by Dianne Gallagher (guest author) on 19 September, 2011
As a young girl growing up in the Church of England Girls Home, Carlingford, NSW, Dianne Gallagher knew that the staff didn’t forward her letters to her mother. So, Dianne used to give her letters to her school friend to post.
Below is a letter that Dianne wrote to her mother, in 1964.
Leigh Westin, who grew up in Scarba House and Parramatta Girls Home, is creating a memorial entitled No More Silent Tears for Forgotten Australians. The memorial is comprised of a large panel of handkerchiefs sewn together, each decorated by those who spent time in a Children’s Home or institution.
If you experienced institutional or out-of-home ‘care’ and would like to contribute to this memorial, then on a lady’s-sized handkerchief embroider and/or write in ink, your name, the name of the institutions(s) and the year(s) that you lived there. Please feel free to decorate it however you wish, so that it will be suitable for people of all ages to view. The important thing is that you only use a lady’s handkerchief so that Leigh can easily sew them together. You may, of course, make a handkerchief in order to remember a Forgotten Australian or former Child Migrant who has passed away.
You can then post it to: Adele Chynoweth National Museum of Australia GPO Box 1901 Canberra ACT 2601
Adele will then pass the handkerchiefs onto Leigh. Please make sure that your contribution reaches Adele by close of business Friday 12 August, 2011.
Below are some of the handkerchiefs that have already been made.
An X-ray scan of a leather strap made by Bill Brennan, who grew up in Clontarf Boys’ Town, WA, shows internal metal reinforcements inserted to give the strap more strength.
Bill made this strap when aged in his 50s as a copy of the the same straps he was required to make, at the age of 12, for the Christian Brothers. The X-ray image shows the metal reinforcements included to give the strap more strength when used to hit children.
My Ireland is the name that Mary Brownlee gave to the apron that was given to her by Sister Judith Kelly, at St. Joseph’s Home, Kincumber, NSW.
Mary explains its significance:
The little apron connected me to my home place in Aghascrebagh, Ireland, where I left my heart and I was connecting to St Joseph’s Home, Kincumber which is located in Bouddi National Park, NSW. ‘Bouddi’ comes from the local Aboriginal language which means ‘the heart’.
I came to Australia in 1960 when I was nine months old with my family as £10 immigrants. In 1967, my family fell apart and they couldn’t cope. After the court case my mother got custody of us. My father wouldn’t leave our house. The judge wouldn’t give her any help to get shelter. My mother did nothing wrong. My parents took me and my four brothers on the long road to Kincumber and it was dark. It was raining heavily and my brother Patrick was under the dashboard making the windscreen wipers work.
We got to the Home very late. It was raining very heavily. St Joseph was there. We went through the door and were taken inside. Everyone was sleeping. We were taken to the courtyard and the nun said, “I have to take your parents away now because they have to sign some papers”. We sensed that our parents wouldn’t come back. We put our arms around each other and we all cried. I cried as hard as the rain came down.
About two years after being in the Home, Sister Judith Kelly came and she was the light in the Home. She and I connected straight away because she was Irish. Sister Judith was a beautiful, special, excellent teacher. She had a great love for us. She knew that I was sad from being separated from my parents and my mother couldn’t come and visit us very often because she didn’t have a car.
Sister Judith was like my mother and my sister. She once took off her veil and showed me her black curly hair.
I used to ask her about Ireland because I remember my father talking about ‘The Troubles’, the politics of Ireland. It was always very sad but Sister Judith told me about all the people and how she missed her family and her home in County Clare.
I remember she told me one day, “I have something special for you”, and her eyes sparkled, “Let me go up to my room”. I sat down and waited and I felt excited. She came back with a scarf and she let me feel it and she spread it out. It had a map of Ireland on it. She showed me where I came from. She connected me to my home place. “A little girl would never wear a scarf, Mary, so I’m going to have it made into an apron so that you can wear it”. She sent the scarf home to Ireland to a member of her family who sewed it into an apron.
It took a lot of weeks to come back. Sister Judith told me how the post worked. Everything was always a lesson.
The parcel came. After school we had a special time. We went to the grotto and she opened the parcel. It was a whole celebration. She brought out the apron. It was beautiful. It was one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever had.
I used to wear it all the time. I used to call it “My Ireland”. I used to put my hand or precious things in the pocket.
Later, in about 1975, Sister Judith left the Sisters of St. Joseph. She now teaches Transcendental Meditation in Ireland.
Award-winning film maker and visual artist, Rachael Romero, writes about the image of the knife that was used in a theatre production at the Pines (Convent of the Good Shepherd).
