art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

What Mrs Letherby did for us

Artist Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia shares her painting of an inspirational teacher.

Rachael explains:

Briefly, a kind old woman was brought in to supervise our studies. Her name was Mrs Mary Letherby, she was only there a week or two.

We expected her to think of us as defiled like the nuns did. But she did something nobody else had done–she treated us as human.

She listened to us and accepted us untarnished by the atrocities we’d experienced. We were amazed.

This gave us hope when we had none.

After we got out several of us went to see her. Her compassion changed our lives.

Although she died not long after she has inspired me all my life.

22×30″ copyright Racheal Romero
art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

‘The stain is indelible’

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 5 August, 2011

Artist Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia shares her painting Pines Quadrangle dark with station of cross detail.

Rachael describes its significance:

It was dark the first time I crossed that cement quadrangle–at first I thought I was on the deck of an old ship. I had entered a new confinement.

It was clear that I had been condemned–that my prior life was over. That I was despised by my new jailers.
That the life that loomed before me was now even more dreadful . The idea that I would have to endure an unbearable seven years until
I reached twenty-one and had the power of my own volition was agonizing.

They knew not what they did.
Now they wash their hands, but the stain is indelible.

Painting of two girls with cross and nun in dark quadrangle
Pines Quadrangle dark with station of cross detail by Rachael Romero
art, Forgotten Australians, painting, poetry

‘A Severed Life’

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 8 June, 2011

Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia, shares her drawing A Severed Life.

Rachael writes about her art work:

Those responsible for our incarceration were looking in the mirror.
How many lives cauterized?
How many hands maimed?
Girls not protected but stained by unwarranted and self-righteous religious and civil presumption of guilt.
Their persecuters were looking in the mirror.

‘Magdalene Laundry Convent of Good Shepherd Crown’ by Rachael Romero copyright 2011
Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

‘The Mangle’

by Rachel Romero (guest author) on 18 May, 2011

New York artist and film-maker, Rachael Romero, and former resident of ‘The Pines’, Sisters of the Good Shepherd Convent, Plympton, South Australia shares a page from her book which will be published this year.

Rachael’s book is a series of prints documenting the life in the Convent of the Good Shepherd. Regarding her work below, The Mangle, Rachael says,

You … need to imagine immense heat, little ventilation and the din of thundering machinery.

The Mangle. Copyright Rachael Romero, 2011
art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting, Stolen Generations

Escape and Blood Sisters

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 16 February, 2011

Rachael Romero shares two of her paintings which depict experiences at the Convent of the Good Shepherd, ‘The Pines’, Plympton, South Australia.

Frederica’s Escape Attempt
mixed media on rag paper (ink, watercolour) 22 x 30″, copy right Rachael Romero, 1984

Freddie tried to rush up the wall over the barbed wire one night. The dogs were barking on the other side. We were all wishing her up and over and out, but of course she got dragged back.

She would keep trying.

Blood Sisters
mixed media on rag paper (ink, watercolor) 22 x 30″, copyright Rachael Romero, 1984

Me and Lilly did this because we felt we had become sisters in horror. Lilly had been taken from her mother to a mission then The Pines. She didn’t remember where she was from. I didn’t want to be from where I remembered.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, objects, painting

Art has always saved me

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 14 February, 2011

Rachael Romero’s artistic talent enabled her to have time away from slaving in the laundry at The Pines. Here is one of the bookmarks that the Sisters of the Good Shepherd asked her to make.

Rachael recalls:

So here’s the rub. When the nuns found out I had talent I was asked to make book marks and cards for them to use.

This way I got out of the laundry for an hour or two a week. What relief they locked me in a room alone to paint!


I feigned a religious conversion in order to escape their radar and plot my escape.

art, Forgotten Australians, painting, photography

Art work dedicated to Forgotten Australians

by Jo Malham (guest author) on 4 December, 2010

Jo Malham’s father-in-law, Ernie, is a Forgotten Australian. Here, she shares some works inspired by Ernie’s history.

Jo explains:

I am an artist currently studying my Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts).  Throughout 2010 my works have been inspired by stories and the plight of Forgotten Australians.  My father-in-law, Ernie Malham, was taken from his parents when he was seven years old.  He was never told why and never told where his eight brothers and sisters were.  Ernie is 84 years old now and lives contentedly with his son and myself, his daughter-in-law.

My art is a mixture of painting, mixed media works on canvas and digital images.  The images contain symbolic messages to communicate the wretchedness of being a Forgotten Australian.  The finished paintings and mixed media go on to be photographed then manipulated to show another aspect to the message being communicated.

art, film, Forgotten Australians, memories, music, painting, photography


by Bonney Djuric (guest author) on 4 May, 2010


Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Girls Industrial School Gate 3

Bonney discusses the historical background to her film and the notion of “asylum”:

The Female Factory was built in 1818 adjacent to the Colonial Government domain on land bounded to the south by a curve in the Parramatta River. It was a large site over a number of hectares and had been previously owned by Bligh and Marsden. The Factory was the brainchild of Governor Macquarie who in his concerns for the safety of the women and children of the colony recommended that a place be built to provide safe refuge for them. It was not long until the idealised safe refuge of Macquarie’s vision changed into a place of detention, incarceration and punishment.

