East Ballarat “was really left over from the gold rush days,” said Maureen Hatcher, who has lived in Ballarat most of her life. “There would have been a lot of people that would have come here that were incredibly poor and never made any money but thought they would.”
Pubs have also played a major role in Ballarat life since the gold rush, say historians. And though they have dwindled in number, some residents said they have contributed to the malaise of alcoholism and depression that still lingers.
The abuse was particularly damaging because, without the basic social services prevalent today, residents of East Ballarat relied on the church for support, to serve as a bedrock for their community.
Ultimately, the priests betrayed those they were supposed to protect, say the victims.
“This community has been ravaged by the Catholic Church,” said Stephen Woods, who was abused as a child starting in the 1970s.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the dam finally broke, said Mr. Woods, whose abuse took place at St. Alipius, and later at the nearby St. Patrick’s College, a Catholic day and boarding school.
He publicly revealed his abuse in 1994 and was among those who led the way for others to share their truths.
But he added that it was the Loud Fence movement, which began about three years ago, that finally gave this community a voice to speak about its dark past.
The movement began as thousands of residents and people from across Australia began hanging colorful ribbons on the fence outside St. Alipius and St. Patrick’s to show support for the victims.
Ms. Hatcher, the movement’s founder, said though ribbons had at times been stripped from the fences by parishioners, they tied people together and now served as a symbol of speaking out against abuse.
“There are more ribbons on the fence now than there was before,” said Frank Sheehan, a former state lawmaker from Ballarat.