Sunday, May 22, 2016

Newsflash:  Gold Coast car salesman is not a wanker

For the last six months, the Australian newspaper has been running an intermittent-but-otherwise-red-hot, vindictive campaign to discredit David Ridsdale (1).  Their motivation for doing so seems plain enough – to silence one of George Pell’s chief critics; and the timing of the first three successive headline explosions has been exquisite in this regard – wheeling out David Ridsdale’s past when the public heat would otherwise be on George Pell’s present, per his Royal Commission evidence. 

As to why a loss-making newspaper would allow itself to be used as a blatant PR mouthpiece for such a dubious – but deep-pocketed – cause, you’ll have to ask Rupert or the Vatican.  In any event, my interest here is less in the tawdry underlying economics, but in the even more tawdry extremes to which a story must be stretched, so as to be able to flog the sponsor’s message, disguised, and so unnoticed, among all the lurid bathos.   

When I say “unnoticed”, I am not referring only to the Australian’s mass audience (if that is not an oxymoron).  The Fairfax Press and the ABC (/Media Watch) have been strangely reticent to call the Australian out on the anti-David Ridsdale campaign.  I acknowledge one substantial reason for this reticence – to do justice to this issue, post 7 May 2016 at least, there is no alternative but to tread on the finer feelings (or worse) of a man who here I’ll refer to as the Gold Coast car salesman.  I accept that this is a flimsy pseudonym in the circumstances, and that what I write about him here is deeply personal, unsolicited by him, and the words of a complete stranger.  That said, I wish him no harm, and sincerely hope that, by pointing out how he has been re-victimised by the Australian, this opinion piece takes away one, rather than adds another, layer of his victimisation.
More in the “it goes without saying” category, I express the same sentiments in respect of David Ridsdale.  Quite possibly, adding more oxygen to this story, from whatever “side”, is the last thing he wants at this moment.  In the interests of full disclosure, I also note that, while this piece is also unsolicited by him, he is not quite a complete stranger – either he or one of his brothers was my Grade 1 classmate/playmate at St Alipius Primary School in Ballarat in 1971, but in any event, I have not seen or been in any other form of communication with David Ridsdale since 1971.


Where to start this story?  The Australian’s biggest story in their (ongoing?) PR vendetta series so far – a 7 May 2016 weekend magazine article by Trent Dalton – was centred on the abuse of the Gold Coast car salesman by David Ridsdale in 1984, when the former was 12 and the latter 18.  The article’s title, “Chain Reaction”, evinced a broader concern, however:  what happens when (male) child abuse-victim becomes an adult abuser of children?  Hetty Johnston, a professional spokesperson for child abuse-victims was quoted on some of the nuances here.   Otherwise, Trent Dalton’s interest in the theme was limited to a “chain reaction” of two – starting with David Ridsdale’s childhood abuse by his uncle, priest Gerald Ridsdale, up to 1981, and ending, firmly (if by implication only) with the future Gold Coast car salesman’s childhood abuse by David Ridsdale in 1984. 

However, there was also a passing mention that Gerald Ridsdale also claimed to have been sexually abused as a child.  Should this story, in fairness, start there?  (Trent Dalton obviously thought not.)  Or if Gerald Ridsdale’s rapist (now presumably deceased) was himself abused – as would seem likely – back further still, and so on?

Personally, apart from the evidentiary diminishing returns, I don’t think that much is to be gained from tracing such “chain reactions” well back.  Even if Gerald Ridsdale’s childhood rapist was still alive, and healthy enough to be successfully prosecuted and appropriately sentenced, this would seem to be a mere footnote in the scheme of Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes.

Quite possibly, Gerald Ridsdale himself would regard my dismissive approach here as an injustice and double-standard, saying to himself (and/or to anyone who cares) that (a) he would never have become an abuser but for his own abuse, and (b) he would not have offended so prolifically and for so long, had his own abuser been charged at the “usual” life-stage, per the most common age-of-reporting scenario is when the victim is middle-aged and probably at a low-point, mental-health wise (i.e. in Gerald Ridsdale’s case, c. 1980).  To which I would reply curtly: “You had your chance then”, and c.1980, you blew it on David Ridsdale (among others).  (There are also obvious large differences of scale between the offending of the two Ridsdales, but to go down this path would be to marginalise the victims of once-off paedophiles, so I won’t.)  


We shall start in 1984, then, when, as I’ve said, the future Gold Coast car salesman, then 12, was sexually abused on two or three occasions by David Ridsdale, then 18.  I emphatically think that it should be unnecessary to go into the details of this, which Trent Dalton’s article does, with some apparent relish. 

On this, I think that it is a generally brave act for a victim of childhood sexual abuse to step-forward by name, and so waive their otherwise cast-iron right of anonymity (and doubly so for a male), but I query the collateral price they often pay, in terms of their abuse being graphically described.  While this is presumably necessary in the text of court judgements convicting and sentencing paedophiles (although I often detect a sense of gratuitous voyeurism even in the penning of these), Trent Dalton’s resort to lurid detail is initially inexplicable. 

