Warning Signs about Paedophile Priest Gerald Ridsdale Were Ignored

By Konrad Marshall
The Age
May 21, 2015

Gabrielle Short can conjure no fond memories of this place, the old orphanage once known as the Nazareth House Girls' Home, once her home.

Sitting opposite Lake Wendouree, the structure is grandiose and beautiful but it seemed swallowed by a sickness in 1963, when Short was just seven.

She points to herself in a photo from that time, on the day of her first communion that special Catholic sacrament after confession and before confirmation.

Gabrielle Short in a picture with Gerald Ridsdale from 1963.

She is one of the dozen little girls dressed in white, surrounding a tall man in black, the chaplain and serial paedophile, Gerald Ridsdale.

They stand on green grass, smiling in front of a statue of Joseph and Our Lady and Jesus Christ. If she looks happy, it is because in her tender and "religiously brainwashed" mind the occasion seemed like her wedding day.

"It was special," she said. "We didn't have much that was special."

Gabrielle Short at the former Nazareth House girls home on Mill Street in Ballarat. Photo: Eddie Jim

No, by the time the photo was taken, Short had learnt to spend her days scrubbing floors or counting the minutes locked in broom closets.

In the cold, her skinny fingers developed blotchy, swollen chilblains, and the nuns knew to smack her there with rulers until she saw stars.

That was nothing compared to the sexual attacks of Ridsdale on so many children throughout the Ballarat diocese of the Catholic church.

Short has spent the week rallying in front of the magistrates' court here to draw attention to those crimes, which she says were foreshadowed by his earlier youthful cruelty a physical meanness that should not have been tolerated.

"He used to run amok. He used to kick and belt us. He would slam us against walls," she said. "I remember him smacking my head with his hand these hands that we were told were anointed by God."

Gabrielle Short with a photo taken in 1963 of herself, 2nd from left at front row, with priest Gerald Ridsdale at the old Nazareth house girls home in Ballarat. Photo: Eddie Jim

She points out that these hearings into institutional child sex abuse are not merely about the deeds done by the likes of Ridsdale and Best and Dowlan, but in the "institutional responses" to those crimes.

Short is a smiler and a pleaser, and yet she believes sternly that too many in the church were complicit in what happened not just by looking the other way but by encouraging the dark charisma of these men in power.

"Ridsdale was a show pony, and we could see it as kids. He was so false, so phony and fake. But they were like Gods," she said. "He acted as a king, and the nuns adored him, but he was an openly cruel man an arrogant man."

Short was one of nine children, and a ward of the state when she was two months old. Her father was shellshocked, suffering neuroses from the war, and her mother couldn't manage the children. Theirs was not an easy life.

Two of her brothers were molested and another raped. She is here for them.

Short herself moved to the Pirra Girls' Home in Geelong, then Allambie Children's Home in Burwood, the Good Shepherd Convent in Bendigo, and the Winlaton Youth Train Centre ("which was basically a girls' jail") in Nunawading. After sleeping on streets and in railways stations, she eventually found work. She married, and has three kids and four grandkids, but can't forget what happened to her family and friends in Ballarat.

"I'm not a rags-to-riches story," she says. "I made good with my life, but I wasn't any great success."

She lives in Queensland now, in sunny Ipswich, but flew to Victoria on Monday and drove straight here because what Ridsdale did was "close to heart".

"I've come down because we knew him before it got out of control, when he was a young man. He should have been stopped then," she said. "But all his cruelty was ignored."

"All these years later and this man is still haunting Ballarat," she added, glancing at the ornate building. "It needs a cleanse, this place. Bring on the flood."








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