Greg Ansley: Australia aghast at way Harris preyed on young

Veteran Australian-British entertainer Rolf Harris. Photo / AP
Veteran Australian-British entertainer Rolf Harris. Photo / AP

For once, Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke for all Australians.

"I feel gutted and dismayed," he said after entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted of child sex crimes. "Sexual abuse is an utterly abhorrent crime and it's just sad and tragic that this person, who was widely admired, seems to have been a perpetrator," Abbott told ABC radio.

The revelations of Harris' paedophilia, hidden behind an image of trust and decency, have rocked the country of his birth. Fury has blended with disbelief and confusion as generations of Australians face the reality that the true-blue Aussie celebrity who became a soundtrack of their lives had betrayed them.

Harris has shaken faith in beacons of decency, with many tweets asking "Who's next?" Robert Hughes, star of the 1970s situation comedy Hey Dad, was jailed last month for up to 10 years on child sex offences. One of Hughes' on-screen children and a victim of his abuse, Sarah Monahan, said on her website: "Let's keep speaking up about these unspeakable acts.

Let's teach these predators that they are no longer untouchable".

In Harris' hometown of Bassendean, Mayor John Gangell told the ABC his crimes were heinous and that he should be stripped of all privileges. Bassendean council will meet today to decide if Harris should be removed as a town freeman. It has already taken down a portrait of the "boy from Bassendean" and paintings, photographs and memorabilia has been removed from community centres and other buildings. Vandals attacked and painted "pedo" across a metal plaque honouring Harris in Perth's tributes to famous Australians along St Georges Terrace. The plaque may be permanently removed.

Some have been torn between Harris the artist and the sex criminal. Psychologists went on radio to explain the problems people may have in reconciling the two. Among the divided was Rodney Vincent, a singer and guitarist from Wodonga on the New South Wales-Victoria border who had worked with Harris. He told the local Border Mail: "As a performer I admire him but what he did was very wrong. It was terrible that he took advantage of his [fame]."

But the newspaper echoed anger sweeping the nation: "The victims will bear the scars of that betrayal for the rest of their lives, just as the truth about Harris and any further claims against him will have ripped apart the public persona and destroyed any adoration he might have enjoyed in his twilight years."

Sydney's Daily Telegraph thundered: "Guilty: Harris abused teens for years." The Australian said his fall from grace would be complete only when authorities moved to strip him of all his honours. On Twitter one man wrote: "What has the world come to? If you can't trust Rolf Harris then who can you trust?" Comedian Russell Brand said Harris had "torn a hole in the fabric of understandable narrative". Media veteran Derryn Hinch described Harris as "the king of sleaze" and a "disgusting fraud".

- NZ Herald

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