is important is not what our fathers and grandfathers did in war but what war did to them and to us.[13]

Bill Sinnett in France 1918. He sailed to the war weeks after being married in 1915.
Bill Sinnett in France 1918. He sailed to the war weeks after being married in 1915.

Bill Sinnett was wounded twice and buried in the trenches only to be pulled out, dusted down and sent back into the fray. He came home to Ballarat with one leg shorter than the other and severe emotional damage. While he was away—for nearly four years—my mother, Frances, was born. That was expected, as his wife, Permella, was three months pregnant when he sailed to the front. However, to come home and find his wife with another 6-month old baby was a shock. Baby Jean was what that generation called ‘the living issue of unlegitimized sexual union’.[14]

Bill never recovered from the horror of war or from the personal betrayal at home. And his family was mortally wounded. He and Permella tried to make a go of it, but as the documents archived by the Supreme Court show, their relationship was punctuated by violence and alcoholism. To keep the peace, as the County Court archives show, Permella was persuaded to give up baby Jean to a family named Walls.

The next year Permella had another baby, Minnie, but Bill refused to believe that he was the father—because she was a girl! In desperation, Permella was again convinced to relinquish baby Minnie to another family, the Greens. Then came baby Joyce but things did not improve. Finally, when Bill refused to pay for Permella’s hospital bills for the birth of his baby son Frank or to have anything to do with him, Permella took out a court order for maintenance. He promptly cleared out, and the police could never find him.

After the mandatory three-year delay, Permella petitioned for divorce. Just before the case was due in court, Permella took a late-night journey to the countryside with friends. In the pitch black, their car plunged into a creek near Cressy and young Frank was thrown into the water. They searched frantically in the dark, but his little body wasn’t found until the next morning. The coroner’s inquest extended over two days, and as if that was not enough to contend with, her divorce case was heard in court in the middle of that process. In the turmoil, Bill’s mother, Alice Sinnett, took control of Joyce, now aged five. Unilaterally, she decided, to place Joyce in the Ballarat Orphanage.

Permella’s ex-mother-in-law may have been convinced that Permella was in no fit state to care for Joyce—or not a fit person. The Orphanage must have discussed the matter with the grandmother and her sponsor Mr Sprott of the Ballarat Town and City Mission, but the entry in the Orphanage Admission Book gives no reason for admission to the institution. That was unusual. Alice registered herself and Edward as Joyce’s grandparents and said they were her nearest living relatives. Alongside the mother’s name, was entered just ‘Permella’—no surname and no address.

Joyce's hurried admission to the Ballarat Orphanage omitted some vital details.
Joyce’s hurried admission to the Ballarat Orphanage omitted some vital details.

Joyce was now the third generation of her family to be a ‘client’ of the Welfare system; but she was the first of the family to enter the Ballarat Orphanage—and she would not be the last.

Capturefile: D:glass neg rawsbox 111rg002438.tif CaptureSN: CC001681.025907 Software: Capture One PRO for Windows

The following year 1927, Bill Sinnett’s sister, Lilly (my Great Aunt), died of pneumonia. Her husband, Stephen Coombes found it impossible as a widower to raise their six surviving children. He relied on the oldest child, Alma, who was then aged 16, to look after William (13) Nellie (10) Sydney (8) Alfred (5) and Victor (3) but it was all too much for her. By February 1928, Stephen felt he had no other option but to put the five youngest children into the Ballarat Orphanage.

Stephen Coombes had never known his niece, Joyce Sinnett. He had lost connection with that side of the family during the years of turmoil. The Coombes children did not know their cousin either. It is astonishing to contemplate Joyce Sinnett and the Coombes children sharing life in the Orphanage together with the other 200 children, but not knowing they were biological family.

It was even more astonishing to me to discover records about a ten-year-old girl, Marie or May Green (both names were used in the files), who joined Joyce Sinnett and her Coombes cousins in the Orphanage, nearly two years later. Marie or May was none other than Minnie Sinnett, Joyce’s older sister. Joyce and Minnie knew nothing of each other—Joyce had not been born when Minnie was handed over to the Greens as an infant. And neither Minnie nor Joyce knew the Coombes children. So now we have the two sisters and five cousins rubbing shoulders day by day in the Orphanage without knowing their kinship relationship.

Why did her foster parents, the Greens, place Minnie/Marie/May in the Orphanage? They told the Orphanage that they could not look after her because they were in bad health, but other evidence suggests they were victims of the so-called Great Depression. In 1933, after leaving Minnie in the Orphanage for four years, the Greens returned to rescue Minnie. She was nearly 13. Did she nurse suspicions—as others like her did—that she had been rescued because she would be able to go to work and help pay the rent? I imagine the Greens found Minnie a difficult teenager. In her eyes they had deprived her of family life, abandoned her to barrack-style institutional life where she was starved of love and affection.

When Minnie started work at the Sunnyside Woollen Mill in Ballarat, her oldest sister Frances, who would become my mother, worked there too and recognised her long-lost sister. She tapped Minnie on the shoulder and said,

‘You don’t know me, but I’m your sister. If you want to find out who your real mother is, here’s the address.’[15]


I will leave Minnie and her mother for a moment and go back to Joyce Sinnett. In Ethel Morris’s centenary history, she frequently gives us the names of adults connected to the Orphanage who died. There are 45 such individuals named. By contrast, in the 100 years she covers, she mentions only six children who died—and never gives us their names. That means she doesn’t mention Joyce Sinnett, my mother’s sister. Sadly, Joyce’s 12th birthday was her last. She died in August 1933. The death certificate said osteomyelitis, a bone infection. There was no inquest, but her death was probably caused by a serious injury that was neglected by the Orphanage staff.

The brief note in Joyce's file records her death. Where was the compassion?
The brief note in Joyce’s file records her death. Where was the compassion?

Not bothering to notify the family or to place a notice in the newspapers, the Orphanage buried her hastily. The undertaker, George Ludbrook, was the father of the Orphanage superintendent. The Orphanage knew from their admission records that Joyce’s mother was Permella. But the death certificate names her grandmother, Alice Sinnett, as her mother. A word of warning to family historians: never trust even official records. Check everything.

Joyce is one of 26 children in the Orphanage’s mass grave at the Ballarat New Cemetery. They were all anonymous until 2008 when CAFS refurbished the gravesite and erected a respectful plaque listing all their names and ages.[16] Thank you CAFS.




Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, Minnie Sinnett had found her way back to her mother. Permella had remarried (to John Marone, a former resident of the Orphanage as it happened) and had two new children. Permella had not anticipated how bitter the anger of an abandoned child could be. Her new husband was no help—his drunkenness and frequent arrests for disorderly conduct and vagrancy made matters worse. Making the most of new-found freedom, Minnie was slipping out to meet a boy from work and returning in the wee small hours through her bedroom window.

At her wit’s end, with her husband in gaol and no one else to turn to for advice, Permella asked the police to give Minnie a stern talking to. But once the police recognised the Sinnett family as ‘clients’, they took control and charged her at the Children’s Court in Ballarat with being a neglected child, as her grandfather had been in 1865—and as I would be, some years later.

