It should be a picture full of happy childhood memories, but instead it tells the tragedy of a community torn apart by horrific child abuse.
The photo shows the 1973 class 4 of St. Alipius’ Christian Brothers School in Ballarat. Second row from the front, fourth from the right with his head tilted, is Philip Nagle.
Looking at the image today, instead of a smile on his face, it only evokes feelings of sadness and anger as he claims that 12 of the 33 students depicted committed suicide due to the sexual and physical abuse that took place at the school .
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Philip Nagle (circled) claims 12 of the 33 students in the photo committed suicide because of the sexual abuse that took place at the school
But Mr. Nagle believes that what happened to his dead classmates will not be forgotten.
The 50-year-old was the first person called on Tuesday at the opening of the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sex Abuse, a pedophile gang involving Catholic clergy in Ballarat in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
At the end of his testimony, he asked for a minute of silence to honor his 12 classmates. His only hope now is that more people will expose the horrific crimes that took place in St. Alipius so that justice can still be served.
“If more of my classmates come forward, there will be fewer suicides (in the future). Because those who don’t come forward are the ones who commit suicide. Twelve of my class have committed suicide,” Mr Nagle told Daily Mail Australia.
Mr Nagle said some did it vicariously after years of alcoholism and drug use because they couldn’t deal with what was being done to them.
Mr Nagle, 50, was the first person called on Tuesday at the opening of the Royal Commission on the Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children
“Some of them didn’t even make it to 50, some didn’t even make it to 40. They reach a breaking point and can’t take it anymore,” he says.
Some of Australia’s most notorious abusers, including Gerald Ridsdale, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan, were part of a pedophile ring operating at St Alipius’ and St Patrick’s College.
Mr Nagle, 50, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by disgraced Stephen Farrell, who was a Christian brother at the school.
“He was our teacher then. Because Risdale and others were such serial offenders, people like Farrell flew under the radar,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
Gerald Ridsdale was part of a pedophile gang that operated at St Alipius’ and St Patrick’s College
“Only three of Farrell’s victims have come forward — myself, my brother, and another victim. Out of this, he has 10 convictions. But because people like Risdale and Best had a lot of victims coming forward and Farrell didn’t, he got off lightly.”
Farrell didn’t even go to jail. He received a suspended sentence of two years and three months for his crimes.
“People like Ridsdale got a lot more because his fouls were so bad and more people came forward. But Farrell was also part of the pedophile ring,” says Mr. Nagle.
He knows of other victims of Farrell, but he was warned by the police not to go on a victim hunt and is not allowed to name them.
Ridsdale was jailed in 1994 on pedophile charges for molesting children between 1967 and 1987
“I’ve talked to some of them, but they’re not willing to do anything about it,” he says.
What he endured on St. Alipius is etched in his psyche. Nothing can erase the horrific ordeal he had to endure at the hands of Farrell.
‘He was too strong for me. I was just a nine year old boy. He would just get you alone, wrestle you down and sexually assault you,” Mr Nagle told Daily Mail Australia.
“You have to realize we were just little kids and they were grown adults, so we didn’t stand a chance.
They were supposedly men of God in their black robes. Priests and Christian Brothers were held in higher esteem than your parents at that time, they were beyond reproach.
It all happened in a 12 month period. We were terrified. It ruined our lives.’
Gordon Hill told the inquiry that he was taken to St. Joseph’s Home in Ballarat in 1946 and initially abused by a priest when he was just five years old.
He is still devastated that Farrell did not go to prison and believes that suspended sentences for crimes like this are simply unacceptable.
His comments came as Gordon Hill, 72, told the inquiry on Wednesday that he was taken to St. Joseph’s Home in Ballarat as a three-year-old in 1946 and was initially abused at the age of five by a priest in a place called ‘the horror chambers’ .
But Nagle’s fight for justice continues.
“I don’t know what the investigation will yield unless they get some of these perpetrators to take the stand, but I was very happy with the process,” he says.
‘In Ballarat we are called ‘survivors’. We come together as a group of survivors of this atrocity and try to help these other victims live.”