Macquarie’s Female Factory building was partly demolished in 1885, some of its structure was incorporated into the now Institute of Psychiatry building at Cumberland Hospital. The main area where it once stood is now called the Deadyard an area of land bounded by the high stone walls of the Factory. By 1848 the Factory had been declared a place for paupers and lunatics.

In 1841 an orphanage was built on the drying grounds adjacent to the Factory, in an attempt to provide safe accommodation for the factory women’s children. It became known as the Roman Catholic Orphan School (RCOS).The premises of the Roman Catholic Orphan School were resumed by the NSW Government in 1886 and it ceased to function as an orphanage. Theories emerging from the Industrial Revolution shaped attitudes of the day which lead to the establishment of a Training and Industrial School on the site.

Between 1886 and 1983 it would go through many name changes each reflecting the social policy and attitudes of the day. What did not change over this ninety seven year period was the day to day life experienced by the inmates of the institution. In 1980 management of a section of the site was transferred to the Department of Corrective Services and it continues to operate as the Norma Parker Correctional Centre for Women.

Born as a disciplinary society, Australia was colonized during the period of the Industrial Revolution. It was a place of banishment for the displaced population of an English revolution that was fought not by using the gun or guillotine, but the more insidious instrument of control, reason and its progeny, science, in the interests of economy, made animate through morality and exercised by the judiciary.

It was within this climate that Governor Macquarie commissioned Francis Greenway to build Australia’s first institution of confinement the Female Factory at Parramatta in1821. In Macquarie’s correspondence1 we can read of his genuine concern for the welfare of the women and children of the settlement and of his ambition to create a place of safety where women would not have to prostitute themselves in order to get food and a roof over their head.

The Female Factory was Australia’s first social experiment to create a self contained, self supporting institution where the values of hard work would be rewarded with liberation from penal servitude to that of social respectability. As the stone walls surrounding the site grew in height so did the attitudes to its occupants, now inmates, change. They became woman who no longer needed protection but the depraved that the emerging free settler society had to protect themselves from.  It became a place where idleness would not be tolerated. Its purpose had been endowed by the history of the institution of confinement to house the poor, unemployed, idle, criminal and mad women of the colony – a place that would shape Australian attitudes towards women as either damned whores or God’s police.

It was upon this site that the system of rewards and punishment of the institutions of confinement of the early 19th century would remain un-challenged until the early 1980’s and from where, in the Australian thought-system, cultural images and conceptions of ‘rottenness and taint’ would be associated with particular groups.

Although few remnants of the original Factory building exist, its legacy lives on in the lives of people who have experienced the so called ‘care’ of the institution. The experiences of these people, the Forgotten Australians, can be traced back to 17th century Europe, to the establishment of the Hopital General in Paris and to the workhouses of Great Britain.

From 1821 to the present day every type of institution of confinement has been located on the Factory site; an orphanage, a training school, a psychiatric hospital and a prison.

Perhaps in our current political climate, where the meaning of asylum has shifted emphasis to that of the refugee, the asylum seeker, we will come to realize that their experience of the institution of confinement- the detention centres – are no different to that of those in other institutions established to provide a place of so called sanctuary in both contemporary and historical terms.  Attention to their plight may present an opportunity to question where our attitudes and beliefs about those who we place in such institutions actually originated from and more importantly bring about a change in our thinking.

“Life is more important than art. That’s what makes art so important”.    – John Malpede.

1 Macquarie colonial papers State Library of NSW.

Further information about the site featured in the film can be found here.

art, Forgotten Australians, painting


by Mim Willson-Dekker (guest author) on 31 March, 2010

The painting ‘Depression: Abuse in Children’s Home and at Work as an Adult’ by artist Mim Willson-Dekker, depicts the events that triggered her suicide attempt in 1971.

Mim Willson-Dekker was born in 1929 in Toowoomba, Queensland. At the age of nine, her mother was widowed and went to work. As a result, Mim was placed in Dr Dill Mackay Home in Auburn, New South Wales. The abusive episodes in her painting took place at Dr Dill Mackay Home, her foster home and thoughout her work as a lab attendant in the Chemistry Department at the University of Queensland.

Depression: Abuse in Children’s Home and at Work as an Adult
Copyright Mim Willson-Dekker 2002
art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

Bonney’s paintings

by Bonney Djuric (guest author) on 20 January, 2010

Bonney Djuric  is the Founder of Parragirls – Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Inc. Parragirls is a contact register and support group for Forgotten Australians committed to State Welfare Institutions.

Born in Victoria, Bonney spent her childhood years in rural Gippsland. She is the second eldest of six siblings and divorced mother/foster mother of five children.

By the time she was 9 her father had deserted the family leaving them in poverty and driven by shame and desperation her mother relocated the family in Sydney. In those days women’s wages were low and government benefits were well below the poverty line. Evicted from their home help came in the form of public housing in Sydney’s far western suburbs. Bonney continued at school until 14 leaving to take work as a junior office assistant. Again tragedy struck when she was picked up on her way to work one morning and raped. A court hearing ensued and the offenders were exonerated. For months following the case Bonney and her family were harassed by the offenders and others and in desperation she ran away trying to make her way back to her grandmother in Victoria. Eventually picked up by the welfare she was charged with Exposed to Moral Danger and committed to Parramatta Girls Home by the time she was 15.

