Forgotten Australians, memories, petition

Save the Ballarat Orphanage site

by Wings for Survivors (guest author) on 26 October, 2011

Wings for Survivors provided the National Museum with information concerning the petition to the Heritage Victoria Council to save the Ballarat Orphanage site.

The buildings that were once Children’s Homes are now being used for other purposes, or have been left derelict or demolished. Often there is nothing to mark a place where hundreds of children spent their childhood. For so many people it’s a history that remains unacknowledged.

If you would like to support the campaign to have the Ballart Orphanage listed as a heritage site, then you can sign the online petition here.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, events, Forgotten Australians, memories, Stolen Generations


Should every day be an R U OK? Day? R U OK? is a non-profit Australian organisation which aims to provide a national focus and leadership on suicide prevention.

R U OK? Day is Thursday 15 September 2011. You can read more at the R U OK? website

Forgotten Australians, memories

The nuns thought we were criminals

Maureen Cuskelly shares some detailed recollections of her experiences at St Aidan’s, Bendigo, where she lived from the age of eight to 17.

Maureen, one of seven children, was sent to Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne at the age of two after her mother was admitted to hospital. Here she shares some of her later experiences at St Aidan’s.

Life at St Aidans, Good Shepherd Convent Bendigo
Some of my Story

Hell No, We Won’t Go. 1968.  According to Time magazine this is the year that shaped a generation1. The anti-war battle cry: Hell No, We Won’t Go spells out the attitude to the Vietnamese war, conscription and restriction of liberty. Western youth sing about love, freedom and peace. It’s the year of liberation but not for everyone.

I enter St Aidans Good Shepherd Convent (Bendigo, Vic) singing the words to the Beatles song Hey Jude: ‘Don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better….. Hey Jude don’t be afraid…… And any time you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain, Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders’.

Petite build, I weigh 40kg. Mousy brown hair with brown almost black deep set eyes I am not a pretty girl. Maybe I could be described as attractive. Small for my size and young for my age, I look more like an 11 year old.  I just had my birthday at home with my mother, and five brothers and sisters. It is three days after my 13th birthday. I didn’t celebrate my birthday. Somehow my mother did not celebrate these things. When I was young I thought she forgot but as I got older I knew she had a sharp mind and did not forget. Birthdays had traumatic memories for her and she just chose not to remember.

There were six of us living in Echuca with mum before I entered the home. As a child I used to fantasize that our family  were famous just because we were such a big family. In primary school I had a brother or sister in every class and our school went up to year 8. I imagined we would be famous like the Enid Blyton series  The Secret Seven.

Veronica used to live with us in Echuca too  but she went into the ‘home’ in January.  It is because of Veronica that I am standing here now facing institutional life.  Veronica came home for the May school holidays and shocked to find my mentally ill mother treating me so badly she declared

She’s not doing that to you. You’re coming back with me.

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid… I hum to myself.  It’s a song of affirmation. I cling to this as I learn the ropes of this institution and the nun’s rules, “be modest girl, don’t laugh.  What are you smiling about? Don’t run girl, walk like a lady. Don’t talk like that! Girls don’t sweat. Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow.  Don’t be proud, you’ve got nothing to be proud of dear”. 

I work at following the rules. I hum, Hey Jude.  It’s the top single of the year.

The beginning of the day is the sound of Mother Rita’s key in the lock. I don’t realize it yet but soon this will become one of the chilling sounds I fear.  We assemble in silence by our beds until the bell goes indicating morning Mass is finished. Breakfast is toast and urn tea. Mother Rita announces

Take the new girl to Mother Theresa for her morning duties.

Can she use a polisher? Mother Theresa asks Veronica.  Mother Theresa  seems to know who I am. I think this is a welcome.

No mother.

Well she can sweep the concert hall until she learns. Someone show this girl how to polish that floor, I want to see it reflect my face. The girls giggle. Who would want to look at a reflection of Mother Theresa’s big head?

The concert hall is big, I don’t know how big really. I guess it could seat hundreds of people. It is the biggest area to the cleaned. Chairs line the perimeter of the room and the stage is screened off with brick red velvet curtains. A bigger girl takes me to show me the ropes.