Things did not go well for Minnie. The magistrate was told that her mother was ‘On Sustenance’ (the dole)—a failing in the genteel mind. By contrast, the police told the court that her stepfather was ‘of sober habits’. How could that be so? Remember, at that moment, Jack Marone was in gaol. The police alluded to Minnie’s record of having been an inmate of the Ballarat Orphanage for four years as if that should count against her. She was ‘said to be pregnant probably six weeks.’

Had a girl like Minnie come from a ‘better’ family, discreet arrangements might have been made for a quiet holiday out of town. In Minnie’s case, the magistrate declared her ‘a neglected child lapsing into immorality…’ and she was declared a ward of state—at nearly 17 years of age. She was sent to the Oakleigh Convent, or Girls’ Reformatory (now the site of the car park at the Chadstone shopping complex).

Soon after she was born, Minnie’s baby daughter was committed as a ward of state, too, charged with the now common family crime of ‘being without sufficient means of support’. She was then fostered out to an anonymous family. The original birth certificate was sealed and a new one issued. Minnie was never to know the identity of that family who raised her baby.

A few years ago, I thought I had found Minnie’s long-lost daughter when I made contact with a long-lost cousin, Lorraine. She told me she was the oldest of Minnie’s five children and they had looked after their wonderful mother until she died in 2007, just four days before her 87th birthday. Minnie had told her children almost nothing about her harsh early life, or her time in the Ballarat Orphanage, or her teenage pregnancy, and so on. They never suspected that their strict mother had been a ‘wayward’ adolescent.

Two years after Minnie died, Lorraine had a phone call that went along the following lines.

‘Hello. My name is M…I hope you don’t mind, but I got your name and address from your mother’s death certificate. Our mother’s death certificate, actually. I’m your mother’s oldest child.’

‘No, you can’t be; I’m the oldest child.’

‘No, our mother was forced to give me up when I was three weeks old. I’ve been searching for her for many years.’

There was no fairy-tale ending for Minnie and her baby girl, no meeting between mother and daughter who had lived separate lives for 70 years. I try to imagine what they would have said to each other if they had met.


It is only through the reconstruction of my family history over the years that I have come, too late, to appreciate the ordeals my own mother confronted as a child and how they influenced the way she constructed her view of the world. And how, in turn, that affected us her children.

  • She did not meet her soldier-father until she was three and a half. And he turned out to be post-war traumatised and irrational.
  • As a child she witnessed years of intense family turmoil.
  • She saw her mother forced to give up her three baby sisters, one after the other.
  • She saw her mother go off one night with her new baby brother only to return alone the next day.
  • She was bundled from school to school in Ballarat, one apprehensive step ahead of her angry, vengeful father.
  • Her mother married again, but the new stepfather was another alcoholic tragic.
  • Her sister Minnie was barely back in the fold when she became pregnant, and the welfare system raced her off along with the child she bore.

I wonder if I would have had a different relationship with my mother had I known that her childhood was one of unremitting, remorseless loss?

Then when it was my mother’s biological turn to be wife and mother, another war intervened, and she chose the men in her life as badly as her mother chose her men before her. Is it just weird coincidence that she married a former resident of the Ballarat Orphanage—as her mother had done before her? Is it just coincidence—like her mother before her—that she hitched up with an alcohol-fuelled man determined to use her children as pawns? Is it just coincidence—like her mother before her—that she was forced to relinquish her children to the welfare system?


Edward Sinnett could never have envisaged when he stole a watch in the 1860s and ran away from his stepfather that he would be the first in a long line of his family to become Welfare children. Today, I have presented a short version of a much longer narrative. By trawling a variety of archives and cross-examining living eye-witnesses I have found, over five generations, some thirty children in my family in what we now call ‘out-of-home-care’. Altogether, children of the Sinnett family have spent time in sixteen different facilities run by government, churches, or charities in Victoria.

We can learn a lot from stories like this. We can, if we choose, fixate on the personal failings of individuals or inadequate families. Members of the Sinnett family certainly had shortcomings. But that line of thought explains very little about the social conditions in which parents make heart-breaking decisions.

We need to know the story behind the story. Misery dogs the lives of those who, with little schooling, find themselves trapped in long-term unemployment, unstable accommodation, grinding poverty and enmeshed in warfare and domestic violence. These hardships place unbearable pressures on families. In the absence of support, many did not have the resilience in a crisis to survive and to nurture their families. And, sadly, agencies like CAFS are just as important today as places like the Ballarat Orphanage were for my family.

It’s great to learn that this new Legacy & Research Centre will put the histories of children and their families front-and-square in its work. In doing so, it will enable many more former residents to piece together the stories that help them make sense of their childhood and the circumstances that led to them growing up without their family and, as I have been able to do, to become re-connected to their wider family. I wish the Centre every success.



[1] Ethel Morris, (1965) A Century of Child Care: the Story of Ballarat Orphanage 1865-1965, Ballarat: Ballarat Orphanage Board of Management).

[2] Morris, 1965, p. 7.

[3] Lovell Chen, 2013

[4] David Rowe (2012) Heritage Assessment of the Former Ballarat Orphanage, Geelong, Authentic Heritage Services Pty Ltd (revised 2014).

[5] Lovell Chen, 2013: A30.

[6] Ballarat Star, 24/2/1864: 4.

[7] Report of the Inspector Industrial Schools, 1867: 3-5; and Argus 13/7/1867: 6.

[8] VPRS 4527.

[9] Geelong Advertiser, 3/3/1862.

[10] Star, 24/2/1864: 2.

[11] Star, 28/1/1865: 4; 31/1/1865: 4.

[12] Ballarat Orphan Asylum, Annual Report 1866: 12.

[13] David Stephens (2014).

[14] Kammerer, 1918.

[15] Personal Communication, Lorraine Read, May 2014.

[16] They were not the only ones; other children also died there (Argus, 1921, p. 8; Argus, 1941, p. 4).

Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse at the royal commission

This is the final draft of my paper for the Biennial European Social Science History Conference of the International Institute of Social History to be held in Valencia, Spain 30 March to 2 April 2016. Read more about the Conference here

Given that there are several papers being presented on related issues, I will revise my paper after the Conference in the light of feedback and discussion. 

As well, I would value any feedback from readers on this site.


Mismanaging Expectations: Sexual abuse as the dominant form of child abuse (DRAFT – a work in progress) © Frank Golding, March 2016


In late 2012 the Australian Prime Minister announced a royal commission into the institutional handling of child abuse and Care Leaver advocacy groups thought they had finally won what they richly deserved after years of lobbying. They expected that the commission would lead to a national independent redress scheme for abuse and neglect in institutional ‘care’. They were soon disillusioned. This was not the Royal commission they had expected. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with a focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing a wide range of institutions which had never before been the subject of official inquiries. This paper explores why the terms of reference were framed with that agenda and why this commission was established at this time when Australian governments had rejected previous calls for a commission. The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with some stakeholders advocating for sexual abuse only. More importantly, Care Leavers advocacy groups were outweighed by the stronger forces lobbying privately and in public for an inquiry into sexual abuse—particularly clergy sexual abuse—rather than all forms of child abuse. Widespread concern that the church had done itself immense reputational harm by ineptitude, cover-ups and denials of clergy sexual abuse led some to interpret the commission as an anti-Catholic campaign. But sober voices both within the church and elsewhere have argued that child sexual abuse could no longer be regarded as a sin to be handled internally within institutions but a crime for which the state and civil society must carry superordinate responsibility. The emergence of well-publicised inquiries contributed to a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene. In the process, the interests of Care Leavers became subordinate and ultimately this royal commission has let them down.


