In celebration of International Women’s Day there is an information stall on Tuesday 8 March 10-2pm in the Church St/St John’s Mall, Parramatta.
The stall is part of the campaign to seek the dedication of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct as a national heritage destination and in also promoting other women’s organisations and International Women’s Day events.
Bonney Djuric hopes that it prove to be another step forward in achieving the goal of having the site recognised and established as a Women’s Place of history and heritage:
Exploring the Past – Remembering Convict Women Back in 1827 women broke out of the Female Factory and made their way into the township of Parramatta to fight for their rights in demanding better food and conditions. Essentially this was the first industrial action to take place in Australia. The women were also responsible for producing Australia’s first manufactured export – ‘Parramatta cloth’. It’s 164 years since the last convict woman was relegated to the Female Factory—its remnant buildings are now part of the Cumberland Hospital complex in Fleet St Parramatta. In the early years of the 20th century when the women’s suffrage movement began to emerge few remembered the contribution that these women made. It’s time that they were acknowledged.
Illuminating the Present Today we live in a society where women have attained equality—however this equality has yet to extend to places significant to women’s history. In 1992 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs ‘Half Way to Equal’ report recommended that ‘A Woman’s Place’ be established in recognition of women’s history and heritage. The Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is ideally suited for this purpose
Below you can view the film Taking Freedom: Celebrating Women at the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, Hobart (1828 – 1901) and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Sydney (1821 – present).
On 17 February, 2011, author and Forgotten Australian, Maree Giles spoke to staff at the National Museum of Australia. Maree summarises the history of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct and her experiences at Parramatta Girls Home when she was aged 16.
Click on the link below in order to listen to the recording of Maree’s presentation:
Growing up in Parramatta Girls Home.
You can read more about Maree’s work at her website.
An article from Pix, 31 May 1958, is based on the Church of England Boys and Girls Homes, Carlingford, New South Wales. Below is the half of the article that has been away from home’, subtitled ‘Love, companionship, for children who have lost them’, and reads:
Australia’s happiest – and biggest – family boasts 229 girls and boys. The family lives at the Church of England Homes, Carlingford, Sydney in an atmosphere that is really HOME. There is no air of the institution, only smiling faces and happy, healthy yells as the children romp and play in the spacious grounds.
Situated on the commanding heights near Parramatta, the environment is ideal. But much more impressive and significant than the view is the emotional atmosphere.
To anyone with experience of conditions often found in institutions, the difference is astounding.
This work began in 1884, when Canon Tress and a Dr Manning began caring for neglected girls at Woolloomooloo. About the turn of the century, the first of the four homes was purchased at The Glebe and in 1914 Minden, later called Strathmore, was bought at Carlingford. Minden eventually became the first Boys’ Home.
The present Boys’ Home was established in 1928 and the girls moved from The Glebe to Minden. Since then, many cottages have been added and Havilah, a home for little children, has been established.
This step-by-step building on a limited budget, coupled with the farsighted understanding of the various committees since the cottage idea was proposed in the 1920s, is responsible for the unique- [remaining text is missing]
It’s Bill’s turn to polish his ‘brothers” best shoes – 31 ready for inspection, Sir!
Building 105 within the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is currently the subject of an application for conversion into an information technology facility. Parramatta Girls Home was also located within the Precinct. The Female Factory Action Group wants the Precinct to be declared a National Heritage Site. Information about the Group’s campaign can be found here.
Wilma Robb nee Wilma Cassidy held up this napkin in the Great Hall of Parliament House during the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants on 16 November 2009.
Wilma Robb was first admitted to Dalmar Children’s Home, New South Wales, at the age of five when her mother became ill. During her primary school years Wilma was moved within various care settings within her family, foster care and later was committed to Ormond institution for girls as ‘Uncontrollable’ and ‘Exposed to Moral danger’. At the age of 14 she ran away from Ormond and slept in a phone box in Villawood. She was gang-raped by a group of bikies. A few days later she was picked up and admitted to Parramatta Girls Home where she was diagnosed with venereal disease. She was labeled a ‘loose girl’, without investigation of the circumstances in which she acquired the disease and never talking about her rapes till in her 50s. Her ‘unsatisfactory’ behavior there led to her being sent to two periods of detention at Hay Institution for Girls.
As a teenage girl in Parramatta, Wilma, had never been charged with a criminal offence, (only a Welfare charge) was treated she believes as a de facto criminal. She was assaulted by staff (one bashing by the Superintendent resulted in her having to receive a full set of dentures at the age of 15 after her face was smashed into washbasins. Girls were internally examined to assess the ‘status’ of their virginity on arrival to Parramatta girls home and Ormond institution for girls. –. Girls who were defiant received further punishments – solitary confinement and some put on medication with the psychotropic drug Largactil.
