I have edited some contributions recently on the basis that they were not in keeping with the guidelines for this website.
The National Museum of Australia understands and appreciates that it takes great courage for those who were institutionalised, as children, to discuss publicy, their personal history. In keeping with this understanding, we will ensure that this website is safe for all those former inmates and residents.
The aim of this website is to provide a voice for those who, as children, were denied the right to speak. Whilst we welcome participation from all, publication is dependent on associated comments demonstrating respect for the range of testimonies from those who were placed in ‘care’.
The guidelines can be read on the ‘Note to contributors’ page.
Juanita Maria Burr, nee Broderick, was a resident of Nudgee Orphanage, Queensland, from 1944 (the year of her birth) to 1961. Here she shares some recollections, including photos of her singing at the World Expo, 1988, Brisbane.
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.
by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 27 April, 2011
In a recent post on this website, Godfrey Gilmour, writes about his experience as a former Child Migrant. He remembers Father Cyril Stinson visiting his school in Malta in order to recruit boys to migrate to Australia. Oliver Cosgrove kindly contacted the National Museum with information about Father Stinson.
Father Cyril Stinson was the Director of the Catholic Episcopal Migration and Welfare Association Inc of Western Australia, an association that comprised the Archbishop of Perth, the Bishop of Geraldton, the Abbot of New Norcia, and the Vicar Apostolic of the Kimberleys. He was also, in 1952, the Australian representative in UK of the Federal Catholic Immigration Committee. Both of these organs worked to bring Catholics to Australia (including children).
A summary of one of Father Stinson’s radio braodcasts was published in the Times of Malta, 15 October, 1952.
We the people call on the various State and the Federal governments for a royal commission into the care of 500,000 children who were institutionalised, placed in orphanages and also in foster care during the period of the 1920’s to the 1990’s.
Further information about the petition was available on the GoPetition website. In 2020 this page was no longer available.
On Tuesday 16 November, to mark the first anniversary of the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants, ACT Forgotten Australians and Women and Prisons (WAP) marched across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in Canberra. Here are the photographs of the event taken by George Serras, the senior photographer at the National Museum of Australia.
I’m Don Aziz and I was taken from Broken Hill and put into Mittagong Boys Home at the age of 12 and then I grew up there, and then I was returned back to my mother who was a Second World War widow. And then from there I was taken back down to the institutions again, and had to put up with what was dished out to us. And then virtually went from there to Mount Panang, which is another institution of the welfare system, and from there I went back to Broken Hill and I worked on the mines up there and got on with my life.
The apology today means a great thing to not only myself but thousands of Australians that had suffered all these years without no recognition of any apology. We were lost, confused and left out there. A lot of people didn’t believe what actually went on in these places.
Today is a great day for a better future for Australia. Life itself in those homes was a lot of physical, mental and sexual abuse and a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of alcoholism by the welfare people that were in care, and a lot of abuse by the boys to one another. But it gave a sort of direction where I came from because I was living in those times of the year – it was racism against the Indigenous.
I was copping both sides from the Indigenous side and also the welfare side of it. I still carry the demons. I have to live with that until the day I die. But I believe the church, the people that were responsible for all this abuse, are not here to answer for it. So the organisations they are with should be committed to this apologies. I thank the Australian government for what they have done to bring all this together, you know. I know I can die in peace now that this has all been over and done with after today. I will get on with it again.
by Colleen Stevenson (guest author) on 15 November, 2010
My name is Colleen and I grew up in Neerkol orphanage in Rockhampton. I went to the orphanage when I was 11 years of age. We were taken off our parents and charged with being neglected. We were taken to court. The five of us were in court. My grandfather went there to try to stop them from taking us, but they wouldn’t give us to him. He went away and he was so upset. He was so sad. He was an old man but he wanted us so badly.
Well, life in Neerkol was no pretty picture at all. We’d get up 5 o’clock in the morning, go to church, then we’d come back and we’d have to do the dormitories and we’d just have to do a lot of things. If we didn’t do it properly we were given a hiding. We were given the strap. We just had to do it proper.