Expectations raised

Despite the political impediment that child welfare is a matter for the states and territories and any legally sanctioned inquiry under the Australian constitution and would require all jurisdictions simultaneously to enact enabling legislation, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on 12 November 2012 that her government would establish a national royal commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This was an extraordinary political achievement. It was also probably the most popular decision of Gillard’s term in office: the Sydney Morning Herald splashed a front page with a Fairfax/Neilson poll showing a record 95 percent support.[1]

Six days after her announcement, Julia Gillard wrote to the peak body Care Leavers Australia (now Australasia) Network (CLAN):

The Royal Commission would not be a reality with[out] the advocacy and dedication of organisations like the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) who have made sure that survivors’ stories have been heard...[2]

She and the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, also sent separate hand-written messages to CLAN. ‘The Royal Commission is a tribute to your efforts,’ wrote the PM.[3] Care Leavers saw it as their peak achievement after years of struggle during which CLAN had met Commonwealth and State Ministers, lobbied political parties, courted key advocates inside and out of politics, conducted monthly public protests and orchestrated a letter-writing campaign.[4] The initial reaction of Care Leavers to the announcement of the royal commission was rapturous. Messages of congratulations flooded in.[5]

In what has been variously described as the age of testimony, the age of regret and the age of apologies,[6] Care Leavers in Australia saw themselves as part of what Johanna Sköld and others have called the ‘global chain of inquiry’[7] across more than a dozen nations in the past fifteen to twenty years. Shurlee Swain’s analysis of 83 previous Australian inquiries into institutions providing out-of-home care for children held between 1852 and 2013, identified a distinct shift in emphasis from the 1990s—as in other nations—towards hearing evidence from victims or survivors. As Sköld correctly points out:

What is new about the inquiries from the 1990s onward is that the victims themselves have been given the opportunity to tell their stories; that the stories have gained the attention of the media; and that there have been expectations that these testimonies should influence the national historical narrative and national identity and that this, in continuation, would lead to a process of reconciliation and redress as well as actions to prevent future abuse.[8]

In Australia, a chain of national inquiries produced more than 1400 submissions, most of them survivor testimony. These included:

  • The separation of Indigenous children from their families (1999) which produced 535 submissions;[9]
  • Child Migrants (2001) 253 submissions;[10]
  • Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children (2004) 614 submissions.[11]

Fred Powell and Margaret Scanlon (2015) assert that the emergence of survivor groups has been perhaps ‘the most impressive development within Irish civil society in relation to children’s rights’.[12] Such a claim might equally be true of Australia. The voices of Australian Care Leaver survivors are now being heard with a compelling force not heard in previous eras.[13] Not only have survivors’ testimony created a new national narrative, or counter-history, but survivor advocates have been instrumental in bringing these inquiries into being. Senator Andrew Murray, a leading member of the two Senate inquiries—and now one of the current six royal commissioners—declared that the Senate Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry ‘would never have seen the light of day’ had it not been for the persistent lobbying of concerned activists.[14]

On the basis of the powerful testimony provided to the 2004 inquiry—‘a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault…neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare’[15]the Senate inquiry concluded that the evidence:

warrants a Royal Commission into the extent of physical and/or sexual assault within institutions and the degree to which criminal practices were concealed by the relevant State and/or Church authorities.[16]

However, the Australian Government under John Howard in 2005 rejected the proposal by quarantining moral leadership at state borders:

The offences…are offences under state/territory law. Any investigation of the nominated institutions is, therefore, a matter for state and territory governments.[17]

Care Leavers refused to give up. They lobbied the Senate Committee to review the progress on the Child Migrants and Forgotten Australians reports. Senator Murray raised a theme that would resonate into the future: it was not just a matter of bringing individual perpetrators to justice but investigating how institutions allowed rampant abuse to occur unchecked.

I remain a supporter of a royal commission…Amongst the tens of thousands of religious people who are in churches and agencies that deal with children in care, there is only a minority that are criminals, but the majority protected the minority.[18]

However, the Senate Committee decided not to re-endorse its earlier recommendation because it doubted a royal commission would succeed in exposing and prosecuting perpetrators. Moreover, the Committee sensed ‘that there may be unrealistic expectations held by many as to the outcome of a Royal commission’.[19]

‘Unrealistic expectations’. Prophetic perhaps. Five months after the release of that Senate report, the Australian Government (under Kevin Rudd) issued a national apology; and, three years on, Julia Gillard coupled the royal commission genealogically with the national apology. She told CLAN:

It is fitting that I announced this Royal commission in the same week as we remember the third anniversary of the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants on 16 November 2012.[20]

The language of that apology had been carefully crafted after consultation with Care Leaver advocacy groups. An audience of 800 Care Leavers and former Child Migrants in the Great Hall of Parliament House, with countless thousands watching live telecasts around the nation, heard Prime Minister Rudd say:

Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care…We look back with shame that many of these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually.[21]

Malcolm Turnbull, then Leader of the Opposition (now Prime Minister) wholeheartedly supported the Prime Minister.[22] The apology agenda was the broad spectrum of abuse and neglect with no pre-eminence given to sexual abuse.

Three years later, when Care leavers heard a new Prime Minister say that the royal commission’s ‘main focus will be to investigate systemic failures within church and state-run institutions in preventing and dealing with child abuse’[23] they could be forgiven for thinking that this would be a more rigorous re-run of ‘their’ Senate inquiries. This Prime Minister was telling Care Leavers, ‘We want your voices to be heard.’

Even if you felt for all of your life that no one’s listened to you, that no one has taken you seriously, that no one has really cared, the Royal commission is an opportunity for your voice to be heard. [24]


Expectations dashed: sexual abuse only

When she confirmed the Terms of Reference, on 11 January 2013, Gillard announced: ‘[T]he Royal commission… will not deal with abuse of children which is not associated with child sexual abuse. [25] The Prime Minister went on:

Of course physical mistreatment, neglect, are very evil things. Anything that stops a child having a safe and happy childhood is an evil thing.

But we’ve needed to make some decisions about what makes this a process that can be manageable and can be worked through in a timeframe that gives the recommendations real meaning.[26]

Gillard knew that the only survivor voices this royal commission would hear were those of the survivors of sexual abuse. Other survivors would be silenced, again, and many would nurse, again, the feeling their own stories of horrific abuse are considered not worthy of public testimony, their abuse somehow inferior.

