Forgotten Australians, memories, photography

Hay Institution for Girls

by Wilma Robb (guest author) on 20 May, 2010

 

Senator Andrew Murray

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.

Commerative Plaque which was unveiled at the Hay Girls Reunion 2007

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

Black, Blue and Raw

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

Asylum

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 correspondence[1] 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, memories, poetry

Finding the answer

by Leigh Westin (guest author) on 25 March, 2010

Mummy passed away when I was four
Sent to Scarba where they closed the door.
My family was taken
My heart is breaking
Too young to know WHY!!!
Mummy is in heaven, so high in the sky.
Not given a chance to say good-bye.
Through a thick glass wall,
I could see my sisters.
I try to reach them, my hands have blisters.
Daddy brought my brothers to see us,
Then they were gone
Blown away like dust.
No-one to talk to about my pain,
wanting my family back to-gether again.
Little birds flying high in the sky,
‘Send Mummy back, I don’t want her to die’
The birds flew up and flew so high,
Mummy didn’t come back
I don’t know why!!

I’m older now and understand,
why god took my mum to live in the sky.
She’s an angel and watching over me
easing the pain so I can get by.

Forgotten Australians, memories

A chilling account

by Junita Lyon (guest author) on 1 March, 2010

Junita Lyon, a resident of  Parramatta Girls Home in 1970–71, remembers her time in the institution.

During my childhood I was committed to Parramatta Girls Training School where many degrading acts were part of Policy and Procedures.

On arriving at Parramatta I was held for hours in a holding room. Taken away and given a number and fitted for various types of clothing such as shoes, twinsets tartan skirts, underwear smocks and socks. My long hair was cut like a page boy, it devastated me and I was taken to dormitory 2 to start my 12 months committal period.

Every morning we were woken early and had to stand at the end of our beds and display our sheets to an officer, to make sure that we had not soiled or wet them. We would then make the bed to procedure and head of to our pre breakfast work.

We started our hard working day early, some went off to yard duty to pick up rubbish or sweep, others cleaned and scrubbed the dormitories before breakfast muster.

We would muster each time the bell rang and would stand to attention while being yelled at or belittled. Left Right Left Right Left Right we marched, we didn’t go anywhere with out some officer marking time.

In the morning we would be marched to breakfast to porridge with weevils, sweet warm white tea and white bread that every one said was made at the prison next door and they had ejaculated in it.

If we needed medical assistance or had our periods and wanted a pad, we would have to wait for help then it was a public ordeal, having to show the pads to prove if we were having a heavy period or not. There was no privacy at all.

After breakfast and a quick recreation break we were assigned to a variety of Jobs a few were able to continue their education but nearly all were trundled off to the kitchen sewing room or laundry to Iron, wash, scrub or fold, a thankless task as was anything we did at Parramatta, I never heard praise for a job well done.

The laundry was a hard place to work we worked at the same pace as adults, it was hard on your legs and back and the temperature was unbearable, if you behaved you could get the opportunity to change jobs. Generally most of the girls were standing at ironing boards ironing from morning till late afternoon the work was repetitive and caused aches and pains to the body.

While in the laundry the job that I aspired to was to use the large industrial washing machines as I was bad at ironing, this was also hard work lifting heavy bundles of clothes.

After my time in the laundry I got a job painting the dormitories and other areas of the home, we worked in a small group and I painted one dormitory after another. It was sad to have to paint over the written history the girls had scratched on to the dungeon walls.

The painting job saved me from more trouble as I had to behave to keep the job and the officer that was with us was a very old lady who gave us a bit more freedom to talk, than anyone else there.

We were given chocolate cake and milk to absorb the lead paint we used.

I often heard my name called “under the bell” that would mean punishment either Isolation or scrubbing.

I spent time in Isolation; I actually liked the 24 hour stint, time to be on my own, I vented my anger, pain, frustration and confusion in written form on a blackboard which was the only thing in the room.

It was during these times I would think about the events that lead me to Parramatta and my drug addiction, why after so much pain, why more was being inflicted, Isolation was where I cried.

Scrubbing was the most common punishment and we often scrubbed the pigeon loft or cover way in groups called scrubbing parties.

The pigeon loft and I were common companions I remember the bird poo running down my arms and upsetting my eyes, kneeling scrubbing boards then standing scrubbing rafters, till my knees were raw for days on end from early morning till late at night depending on which officer I upset. Often we were set to work scrubbing the cover way with a scrubbing brush or toothbrush.

This cold lonely punishment was quite frightening at night for a 14-15 year old; often a girl could be left there scrubbing and almost forgotten about.

Punishment seemed to be given out at random, one time I spent 3 days with steel wool shining a rubbish bin with no cover during winter and another time I had to stand face to face with another girl and not smile or laugh for a whole day.