As a child we weren’t able to form bonds at all. We never really got to know each other as children. I think we were all scared of what would happen to us, not that we couldn’t but we just weren’t allowed to, we just didn’t feel like we could, you know, because of things that went on – sorry. Things that happened out there to different kids, kids were strapped and they were hurt very badly.
Being here today, the apology means today that it’s finally recognised as we were all telling the truth and not lying. Well, it helps move on a little bit, one step at a time. You can’t go – one day at a time – you can’t go any further than that. If you try to go any further you get nowhere.
My children when they were growing up I tried very hard. I made my mistakes because I didn’t really know how to bring them up but I did my best. I love them very much and people could see I loved them. I was also scared when my husband died that they would be taken off me. I was so fearful that they would be taken off me but they weren’t, thank God. And they turned into great kids.
by Lynn Meyers (guest author) on 15 November, 2010
My name is Lynette Meyers. I became a ward of the state with the Victorian government in 1959, September 1959. I was there until 1963. I was sent back to my stepfather in Queensland by the Victorian government and, on the recommendations that I have now read in my file, he was the last person I should have been sent back to. So I ran away from him immediately and went back to Victoria. From then on it was a revolving door until I got to about 30. I was in and out of Fairlea women’s prison from then right up until I was about 30 on and off over the years.
I got my tattoos on my arms when I first went into Winlaton in the lockup block in Goonyah. The girls used to have Indian ink and to rebel against the screws everybody used to tattoo themselves. I my first one was on my hand and then all over.
They used to lock us up in our quarters, that’s all, in our cells. At one stage I was in my cell for three weeks, me and another girl in the X cell. We scraped the bricks away so we could talk to each other. We had nothing in there but the floor. If you wanted to go to the toilet, you used to have to scream out for one of the screws to come and let you out to go to the toilet. They would only come when they wanted to.
What it means to me, it means that somebody is taking responsibility for the cruel things that happened to us in there. The tattoos, the drugs, the hidings, on Sparine and Largactil so we walked around like zombies. If you ever played up you got a needle in the bum by the men and just locked up, you know, solitary.
But also it means to me that I want the government not to let this happen to the young kids that are in the homes now. That is more important. What happened to me and others, we can’t do much about. But let’s not continue it on. That’s what it means.
My name is Ron and I am 61 years old. I am here today for the Forgotten Australians apology by Kevin – sorry, Mr Rudd. I have mixed feelings about it. One is that an apology after 60 years of basic abuse by the Salvation Army where I was incarcerated when I was 11 years old, that sort of thing, with the physical abuse and sexual abuse, it’s always something hard to get over.
I found my time at Box Hill Boys Home to be enjoyable in some aspects in as much basically we all went to school together and we did create some sort of brotherhood. But what happens when you got to about 14 or 15 in those days, you got shipped out to farms or put to work, and once you got a job you were basically taken out of the home.
In my situation I went to work on my uncle’s farm, but prior to that I was in a youth hostel in Auburn which is a suburb of Melbourne. Once again encountered the same effects from the Salvation Army, which is probably contradictory to what they preach. But you learn to live and move on, you know. Some people think I am fairly well adjusted which I am on the exterior, but underneath there’s probably a lot of scarring, if I can use those words.
I have come from Victoria today for the apology. It carries a fair bit of significance for me because, having been in institutions, I find there is a little bit of contradiction in as much as I don’t hold the federal government responsible, I hold the state governments responsible because the state governments are the ones who subsidised all the church institutions.
I recognise that Mr Rudd wants to apologise but I also recognise that the apology probably should have come from other areas, which include the state governments at that time and also churches responsible for not only the abuse in my particular area but the abuse in other institutions. Without those apologies from those particular areas we just won’t move on. People talk to me about closure but I don’t think there is such a thing as closure unless you confront the demons that create the problems.
Since I arrived here last night, we came up earlier the day before the actual apology, we were all put into hotels and I had a very distinct pleasure last night of catching up with two of my former home people – I don’t know what word to use. After 50 years seeing these people and talking to them, it’s just like a long-lost family, you know, it’s very hard. These are decent blokes. There is nothing untoward about them at all.
