It should be a photograph filled with happy childhood memories, but instead it tells the tragedy of a community torn apart by horrific child abuse.
The picture shows the 1973 Grade 4 class of St Alipius’ Christian Brothers School in Ballarat. In the second row from the front, standing fourth from the right with his head tilted is Philip Nagle.
As he looks at the image today, instead of bringing a smile to his face, it only stirs up feelings of sorrow and rage, as he claims 12 out of the 33 pupils pictured went on to commit suicide because of the sexual and physical abuse that took place at the school.
Philip Nagle (circled) claims 12 out of the 33 of pupils in the photograph went on to commit 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 paedophile ring involving Catholic clergy in Ballarat in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
At the end of his testimony he asked for a minute’s silence to honour his 12 fellow classmates. His only hope now is that more people will go public about the heinous crimes that took place at St Alipius so that justice can still be done.
‘If more of my classmates come forward, the less of them will commit suicide (in the future). Because the ones not coming forward are the ones who are killing themselves. Twelve in my class committed suicide,’ Mr Nagle told Daily Mail Australia.
Mr Nagle said that some did it indirectly after years of alcoholism and drug use, because they couldn’t deal with what was done to them.
Mr Nagle, 50, was the first person called on Tuesday at the opening of the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sex Abuse
‘Some of them didn’t even make it to 50 years of age, some didn’t even make it to 40. They reach a breaking point and can’t handle it anymore,’ he says.
Some of Australia’s most notorious abusers, including Gerald Ridsdale, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan, were part of a paedophile 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 at the time. Because Risdale and others were such serial offenders the likes of Farrell flew under the radar,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Gerald Ridsdale was part of a paedophile ring operating at St Alipius’ and St Patrick’s College
‘Only three victims of Farrell have come forward – myself, my brother and another victim. From this he has 10 convictions. But because the likes of Risdale and Best had many victims who came forward and Farrell didn’t, he got off lightly.’
Farrell didn’t even go to jail. He was given a two years and three months suspended sentence for his offences.
‘The likes of Ridsdale got much more because his offences were so bad and more people came forward. But Farrell was part of the paedophile ring too,’ says Mr Nagle.
He knows other victims of Farrell but he was warned by the police not to go victim hunting and is not allowed to name them.
Ridsdale was jailed on paedophile charges in 1994 for molesting children between 1967 and 1987
‘I’ve spoken to a few of them but they’re not ready to do anything about it,’ he says.
What he had to endure at St Alipius’ is branded into his psyche. Nothing can erase the horrific ordeal he had to go through at the hands of Farrell.
‘He was too strong for me. I was just a nine-year-old boy. He’d just get you alone, wrestle you down and sexually assault you,’ Mr Nagle told Daily Mail Australia.
‘You’ve got to realise we were just little kids and they were full grown adults, so we had no chance.
‘They were supposedly men of God in their black robes. Priests and Christian Brothers were held in higher esteem that your parents back in those days, they were beyond reproach.
It all happened over a 12-month period. We were terrified. It ruined our lives.’
Gordon Hill told the inquiry he was taken to the St Joseph’s Home in Ballarat in 1946 and was initially abused by a priest when only five years old
He is still devastated that Farrell didn’t go to jail, and believes that suspended sentences for these types of crime are just unacceptable.
His comments came as Gordon Hill, 72, told the inquiry on Wednesday he was taken to the St Joseph’s Home in Ballarat as a three-year-old in the 1946, and was initially abused by a priest at age five, in a place called ‘the horror rooms’.
But Nagle’s struggle for justice still goes on.
‘I don’t know what the inquiry will achieve unless they start getting some of these perpetrators to take the stand, but I was very happy with the process,’ he says.
‘In Ballarat we’re called “survivors”. We get together as a group of survivors of this atrocity and try to help these other victims live.’