One time I was grabbed by the ears and my head was bashed up against a wall, this was a regular occurrence for many of us girls.

One cold night I was scrubbing on my own on the cover way and was called into the office I then had my head bashed into the wall till I cried.

That night I decided I wasn’t going to be bashed again so set up a devious plan.
The first chance I got I found a rock and smashed my head with it, so there was blood dripping down my face, I screamed and yelled, that It was caused by the bashing.
I had been pushed too far and my time as a street kid had taught me to protect myself.

I get sad when I think of this moment the fact, that I had to inflict self harm to myself to protect myself from my carer still gives me a chill to this day.

We lacked any privacy to undergo personal hygiene the toilets had no doors and we were given only a few sheets of toilet paper, a humiliating event.

I also remember the fear that welled up, during the time we would stand naked in a cubicle and an officer would walk around and have us drop our towels and inspect our naked bodies for tattoos, scratching and pins.

Some officers were creepier than others in the way they did this task and made you feel very uncomfortable or quite terrified.

Before we had a shower of an evening we also had to scrub the crutch of our underwear and show it to an officer.

All these sanctioned acts were degrading and have haunted me all my life…

Our escape from misery and brutality as young girls was to each other; our friendships were often intense and emotional. We crocheted hankies and wrapped soap in them as gifts to our special friends.

During our short recreation time, records and dancing under the cover way was how we spent our time, being careful not to be caught doing anything against the rules.
We danced the Parramatta Jive to songs such as blue angel and band of gold.
During this time we almost felt normal.

During dinner if you dropped your peas off your plate, talked or did anything menial you washed all the dishes, when everyone had finished.

There was always an officer on the prowl to look for someone to punish.

After dinner, if a dormitory had behaved overall 1 to 5, except 3, were able to use the recreation or TV room sitting on cold hard metal chairs in a cold hall watching a show that you never got to see the end. Usually dormitory 3 were standing at the end of their beds; during my time there this was the group punishment.

I only got to go in the rec room once, so we lost privileges easy.

Not many girls had visitors as many girls had spent there lives institutionalised or in foster care.

Those that did have visitors would meet them, on the cover way on a Sunday and many girls were randomly body searched after the visit.

There were certain girls that officers would take a dislike too, if you were singled out for punishment you would most likely end up at Hay. So the threat of more brutality was always hanging over our heads.

During my stay I spent time in  dormitory’s  2,4,3,5,6 I saw  a lot of injustice.

We as children needed protection and nurturing we were not given that protection and were often abused and degraded by the officers and treated like hardened criminals. Most girls in Parramatta were committed because they were neglected, abused or unloved.

The courts would then charge the girls with exposed to moral danger and commit them to a 3,6,9 or 12 months committal period. I saw many girls return after a few weeks of being let out as they were sent back to their abusers and didn’t cope. Life was tough and unjust for a Parragirl.

On the 16th of November Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an apology to the “Forgotten Australians”

I welcomed this apology as my time in care has haunted me my whole life.
For me this apology is life changing, it validates the abuses of my child rights that occurred and gives me back my self worth.

I was a small child subjected to harsh punishment; criticism and lack of nurturing that affected my development and sent me spiralling into despair for many years.

It created family disengagement, lack of education and left me with low self esteem, and the inability to feel any belonging.

It created in me an outcast a loner, hiding in shame that did not fit in with others.
An apology cannot fix the damage already done but it creates in me a feeling of relief because it removes the feeling of guilt and shame I have lived with.

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Memories

by Beth Pinkerton (guest author) on 22 February, 2010

I didn’t really have any memories until I saw the ad in the paper for the Parragirls Reunion and Hay trip.
I wasn’t in Hay, but I went.
Sitting in that bus with all the women, was the first time I have ever felt I fit in.
I remember the girls coming back from Hay.
The way they came to attention and the way they looked at the floor.

The Hay girls were the best bit of advertising Parramatta ever did.
Their behaviour terrified me.
What had happened to them to make them like that?

I kept that in mind when I was sent out to work from Bethal.
I had seen the superintendent so many times ‘visiting’ a girl in Bethal.
So when I refused to go back out to work, because the man I worked for was assaulting me. Our superintendent made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Either go back out to work and let that man have sex with me, or, go to Hay.
I took the first option.

I came out of that place broken.
I stayed that way until I gave up using when I was 48.
I am now 58.
My life only really started when I turned 50.
All those years wasted in violent relationships and addiction.

I went to the apology on the bus with the Parragirls.
I cried because I saw so many men and women like me, broken and ill.
I cried because finally we had been acknowledged.
But for me sorry isn’t enough.

But it’s a start.

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.