We basically had our own brotherhood, if I can use that word. But also I mustn’t forget there was Indigenous boys in the home too. They were accepted as black and white sort of thing, there was no discrimination. We stood by each other even at tech school. If there was a blue at tech school, they’d be behind you looking after you. I have that much respect for Indigenous culture because of that.
Let me just tell you one thing. One of the things that has plagued me since I was probably 18 or 19, this is a fact that I’ve been married twice, and most of the people you speak to who are here today will tell you they have been married twice at least. What causes that – one of the sad tragic things about being in an institution is that it takes away that feeling of love. Even when you get married the first time, you find it very difficult for someone to come and hug you, for someone to love you, for you to tell someone that you love them too. It is one of the most difficult things to live through for 50 years, that sort of situation. I know because I’ve been married twice, and the first marriage broke up because of that and probably a couple of other factors associated with being in the boys home, for instance violence, like domestic violence, which I have managed to curb.
Also in the second marriage my wife was probably a little bit more intelligent and probably a little bit more forgiving. And at this stage I have got three children who are adults and I have got two young children. My life is pretty good at this stage. It could all go pear-shaped any time.
Have I forgiven the Salvation Army? No, no way. Until I go to the grave there is no way I will forgive the Salvation Army and the associated people with them. What they created was a monster, really for the last 50 years plus.
I am Wilma Robb and I live in Canberra. I am a Forgotten Australian. I went into care when I was five years old for around about 12 months. There is no record of me leaving the orphanage in Sydney, which is Carlingford. I went home and my Mum was chronically ill, so I sort of shifted around a little bit to my grandmother, back to my mother, foster care.
I got put into an institution which was Ormond and I broke out of there because I didn’t know what was happening to me. And I got sentenced through the courts for six to nine months to the Parramatta Girls Home, and that’s where my life spiralled out of control – the systematic abuse.
The significance is that we got the apology. We are recognised – that this is still happening so I hope people – the whole system – takes notice of what did happen in the past and it’s on record. A lot of people needed this apology. Personally it means nothing to me, even though I got emotional.
My life in the orphanage, I can’t really remember it. I remember a long driveway and being alone. That was when I was five. Life in Ormond was a big wire fence around us so I was caged. When I went into Parramatta, life in there was scary and you had to survive and no, we had no real close friends. We never spoke about anything. We used to get separated if we looked like making friends. So Parramatta was really bad.
I have three children – I have four children actually. I had one baby taken off me at birth and I found him in 2006, a week after his 40th birthday, and I have three other children. They all live in Canberra. I was married and I had three children to that marriage. But all I was interested in was my three children because usually what happens is if you are abused as a child, what you will connect with is another abusive relationship. And I have just stayed away from relationships. I am stronger by myself.
by Garry Harrison (guest author) on 15 November, 2010
Hi, my name is Garry. I was placed in an institution when I was about three months old, the same institution I was in there until I was about 13. I left there having them thinking I was going on holidays but I had no intention of coming back. There on lived on the street – a lot of things. I did meet my sister once though. She come to see me but she wanted to know whether I had a heart condition. She was worried it might have been hereditary. Other than that, that’s all she wanted to know.
Well I think at the moment I would have to say the apology means nothing until the correct services are provided for us. At the moment I would say yes, that’s good, the government of the day has admitted yes, they did have – or past governments had – a duty of care. But a mere apology does not fix the problems that we have. We have many, many, many problems.
A lot of us suffer from post-traumatic stress. A lot of them were in these institutions – it was like a war zone. We were in our own war zone. A lot of us are the sons and daughters of our war veterans that fought in the First and Second World Wars only for the governments that look after their children in these institutions to be raped, pillaged, robbed, bashed, whatever. About 56 per cent of these children – of the 500,000 thousand – were the sons and daughters of war veterans. These governments have a lot to answer for. They did us a lot of damage.
