Memorial proposed for Ballarat survivors of child sexual abuse after Cardinal George Pell jailed

Action: Blake Curran is pushing for a memorial in Ballarat. Pictures: Kate Healy
Action: Blake Curran is pushing for a memorial in Ballarat. Pictures: Kate Healy

As the fallout from Cardinal George Pell’s six-year jail sentence continues, now is the time for action to support survivors of child sexual abuse in Ballarat.

There have been repeated calls from the survivors themselves for more support, and now the son of a man who was abused as a child by priests and later committed suicide, is renewing a push for a memorial in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

Peter Curran was an early crusader, with Stephen Woods, who fought to give survivors a voice.

Now his son Blake is picking up the fight.

“My kids are the multi-generation victims of this, they don’t have a grandfather - it was my daughter’s grandparents day today, and in years to come, she’ll ask, why isn’t he here?” he said.

“We’ll tell her when she’s old enough, but she’s four, so to take her to a place and say this is because of him, that’d be good.”

Anger: Signs appeared on St Patrick's Cathedral's fence on Wednesday. Picture: Kate Healy

Anger: Signs appeared on St Patrick's Cathedral's fence on Wednesday. Picture: Kate Healy

He’s aware of other memorials in Ballarat, but his proposal is for a dedicated space in the gardens.

“I wouldn’t want (a memorial) near a church, I don’t want to go near a church and I don’t want to take my kids near them,” he said.

“I feel the gardens are somewhere that anyone can go to, it’s accessible at any time of day, and you’re nowhere near anything that could trigger you, whether you’re a victim of the church or any other victim.

“It should be for anyone to find a place of reflection and solace.”

Mr Curran has begun a GoFundMe page, seeking donations to begin planning and design for a project, as well as encourage others - including businesses and the City of Ballarat - to get on board.

In Ballarat, the most visible reminders are the Loud Fences around town.

His initial idea is for a “reflection pool”, similar to Port Arthur, perhaps with small beams of light constantly shining.

"There were also glimpses of light that shone through which we hold on to in our memories (and) this is how he and so many victims should be remembered. As pillars of light and strength in our community who stood up for what was right, to stop this evil continuing”, the page reads.

“It’s never going to settle down, so why don’t we do something now to bring the community together?” Mr Curran said.

“We need to let go (of the anger) and move on.”

Anger was felt in Ballarat as Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic figure, was sentenced on Wednesday morning to six years in jail, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

The 77-year-old was convicted in December of five counts of child sexual abuse, including one count of penetration.

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Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in his remarks he thought the offending was “arrogant” and “brazen”, but took into account the Cardinal’s “otherwise blameless life” and advanced age.

He also noted Pell was not to be made a “scapegoat” for any of the Catholic Church’s “failings or perceived failings”.

However, for many of the people in Ballarat who were raped and preyed upon by priests, it does indicate justice can be delivered.

The sentence shows no one is above the law, according to Ballarat-based survivor of child sexual abuse, Andrew Collins.

No one can hide from it now

Survivor Andrew Collins

“I honestly did not think (the sentence) would be that high, I’m quite surprised, really surprised,” he said.

“On one hand, it’s sad to see the downfall of someone who has been so powerful, then I look at it and say it is a deterrent to anyone out there in the church, or in the community, that with child sexual abuse, no one can hide from it now.

“You can be third highest in Catholic Church, and you’re not above the law.”

The focus needed to be returned to the survivors, he added.

"There will be people who will thinking survivors will be so happy with this, well yes and no, it’s just one man, and regardless of his rank, there’s a bigger picture here of the whole child sexual abuse scandal that still needs to be addressed," he said.

"Today, everyone will be focused on the offender, but we need to remember there are victims, and there are victims that won’t have this justice."

Another Ballarat-based survivor, Philip Nagle, agreed.

“It’s only really the victims that can say whether that’s long enough,” he said.

“I don’t want it to be a distraction going forward in Ballarat, caring for survivors and making sure they have the care and support they need (is the focus).

“I feel for the victims and I hope they’re happy with the sentence.”

Stephen Woods, who knew Peter Curran, Blake's dad, as a friend, said the sentence was “a huge step forward”.

“The one thing you want, as a survivor, is to feel that it wasn’t your fault,” he explained.

“That’s something we can take from this, that you’re not to blame.

“Sometimes the system works for us - this is another step in the process of Ballarat listening to its history, this is something that the community can own, and we’re seeking truth, we’re seeking justice."

Pell has maintained his innocence and his appeal will be heard in June.

Mr Curran's GoFundMe page can be found here.

Need help?

Professional helplines are available for anyone who is struggling, including survivors and their families.

The Centre Against Sexual Assault Ballarat has urged people affected by the news of Cardinal Pell's conviction, sentencing, or the revelations of child sexual abuse, to seek help if needed.

Trained counsellors are available to speak to on a number of issues.

"We encourage anyone who has been affected by sexual assault to seek support," a spokesperson said,

"At Ballarat CASA we listen, provide support and advocacy in addition to acknowledging your experiences and the impact it may have had on your life."

People can arrange a one-off session at the centre in Sebastopol, or they can look to have ongoing counselling.

The centre also offers advocacy and case management.

Phone CASA Ballarat on 5320 3933, email casa@bhs.org.au, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292.

Phone Lifeline 24-hours on 13 11 14, Beyondblue on 1300 224 636, or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.

The Blue Knot Foundation, which helps survivors of childhood trauma, has a helpline available from 9am to 5pm on 1300 657 380, or email helpline@blueknot.org.au for more information.