Care Leavers were most particularly distressed by the commission’s final recommendations in regard to monetary redress—‘the most controversial element of the inquiry process’—which were tabled mid-way through the commission’s time-table.[27] At the public hearings and in submissions, CLAN and others made repeated but futile attempts to have the commission consider the broad range of crimes against children and repeatedly urged it to extend its recommendations on redress.[28] The New South Wales Bar Association agreed: ‘It would be arbitrary and, in our view, irrational to exclude physical abuse’.[29] CLAN was blunt: ‘We want Redress for all Care Leavers who suffered abuse while in the child welfare system. For Care Leavers this is not just about sexual abuse.’[30] CLAN sought to influence matters by taking a case to the UN in Geneva in 2014.[31]

The royal commission rejected these pleas. It would consider other forms of abuse or maltreatment, such as physical assault, exploitation, deprivation or neglect only when they were also associated with incidents of sexual abuse.[32] The commission acknowledged that its final recommended model for redress was narrower than other forms of redress that have existed in Australia because ‘most previous and current redress schemes cover at least sexual and physical abuse. Some also cover emotional abuse or neglect’.[33]

In effect, the vast majority of Care leavers who experienced physical assault, exploitation, emotional abuse, deprivation, or neglect are now excluded under the royal commission’s proposal. The commission was well aware of the impact on Care Leavers of their advice.

We appreciate that this approach will disappoint a number of those who have participated in our consultation processes to date, some survivor advocacy and support groups and some of the broader groups of those who experienced institutional care.[34]

Jesuit academic lawyer Father Frank Brennan believes that the royal commission had been too focused on financial compensation and in doing so, ‘it has set up unreal expectations for victims and their supporters…’[35] In March 2015, the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced that he did not support a national redress scheme, but on the very day of the release of the commission’s report (25/9/2015), Abbott lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull, a Patron of CLAN. (Not that these events are in any way connected!) At the time of writing this paper, the Labor Party and the Greens had endorsed a national scheme in principle, as have the Catholic church and some other churches, but the Turnbull government’s long awaited decision, announced on 29/1/2016, is timid: a national scheme would be a good thing, it declared, but we won’t initiate one.[36]


Expectations dashed: ‘this is not our royal commission

There was a second shock in store for Care Leavers. The earlier Australian inquiries had focused on abuse and neglect in closed institutions – orphanages, children’s Homes, foster ‘care’ and residential ‘care’ where children were managed full-time without their families. However, the Letters Patent of this royal commission defined an institution in a completely different way:

…any public or private body, agency, association, club, institution, organisation or other entity or group of entities of any kind (whether incorporated or unincorporated)…that provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families; [but]…does not include the family.[37]

Day schools and boarding schools would be included; so too would sporting clubs, scouts, children’s services, churches, youth groups, as well as orphanages, foster care and residential care.[38] This made the case for a national redress scheme more complicated; and Care Leavers who were sexually abused in closed institutions would have to join the long queues of those who were sexually abused by the Scouts, the YMCA, sporting clubs, in private schools and by priests in the confessional or in the choir stalls.

I can find little significant lobbying for a royal commission from open institutions apart from the religion and education sectors. Taking a post-factor view, the royal commission’s first two case studies in public hearings focused on the Scouts and the YMCA and after 38 such case studies were completed or announced by March 2016 fewer than a third related to closed institutions. There is also a mismatch between the commission’s case studies and the proportions of survivors who have come forward to tell their personal stories in private sessions. Of nearly 5000 survivors in private sessions, 46 percent were abused in closed institutions. Schools (27%) and places of worship and church facilities (15%) made up the next two categories of abusive institutions. Survivors coming forward from other institutions such as recreation, sports and clubs are a minority group.[39]

After viewing the publicity attending the airing of scandals in wealthy private schools Care Leavers have expressed a sense of disillusionment. ‘This is not our royal commission,’ some said.[40]


‘The core transgression of childhood innocence’?

Shurlee Swain reports that before 1990 it was rare for sexual abuse to be directly addressed in inquiry reports but in more recent times the weight of survivor testimony about sexual abuse led to the issue being singled out in most of the final reports.[41] Yet, while sexual abuse was now being freely mentioned in these more recent reports, the majority of Care Leaver testimony was not about sexual abuse. For example, in their submissions to the Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry, Care leavers itemised 889 incidents of abuse. Of these, only 21 percent were about sexual abuse. The other 703 were:

  • Physical abuse 36 percent,
  • Emotional abuse 33 percent,
  • Child labour exploitation 6.7 percent, and
  • Neglect 3.3 percent.[42] [43]

Scant attention has been given to testimony received by the Senate inquiry from some Care Leavers that ‘sexual abuse was the least of our worries’. One put it this way:

In a place so full of brutality, sexual abuse did not rank as highly as other forms of abuse—such as mental and emotional torture…and the strings of punishment that never seemed to end.[44]

Among these other forms of abuse were medical experimentation and neglect of health, neglect, child labour, and placing children in adult mental health facilities. Contemporary child protection statistics also shows that a focus on sexual abuse alone distorts the problem of child abuse. In Victoria in 2012-13, 10,048 children were the subject of substantiated investigations of whom

  • 5,537 (55 percent) were substantiated cases of emotional abuse
  • 2,709 (27 percent) of physical abuse,
  • 1,319 (13 percent) of sexual abuse, and
  • 483 (5 percent) of neglect.[45]

Powell and Scanlon remind us that the Ryan inquiry in Ireland examined 2,694 reports of abuse, of which only 381 (or 7 percent) were about sexual abuse. But, as in Australia, it was sexual abuse which dominated the media.[46] Why then did sexual abuse become to be perceived as the ‘core transgression of innocent childhood’?[47]

Survivor advocacy organisations in Australia do not speak to government with one voice. The Senate Committee of 2004 cited three survivor support and advocacy groups that pushed hard for a Royal commission: CLAN, Broken Rites and Bravehearts.[48] The current royal commission named these three groups and four others which had lobbied for a commission.[49] Of these seven groups, five[50] focus on all forms of abuse and neglect in closed institutions while two[51] focus primarily on sexual abuse in open institutions. Bravehearts, for example, asserts that the offences of child sexual assault are different in nature from offences of child abuse and neglect and bundling child sexual assault in the suite of matters referred to collectively as child abuse and neglect was harming efforts to prevent child sexual assault.[52]

I am not arguing that the royal commission’s terms of reference were determined by any superior case put by the sexual-abuse-only advocacy lobby, but it may have been one factor. As Julia Gillard told the media, ‘There’s been debate between some of the groups that represent survivors about how broad this Royal commission should go.’[53]

It could be asserted that media managers and consumers will always preference an interest in sexual abuse of children over other stories of child abuse.[54] It’s emotionally magnetic.[55] What other crime against children could generate such an extensive international sexual abuse literature including more than 50 feature films or documentaries in the past fifteen years (the latest being this year’s Oscar winner, Spotlight)?[56] You know it commands public attention when the royal commission deemed worth of screening live on a giant screen in Melbourne’s Federation Square that is usually devoted to live sports and music.