Now I was raised by nuns, the Sisters of Nazareth. They were abominable, they were absolutely cruel. For the slightest thing they would hit you over the head with a hand broom. If you wet the bed, you’d get bashed for it. They had a senior bloke there who used to look after us as well. He tried to throw me over a bannister when I was probably about five or six years old. He tried to kill me. This was an ongoing thing where when they belted us, they stripped us and belted us until that nun was so tired and exhausted that she couldn’t hit us any more. We were sort of splayed out, one kid has got that arm, one kid has that arm, one kid has that leg, and one kid has that leg, you have no clothes on at all, and they’re just laying into you. But the nun was done when she was absolutely exhausted. Other than that she kept on going, kept on belting you.
We did … We had some good friendships there. The awful part about it is when we left there, the system, when you went to get your file – you could have got your file probably when you were 18, 19 or 20 but, because of the shame and loss of dignity, you daren’t go to the authorities and ask for your file. You were absolutely brain dead to ask for something like that. I never asked for my file until I was 50 under the Freedom of Information Act and, when I did get it, I got two pages. To get that file that took a lot of guts for me to ask the authorities for that.
I had to wait another two years before I got the courage to ask them again for my file – not the two pages but for my file. It ended up so thick. I have read that file and I can still remember the second last page of that file – this is the sort of care factor that they had. Written on the last page when I turned 18: ‘I wonder where he is now’. That’s the care factor they had. They didn’t know where I was. If they did care, they’d chase you, they’d look for you or whatever but they didn’t.
Then again I would have to say if I got into any trouble or anything like that while I was under the ward of the state system, you daren’t go to anyone for help for fear they would put you back in so you would be back to square one. When I was living with these people they placed me with on a holiday, he was a paedophile. I am between a rock and a hard place. Do I tell the authorities? In this case I did tell the authorities, what did they do? They stuck me in a hostel. I am there for 18 months or whatever, played up like shit there. I end up coming out and they sent me back to the same guy, the paedophile.
I think the problem with us is that we don’t know how to sustain a relationship, and that sort of falls very, very hard on the lady as well. And probably the other way around as well for Forgotten Australians on the female side, there is that side too. But I know on my side of it, because we weren’t shown how to nurture or how to look after the wife or how to look after your kids, you’re at loggerheads. You think you’re doing right or whatever and you try your best. But nine out of ten your best is not good enough anyway because you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.
Hi, my name is Jim Myers. I am from the Northern Territory. I was raised in institutions from four years until I was 18 years old in Victoria, I think it was five institutions all up. I am here today because I do think an apology is necessary, but I also think that there has to be a lot said about why, what happened in all the orphanages, the government never followed up in the early days when they were supposed to.
In my situation I was put into a home at four years old because my mother couldn’t afford to keep me, feed me, clothe me, whatever. So the government of the day made me a ward of the state and put me into Catholic care. When we were put into the orphanages, the government didn’t have a follow-up scheme where they could check on those individual children – or me in this case – and they didn’t have a follow up on what was actually happening in the orphanages. Because as far as I know there was no records kept of actually what actually happened to you – and if they were, we are finding out today they were destroyed either by the church or by the government – or maybe they didn’t even receive them.
Now the difference between state and church, it’s nearly impossible to get church records of what they did to you and what happened to you in the homes. The state government, you can get information through the freedom of information but at the same time they blank out a lot of pages or they mark them out black. You know, it’s a no-win situation, you are not getting your full story which you want.
I think hopefully after today if the government have decided to do this apology, which I think they are, there needs to be a follow-up in what actually happened with all the records and make them accessible to all the children like myself who need that information to just keep going on.
I didn’t have a real bonding sort of thing, like in the homes as you got older, say about nine or ten, you started to develop yourself. I maybe remember one or two people. Every now and again I think of them and wonder what they are doing, but I have never sort of chased up. I was hoping maybe I might see someone today or hear a name that I remember from those days. There are a couple of people I would like to meet today – there are only about two people out of the whole lot. The rest of them I never carried on or had a relationship sort of to go on about that. They didn’t encourage it a lot of the time either. They sort of made you individuals so they didn’t like you hanging around in packs because they didn’t know what you were going to get up to.
My escapism is what I did – I used to be like to be on my own. I still do to this day. I prefer my own company to a lot of people’s company. I can put up with people for 10 or 15 minutes, then I just disappear. I did it last night at the dinner. I just had enough of everyone talking and everything like that and hearing the stories, and I just said, ‘I can’t handle this any more,’ and got up and walked out.
