Nazareth House was opened in December 1888 to cater for aged people and young people who needed care. The support of children discontinued in 1976.
Nazareth House Ballarat accommodated girls from the age of six. Girls younger than six were previously accommodated at St Joseph's Home, Sebastapol, which was for girls and boys.
The accommodation for aged men and women was situated at the rear of the property.
A departmental inspection report from 1938 contained the following description of Nazareth House, Ballarat:
'The Institution is situated in one of the best parts of Ballarat surrounded by a large property. They are at present milking 10 cows and keep enough fowls to supply the Home in eggs all year through. Staff kept: 19 Sisters, who are assisted by some of the inmates.
The Home is very well equipped for its purpose. School is held in the Home. School rooms (were) especially built for the comfort of the children within the last 4 years. They are without doubt the finest school rooms I have seen in any Institution and very well furnished. Bathrooms and conveniences are modern and most satisfactory.'
At its peak in the 1950s, Nazareth House housed around 100 children at a time. Girls from the age of 5 were educated at Nazareth House Primary School which was on site. When they reached high school age, girls attended a number of local schools including Loreto Convent in Dawson Street, Ballarat; St Alipius in Ballarat East; St Columbus in Ballarat North; St Joseph's in Lyons Street, and Sacred Heart in Victoria Street at Ballarat East.
Numbers at Nazareth House diminished by the 1960s and the Home ceased 'caring' for children in 1976. At that time, some girls were transferred to Hayeslee House in Ballarat.
One former resident, Grace Ryan nee Charlton, included many fond memories of Nazareth House in her childhood reminiscences of the early twentieth century. Grace was admitted to Nazareth House as a toddler in 1913. She recalled:
'There were tiny little babies there. I remember one who was left at the gatehouse. No-one could get in unless the gatekeeper unlocked the gate and let them in, but maybe there wasn't a gatekeeper on duty after a certain time at night.
Babies would be brought in in the middle of the night, screaming, and I'd always wake up. One night they brought this baby in and it was crying like anything, and one of the nuns came, and seeing I had woken up, she said, 'Will you take the baby into bed with you, and get it warm?' Oh, I thought it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, and I sat up all night looking at it. It was just left at the gate like a foundling. It never had a name or anything, so the nuns called her Margaret. '
Grace moved out of the nursery when she was about six years old. Girls were housed 'downstairs' until they left the Home to go to work:
'Most of the girls would be about fifteen or sixteen, before they went out to work. They never sent them out too early because they'd have to learn a bit about how to work before they went. Some of them went to do domestic work in the toffs' houses. '
After some ten years at Nazareth House, Grace describes the circumstances of her discharge, when she went to live with relatives in Geelong:
'One day, it was in May, 1924, I got the biggest shock of my life. One of the nuns came to me one Saturday, and I was with all of my mates one minute, and the next minute I was gone. She took me into the bathroom for a hot bath, and that is when she told me I was leaving - I never saw any of the kids again. She said, 'You're leaving here today; you're going to Geelong to live with Mag and Ernie.' I was just gone from all my mates - I couldn't tell them, or say goodbye. '
Other accounts of childhood spent at Nazareth House paint a very different picture. In fact, the word 'nightmare' is a common feature of many of the mentions of Nazareth House, Ballarat, in submissions to the Forgotten Australians enquiry.
One former resident of Nazareth House Ballarat submitted to the Forgotten Australians inquiry:
'I was in.Nazareth House, Ballarat in about 1957 . I was 4 years old. It is something that has never left me . How and why these places were allowed to run the way they were is impossible for me to comprehend . It made no sense. A place to de-humanise children? It worked.'
The convicted paedophile Father Gerard Francis Ridsdale was a 'visiting chaplain' at Nazareth House in the 1960s (he also had this role at St Joseph's Home in Sebastapol). The organisation Broken Rites has reported that some of Ridsdale's victims were residents at Nazareth House, Ballarat.
Numerous survivors have given testimony about the abuse of children in St Joseph's Home and Nazareth House Ballarat, including to the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care (2003-2004), the Victorian Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations (2012-2013) and the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-2017).
When Nazareth House Ballarat ceased to house children in 1976, the Lisa Lodge Girls' Hostel in Ballarat established a new transition facility for adolescent girls leaving Nazareth House. This new institution was called Hayeslee House.
14 January 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000169
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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