There can be no doubt that clergy sexual abuse and what the church does—or does not do—about it exercises the minds of people in high places more than any other form of child abuse. It is, to use Ronald Niezen’s term, ‘the worst-of-all-possible-scandals’[57]

It may be not so much a question of why stories become media fodder so much as the practical impact of media exposure—what sticks in the mind after the stories are told. Key people acknowledge that media stories and their ‘take-away’ messages influence their judgment as to what must be done—or not done. For example, Julia Gillard responded to a question about what tipped the scales in her seemingly sudden decision to establish the Royal commission.

The impact for me, clearly, over the past few weeks we’ve seen revelations in the newspapers and more broadly which really go to the question of cover-up, of other adults not doing what they should have done…[58]

Commentators make a similar point: it was not so much the media stories about sexual abuse itself but the scandals about cover-ups and protection of abusive clergy. Ray Cassin argues that the chief impetus for the Royal commission was the disclosure of the appalling record of concealment of abuse in Catholic institutions, and the protection of perpetrators by church leaders:

If that record did not exist, the royal commission would not exist. And Catholics — especially bishops and major superiors — cannot evade this fact by complaining, as they sometimes do, about malicious reporting by hostile secular media. If the abuses had not occurred, the reports could not have been written.[59]

When Cardinal Pell told the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry that his church had covered up abuse for fear of scandal and that his predecessor Archbishop Little had destroyed records and moved criminal priests from parish to parish to cover up their crimes, he should not have been surprised that the media had a bonanza. The stories the media missed earlier became the story.[60]

In 2013 Cardinal Pell told the Victorian inquiry that there was a major problem with paedophilia within the ranks of the church in the late 1980s, but ‘I do not think anybody then had a recognition of the full extent that would emerge, but it was in the press.’[61] Patrick Parkinson argues that the claim that Catholic church leaders were on a steep learning curve in the 1980s and 1990s is a ‘convenient fiction’.[62] Catholic church leaders were well aware of the problem because they dealt with 142 claims of child sexual abuse in the 1970s, all handled in-house.[63] The problem they sought to manage was not the crimes but the minimisation of scandal. Church leaders are aware of the power of mass media. Pell complained to the Victorian inquiry about ‘25 years of intermittent hostility from the press…’; although he had the wit to claim a positive side to media hostility. It had, he said, ‘a beneficial effect of encouraging us to deal with it’.[64]

It has to be said the church did not ‘deal with it’ very well. A spate of high-profile cases, all of them involving child sexual abuse, were so bungled by church leaders that media attention was prolonged with increasingly aggressive headlines like ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’.[65] Some of these notorious cases—John Ellis, the Fosters, David Ridsdale and St Alipius—have subsequently been examined in detail by the royal commission, with the media given another opportunity to excoriate the church again.[66]

George Pell’s own conduct in some of these matters—characterised as ‘hostile to victims and protective of the church’[67]—has become a matter for public controversy. However, the personalisation of the discussion can distract us from significant issues related to the relationship between church and state in Australia.


State intervention in ‘the ultimate collective shame’

A Catholic spokesman expects that by early 2017 the commission will have held 50 public hearings and that around a third of them will have focused on Catholic schools, dioceses, parishes, homes and other organisations.[68] By contrast, as I write, fewer than a third of the public hearings have focused on closed institutions to date.

The then Leader of the Opposition and close personal friend of Cardinal Pell, Tony Abbott, had made it clear that bi-partisan support for a royal commission would only be given if it did not focus on just the Catholic church.[69] ‘This is not a Royal commission targeted at any one church,’ Gillard asserted.[70] But not everyone believed her, or agreed with her. Some make much of Gillard speaking to Pell—and no other church leader—before she announced the Commission. ‘Given the nature of some of the material in the public domain,’ she explained, ‘I thought it was appropriate to speak to Cardinal Pell.’[71] To which Father Frank Brennan replied: ‘Given that Cardinal Pell was the only church leader to whom she spoke, there can be no doubt but that one particular church is in the sights of the Royal commission.’[72] Some made no bones about their target. Labor Senator Doug Cameron wanted the Catholic Church to be the only target of any inquiry because ‘that’s where the major problem seems to be’. Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, said a royal commission would be in the interests of ‘the victims, their families and the Catholic Church’.[73]

There is a plausible case to argue that given widespread knowledge that child sexual abuse was far more common in the Catholic church than any other institution,[74] Gillard bent over backwards not to appear to be witch-hunting the Catholics, and that explains why the terms of reference of the commission defined institutions so broadly. Moreover, those who claim a plot against the Catholic church should be reminded of an earlier campaign to establish a royal commission which gained momentum from late 2001 through a prolonged scandal involving the Governor-General of Australia. Peter Hollingworth was a former Australian of the Year and an official Australian Living Legend. More to the point, he was the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane—and his appointment as Governor-General caused some old tensions to resurface around the relationship between church and state in Australia. The bitter public debate about his handling of clergy sexual abuse held the media in thrall.

At the time, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, and other notables, called for a royal commission into child sexual assault: ‘It has to be done nationally – you can’t do it at a state level because pedophilia and abuse don’t stop at the border’.[75] Some church leaders and other State political leaders and parties at the national level chimed in, including the ALP and the Democrats.[76] Ultimately in May 2003, Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General and calls for a royal commission subsided, but the issues arising from the controversy continued to resonate. Andrew Bartlett, Leader of the Australian Democrats voiced this concern: ‘If the organisation responsible for caring for children does not get their act together in this most important of duties, they should not get public funding’.[77]

Jeff Kennett, the Victorian Premier in the mid-1990s has confirmed that he warned Cardinal Pell to resolve allegations of child sexual abuse or possibly face a royal commission.[78] Pell confirms: ‘I was…summoned by the Premier at the time who made it clear that if we did not clean the church up, then he would, and so we made a determined effort to do so’.[79] It is now clear that this church and others like the Salvation Army did not ‘clean themselves up’. [80]

David Marr argues that the Irish scandals ‘left church and state reeling’ in Australia.[81] The political protection offered to the churches began to falter. ‘A few cracks appear, a floor sags, and then one day the whole house collapses.’[82] The metaphor is seductive, but it is too simplistic: it overlooks similar scandals in other countries—‘the global chain’—not to mention politically discomfiting disclosures at home. The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report (the Cummings Report, 2012), a somewhat neglected link in the local chain of inquiries, argued persuasively that the state should no longer tolerate the church handling sexual abuse of children in-house as if it were a mere sin.