I don’t think the apology itself is going to do very much for me at all. Maybe a few of the people inside, they all have their own agendas, they all want something from it. When you feel the electric shock treatment I used to get and stuff like that, you know, an apology can never do anything for you. And the denial that has always been coming out, you just wonder what’s happening. You just don’t know it’s going to be good enough, just an apology, because none of the stories really are going to surface to the top.
So I will just have to wait and see but my own personal feeling is that I still haven’t made my mind up yet, even right now, whether to go inside and listen to the apology or just sit outside and wait until my other friends come out. I still haven’t made my mind up.
by Katie-Maree Sibraa (guest author) on 15 November, 2010
My name is Katie-Maree Sibraa. I went into care at three months of age, in foster care. With my story it’s the fifth generation in state care. My dad, my grandparents and my great-grandparents all in state care. Myself, I was in care under the minister right up until I was 18 in two separate foster families and also in an institution as well. My experience from the age of seven through to 12 being sexually assaulted by seven different men in the first foster family while under the minister or Children’s Services in Queensland. Then I ran away and when I ran away they put me in an institution for running away and I was only 12. So, yeah, it’s been pretty tough.
Life in an institution when I first arrived I arrived in the back of a paddy wagon, and it was in Wilson in Queensland. They had to hold you down. You weren’t allowed near anybody, unless they had doctors at you. You were totally humiliated. I was only young and frightened because I had already experienced years of abuse – sexual abuse, physical abuse – in the family I was in and I felt like I was being re-tormented, re-punished again. And no-one believed me – no-one. I mean, it was just something that you lived with and had to accept.
Life in the institution, I closed off and was very disassociate. I was very tiny and I never ate, maybe because I fretted or there was no love. There was one person who was a couple of years old who I have only just recently met here, and she used to be my protector. She’d say, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK, don’t cry, they’ll send you into isolation.’ I felt like she was sticking up for me, then she’d get punished and I felt really bad for that.
There was no privacy and it was just – your whole identity was stripped. You had no self-esteem, it was just nothing, no visitors, and it was hard seeing others getting visitors. And when you didn’t have anyone visiting you and you’d just see these gates, it was – not good.
I had met my natural father, my dad, when I was eight in the foster family. I did not know that I was Aboriginal, Indigenous. They brought me up from the back yard playing and they said, ‘Oh, Katie, this is your real dad’. And my reaction to that was: ‘He can’t be, he’s black and I’m white’. I didn’t know. But then he was stopped visiting me. He used to visit me in holidays, but then no.
My natural mother I didn’t know because she had left me at three months on a railway line so I never knew where she was or anything. No, I didn’t have any family.
Being in a relationship or even entering a relationship I find, because I suffered the sexual abuse as a young child and the emotional and physical, I don’t trust very easy. You lose that and sometimes you look for love in the wrong areas and you think it’s going to be OK, but it’s very difficult because you don’t have that trust. And you don’t want to get close because you think, ‘Am I going to get hurt again?’
In Canberra here today, it’s very significant as I hold this piece of paper, hearing Mr Kevin Rudd’s apology to us Forgotten Australians. I find it difficult just holding this to know that my family’s fifth generation in the care of the state – it is very emotional. But as I’ve got here – this is my father’s great-grandfather, so that’s my great-great-grandfather who was in institutions and orphanages and on working farms in Queensland.
I am from the Stolen Generation. I am Indigenous. This is my father, who passed away last year, and these were his grandparents. Two months after this was taken he was taken into care at Nudgee orphanage because he, they said, wasn’t being looked after and cared for. So they were his grandparents.
Then another article last year when my son Adam came down, he was chosen from the Central Coast to come to Canberra for the Stolen Generation for our family representing. My father was dying of lung cancer at the time. He was very proud that his grandson was here representing. It’s so true what it says: ‘Portrait of an injustice’. For him to stand tall down here last year, and I was back in Sydney crying, to know the Stolen Generation and that it was generation after generation. The portrait of an injustice of knowing each generation, not one or two but five generations of our family have been in state care, how many more is going to be in state care?