Married at 20, her life settled and she became a mother of two, however the legacy of her childhood remained unresolved and her marriage broke down in her mid thirties. A decade later she lost two sisters, one of whom was a single parent of three. Taking the children, Bonney once again became involved with the welfare system. Facing an uncertain future Bonney was determined to make changes and it was from this that her engagement with other Forgotten Australians began.

Bonney’s reflections on the federal apology to the Forgotten Australians and Lost Innocents

What does it mean to be a Forgotten Australian?

Firstly, it gives me a sense of belonging – this may seem rather strange – but for me like so many others we’ve had to grapple with a sense of being invisible and also a sense of powerlessness. In practical terms this affects all aspects of our lives and presents difficulties in expressing our needs to authority figures such as doctors, Centrelink, legal people, police etc.. for instance when my sister died back in 2000 I took care of her 3 young children, twins aged 9 and elder boy 10 years. This brought me in contact with the “WELFARE” department for the first time since 1970 when I left Parramatta Girls Home where I had been thoroughly convinced that I was worthless – and worse that I had a criminal record which of course I didn’t.

As I had always worked I had no experience in dealing with Centrelink and after 18 months of supporting the children I was informed by a Children’s Court solicitor that from the outset I was entitled to a foster carer’s allowance.

Irrational as it seems,  I also feared that the welfare would take the kids if they knew who I really was and as a result I was reluctant to ask DoCs for the help and support needed. This fear is shared by many Forgotten Australians who learnt at a young age that there were always consequences if you dared to ask. Rather like Oliver Twist’s request for more porridge!

With my new circumstances came a resolve that I would do everything I could to break the cycle that had been my experience, my mother’s and those of my sister and her children. I began to examine my past, ask questions and confront my fears. My first point of call was Parramatta Girls Home – now the Norma Parker Detention centre for Women. Now many years later I no longer have a sense of fear and apprehension when visiting the site and through personal experience have learnt a way to dispel the ghosts of the past.

Throughout the years I’ve engaged with the issues facing many Forgotten Australians and in 2006 formalised my activities in forming Parragirls.

What does the apology mean to me?

Really there’s no easy answer but I can say that for some it has brought a sense of closure and increased awareness of a ‘hidden’ history in Australia. It’s one step in what I feel will be a long journey to an unknown destination. On a personal level I was touched by Kevin Rudd’s acknowledgment  that many Forgotten Australians did not survive to see this day – those who had died ‘forgotten’ or by their own hand like my sister.

The apology brought together so many people in one place, yet each of us was in that very ‘alone’ place – the place of a child’s nightmare with our memories and those of all who we remember. I recall Kevin Rudd saying “today you are no longer the forgotten Australians but rather the remembered Australians”,  and perhaps just for that moment we were.

But what of the future?

However well intentioned or well received the apology may be it does not equate to forgiveness – that is a side of the equation which each of us must find alone.

I’ve learnt that I have to be the change I want and will continue to lobby for the preservation and dedication of Parramatta Girls Home and the adjacent Female Factory as a Living Memorial to the Forgotten Australians and others who have been marginalised by society.

Bonney Djuric
November 2009

art, Forgotten Australians, painting

Wilma’s painting

by Wilma Robb (guest author) on 9 December, 2009

Wilma Robb was incarcerated in Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institution for Girls. One way she tells her story is through painting.

Wilma with her painting
Black, Blue and Raw

Black, Blue and Raw
Wilma Robb (Cassidy) 2005
This hung in an exhibition “Forgotten Australians” at NSW Parliament house from 11 April-28 April 2005. Supported and Arranged by Forgotten Australians Jools Graeme, Melody Mandena, John Murray

Black, Blue and Raw depicts my time in Parramatta and Hay.

At Hay, I experienced a sadistic, martial discipline the (Silent Treatment outlawed in the late 1800s) designed to break the human spirit. These days we would describe it as a form of ‘programming’. At Parramatta, I experienced psychological abuse, rape, neglect and other forms of violent torture at the hands of state employees.

My torso
No-one sees what is hidden inside me. Here are the memories I have tried to suppress. Here is the sub-conscious record of life-destroying events, festering.
The little girl at the centre is me. The eyes overseeing the evil are those of one of my abusers, captured by camera from a television screen.

My baby
When I was 18, my baby was taken from me by Welfare, within minutes of his birth.

The colours
To me, yellow and purple signalled hope. At Hay, we experienced regular solitary confinement, enforced silence and regimentation. Also, they took our eyes.

The mask
At Hay, they tried to turn us into unthinking robots by brainwashing and deprivation. The Hay mask has a robotic expression and a head that has been messed with severely. My memory of Parramatta is dominated by the violence of the staff – I lost my teeth and had my face smashed. The mask has had its features flattened and is flesh softened by fists.