A private system of investigation and compensation, no matter how faithfully conducted, by definition cannot fulfil the responsibility of the State to investigate and prosecute crime. Crime is a public, not a private, matter.[83]

A few months later, in April 2012, the Victorian Government asked a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the internal processes by which religious and other non-government organisations handle criminal abuse of children.[84] Although that inquiry examined all forms of abuse of children by clergy and other non-government ‘care’ agencies, much of the media again spotlighted sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In particular, there was damaging evidence offered by Victoria Police about the church’s processes which amounted to a substitute for criminal justice and was an impediment in prosecuting suspected sexual criminals.[85]

In the midst of these revelations from the Victorian inquiry, in November 2012, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox of the NSW Police, went to the media with the claim that he had been stood down from his investigation of clergy child abuse in the Hunter region of NSW and that, with the connivance of police, ‘the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church’.[86] The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, immediately announced a Special Commission of Inquiry into these allegations.[87]

The two largest states of Australia were now running ahead of the national government and within two days of O’Farrell’s announcement the national government decided it was time to assert moral authority and reassert its public duty to treat the sexual abuse of children—and its cover-up—as a crime. We could interpret this state intervention in the churches’ handling of child sexual abuse as an attempt to assuage ‘the ultimate collective shame’.[88] Alternatively, we could argue that, by now, opinion leaders—including people within the churches—were beginning to see that the state could no longer absolve itself from responsibility because it can never be state policy to allow anyone, however exalted, to sexually abuse children and not be brought to justice. The shame, ultimately, was vulnerable children had been criminally abused and society had let it happen—or worse, had abetted criminals. Father Frank Brennan, who previously opposed the establishment of a royal commission, expressed a widespread view that the state and civil society had to intervene in his church. To fail to do so would be ‘a wrongful invocation of freedom of religion in a pluralist, democratic society.[89]

In that he added his voice to those of academics, journalists, lawyers, and politicians in spruiking the case for an inquiry into sexual abuse, clergy abuse in particular, and in many instances these lobbyists had little interest in other forms of child abuse.[90] The advent of the royal commission signalled ultimately the end of unquestioning state support for the churches.



Care Leaver advocacy groups struggled for years and thought they had finally won the royal commission they deserved. However, their expectations were not met. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with the focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing both open and closed institutions. The royal commission has left many Care Leavers feeling disillusioned. Many who had learned as children never to trust authority were re-traumatised by being sidelined and excluded by a government they thought would ‘do the right thing’ by them especially in regard to redress.

This paper raised some critical questions: Why the exclusive focus on sexual abuse when other forms of abuse are more often reported? Why, when previous inquiries examined child abuse in closed institutions, this royal commission was extended to cover open institutions as well? Why now, at this time, when Australian governments were not so long ago opposed to a royal commission into child abuse?

The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with influential stakeholders staunchly advocating for sexual abuse only. But ultimately, the voices of Care Leavers were overpowered by stronger voices both in the media and by other private and public lobbying for an inquiry into sexual abuse and particularly clergy sexual abuse. In places, this debate has been interpreted as an anti-Catholic campaign but commentators both within the church and elsewhere have argued the political and civic necessity of state intervention in the processes used for the handling of child sexual abuse by clergy. The confluence of events over more than a decade built up a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene.

If CLAN’s political patron, Senator Claire Moore, is right in concluding that ‘the creation of a royal commission into sexual abuse is not the full extent of the support that people who went through institutional care need to have,’[91] then the question remains: what kind of support will bring them justice?



[1] Sydney Morning Herald 19/11/2012: 1. ‘Almost every Australian voter backs Julia Gillard’s decision to establish a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children…:’ http://www.thepaperboy.com/australia/sydney-morning-herald/front-pages-today.cfm?frontpage=22743#sthash.1FuASk9Z.dpuf (retrieved 22/12/2012).

[2] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[3] The messages are reproduced in the CLAN newsletter, The Clanicle, No 76, January 2013: 3.

[4] See www.clan.org.au: and The Clanicle, CLAN’s bi-monthly newsletter.

[5] In the first flush of the news, The Clanicle, No. 75, December 2012, devoted nine pages to messages of congratulations.

[6] Shurlee Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries Reviewing Institutions Providing Care for Children, prepared for the Royal Commission, October 2014. See also Olickj, (2007) The Politics of Regret (New York: Routledge); and Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse—A Contemporary Issue: Compiling Inquiries into Abuse and Neglect of Children in Out-of-Home Care Worldwide, 2013, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention. Linköping University Post Print online at informaworldTM: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14043858.2013.771907 (accessed 21/1/2014).

[7] Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 17.

[8] Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse.

[9] Human Rights Commission (1997) Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families; Senate of Australia.

[10] Senate of Australia (2001) Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on child migration.

[11] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. See also Senate of Australia (2009) Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited: Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports.

[12] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: Media, power, child abuse and public scandals, Policy Press, University of Bristol: 193.

[13] See Jacqueline Z Wilson & Frank Golding (2015) ‘Contested Memories: Caring about the past – or past caring?’, in Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 27-41.

[14] Senator Andrew Murray, Opening the CLAN Office in Bankstown, Sydney, 6/3/2004: a prominent member of the Senate Committee and currently a Commissioner for the Royal commission.

[15] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): xv.

[16] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): 243.

[17] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 65. The Government’s response had been issued on 10/11/2005.

[18] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 66.

[19] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 225.

[20] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[21] The Hon. Kevin Rudd, MP http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/national_apology/index (retrieved 22/1/2014).

[22] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull – as above.

[23] Simon Cullen, ‘Supreme Court judge to head abuse royal commission’, ABC News, 11/1/2013 at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-11/gillard-announces-terms-of-reference-for-abuse-royal-commission/4461104 (retrieved 12/1/2013).

[24] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[25] Prime Minister’s Media Release, ‘Government formally establishes Royal Commission’, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F2164343%22 (retrieved 11/1/2013).

[26] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[27] Joanna Sköld (2015) ‘Apology politics: transnational features’ in Joanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (2015) Apologies and the Legacy: 24.

[28] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra: 99.

[29] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 102.

[30] CLAN Oral Submission to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse 27/3/2015.

[31] http://www.clan.org.au/reference/united-nations (retrieved 1/2/2015).

[32] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5-6.

[33] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5.

[34] Royal Commission, Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra, 2015: 102.

[35] Frank Brennan (2014) The contours of an extended child abuse royal commission Eureka Street, Vol. 24. No. 12 2/7/2014 http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=41650#.Vr6rC8cQhwd (retrieved 5/7/2014).

[36] Senator The Hon George Brandis QC Attorney-General & The Hon Christian Porter, Minister For Social Services, Joint Press Release, ‘Developing a National Approach to Redress for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse’ 29/1/2016.

[37] Royal Commission, Letters Patent.

[38] Compare the Ryan Commission in Ireland where an institution ‘includes a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital, a children’s home and any other place where children are cared for other than as members of their families’.

[39] Royal Commission (2015) Redress & Civil Litigation, Table 11: 121-22. While the published data is up to March 2015, I am informed by royal commission officers that the trends in the data since that time have not changed (Personal communication, Sally Grimley-Ballard 22/2/2016).

[40] Personal communications at various CLAN meetings and social media.

[41] Swain (2014) History of Australian Inquiries: 4.

[42] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: 410).

[43] In the chapter dealing with child maltreatment in Forgotten Australians (2004) just 7 of 110 paragraphs were devoted to sexual assault; while in the Child Migrants Report (2001), of the relevant 136 paragraphs, only 21 dealt with sexual abuse.

[44] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians submission 141. See also submission 311.

[45] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia: 2012–13, Child Welfare series no.58. Cat. no.CWS 49. Canberra: AIHW, 2014, p. 73-4.

[46] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: 191.

[47] Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries: 11.

[48] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians: 241.