Use this broom and sweep it thoroughly, the older girl  tells me, the dust shows up.  And, move those chairs out and do under them thoroughly. Fluff and dust accumulate there and you will be in for it if Mother Rita sees any.

I walk up and down the room, pushing the heavy broom ahead of me.

You blockhead, don’t do it that way, work across the room or you won’t know where you’ve been, instructs my chaperone. She’s watching me, not helping.  Next, she wheels out the industrial polisher.

 Okay, make this floor shine.

The polisher is heavy. I grip the handles awkwardly and the beast flies across the room, dragging me with it.

Let go, let go, she yells.

I release the machine. It stops dead just as quickly as it took off.  I am white with shock. She laughs.

Here, I’ll show you, grip the handle lightly and the machine will be easier to control. Work it slowly, move the machine a little to the right and a little to the left.  Small circles does it.

Gingerly, I grasp the handle, which I now realize holds the controls. The machine hums, the vibrations work through my fingers. It’s like a jolting movement shaking my hands. With a mind of it’s own the machine lurches across the room in a frog-leap fashion into the chairs. They scatter like skittles.

Work it to the right like I told you, left and right. My instructor guides me again. Don’t let it go straight ahead. It’s not meant to thrust forward. Ha ha, it’s not a man you know. Ha ha.

I don’t know what she means but I get control of the beast and work the floor. After a long period of time she calls Come on, that’ll do. She  jumps down from the stage where she’s been sitting, legs swinging idly, watching.  It’s hours of work, you’ll get used to it, just sweep one day and polish the next. And don’t forget to dust the window sills and the piano. We better get to school.

A new girl. Mrs Raeburn announces to the class. They already know this. We got ready together this morning, said our prayers in chorus and ate breakfast together didn’t we. It’s hardly likely they did not notice me!

Yes, she continues. Mother Rita has told me all about you. I won’t tolerate trouble in my class. Pointing towards an empty desk, sit there while I get you your sets.

Mrs. Raeburn is the one supervising teacher on our side. A retired elderly teacher, she is from the outside. Mrs. Raeburn is the only outside person that visits the convent. Small, old she wears clunky black wedged heeled shoes and black stockings with every outfit. Her clothing is a knitted skirt and cardigan buttoned to the neck. Her grey fine hair held tautly in a bun matches the no nonsense look. I quickly learn, on every issue she takes Mother Rita’s side.

What year are you in?

Year 8

I come to understand that the schooling is an internal arrangement. Like everything else. We don’t leave the facility and no-one comes in. Our schooling is through the Correspondence School, Melbourne. The school’s purpose, originally, was to provide teacher training by correspondence course for trainee teachers unable to attend the Melbourne Teacher’s College. According to historical records it expanded to secondary level accommodating bush kids, circus kids who were not in one place long enough to go to school. And children in youth training centres. I guess we fit into the last group. Certainly the nuns thought we were criminals. They described us as vulgar, uncontrollable and unable to be trusted. Mother Rita’s view was that if we made good in the world we would get a ‘good office job’’.

By 1911, 600 student-teachers were studying by correspondence.

Students first began using the services of the school in 1914, after an urgent letter from a mother in a remote area concerned about the prospects of educating her two sons.  A small group of six trainee teachers volunteered to draw up sets of lessons for the boys who received work every fortnight’ 2.

I’m getting the hang of the routine of the home. Breakfast in silence, do chores – sweep, polish and dust. It’s the regularity that I find comforting during the day. I think about my family in Echuca. Colin is the oldest it’s true. I am the middle child I know this as well. Seven of us. Colin, Terry and Veronica are older than me and Michael, Mary and Robert are younger. I don’t feel like a middle child.   I am the older sister to Michael, Mary and Robert which makes me an older child too. The oldest of the youngest. At night I lie awake fretting about Mick, Mary and Robbie. Wracked with guilt for deserting them I toss and turn. My mother is too ill to care for them. How will they get on?

