Forgotten Australians, memories, photos

Institutionalising the innocent

by James McMurchy (guest author) on 27 May, 2011

James McMurchy grew up in St Cuthbert’s Home for Boys, Colac, Victoria where his single  mother was employed as a house parent.

James shares his history:

I arrived at St Cuthbert’s Boys Home Colac courtesy of my mother; she was employed in the first instance as the House Cook and then, because of her ability to engage with the children, the House Parent.  Imagine it, if you will the single parent of forty-plus boys under the age of sixteen (plus me).

My mother became a single parent (I write this from a 21st century perspective, as parent is gender neutral language) after being thrown out onto the streets by her husband – the other person responsible for my, and my sister’s, conception – and with the assistance of the Australian legal system.

There were many women like my mother who found themselves in a similar position at the time forced, by circumstance, to place their children into ‘care.’  My mother avoided this but in reality did, as I was to live as ‘one of the boys.’  I slept in the same dormitories; we ate together; showered communally; faced the same social discrimination and went to Chapel (and one Holy Communion) five mornings a week, prior to breakfast and heading off to school. We were also required to attend another Holy Communion on the Sunday. We were the tangible symbol of ‘God’s love’ to the pious citizens of the Anglican Church’s community of Colac.

It was the institutionalising of the innocent. It was child abuse. My mother was visibly angry (in subsequent ‘family kitchen table’ conversations) at having to be a participant in the process, in part because her son was subjected to it too.  But what was she to do, as some love is better than no love?  There is forgiveness also for the Principal of the home at the time, Mrs Houghton and her husband, for the children looked up to her as a saint.  She replaced a sadistic paedophile and had an enlightened (for the time) approach to institutional child care.  I do not want to hear the sermons of today’s privileged.

I am in contact, and have been for some time, with another person from St. Cuthbert’s who is very interested in the history of the home, and has expressed an indebtedness to my mother (the salvation of at least one soul from God).  I fear however he may soon be about to die.  That person is a testament to human resilience.  He has succeeded in life, where many from more fortunate beginnings have not.  His story deserves telling too.

James McMurchy (left) with two others from St Cuthbert’s