Below is a series of speeches given at the recent Council Meeting where the development plans for the Old Orphanage Site were discussed. These are speeches, are by Deborah Findlay, Phillis Read, Brett Edgington, Erin McCuskey, and Belinda Coates.
From Deborah Findlay Forgotten Australian & Ex-resident:
“Would like to welcome everybody here this evening and to thank the Council to give me an opportunity to speak tonight.
My name is Deborah Findlay I was two when I was separated from my family of 14 siblings 9 of us all placed in the Ballarat Orphanage/ Children’s Home living separately.
I was kicked out at 16 to never return, Living in the Children’s home gave many opportunities it was my childhood home. This site was so unique it had what any child could imagine a back yard could be, own farm paddocks, pool, sporting grounds, trees, creek own school living 24/7 had all the materials we didn’t need gifts or toys we used our own imagination to build our own toys every square inch of the grounds were used trees become cubby houses, used to make borrow arrows, soup tins out of kitchen bins made great stilts, sporting was a huge part of the children’s completing in competitions throughout Ballarat for the orphanage / children’s home we did with pride . This site has physical, spiritual and healing presents.
I welcome the recommendations to retain the Toddlers Block however it only housed toddlers, trees mentioned and boundary wall as part of our heritage. Council Heritage report finding against the Orphanage school is a very weak one, in my view. sadly you don’t see the historical significance and the true value of the school of over 100 years of educating all age children because of a roof change it doesn’t warrant to retain as part of our heritage that building is soloed as its foundation stone of bluestone from the old Ballarat Gaol this building would made an ideal orphanage museum hold all the history and plaques under the one roof so the wider community and Education studies can have a better understanding of its history. I strongly believe the Orphanage was built with all good intention over 120 years go from the support from City of Ballarat and the community care wellbeing of over 4000 children it’s a powerful history of thousands of individual true life stories.
I find it a little sad that you’re able to feel and see the significance and historical heritage value of other institutions and schools throughout Victoria and schools here in Ballarat but don’t see any heritage value of the Ballarat Orphanage site buildings and school, The Ballarat Orphanage was one of the largest homes in country Victoria and intake of children over 4000 including the stolen generation other homes in the report were church run homes this site was built from Ballarat community spirit and the hard labour work of children.
People may say why you would want buildings to remain as a reminder of the horrible memories remain on site; I could say the same for the Eureka Stockade and Sovereignhill they too had horrible memories for people however we acknowledge remember and respect their history. Ballarat too should acknowledge remember and respect this site for its history as well. Any buildings include in the planning from the site should be protected in Ballarats Heritage Listings not just heritage overlay. The original Orphanage building was demolished; it was a huge mistake then let’s not make the same mistake twice. We can’t change our past we can only learn from it.
I have no life journey regrets living in the Children’s home it’s made me who I am today If I had any regrets It would be that I wasn’t informed couldn’t save all early 1900 building 20 years ago when the site was first sold.
We must compromise looking at the site today there are 9 buildings remain on the site and our council and developers past and present are only repaired to retain one everything else is gone.
I have a saying when I feel our voices haven’t been heard
DON’T JUDGE OUR PATH IF YOU HAVEN’T WALKED OUR JOURNEY
IT”S Our History Our Heritage Who Cares I Do and you should Too”
From Phylis Read Forgotten Australian & Ex-resident:
From Brett Edgington Trades Hall Council:
Ballarat Trades and Labour Council is proud to be able to speak; you must understand not on behalf of the former residents and staff of the Ballarat Orphanage, but to add our voice to theirs.
Stories are very important – In the Council Chamber at the City of Ballarat is a full size reproduction of the Eureka Flag, behind that flag is a story that has permeated and shaped the stories of our Nation. The stories of that flag are also important to the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council because many of the men who fought under that flag, many of the men influenced by the events of Eureka, went on to found the movement’s and unions that lead to the creation of Ballarat Trades Hall. But there is still a lot of controversy around Eureka – most of all about where it took place. Some groups point to around the current Eureka Centre, some groups say further up or down Eureka Street. Because stories are much easier to tell when you can point to something or somewhere – over there, it happened there.
The stories of the former residents and staff of the Ballarat Orphanage are much easier to tell as well when they can point to something, the place where it all happened and say; “there – that’s where it happened, that’s where I lived or worked.” And their stories are important to our community and our Nation, stories of great triumph in the face of massive odds and terrible adversity. Stories of great love and hope, stories of terrible suffering and loss. Stories that uplift us and stories that act as a cautionary tail that it was a moment in history, institutions and events that should not be repeated. These stories although difficult are just so important to be told and heard, because they speak to the mistakes of our past and the hopes of our future. Those stories, although difficult to tell, are easier to tell with a tangible place to point to. For former residents and staff, they can point to what’s left of the Orphanage site and say – “there – that is where it happened.”
Preserving parts of what is left of the site is important, I am pleased to see that part of the old wall will be retained along with the Magnolia Tree – the tree is so important because I once spoke with a man whose brother’s ashes are interred there and that’s where he goes to visit his brother. I am glad that the old toddlers block is being retained, but only those residents who were toddlers went there – there is a more important building on the site where all residents went to, a place where they spent a great deal of their time, a place of refuge where they could escape the hard work and sweat of the Orphanage – that is the old school house.