The responsibility for their welfare means I feel neither like a child or an adult. Feverish with worry I ruminate incessantly like this all night. There is no end to it. I do not hear from my family and I cannot settle. Veronica tells me she feels abandoned too. I am reminded of Mother Rita’s words when I arrived at the Parlour door.

Come in dear, you are not to be telling anybody what you have done. Its nothing to be proud of you know. Her pencil thin lips signal how silent we are expected to be. The message is clear, you have a shocking past, sinful child, don’t be telling the other girls about your filthy history.

What have I done? There is no sympathy and no-one to talk to. If a girl complains to the nuns ‘I don’t want to be here’, she is promptly told, ‘we didn’t ask for you to come here either, you know’.

In spite of the agonizing at night I am relieved to feel safe, physically safe from attack. The mundane routine of institutional life is preferable to the unpredictable chaos of life with my disturbed mother. I settle comfortably into the routine.

During the day I work in the laundry. It’s an inferno in summer but emits comforting warmth in winter. I stand on a box to reach the mangle.  The linen is scalding hot; the intense steam scorches my face if I get too close.  If I am too slow to react the garment goes round the mangle a second time coming back hotter than before. It’s altar linen from the local churches. Hard starched cotton. The effect is like trying to grip a pumice stone. Hard to grip and harder to hold.  The knack is to pick the corners of the revolving linen quickly with your fingers tips as it comes round the mangle. The quicker the better, the girls tell me, it will save your fingers getting burnt.

I’ve mastered the polisher and my job in the laundry is sheet folding. It is  my forte. The sheets are dried and ironed simultaneously as they rotate through the sheet mangle. This mangle is more sophisticated than the one used for the church linen. It requires speed and accuracy to feed the sheets through so the ‘old ladies’ do it. Sheet-folding, on the other hand, requires skill and speed.  Working in pairs we hold an end each, fold the length in half, pull it taut, quarter it, shake out again, smooth the linen down proficiently; do a pirouette meeting in the middle to hand the folded sheet to the girl working with us as the other end. It’s a routine of precision.  The last three folds are completed by one girl on the folding table. This routine is for every sheet and there are hundreds of them. The sheets are stacked eight high on the table then loaded into trolleys.

The old ladies let the sheets mount up during the day for us to do after school. With lightning speed we get the stack of unfolded sheets down. My friend Theresa Forster and I are expert at sheet folding. We do this for an hour and a half after school most days. It’s a physical workout all right; we skip in the middle, making of game of it challenging ourselves to beat our best times.

The physical work did not come easy to me though. I recall my first day in the laundry. Arriving at St Aidans in the school holidays I am immediately put to work. Mother Mercy finds me sitting on the folding tables.

Get down child. Tables are not for sitting on. Her face is like a blustering wind when she speaks.

Can I go to the toilet please Mother?

We don’t speak like that, It’s unladylike.

I need to go, what do I say?

Could I be excused please?

There is no need to be explicit. A tilt of the head as you ask indicates it is of a private nature.

I run to ‘Cosy Corner’, even the toilet is incognito. I stay on the toilet as long as I can. For the first week I go to the toilet every hour. I need to sit down and it’s the only resting place there is. I am not up to an eight hour working day. Mother Mercy sends someone to get me, quick hurry you’re in for it for skiving off.

Mondays are the worst days in the laundry. The personal laundry from the boarders at Girton College arrive. Each student’s clothing is bagged separately.

Come on, Mother Mercy says, empty them out and count them

I turn the bag upside down and shake it. Out tumble smelly socks, sports gear, uniforms and dirty underwear. Girls’ underwear stiff with dried blood. Seven days of dirty underwear and clothes.  Urrgghh. I hate this job. Yuk. Now I know why so many girls rushed to the mangle when we came in.

I pick up each pair of panties by the corners trying to avoid the stains. The smell cannot be avoided.  It’s our job to audit the personal items. Each piece of clothing is counted, ticked off the sheet and put back in the bags for laundering. I would rather fold sheets for hours than do this!

