Letter | Bathurst needs to acknowledge the shame of its past

HISTORY: Former Advocate journalist Terry Jones says Bathurst needs to confront its past - from the treatment of Aboriginal people to the abuse of children.
HISTORY: Former Advocate journalist Terry Jones says Bathurst needs to confront its past - from the treatment of Aboriginal people to the abuse of children.

I COULD not wait to read the story headlined “Community unites to move on from dark history” (Western Advocate, August 14), hoping it was the Bathurst Regional Council reply to my July 18 question time address to council, and a subsequent July 24 more detailed letter that I wrote to council.

It was, however, not about any council decision as a result of my call for a National Redress Scheme response to be organised locally as part of the Federal Government National Apology to Victims of Institutional Abuses of Children on October 22.

But the introduction to the “Community unites” story – “History isn’t always something that a community can be proud of, but the true mark of a strong community is how it moves forward from a troubled past” – could well have been about the institutional abuse of children.

Of course, this week’s story was about a ceremony marking the declaration of martial law in Bathurst dating back to August 14, 1824, to respond to increased conflicts between Wiradyuri and European settlers.

No accurate record was kept of the number of people who died in “payback killings” all those years ago. But there are hundreds of horrific stories across all forms of media relating to the profession of teaching and scandalisation of education in Bathurst from 1960-1990 exposing shameful abuses of children in schools and our churches.

One of five from my family to attend Stannies, I was shocked as a journalist and Advocate court reporter in 2008 to discover some of the sons of my friends and family were victims of the worst violations. Boys’ lives were ruined. Some were suicidal.

I asked Stannies in 2017 to hold the 150th Sesquicentenary Apology; it was a most shocking return for victims to a crime scene at the college. I also requested Bathurst Regional Council last month to be the first local government in NSW to respond to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s call of June 13 for a national apology across federal, state and local government.

I have written to Member for Bathurst Paul Toole and retiring Minister for Police Troy Grant asking them to acknowledge the outstanding investigation by Chifley Local Area Command, Strike Force Heador and Belle that uncovered paedophile abuses at St Stanislaus’, All Saints’ and The Scots School and drew attention to abuses at the former St Joseph’s Orphanage.

Offending was not only at our schools. An altar boy was abused at Ss Michael and John’s Cathedral. A girl being confirmed was abused at All Saints’ Cathedral, where a man sponsored by Bathurst Anglican Diocese to become a priest was an offender jailed and defrocked (Western Advocate, July 24, 2011).

Chifley police, their investigations made more difficult by opposing religious influences in Bathurst, uncovered more than 160 victims at our schools. They also discovered Vincentian priests and brothers from Bathurst offended here and in other places. Justice has harshly dealt with the paedophile priests, brothers and lay teachers.

Journalists and photographers were jostled and vocally abused for “witch hunts”, “mass hysteria” and “trial by media” at courts including Bathurst. The churches paid millions to suppress reporting and defend accused offenders for 10 years. The Royal Commission did not come to Bathurst.

Only a month ago, the last of the long list of suppression orders in courts was lifted. The truth about Bathurst can now be told.

Strange as it seems, our Wiradyuri elder Dinawan Dyirribang made the most sense this week when he said: “It is important that the community moves forward together and that can only happen with education about the past. We’d like you all to have a think about it and come up with ideas on how we can move forward. It is us today that have to fix this mess that was created by our ancestors.”

Maybe there is a role for Charles Sturt University, the former Mitchell Teachers’ College, to become involved. Headlines last week about sexual harassment at universities were most unsettling.

Terry Jones, Bathurst