Imagery speaks to memory. Artifacts resonate meaning. In the Pines, (Convent of the Good Shepherd) year of 1968 we used this wooden knife in a play held as a charade for Welfare (as if we were provided for culturally). Never mind that there were hardly any books available; newspapers to read, radios to hear or any news crossing the barbed wire fences of our laundry prison. We were told to offer up our suffering for the saving of souls. I see this knife as a kind of Magdalene cross we were nailed to. After-all we were stigmatized and a regular cross would have been blasphemy. The knife was also the image of choice for home-made tattoo in the Pines; crudely drawn into cuts on the the leg in Indian ink–a form of self injury to reify the agony we felt .
I photographed the second image of my feet “on the cross” eighteen months after I got out. At sixteen–this is how I felt– crucified, but not redeemed from the extra judicial incarceration I had experienced. I had no-one to tell. Everyone looked away, pretended nothing had happened.We have only just begun to break this terrible silence in “the lucky country” so that other unwanted children will cease to be so savaged.
The knife was used as a prop for the production of HMS Pinafore (image of the programme below), performed by inmates from the Pines. Rachael recalls:
It was directed by Mother Lourdes I believe. I made the drawing and did the scenery and sang in the chorus. I don’t remember much about it except that I was always glad to make art instead of working in the laundry.
The welfare workers, priest and family members were invited. It was all a big show to look as if we were being cared for.After the performance the priest requested that my blonde curls be shaved and presented to him. I refused.
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 10 March, 2011
Rachael Romero who was sent to the The Pines, Plympton, SA, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, recalls the importnace of holy cards:
Holy cards were currency -emotional currency–in a place where expressions of contempt are the norm; where you can’t trust anyone because of co-ersion and it is unwise to share secrets, the holy cards where a sanctioned (because purified) way of showing loyalty and caring between people–to say what otherwise may not be said–to give each other courage. We weren’t allowed to speak more than an hour a day–otherwise we were in silence and the thundering noise of the Laundry Mangle or being raved at by the head nun as we ate the rotten food. Allways watched, we could buy the cards for pennies from the nuns and sometimes we were given them as gifts. We could not pass notes or letters unless the nuns read them first but the holy card was ok. It carried our “voice” however coded, however muffled.
They were given on Feast Days and Birthdays because we had no other gifts. We got 20c every week towards buying our own shampoo, soap, tooth paste–and holy cards, from the nuns.
by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 7 March, 2011
Here Oliver Cosgrove shares the St Benedict’s Medal which was given to all the boys at Boys’ Town, Bindoon, WA as well as an article from 1955 written about the Medal. The article sadly makes light of child slave labour at Bindoon.
In the August 21, 1955 edition of the publication Pax (Latin for “peace”), an article reads:
…a Freemason had insisted that the possession of the Medal Cross of St Benedict had been the cause of much good luck at the Races! The Freemason was indeed sincere. But when today in fact was related to us from Bindoon we felt that this was more in keeping with what we would expect from the great Patriarch.
At Boys’ Town, Bindoon, all lads had been issued with St Benedict’s Medal by the chaplain, and one lad at least certainly wearing his treasure round his neck. While at work on the first floor of one of the new buildings some fifteen feet from mother earth, this lad fell. To make matters worse it was not mother earth who received the falling boy, but a heap of rough-edged rocks. The spectators were greatly alarmed and expected serious injury, to say the least. But what was their surprise when they saw the lad pick himself up immediately – and on enquiry they got the reply: ‘I’m alright – of course I’m alright. I’m wearing the Medal of St Benedict.”
Also from Pax 31 July, 1955:
St Benedict’s Medal Described
(By Dom Justin Bruce O.S.B., N. N.)
The essential parts of the Medal of St Benedict are the Cross, the image of St. Benedict, and certain letters which we mean to explain. The shape of the Medal is evidently not important. To avoid confusion we must remember that one Medal, known as Ordinary Medal of St Benedict was approved, and richly indulged by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742, and a second was struck and approved by Pope Pius IX in 1877 in anticipation of celebrations in honour of St Benedict on the 14th centenary of his birth, which occurred in 1880.
A glance at the Ordinary Medal of St Benedict will show a Cross engraved on one side, on the arms of which certain letters appear, while more letters are seen in the angles of the Cross, and also in the border around the edge of the Medal. On the other side there is an image of St. Benedict. These are the essentials for the Ordinary Medal is genuine.
