Rolf Harris: Backlash in native Australia

Australians have been criticising the length of the sentence given to Harris, as Phil Mercer reports

Australia is racing to distance itself from Rolf Harris as the shamed Perth-born entertainer starts a jail term for abusing young girls.

The memory of the "Boy from Bassendean" - a suburb in the Western Australian state capital - is being erased by the local council.

He has gone from favourite son to outcast by a simple show of hands at a council meeting.

Harris's artworks will be taken down from its chambers and his status as a freeman has been rescinded, while a plaque outside his childhood home was stolen before the local authority could remove it.

"We simply cannot tolerate the horrendous crimes for which he's been convicted," Bassendean Mayor John Gangell told ABC radio.

And the backlash is spreading.

Australia's High Commissioner, John Dauth, presenting Rolf Harris with his medal Rolf Harris was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia medal in 2012

In Melbourne a public mural, the "Entertainers of the Century" that features 100 prominent performers, will be changed to paint over Rolf Harris's cheery image.

There is speculation, too, that Harris could be stripped of his Order of Australia award, one of the nation's most coveted honours.

His conviction comes at a sensitive time for Australia, where the depravity of paedophiles is being scrutinised like never before.

'Guilt and shame'

A royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse continues to uncover a terrible flood of atrocities, and could take years to complete its task.

Justice Peter McClellan, who chairs it, believes that victims who have suffered alone for so long are finally coming forward because of high-profile court cases, including the conviction of Harris.

"It is becoming apparent as we do our work that as the issue of abuse is raised and talked about, survivors increasingly feel able to bring their own story to the authorities," said Justice McClellan.

A plaque in honour of Rolf Harris in Perth A plaque in Perth could now be removed following Harris's conviction

"That which may have been kept secret for years may now be told. The burden of guilt and shame which many have felt is lifted by knowing that others who have suffered have overcome their reticence," he added.

The law firm Slater & Gordon says since Harris's trial began it has been contacted by around a dozen women in Australia and New Zealand alleging they were molested by the TV presenter.

"My understanding is that we're talking about assaults that occurred in those countries going back to the 70s and 80s," said lawyer Alan Collins.

"Given what we heard in [Southwark Crown] court, a number of victims have suffered a very profound damage, I would have thought it highly likely that claims would be brought."

'Icon to inmate'

Hetty Johnston, founder of one of Australia's most prominent child safety groups, Bravehearts Inc, raised the prospect of further charges against Harris.

"Rolf Harris - icon to inmate. Victims vindicated. Hopefully when he comes out there will be more victims waiting to send him right back," Ms Johnston tweeted.

Convicted by a court half a world away, 84-year old Harris has felt the full force of media outrage back home.

The Australian has detailed "his most spectacular fall from cuddly establishment showman to jailbird," while the Sydney Morning Herald said he was "always an embarrassing curiosity rather than a national treasure".

Harris was, the paper told its readers, a "mild colonial boy who simply went bad".

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