Additionally, Dalton also lets us into the Gold Coast car salesman’s otherwise-private adult sexual peccadillo, which, to be fair, does depend on our contextual knowledge of some detail about his childhood abuse.  By itself, I don’t have the same reservations about this adult-peccadillo disclosure – a fact that my headline, of course, robustly attests to.  Here, I should mention my philosophy that, should mortifyingly personal (and adult) material “go” public, the lighter the touch, the better.   

Plainly, Dalton’s philosophy is different; he thinks that adult sexual peccadillos should be milked for tragedy, not comedy.  But Dalton needs to set up the Gold Coast car salesman in this (unhelpful to the victim, I would have thought) searing light.   The bare facts of the police-station and courtroom sequel to the 1984 abuse, were they to speak for themselves, would barely add up to a story, whether in 1994 or 2016, much less today’s excoriating, drip-fed public scandal (and private/lurid tragedy). 

In short, David Ridsdale is indeed, as Gerard Henderson loves to put it at every opportunity, a “convicted paedophile” – meaning that as an adult (although at 18, barely) he was, on 5 October 1995, convicted of the indecent assault of the future Gold Coast car salesman over events dating back to 1984.   In fact, David Ridsdale pleaded guilty to all this, and received a good behaviour bond, in large part apparently because of the fact that he himself was a victim of his uncle (although his age at the time and his prospect for rehabilitation presumably also worked in favour of this sentence). 

This sentence was the lightest possible one in the circumstances.  If you (a) haven’t read Trent Dalton’s article, and (b) haven’t paid much attention to mine so far, you may think “Aha!” at this point:  David Ridsdale got a slap on the wrist, while the Gold Coast car salesman got a life-sentence.  And thus, no wonder that the Australian is arcing up here:  Pell’s denouncer has dirty-linen of his own, in receiving a cushy sentence, for an ultra-relevant crime to his present-day reputation. 

Actually, the Australian has said no such thing.  While it repeatedly stresses the general shade of David Ridsdale’s dirty-linen, Trent Dalton’s article is very careful to not even hint that his good behaviour bond was an unjustly light sentence.  Instead, Trent Dalton manages to insinuate that David Ridsdale’s ­guilty plea robbed the Gold Coast car salesman of justice; apparently he only found out about this only recently, having assumed for two decades (and Trent Dalton is careful to imply this only) that his case against David Ridsdale had been quietly dropped, for some strange or sinister reason, ­by the Ballarat police (an agency that the Gold Coast car salesman in the mid-1990s had already found to be quite unhelpful personally). 

So, to get Trent Dalton’s story straight here, David Ridsdale’s ­guilty plea, far from sparing the Gold Coast car salesman the need to travel and re-live his abuse in an interstate courtroom, a kilometre or two from the scene of the crimes, instead exacerbated his childhood abuse, by thwarting his chance for closure.  While David Ridsdale, of course, had something to potentially gain (2) from his ­guilty plea, to turn this around, as Trent Dalton does, as a re-victimisation of the Gold Coast car salesman by David Ridsdale  – who under Dalton’s logic, somehow had the Ballarat police working under his thumb – is perverse, in my opinion.

But you can be the judge here.  Is David Ridsdale a criminal mastermind, a man who only the Australian is brave enough to call out?  Do Fairfax and the ABC actively still hide David Ridsdale’s murky past, despite it being all over Google (although without any hint of the victim’s identity until very recently) since at least 2002 (3), because acknowledging it would wholly rescind his bona-fides as a George Pell critic, and possibly also rescind the bona-fides of all George Pell critics, as co-conspirators with David Ridsdale?  This is the Australian’s reverse Samson-and-Goliath bottom-line (editorially, if not also in accounts-receivable). 

To be blunt, I have no doubt as to whom I would rather have teaching or baby-sitting my (hypothetical) children out of David Ridsdale or George Pell – the “convicted paedophile” wins over the supposed moral paragon.  No doubt the Gold Coast car salesman sees this differently, but here I suggest that the New Testament may have some interesting and relevant opinions on this dilemma.  This hypothetical aside, I suggest that if anyone honestly believes that George Pell has done more to arrest clerical paedophilia in Australia than David Ridsdale, warts and all, then they are one sick puppy.  Although such sick puppies are probably still in a moral class above those who gang-up and demonise David Ridsdale simply for the money.  I’ll leave it to you to decide who is in which moral category here.  

In a strange way, I’m actually with the Gold Coast car salesman c. 2015 (when he had a breakdown) all the way on one aspect – when Trent Dalton, Gerard Henderson, and John Ferguson have had an uninvited and unwelcome wank right next to me (viz, reading the Australian at breakfast, if you must know), for taking such a grotesque liberty with little-old me, every time I now see their names in public now, for their gutless temerity, I shake with a near-bottomless rage.   And if, reading this now, you feel that I have also wanked right across little-old-your own virtue, I’m terribly sorry – but to this I plead guilty also.  The “chain reaction” goes on, I’m afraid.

