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.
On 7 December, 2010, at Old Parliament House, Canberra, the international leader of The Salvation Army, General Shaw Clifton issued a national apology to former residents of Salvation Army Homes. The National Museum of Australia photographed some of those who attended the apology.
Jo Malham’s father-in-law, Ernie, is a Forgotten Australian. Here, she shares some works inspired by Ernie’s history.
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.
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.
There are plenty of photos and narratives of children’s homes on the web. And often one post sparks many other connections – memories, but also appeals to help find a lost friend or relation.
There were two orphanages in Goulburn – St Joseph’s Girls’ Home (1906) and St John’s Boys’ Orphanage (1912). Rossco called this image St Joseph’s, but a commenter on the Pool site is sure that it’s St John’s.
In trying to verify, I came upon another photograph of the same building, taken and posted by Danman. The introduction to his photo is followed by a long string of comments, some of which are from people with direct experience of the place, or whose family recall being there. In the 54 comments, there are some amazing threads.
Curiously, the confusion about whether this is St Joseph’s for girls or St John’s for boys recurs there. Danman doesn’t name the orphanage, but says that his mother attended for a time. A commenter claims that that can’t be true, since it is the boys’ orphanage. Maybe it is St John’s for boys, but for some reason she went there anyway. We know from Warren Porter that an institution might take in a child of the opposite sex.
Former resident of Hay, Wilma Robb, shares her photographs taken at the Hay Girls reunion in 2007.
The Hay Institution for Girls was opened in 1961 as a maximum security institution for girls, aged 13 to 18, from the Parramatta Girls Home. Girls were sent to Hay despite their having committed no crime and without a legal trial. Girls were not permitted to speak, without permission, or to establish eye contact with anyone. This rule was enforced despite the fact that the “silent system” was outlawed in NSW in the late 1800s. Girls endured a regime of hard labour without school education.
Further information and historical photographs about life at Hay can be read at the website concerning Sharyn Killens’ book An Inconvenient Child.
Wilma’s painting Black, Blue and Raw was 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. Wilma Robb (Cassidy) 2005
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 correspondence 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.