The letters: In the angles of the Cross we read the letters C. S. P. B. which stand for Crix Sancti Patria Benedicti (“The Cross of the holy father benedict”). On the perpendicular bar of the Cross are found the letters C. S. S. M. L. They signify: Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux (“May the holy Cross be my light”).
The letters on the horizontal bar of the Cross are: N. D. S. M. D. Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux (“May the devil never be my guide”).
Obviously these words express simply a renewal of our baptismal vows, by which we solemnly declare ourselves followers of the Cross of Christ, renouncing at the same time the devil and his snares. Around the margin….are the following letters, beginning at the top right hand:
V. S. N. S. M. V. S. M. Q. L. I. V. B.
and stand for the following verses:
Vade Retro, Satana:
Numquam Suade Mihi Vana
Sunt Mala Quae Libas
Ipse Venena Bibas
(“Begone Satan. Tempt me not with antics. What thou offerest is evil; drink thou thyself the poison”).
At the top of the same side of the Medal, can be seen the three letters I.H.S. which signify the Holy Name of Jesus.
This is the Medal of St. Benedict. If we carry it on our person, we are continuously, if implicitly, making an act of renunciation of Satan. ……..
The second Medal above mentioned is known as the Jubilee Medal. It differs from the Ordinary Medal in that it has attached to it not only the indulgences of the latter, but has others added besides. On the side which bears St. Benedict’s image we see the words: “Eius in obtu nostropraesentia muniamur” (“May we be strengthened by his presence at the hour of our death”). Also the Benedictine Motto “Pax” (Peace) will always be found engraved on the side of the Jubilee Medal which bears the Cross and the letters.
As a child, were you required to fulfil cleaning duties in your institution? The National Museum wishes to draw attention to this work in it pending exhibition Inside: Life in Children’s Homes. Can you help?
We are interested in learning, from former residents of Children’s Homes, about what cleaning products or objects you cleaned with.
Please feel free to post a response below or on the message board on this site.
We understand that writing about such incidents may mean reliving them so please don’t feel obliged to share, if this is too distressing for you because your wellbeing is more important than our list!
We also have included a list of links to advocacy, support, counselling and record-finding services on the right hand side of this website. If you would like further assistance you are most welcome to email us here at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to locate appropriate contact information for you.
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 14 February, 2011
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd ran commercial laundries which serviced many businesses, including hopsitals, hotels and wealthy households. Doing all the unpaid, hard labour in hot conditions were teenage girls who were sent the convent because they were considered to be in ‘moral danger’.
The Good Shepherd laundries operated at the Mt Maria Centre, Mitchelton, Brisbane; Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne; The Pines, Plympton; Leederville, Perth and Mount Saint Canice in Hobart.
Rachael Romero, in 1968, aged 15, was an unpaid labourer in the laundry while resident at The Pines. Below is a laundry slip she kept – one of those used by the Good Shepherd Sisters to charge for their laundry services.
For more information on the commercial laundry services run in Catholic Children’s Homes, see Allan Gill’s 2003 article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Bad girls do the best sheets.
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 14 February, 2011
Rachael Romero shares the map she drew at the age of 15 while living at the Convent of the Good Shepherd also known as “The Pines”. Rachael’s map includes the site of the laundry where the young female residents worked.
Interestingly, Senator Andrew Murray referred to The Pines in his speech to the federal Senate on 12 March 2008, in which he urged the Australian Government to make an apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants:
[There] were systemic floggings and beatings with a variety of weapons for the most minor misbehaviours. All these acts amounted to criminal assaults punishable by law at the time. And that is the important point. These things that were done to the children were not lawful at the time and yet there was a conspiracy of silence between churches, health authorities, police and others which mostly kept these incidences under cover.
This appalling treatment of vulnerable kids has its match in prisoner of war camps. Places like Bindoon in Western Australia; Goodwood and The Pines in South Australia; Westbrook in Queensland; Box Hill and Bayswater in Victoria; and Parramatta and Hay in New South Wales were akin to concentration camps that incarcerated and brutalised far too many young people in 20th century Australia. Some beatings even resulted in physical impairments later in life.
This leather strap was made by William ‘Bill’ Brennan when he was aged in his 50s as a copy of the ones he made as a boy in the leather workshop of Clontarf Christian Brothers Home. Bill made the strap as a ‘witness’ to his experience in the Homes and gave it to Bruce Blyth, who was an early researcher of the history and advocate for former inmates of the Western Australian Christian Brothers Homes.