Disclosure:  Paul Watson is (A) a wanker, who (B) would be an appalling salesman, who would not be able to sleep at night unless he had informed every potential customer of each potential defect in the merchandise.  He also (C) has a strong personal belief in Hell, otherwise known as the Gold Coast, or in Paul Watson’s parochial moral compass, “Vatican II” – both Vaticans being places where anything and everything is for sale, and very little is real.   

Update 23 May 2016

I’ve just become aware that the ABC – perhaps stung by Gerard Henderson’s hysterical cry of “censorship” on 12 February 2016 # decided to play “me too” with the Gold Coast car salesman’s story, on 10 May 2016.

# “Meanwhile The Age — plus the rest of Fairfax Media plus the ABC — has chosen to censor the news that Pell’s chief accuser, David Ridsdale, is himself a convicted paedophile. David Ridsdale pleaded guilty in 1984 [sic] to having sexually assaulted a 12 year old boy when aged 18.

This was revealed by John Ferguson in The Australian on 21 December 2015. But the Pell-haters in Fairfax Media and at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster seem to have determined that this news is not fit to print or broadcast”.

Personally, I would have thought Gerard Henderson’s (and George Pell’s) connections with the late, paedophile-protecting, and ultra-conservative Bishop James O’Collins (a story that no mainstream media organisation wants to touch, despite being well-enough documented) are a much bigger case of “censorship” than David Ridsdale’s lone teenage crime.

But on the topic of (arguably) minor crimes, I also note two errors of fact by Gerard Henderson.  The first, in the above quote, should read “1996”, not “1984”.  The effect of this error is to separate in time David Ridsdale’s disclosures as perpetrator from those as victim.  In fact, of course, these were at much, if not exactly, the same time (1994-95) – a point that deserves taking the time to stop and think "what if?".  What if David Ridsdale had never made his dual disclosures to the police, re the Gold Coast car salesman and Gerald Ridsdale?  I suggest that the outcome here in 2016 would have been:  (a) David Ridsdale would today be a privately troubled middle-aged man, but not a “convicted paedophile”, (b) the Gold Coast car salesman would today also be a privately troubled middle-aged man (still depressed that the Ballarat police had fobbed him off about David Ridsdale in 1994, but at least having had two decades since without even hearing mention of the name of David Ridsdale).  Oh, and (c) Gerald Ridsdale would still be a free man – and quite probably, if not still offending in his 80s, having racked up hundreds more victims in his 60s and 70s.  In other words, there would have been one, and only one, big winner – be careful what you wish for, people.

The second error of fact by Gerard Henderson makes me wonder whether it, and the error above, were actually intentional.  This one could not possibly be a typo.  In his 21 May 2016 column, Henderson wrote:

Also, the royal commission declined to question David Ridsdale (one of Pell’s chief critics) on Ridsdale’s pedophile conviction in 1995 — revealed in February by The Australian”.

Here, the “February” reference can only mean Henderson’s 12 February 2016 column  – as quoted above (first quote)  – which prominently referred to John Ferguson on 21 December 2015 as actually breaking the news.  But most Australian readers, of course, would not also read this blog, or otherwise take the trouble to look back for Henderson’s February reference, so allowing his error, as to who "broke" (3)  the story, to "stick".  Has John Ferguson – who as “Victorian Political Editor” was on a plainly extra-curricular assignment in the first place – had some post 7 May 2016 reputation-saving second-thoughts about his own complicity in the “chain reaction” that his December article started, and so Gerard Henderson has kindly stepped in to muddy the first link in the chain?


1.      See:

“Pell accuser indecently assaulted boy at YMCA”, John Ferguson (Victorian Political Editor, Melbourne), Australian 21 December 2015.

 “Media Watch Dog: Banging the (loaded) Drum on the ABC”, Gerard Henderson,
Australian website, uploaded 12 February 2016, 3:45pm.

“Ghosts of the past bring horror back to life 30 years on” and “Chain Reaction”, both by Trent Dalton, Australian 7 May 2016.

 “Sex abuse royal commission fails test of fairness”, Gerard Henderson, Australian 21 May 2016.

2.    This was not a one-way bet.  If he was more concerned about avoiding the “convicted paedophile” tag than the increased possibility of a custodial sentence, David Ridsdale would have been well-advised to plead not ­guilty, and take his chances with a jury.   Had he a criminal-defence budget in the realms of the six or seven-figure sums that the Catholic Church has routinely spent in recent years defending its in-house paedophiles, I suggest that David Ridsdale would have been a fool to plead guilty.

3.    The Australian dredges up some old news and proclaims a "scoop".

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