Because of her refusal to be broken by the system, Wilma was sent, from the Parramatta Girls Home to the Hay Institution for Girls which opened in 1961-1974 as a maximum security closed institution for girls aged 13 to 18. Girls were sent to Hay despite their having committed no crime and without a legal trial. Girls were never to speak, without permission, or to establish eye contact with anyone ever. This rule was enforced despite the fact that the ‘silent system’ was outlawed in New South Wales in the late 1800s. Girls endured a regime of hard labor without school education.
The bodies of these ‘incorrigible’ girls were controlled at all times by the system. Movement was with military precision and governed by a strict regime. Girls could only speak to each other for 10 minutes a day, while maintaining 2m distance; they were forced to sleep on their right side facing the door. Twenty minuet surveillances happened all night. Girls were surveyed 24 hours a day by male staff (who were the only ones with keys to the cells) and personal experiences such as menstruation were public and exposed humiliated and deprived of privacy . Wilma said on a visit back to Hay:
It was very Cruel, inhuman and sadistic. You can still smell, feel and hear the pain in that place still today.
In later life she took up an occupation as a housekeeper to the family of Manning and Dymphna Clark. Manning Clark was the author of the general history of Australia, his six-volume A History of Australia. Manning Clark is described in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as ‘Australia’s most famous historian’. Dymphna Clark was an eminent linguist and campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal people. Wilma Robb still works as caretaker of Manning Clark House.
The napkin itself is a significant object which holds other stories. It was part of Dymphna Clark’s household items originally brought to Australia from Norway by Dymphna’s mother Anna Sophia Lodewycz circa 1910. However, enough is known of the life of the Clarks to know that visitors, significant in cultural, political and academic worlds, both national and international, were part of their social life.
At the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants, Parliament House, Canberra, November 16, 2009.
Prior to the National Apology, Minister Jenny Macklin contacted Wilma asking her to submit her personal history so that it may be considered as part of Kevin Rudd’s speech. In her letter to Kevin Rudd, she explained that the Hay Institution for Girls was the equivalent of a colonial jail in its use of silent treatment. Robb was concerned that Rudd’s use of the word ‘institution’ would not cover her prison experience. Robb realized that she may not have a chance to say this on the day, so she grabbed one of Dymphna Clark’s linen table napkins, and wrote ‘WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN’S PRISONS’ in thick ink marker on each side of the napkin. When the moment came, she was nervous about holding it up.
‘I felt sick in the stomach,’ she told the National Museum of Australia.
To support her, Keith Kelly a former inmate of the equally notorious Tamworth Institution for Boys who was sitting behind her took the other side of the napkin and held it up with her. He would have equal reason to refer to the institution he had been held in as a prison. This impromptu protest sign was one of many items made by Forgotten Australians and brought to the Apology.
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.
Maree Giles is a former inmate of Parramatta Girls’ Training Home is now an Australian author, editor, poet, journalist, creative writing teacher and mentor, and the mother of two grown-up children. She was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Kingston University, London, 2009 and 2010, and is currently a dissertation supervisor on their Creative Writing MFA.
She is the author of Under the Green Moon and The Past Is A Secret Country. Maree’s debut novel Invisible Thread is based on her experiences in Parramatta Home.
Her poem under a lucky sky is also based on her time in the Home.
by Leigh Westin (guest author) on 16 September, 2010
Leigh Westin was a resident of Scarba House and Parramatta Girls’ Home, both in New South Wales. Here she shares her latest poem. The apology mentioned in the poem refers to that of the NSW Government.
No more silent tears
The years have gone past
I’m older now and remember at last
Blocked away for nearly fifty years
At long last I can cry real tears
My mum passed when I was four
Tears flowed easily and reached the floor
In the Home where I was placed
They belted me for crying
So I dried my little face
Leaving the Home and growing into my teens
I cried inside so not to be seen
The silent tears made me want to scream
Hitting out at others, I was so mean
Until I was locked in another Home
For running away the streets I would roam
Picked up by the welfare who did not care
Sentenced to Parramatta, it just wasn’t fair
I blocked everything to protect my mind
Taking on other things I thought was fine
September 19th 2009 the Government said Sorry
My memories came back but not in a hurry
Over the last ten months through depression and pain
In an essay published in 2007, convicted bank robber, prison escapee and author Bernie Matthews discusses the tragic outcomes for former child inmates of prison-run institutions – the Parramatta Training School for Girls, Hay Institution for Girls, Tamworth Institution for Boys, Hartwell House, Kiama and Westbrook Reformatory for Boys, Toowoomba.