[49] Royal commission (2014), Interim Report Vol. 1: 27.

[50] Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), Child Migrants Trust, Historic Abuse Network, and International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families.

[51] Bravehearts and Broken Rites.

[52] Bravehearts (2012) submission on the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission: 7-8.

[53] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[54] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. I am grateful to Stephen Winter for drawing attention to Niezen’s work.

[55] For example: A. Foster, Reframing public discourse on child abuse in Australia. Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter v. 13 no. 1 Summer 2005 14-16; Chris Goddard and Bernadette J. Saunders (2001) Child abuse and the media, NCPC Issues No. 14, June. (https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-media accessed 21/1/2015); J. Kitzinger (2004) Framing abuse : media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children, London : Pluto; Lonne B and Gillespie K (2014) How do Australian print media representations of child abuse and neglect inform the public and system reform? Child Abuse and Neglect Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 837-850; Lonne B and Parton N (2014) Portrayals of child abuse scandals in the media in Australia and England : impacts on practice, policy, and systems. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 822-836.

[56] Roel Verschueren (2013) International sexual abuse literature list http://www.verschueren.at/literatuurlijst_seksueel_misbruik_4.htmlOthers (Retrieved 7/12/2014).

[57] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: 32.

[58] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[59] Ray Cassin, The unknown unknowns of the sexual abuse royal commission, Eureka Street, 13/1/ 2013.

[60] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 12ff.

[61] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[62] Patrick Parkinson (2014) Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches: A Story of Moral Failure? The Smith Lecture, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 26 No. 1, July.

[63] Royal Commission (2015) Case Study 35 Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, November 2015

Opening Address, 24/11/2015: 4.

[64] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[65] Alan Howe, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[66] ‪Case Study No. 8, Sydney, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/a0204352-4103-452c-b2cb-7cc69476d122/Report-of-Case-Study-no-8 (Retrieved 2/3/2015).

Case Study No. 16, August 2014. http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/791fd480-ba30-45bc-ba79-cbad85f27023/case-study-16,-august-2014,-melbourne (Retrieved 11/11/2014).

Case Study No. 28, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/860eabc6-e0fc-453a-b9d4-51a89852fede/case-study-28,-may-and-november-2015 (retrieved 29/12/2015).

Chrissie Foster with Paul Kennedy, Hell on the Way to Heaven: An Australian Mother’s Love – The Power of the Catholic Church, and a Fight for Justice over Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney, Random House, 2010.

Conor Duffy and Paul Kennedy, ‘Bishop undermines Foster’s call for justice’, Lateline ABC TV 16/7/2008http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2305932.htm (Retrieved 2/12/2015).

Alan Howe, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[67] Marr (2013: 68).

[68] Francis Sullivan, CEO Truth Justice and Healing Council, The Royal Commission and the unique challenges for the Catholic Church, Blackfriars Lecture Series, Australian Catholic University, 20/10/2015.

[69] The Australian 19/11/2012.

[70] Transcript of interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio, 3/4/2013

[71] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[72] Frank Brennan, Church-state issues and the Royal commission, Eureka Street, 24/10/2013. http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=38423#.Vr67CccQhwc (accessed 25/10/2013).

[73] Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal commission’, Eureka Street, 03 September 2013.

[74] See e.g. Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee (2013) Betrayal of Trust: Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, Vol. 1: 155-156.

[75] Brisbane Courier Mail, 1/5/2003.

[76] ‘Labour believes it is now in the best interests of the welfare of Australia’s children that the Prime Minister hold a Royal Commission into child abuse’, joint statement by Federal Opposition Minister Simon Crean and Shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, (13 May 2003).

[77] ‘Democrats Renew Call For Royal Commission On Child Abuse’, Australian Politics.com 23 May 2003 at http://australianpolitics.com/news/2003/05/03-05-23b.shtml (accessed 21/11/2015).

[78] Josh Gordon & Catherine Armitage ‘Jeff Kennett warned Pell to deal with abuse’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28/3/2014.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/jeff-kennett-warned-pell-to-deal-with-abuse-20140327-35lrw.html#ixzz3yPF1QQer (accessed 28/3/2014).

[79] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Transcript, 27/5/2013.

[80] See for example, ABC Television Four Corners, The Homies, 18/8/2003 at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2003/transcripts/s926706.htm (Retrieved 21/12/2014). Bad blood existed between the Army and Care Leavers who went public: a letter to the author from John Dalziel, Manager Public Relations Salvation Army 22/4/2004: ‘Obviously we are not welcome by CLAN, we do not respect them and their attitude to us is one of hatred.’ See also Royal Commission (2015) Report of Case Study No. 5: 66ff.

[81] Noel Howard, The Ryan Report (2009): A practitioner’s perspective on implications for residential child care, Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, Vol. 12(1), 2012: 38. The Ryan Report Ryan, S. (2009). Commission to inquire into child abuse report (Volumes I – V). Dublin: Stationery Office.

[82] David Marr, The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell, Quarterly Essay, No. 51, 2013: 2.

[83] Philip Cummins (Chair), Dorothy Scott & Bill Scales, Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, Department of Premier & Cabinet, Melbourne, January 2012, Cummings Vol. 2: 356.

[84] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non Government Organisations, November 2013. The Terms of Reference were published in the Victorian Government Gazette, 17/4/2012. http://www.gazette.vic.gov.au/gazette/Gazettes2012/GG2012S125.pdf (accessed 31/12/2013).

[85] Letter of Chief Commissioner Lay to the Victorian Parliamentary Committee, 2/9/2012. http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Victoria_Police.pdf (accessed 6/12/2013).

[86] Malcolm Farr & Tory Shepherd, ‘Tony Abbott supports royal commission into child sex abuse’, The Australian, 12/11/2012. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/child-abuse-inquiry-needed-sooner-rather-than-later/story-e6frg6n6-1226515004476 (retrieved 13/11/2012).

[87] Special Commission of Inquiry concerning the investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Hunter region. On 30 May 2014, the Commissioner delivered a four-volume report. The fourth volume of the report remain confidential at this time.

[88] A term used by Niezen, R. (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 32.

[89] Father Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal Commission’, Eureka Street, 3/9/2013.

[90] Royal Commission Interim Report, Vol. 1: 27. The tone of the media in 2012 can be assessed through these examples: Barney Zwartz, ‘Victims of clergy push for inquiry’, The Age, 9/2/2012; Hamish Fitzsimmons, (2 March 2012), ‘Church abuse victims demand Royal commission’, Lateline, ABC News, 2/3/2012 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-01/catholic-church-rape-victims-demand-royal-commission/3863566 (Retrieved 13/3/2012); Judy Courtin, ‘The Truth deserves a commission’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/4/2012; Michael Short, ‘Hell on Earth’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25/6/2012; ‘Newcastle Catholic Bishop supports abuse inquiry’, ABC News. 26/7/2012. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-26/newcastle-catholic-bishop-supports-abuse-inquiry/4157078 Retrieved 28 July 2012.

[91] Senator Claire Moore, ALP Queensland, Senate Adjournment Debate, 8/7/2014.

