The decision by the City Council of Ballarat to refuse a cashed-up developer permission to demolish the old school on the Ballarat Orphanage site is a victory for those former residents who fought a long and energy-sapping campaign against the odds.
These old institutions have long-since closed – thankfully. These places shaped the lives of so many Australians. For some they were the sites of brutality, sexual abuse and neglect. Many were forever separated from their families and even from their siblings. Some have never been able to reconnect. They had no love as children and struggle with their demons to this day.
For these and other reasons, many former residents – the survivors – feel a strong need to be able to show their children and their grandchildren the place where they grew up, even when the old place was a site of cruelty, humiliation and lovelessness.
Unfortunately, in too many cases the sites (almost all of them originally grants of crown land) have been sold off, rezoned and redeveloped commercially, enabling the big end of town to make a killing. That was the case with the old farm at the Ballarat Orphanage – and would have been the case with the remaining buildings had it not been for a determined group of survivors who plugged away for years to get the City of Ballarat to have an effective heritage overlay placed on the two remaining buildings from the 1920s and the weeping wall for the 1880s.
The struggle of these former residents against powerful proponents represents a wonderful case study of right over might. It demonstrates yet again that, against the odds, it is possible to marshall the right evidence and the best arguments and to galvanise community support for a just cause.