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Published: 15 April 2015
Author: Penny Savidis

Ballarat Orphanage – hunt for bodies echoes similar allegations in Ireland and the USA

The notorious old Ballarat Orphanage (also known as the Ballarat Children’s Home and originally as the Ballarat District Orphanage Asylum) where police have now started looking for the bodies of children alleged to have been buried there, joins an unsavoury list of institutions from around the world where searches have been conducted for the buried bodies of abused and neglected children who died while in care.

In Ireland last year, allegations were made about 796 young children who had allegedly been buried in a mass grave at an orphanage in County Galway, run by the Catholic Church. Although bodies were not located, death records for 796 babies from the Catholic-run orphanage were located. The children had reportedly died from natural causes including disease, influenza and premature births between 1926 and 1961.

While bodies were never found, the Catholic Church supported local efforts to erect a memorial plaque listing all 796 children recorded as having died at the orphanage. A national inquiry in Ireland is also underway into the allegations.

In Florida USA, excavations uncovered the bodies of dozens of children who died while in the care of the Dozier School for Boys, operated by the State. Ex-­residents came forward with allegations of abuse at the school, which included torture, sexual abuse and even killings in the 40s, 50s and 60's.

Given the uncertain nature of many of the records held by religious, non-­denominational and state-­operated children’s homes, and the allegations made by former residents of the Ballarat Orphanage that children "would disappear" without explanation, it is only proper that the police conduct a thorough investigation.

Ironically, the excavations at the grounds of the former Ballarat Orphanage are being conducted on the eve of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse visiting Ballarat, where it will be holding public hearings into abuse. The public hearings are scheduled to occur in May.

No one can rule out the possibility that children have been secretly buried in Ballarat or at other children’s homes – even though we have never heard allegations of that nature implicating the Ballarat Orphanage/Children’s Home. The fact is that institutional records often did not contain much detail at all about individual children’s lives in institutions, or even the circumstances of their deaths, for that matter.

We have acted from more than 60 people who suffered alleged abuse at the Ballarat Orphanage/Ballarat Children’s Home, and what is undeniable is that physical, sexual an emotional abuse there was systemic. More than 4,000 children were housed at the Ballarat home during its operation.

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