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.