Pell Faithful Rush to the Barricades Too Late

Jingle bells, Cardinal Pell.

An orchestrated campaign has been mounted in belated defence of Cardinal George Pell who told the Child Abuse Royal Commission at the last minute that he was too ill to fly to Australia to give vital evidence (here).  

There was wide-spread skepticism since it was widely known that he had flown to Australia earlier in the year. 

The signs of a pro-Pell campaign were there when Pell’s ideological mate, Gerard Henderson, ran a puerile – and manifestly ill-informed – essay in Murdoch’s The Australian pleading that ‘George Pell Should be Given a Fair Go at the Royal Commission’ (5/12/15).

A couple of days later it became clear that Pell had instructed his legal team to go in hard on witnesses in breach of the Catholic Church’s policy in Australia not to cross-examine victims or survivors. Pell instructed his barrister to put the acid on the credibility of key witnesses providing testimony harmful to Pell, especially David Ridsdale. The witnesses bravely withstood that attack. (Transcripts of cross-examination can be found here and media report here

Not by coincidence, The Australian then ran a snide attack on David Ridsdale which was clearly designed to damage his credibility. (John Ferguson, ‘Pell accuser indecently assaulted boy in bushland outside Ballarat’, The Australian, 21/12/2015.) Ferguson must have been delivering Christmas cheer to the dioceses when he learned that:

Senior church figures are privately furious that David Ridsdale’s past, which is widely gossiped about in Ballarat, has been ignored in reports of the commission’s hearings.

The Murdoch press will surprise us all if they have the integrity to publish a supplementary article describing the fury of ‘senior church figures’ about the failure of Father John Thomas Walsh, to reveal when he was giving evidence to the Royal Commission, that years ago he sexually abused a young seminarian, John Roach. That news was broken by the ABC weeks after Father Walsh gave evidence in support of George Pell, a former housemate. (More)

Father Walsh was one among many ‘senior church figures’—an archbishop, several bishops, vicars general, priests and various members of curia and personnel advisory committees—who performed very poorly before the Royal Commission this month in its examination of the handling of child sexual abuse in Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat.

Anyone sitting in the public gallery of the Commission during those hearings would have been appalled at the testimony of this parade of Catholic leaders and the way it was dragged out of them .

Bit-by-painful bit they confessed that

  • there were cover-ups and priests were quietly moved from parish to parish because they were raping children and the church was protecting them;
  • crimes were not referred to the police;
  • the Vatican had issued orders to keep all sex abuse matters hush hush
  • the abused children, who should have been the focus of their response, were not believed and then neglected;
  • they were remorseful and ashamed to learn of all the evil crimes against vulnerable children.

As Dr Judy Courtin pointed out, however, at the end of all that damaging evidence, none of these senior Catholic officials would accept personal responsibility. The script was obviously rehearsed. ‘George Pell: the Catholic Church’s performance at the royal commission is farcical’ (The Age 15/12/15 here

To a man, to apply that term loosely, they were keen to place the blame on the dead – Archbishop Frank Little or his predecessors or Vicar General
 Gerald Cudmore – or those who are too ill (or said to be too ill) to give evidence, such as former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns. But not Cardinal George Pell. He was shielded, sometimes quite unconvincingly – and possibly to his detriment ultimately.

The script continued. In Courtin’s words:

Apparently, these once revered and powerful pillars of the Church were so dictated by secrecy and confidentiality, that, for decades, they spoke not a word about their fellow clergy colleagues – the serious sex offenders.

These powerful clergy who advised Little and Mulkearns claimed they knew nothing of the sex crimes. Or if they did know what Little and Mulkearns clearly knew, they had no power to do anything about it. Meekly, they confessed, they were intimidated, fearful or felt they had a higher duty to the Church. Thus are men of power in the church reduced to moral impotence.

In this context, another Pell mate, ex-Senator and ex-Ambassador to Italy Amanda Vanstone leapt up to the barricades. In her bold as brass piece, ‘In Defence of George Pell’,  (Fairfax press 21/12/2015) she asserted that “The cardinal has become a lightning rod for hatred.” She told stunned readers that the campaign against her friend was just a matter of animal pack-hunting instinct. His many detractors were “braying for blood”. Read more if you have the stomach for it.)

The public response to Vanstone’s misdirected assertions showed that such deflections won’t work. This letter to The Age from Leonie Sheedy of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) was one among many who put her right:

… Care leavers are not looking for the blood of Cardinal Pell, as Amanda Vanstone has stated… Care leavers are simply seeking the truth. They deserve, after all these years, clarity of the lack of action taken by all institutions; they deserve to see certain individuals made accountable for their lack of action or revolting actions. Most importantly, care leavers want and deserve justice.

Vanstone states that Pell is a man who fights for what he believes, well so do all the individuals who have suffered from the lack of action taken by the Church to deal with these perpetrators. We hope Cardinal Pell recovers from his illness and can tell his side of the story at the royal commission in February; he has been silent for far too long and the Australian people deserve the truth.

Judy Courtin had already made the point that Vanstone completely misses: that it is the truth and its acknowledgement that the Royal Commission is pursuing, not a Cardinal’s blood. That being the case, a two-way exchange of the truth is required.

Not only do victims want to tell their own story and have that acknowledged by the hierarchy, it is paramount that the hierarchy tell the truth about the full extent of its cover-up of the sex crimes and protection of the clergy sex offenders. The commission is very successfully addressing the first element. The second element, though – and not for lack of trying and perseverance – is not occurring. This is resulting in ongoing harm and injury to victims and their families.

Another commentator, Rob Cover, reinforced the point that the Royal Commission is not a witch-hunt or Pell-bashing; it’s a public inquiry into the failure of church leadership.

As such it will necessarily involve discussion about the leaders of the Catholic Church including George Pell and other bishops and archbishops.

(Rob Cover, ‘The scandal of defending George Pell: Amanda Vanstone’s moral support’, On Line Opinion, 23/12/2015, here)     

The Royal Commission has generated an immense public response—and Pell is bearing a lot of the weight of that response. This is not because Pell is a hated figure—though he does himself no great credit much of the time—but because vocal advocacy groups and the public at large are alarmed at the sheer scale of clergy sexual abuse,  its callous mismanagement and the overwhelming weight of evidence about the very serious life-long effects, even life-destroying, effects of child abuse.

Notwithstanding Pell’s mates, The Royal Commission may well yet refer some matters to the police or other relevant authorities. As Courtin explains, getting to the truth and acknowledging it is only part of the business of the Commission.

[C]riminal accountability of the hierarchy for concealing sex crimes is an equally crucial element of justice that was identified in my research. Despite this, there has not been one conviction of any member of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia for concealing clergy sex crimes (although one priest and one archbishop have been charged).

If there is any moral panic around the activities of the Royal Commission, maybe it is panic among the church hierarchy and among Pell’s mates that more charged will be made.

Just before Christmas this year, the Chair of the Royal Commission reports that

Since the Royal Commission began, I have referred over 760 matters to authorities, mostly to the police. This has resulted in a number of arrests and charges. Many police investigations have been instituted. (More here).

Jingle bells.