In 2011 the developer’s representative, Lovell Chen spoke with a group of former residents and it was discussed that a place be set aside for interpretation and reflection at a two hour meeting of which no formal minutes were taken. This idea seems to have fallen off the developer’s agenda. The old school house is not Rolls Royce heritage, it has been altered and chopped and changed. No heritage architect or historical expert is going to look at it and say that it is worth anything, because it’s not fancy Rolls Royce architecture – rather it’s a bit like that old teddy bear, with one eye missing and the stuffing hanging out – but it is still loved, still loved dearly and deeply.
Retaining the old school would make an ideal place of interpretation and reflection. Not so much like a museum but a place where stories can be told and have a sanctuary to survive and influence many others, a place where stories can be linked to; a beacon locating the stories in time and space and a sanctuary where these stories can have life and breath and move others.
It must be remembered that what is left, what is being discussed now is just a tiny bit – all that is left of a much larger site and it is in danger of disappearing. For thousands and thousands of people this was home, this was family – this was a living hell and a place of love and sanctuary. It is a complex site with complex relationships and an equally complex history of triumph and tragedy, immense pain but immense hope.
I urge the City of Ballarat to demand of the developers that further meaningful consultation take place with former residents and staff and their reasonable wishes are respected. If the developers thought that they could purchase the former Ballarat Orphanage site and carve it up and sell it off without difficulty they are very mistaken, this is a complex site that will require complex consolation.
From Erin McCuskey, spokesperson for BE Net & Producer of two micro docos about Forgotten Australians:
“Thank you for your time tonight, thank you for the time you have spent and usually without adequate reward or time, tirelessly working for the Ballarat Community. Those who we will soon farewell I hope your legacy is as you wished. And those new that we welcome I hope you have big dreams because the people of Ballarat want you to dream big.
And thank you all (gallery) for being here, for bearing witness, for caring enough, for your passion… usually without the resources, without time, without knowledge of process. We are small, as individuals, but we are not insignificant.
We are everywhere. We are here tonight to bear witness. We are at community meetings about things that concern us. We contribute, create and connect with our communities. We are online sharing our stories. We are in history and we are here now.
The making public of this plan is an important opportunity to educate our community about what has happened here. It is not the old Damascus site, it is the Old Orphanage site – call it what it is. Give the ex-residents the respect they deserve. It was longer an orphanage and has national significance.
It is not possible to make this plan public when it contains no mention of the Forgotten Australians and the social and cultural history that marks it as nationally significant, not just the architectural history.
So what makes us special is the same thing that makes Ballarat special?
The things we keep, the things we hold dear, the history of this place, this whole place, not just Lydiard St. For history is about people, and stories, and places – not buildings alone. And importantly it’s about how we remember, honour and respect.
Our forebears built a unique city, full of daring, full of dreams and at great risk. Their foresight stills carries this fabulous city over 150 years later. Their names emblazoned throughout our city. What will our descendants be able to say about these decisions 150 years from now.
We have learnt that we can build over anything.
We build over our waterways, we build over our koala corridors (despite the warning signs of the iconic Koala being a threatened species in other states), we build over major objections, we build over our buildings (the Unicorn Hotel discovery was surely no surprise). We build over our diversity by saying; ’neighbourhood character is evolving’; we build over our environments (the mediation of 809 Wilson st is tomorrow night at 5pm we hope to see you all there).
Indeed we are building over the things that sustain us, the very things that make us special and unique.
And now? Now and we build over people and their pain. Don’t continue to Forget the Forgotten Australians, who deserve a better response from our city, who deserve a place, not just a collection of plagues in the wrong place, who deserve the Avenue of Honor to be replaced, who deserve a place to return to show their children how they survived.
It’s all connected; we need to acknowledge the big picture. If the City of Ballarat agrees to build over the old school, to build over and obliterate history, what does that say about us as a town steeped in history? What does it do to our ‘Where History Lives’ brand? Heritage is not just buildings its people and places, its about stories.
We are better than this; take time to come to a better decision. We are better than this, Ballarat is better than this.”
Belinda Coates Council Greens Candidate:
“I am aware that there is a very full agenda, so will speak briefly to this issue in support of the former residents of the Ballarat Orphanage. I would like to reiterate and emphasise some key issues.
Firstly, the recommendations for heritage protection under the Planning Scheme of particular elements of the former Orphanage site are positive. Protection of the Toddlers Block building, significant trees and walls/fences is welcomed.
It is also positive that past residents were consulted. It is pleasing that there is a recommendation is to continue to inform and consult former residents.
However, it is important to be aware that past residents feel that their input has been somewhat disregarded, as there is so far no recognition of the importance of the school building to former residents. This building has special meaning to former residents and should also be protected.
There is also no mention of any clear steps to protect significant memorabilia and plaques referred to by a previous speaker, Debra Finlay.
It is extremely important to retain a public space with specific recognition of former residents for them and their family and friends to visit and reflect.
The process of informing interested parties can be improved. There is a sense of minimal information going out to the public and information being drip fed. Steps need to be taken to improve the way that information is provided and this also needs to be flexible to the concerns of former residents. Further steps need to be taken to ensure that clear, plain and jargon free information is provided. The planning process is complex and confusing and challenging for most people to understand. Confusing information can heighten anxiety levels, especially when important decisions are pending. It is vital that former residents and supporters are fully informed as to where the decision making is up
to through out the process.
In closing, I hope that this Council has been listening carefully to the concerns of former residents and takes them into account. I hope that this planning process can be improved to better inform former residents. I strongly advocate for protection of sites identified as being important to former residents, including the former school building.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this issue.”