Bill Brennan, along with his brother Anthony, spent most of his childhood in the Christian Brothers Homes. He was in Clontarf from 1945 to 1952. Unlike most of the other inmates, these boys were not former Child Migrants but local Australians. His parents suffered mental illness and were unable to care for their children.
At the age of about 12, Bill’s schooling finished and he was set to work in the leather workshop of Clontarf. One day one of the Brothers asked to make him a strap. He had detailed instructions for it, including that it should contain a section of band saw and a lead pellet. Other orders followed, each with their own instructions. Bill remembers having made about 20 straps, of which 12 were accepted. Bill then had to watch his fellows being beaten with the straps he had made.
The task ended when a lay staff member arrived at Clontarf and was appalled that a boy should be required to make these items.
This is a piece of concrete, not much bigger in size than a hand. It was rescued from the demolition of the swimming pool at the former Clontarf Boys Town Christian Brothers Home in Western Australia.
The photo of the boys building the pool was taken by Michael O’Donoghue, who used his Box Brownie camera to take not only this, but many photos around the Boys Town.
Clontarf, like Bindoon, another Christian Brothers institution located outside Perth, used the labour of the boys to build the institutional infrastructure. Michael has vivid memories of building the pool. They laboured before and after school and at weekends to complete it, using picks and shovels. Boys who did not work hard enough risked being beaten. Michael still suffers the effects of an injury he received from a blow across the chest by one particular Brother.
Violence, both physical and sexual, was part of the life of boys at the Boys Town. Some boys suffered more. ‘I was this Brother’s ‘punching bag,’ ’ remembers Michael. Later in life, a doctor asked him if he had ever been in a major traffic accident, because his body bore all the signs of such a major trauma.
These traumatic injuries were gained not only at Clontarf but at the Home in England where Michael was before he came to Australia as a Child Migrant. His mother had placed him in the Home as a young child, after the loss of Michael’s French-Canadian soldier father. Michael was chosen to come out to Australia as part of the Child Migrant scheme, although his mother had never given permission for him to be taken out of the country. He left England on his 11th birthday and arrived in Perth in August 1953. He went straight to Clontarf and remembers the shock of seeing poorly-clad boys, who to him seemed clearly neglected. He was sent from Clontarf just on 16, having been forced to leave school a year earlier, although he had asked to continue.
Michael gave evidence to the Senate Inquiry which led to the ‘Lost Innocents’ Report. He felt compelled to talk about it, to release ‘all that history inside me’, that ‘terrible repression’ of memories he had not been able tell because he had felt nobody would believe. Reliving it is painful, and brings back the memories and the nightmares. ‘I peel off a straitjacket every time I remember’ says Michael. But he feels a powerful obligation to tell, not only for himself but for others, because he can remember what some others have blocked out or have lost through trauma.
Wilma Robb nee Wilma Cassidy held up this napkin in the Great Hall of Parliament House during the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants on 16 November 2009.
Wilma Robb was first admitted to Dalmar Children’s Home, New South Wales, at the age of five when her mother became ill. During her primary school years Wilma was moved within various care settings within her family, foster care and later was committed to Ormond institution for girls as ‘Uncontrollable’ and ‘Exposed to Moral danger’. At the age of 14 she ran away from Ormond and slept in a phone box in Villawood. She was gang-raped by a group of bikies. A few days later she was picked up and admitted to Parramatta Girls Home where she was diagnosed with venereal disease. She was labeled a ‘loose girl’, without investigation of the circumstances in which she acquired the disease and never talking about her rapes till in her 50s. Her ‘unsatisfactory’ behavior there led to her being sent to two periods of detention at Hay Institution for Girls.
As a teenage girl in Parramatta, Wilma, had never been charged with a criminal offence, (only a Welfare charge) was treated she believes as a de facto criminal. She was assaulted by staff (one bashing by the Superintendent resulted in her having to receive a full set of dentures at the age of 15 after her face was smashed into washbasins. Girls were internally examined to assess the ‘status’ of their virginity on arrival to Parramatta girls home and Ormond institution for girls. –. Girls who were defiant received further punishments – solitary confinement and some put on medication with the psychotropic drug Largactil.
Because of her refusal to be broken by the system, Wilma was sent, from the Parramatta Girls Home to the Hay Institution for Girls which opened in 1961-1974 as a maximum security closed institution for girls aged 13 to 18. Girls were sent to Hay despite their having committed no crime and without a legal trial. Girls were never to speak, without permission, or to establish eye contact with anyone ever. This rule was enforced despite the fact that the ‘silent system’ was outlawed in New South Wales in the late 1800s. Girls endured a regime of hard labor without school education.
