Dianne McInnes, a PhD student at Bond University, Queensland, under the supervision of Dr Paul Wilson, is studying the adult criminological consequences of the boys at the Institution for Boys, Tamworth, 1948 to 1976. Spcecifically, the research concerns effects of instutionalised routine and enforced silence of juvenile males who did not have criminal records.
Dianne is inviting anyone connected with the Institution for Boys, Tamworth to participate in an anonymous questionnaire. Further details may be found at the questionnaire website.
Barbara spent time as a child in Opal House, Opal Joyce Wilding Home, Wilson Youth Hospital, Vaughan House, The Haven and at Wolston Park Hospital (Osler House) between the years 1970 and 1979. Barbara is now the co-ordinator of the support group Now Remembered Australians Inc. In her poem One Man, Barbara pays tribute to Fr. Wally Dethlefs who helped to establish The Justice for Juveniles Group, previously known as the Wilson Protest Group. Wally also set up one of the first refuges for youth in Brisbane.
When I was young and in a place
Where no one seemed to care,
One man fought on my behalf
Though others would not dare.
I’d been told I had no rights
For I was “just a kid”,
But one man fought on my behalf
And showed me that I did.
They took away my childhood,
My freedom and the sky,
But one man fought on my behalf
When others would not try.
They locked me up in Wilson
But now I have the key
For one man fought on my behalf:
His name is Wally D.
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 13 April, 2011
Rachael Romero, who was in The Pines (Convent of the Good Shepherd, Plympton) shares one of her poems: Rachael explains:
This was written right after I left the Pines, Convent of the Good Shepherd. My friend Agi and I decided to feign a religious calling so we could “do rosary” in the chapel before dinner. We had our eyes on a high window that was not barred. To escape through it was a dream, but we persisted for weeks before abandoning the idea.
Furtive, stealthy in the gloom The noise and cracks of a silent room Every step an inch to free life Every inch a step to new strife Fear, regret, anticipation Throbbing, pulsing, circulation. “The window’s high, the glass is thick. All I need’s a heavy brick.” “But what of noise? – Someone will hear They’ll keep us here another year” “Agi come back it is too late I hear a key at the staircase gate Kneel down, kneel down, make out to pray They may not even come this way Our chance has gone, perhaps it’s best Let’s go back, sit with the rest I had no-where to go anyway Trust “Sour Grapes” to cause delay”
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.
Following on from his autobiography, A Tormented Life, Warren Porter writes the story of his deceased brother, Graham Davis. Warren writes about their abusive stepfather, how Graham was sent to Westbrook Farm Home in 1961 and police violence. Warren argues the case for a Royal Commission into the treatment of children in Australian institutions.
Warren mentions several locations in the south side of Brisbane including “the Gabber (the Five Ways)” which refers to the then layout of the railway yards in the suburb of Woolloongabba.
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.
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 16 February, 2011
Rachael Romero shares two of her paintings which depict experiences at the Convent of the Good Shepherd, ‘The Pines’, Plympton, South Australia.
Freddie tried to rush up the wall over the barbed wire one night. The dogs were barking on the other side. We were all wishing her up and over and out, but of course she got dragged back.
She would keep trying.
Me and Lilly did this because we felt we had become sisters in horror. Lilly had been taken from her mother to a mission then The Pines. She didn’t remember where she was from. I didn’t want to be from where I remembered.
by Al ‘Crow’ Fletcher (guest author) on 10 January, 2011
Al Fletcher’s horrifying but sadly true story as told to Cheryl Jorgensen, Brutal: Surviving Westbrook Boys Home was re-released in 2010. With a foreword by former Senator Andrew Murray, this book can be purchased from New Holland Publishers.
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.