There are 33 boys in this Grade 4 photo. Twelve of them took their own lives.

Trigger warning: This post includes graphic details of child sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

Phillip Nagle is just one of countless victims of a paedophile ring operating in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat during the ’60s and ’70s.

He was also the first of five victims called to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which began its first public hearings in Ballarat this week.

While each account was disturbing, one faded old picture displayed by Mr Nagle to the courtroom perfectly encapsulated the torment caused by child sex abuse.

Holding up the black-and-white photograph, 50-year-old Mr Nagle told the court: “I have a photograph of my Grade 4 class at St Alipius. There are 33 boys in that image. Of the 33 boys in that image, I know that 12 are dead.

“I believe they committed suicide.”

Photo: Philip Nagle. via Facebook/DailyMail

Mr Nagel told the commission he was first abused by convicted paedophile Stephen Frances Farrell in 1974.

He was just nine years old when Farrell, a Christian Brother, wrestled him to the ground and removed his pants in the school first aid bay.

“He pulled up his black gown and removed whatever he was wearing underneath. He was trying to penetrate me as I continued to struggle,” Mr Nagle recounted in his witness statement. “I was all wet between my legs and I now realise that he had ejaculated on my anus and genitals.”

Brother Farrrell went to abuse nine-year-old Nagle in a classroom library, placing an arm across the boy’s “throat so that (he) was choked and struggling to breathe”.

The abuse continued elsewhere on campus and on school camp in the Grampians; Brother Farrell even visited the Nagle family home in nearby Bunding, where a young Nagle witnessed the man sexually assaulting his brother.

“I have no recollections of grade six, only recollections of the sexual assaults and being scared all the time,” Mr Nagle told the ABC of that dark period of his life. “I would know when an attack was coming because he would always remove his glasses first. ”

Mr Nagle said his childhood innocence meant it was not until later in life that he realised the crime was wrong and unusual.

“After I was sexually abused I came to think that was what all adult males did to children,” he said in his witness statement.

He added in an interview with the ABC: “We didn’t actually know what was happening to us, but certainly when you look back now, you just think: how can so many evil Christian Brother paedophiles be in one place at the same time?

“All the baddies were there at once.”

“All the baddies were there at once,” Mr Nagle said of his school.

In one poignant moment during Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Nagle paid tribute to the memories of the 12 classmates driven to take their own lives.

“I would like all those here today to take some time now to reflect and remember our classmates; our classmates who could not come to terms with the trauma and hurt caused by the abuse they suffered; our classmates who took their own lives to end their suffering,” said his statement, read out in court.


“I cannot forget. I cannot forgive. I am one of the survivors.”

ballarat courts
The Ballarat court houses, where the commission is holding its hearings. (Image via Google Maps)

Mr Nagle himself may have reached middle age — a privilege his classmates will never enjoy — but he was also left damaged from those years, he says,

“I left home when I was 15. I wanted to get out of school and away from my family. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t trust anyone,” he wrote in his witness statement.

Ten years after the abuse started, Mr Nagle — who by then had started self-medicating with drugs and booze — disclosed the abuse to his mother.

“She told me that she didn’t believe me and that I made it up as an excuse. This drove a wedge between me and my family for many years,” he wrote in his statement.

“I’ve had three marriages, three divorces, I’m a hard ass, I’ve got no friends,” Mr Nagle added in court. “I wish I could press the reset button and start it all over again.”

Farrell was convicted of nine counts of sex assault in 1997 for abusing Mr Nagle and his brother, the ABC reports.

He received no jail time for those crimes, but got off with a suspended sentence.

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For help or information call Lifeline on 131 114 or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or CASA Ballarat can be contacted on 5320-3933.

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