The bodies of these ‘incorrigible’ girls were controlled at all times by the system. Movement was with military precision and governed by a strict regime. Girls could only speak to each other for 10 minutes a day, while maintaining 2m distance; they were forced to sleep on their right side facing the door. Twenty minuet surveillances happened all night. Girls were surveyed 24 hours a day by male staff (who were the only ones with keys to the cells) and personal experiences such as menstruation were public and exposed humiliated and deprived of privacy . Wilma said on a visit back to Hay:
It was very Cruel, inhuman and sadistic. You can still smell, feel and hear the pain in that place still today.
In later life she took up an occupation as a housekeeper to the family of Manning and Dymphna Clark. Manning Clark was the author of the general history of Australia, his six-volume A History of Australia. Manning Clark is described in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as ‘Australia’s most famous historian’. Dymphna Clark was an eminent linguist and campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal people. Wilma Robb still works as caretaker of Manning Clark House.
The napkin itself is a significant object which holds other stories. It was part of Dymphna Clark’s household items originally brought to Australia from Norway by Dymphna’s mother Anna Sophia Lodewycz circa 1910. However, enough is known of the life of the Clarks to know that visitors, significant in cultural, political and academic worlds, both national and international, were part of their social life.
At the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants, Parliament House, Canberra, November 16, 2009.
Prior to the National Apology, Minister Jenny Macklin contacted Wilma asking her to submit her personal history so that it may be considered as part of Kevin Rudd’s speech. In her letter to Kevin Rudd, she explained that the Hay Institution for Girls was the equivalent of a colonial jail in its use of silent treatment. Robb was concerned that Rudd’s use of the word ‘institution’ would not cover her prison experience. Robb realized that she may not have a chance to say this on the day, so she grabbed one of Dymphna Clark’s linen table napkins, and wrote ‘WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN’S PRISONS’ in thick ink marker on each side of the napkin. When the moment came, she was nervous about holding it up.
‘I felt sick in the stomach,’ she told the National Museum of Australia.
To support her, Keith Kelly a former inmate of the equally notorious Tamworth Institution for Boys who was sitting behind her took the other side of the napkin and held it up with her. He would have equal reason to refer to the institution he had been held in as a prison. This impromptu protest sign was one of many items made by Forgotten Australians and brought to the Apology.
This soft toy was donated to the National Museum by Jeanette Blick.
Jeanette was a resident of Orana Methodist Home for Children, Burwood Victoria. The toy was made by prisoners at Pentridge Gaol:
A Pentridge prisoner with a propensity for, say, woodcraft or textiles might have found himself encouraged to join the ‘Pentridge Toy Makers’, a group founded in 1961 to produce toys for ‘needy’ and ‘destitute’ children. Products of the Toy Makers’ labours (upwards of 6,000 toys and hobbies annually, at their peak) were ceremonially displayed and distributed at lavish Christmas events held in the jail, to which groups of children from refugee communities, orphanages, and so on, were invited.
The teddy bear was given to Jeanette circa 1962. She recalls receiving the gift:
I can remember receiving the teddy one Christmas as I did not have a family to go to for the holidays, so I had to remain in Orana over Christmas. Christmas day, I remember finding the teddy on the bottom of my bed. I did not know where it had come from as it was not wrapped and there was no tag/card on it.
I took it to the cottage mother and told her someone had left this on my bed and she said it was for me. She also told me that the prisoners in Pentridge Gaol had made the teddy.
I think I cried most of the day. This was the first gift I had received in years.
In the New Year a family came and took me for the rest of the holidays. I left the teddy on my bed as I was instructed to do (I wanted to take it with me but was not allowed) and when I came back it was gone.
I never saw it again until I opened my suitcase when I arrived in Cobram at my mother’s house. Someone must have put it in the case with the toothbrush, pyjamas and knickers that were there as well. I do not know who had done this or why.
 Wilson, Jacqueline Zara (2004) ‘Dark tourism and the celebrity prisoner: Front and back regions in representations of an Australian historical prison’ in Journal of Australian Studies 82: 1–13. The activities of the Pentridge Toy Makers ended in 1976 as a result of fire in their storage shed. (ibid., p. 172).
by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 1 September, 2010
Graham Evans, a former resident of St Vincent’s Westmead, recalls that printing the school newspaper was not a rewarding task. The cover of the February 1929 edition is reproduced with kind permission from the State Library of New South Wales.
We, too, are interested in any objects that help to relate personal experiences of life in a children’s home. If you have an object that you would like to lend or donate to the Museum for our pending exhibition, then please contact us.