I spend 4.5 years at St Aidan’s doing schooling by correspondence. I type up my school assignments on the big clunky Olivetti typewriters. One assignment for every subject every week. Lots of typing and ribbon changing. Mother Mercy teaches us how to type with cloth tied over the keyboard so we cannot see the keys. I become a touch typist in spite of the clunky machines. The assignments are sent to the Correspondence School each week. I clean in the mornings before school. Most of Saturday is spending cleaning the dormitories and bathrooms. After school and school holidays I work in the laundry.

When I leave I do not know how to manage money, shop for food, cook, catch public transport and I do not know my way around the town I have lived in for the last 5 years.  There is little support for ‘homies’ when we leave.  For a short while I wander the streets looking for love. This nearly ends in disaster. I talk the welfare into letting me go back to school to finish year 12. They fund me and I live in a boarding house with strange people. Other misfits like me. A pale lady who never leaves her room, a grey bearded man who talks to himself all day; a man who drinks too much who asks me if I am on the contraceptive pill. The elderly owners of the boarding house go north for winter and leave their divorced son-in-law in charge. This nearly ends in disaster as well. I fry peas and uncooked rice in a pan but it is un-chewable. Life is daunting.

Eventually I learn how to boil rice, catch a bus to school and shop. Over the next two years I attend three schools and it takes me three attempts to complete year 12.

Today I am well educated. I have four qualifications and have worked in the mental health field for 37 years. I love this work but I have terrible arthritis in my hands. It is a limiting condition that restricts my life considerably. Too much work as a child, living in cold harsh conditions, folding sheets, polishing and scrubbing floors has meant my hands have aged years ahead of their time. Altogether I have spent over 10 years of my childhood in homes; six years in the Good Shepherd Convent in Abbotsford and four and a half years with the Good Shepherds in Bendigo. As time wears on my hands wear out. The years of repetitive work and agitations of an industrial polisher mean now that the vibrations of a car steering wheel are like small violent stabs. Today, it is difficult to grip the steering wheel for long periods of time. For years now I have been adjusting my life to accommodate my hands.  The biggest thing I miss is being able to drive to Bendigo to see my brothers and sisters. Using public transport that take most of the day to get there when a car trip is a comfortable three hours drive away is frustrating.  Being unable to hold a pen to write Christmas cards, hold cutlery, fumble and struggle to grip money to pay for groceries,  difficulty dressing and being unable to change my grandson’s nappy. These are the daily things I struggle with.  If I do too much in a day I can hardly hold my cutlery.  Hand surgery, some home changes and life style restrictions all help a bit.

The lyrics from the Bee Gees songs still swim around in my head:

Where are the girls / I left all behind /The spicks and the specks/ Of the girls on my mind/ Where is the girl I loved all along/ The girl that I loved / She’s gone she’s gone/ All of my life I call yesterday/ The spicks and the specks …
Luuv they don’t even know how to say it.
Disgusting singers. That Tom Jones and Elvis Presley they’re corrupting innocent  girls with their pulsating and gesticulating hips.
We’d walk around the grounds laughing and singing  You’ve lost that loooving feelin, oh that loving feelin, you’ve lost that loving feelin, now its gone, gone, gone, oh, oh, oh.
(The Righteous Brothers, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’).
On occasion fights used to break out over whether Tom Jones was better than Elvis. The new girls would bring new songs and stories of the ‘latest’. I remember when Johnny Farnham was a new comer to the pop scene.  He would be, alternately, drooled over and fought over. Having been in the home a while I did not know much of the outside scene so I faked my knowledge of the singers and songs. No-one noticed and no-one cared. Mother Rita’s disapproval of them guaranteed we idolized them even more. To sing of love and freedom was our rebellion. Today, I imagine the girls are still singing the songs:- unrestricted, loud, bold and free.

 Those were the days my friend / We’d thought they’d never end / We’d sing and dance / Forever and a day. We’d live the life we’d choose / We’d fight and never lose / For we were young / And sure to have our way … La La La La La La La La La La La La … Those were the days, my friend those were the days.

(Mary Hopkin. ‘Those were the Days my Friend’).


[1] Time 1968. A Pictorial History. Special Collectors Edition.[2] https// and I chat for hours about the wonderful girls we grew up with. We wonder what they are doing?  We imagine they still sing the songs of our youth.  We know well how adolescent pleasures were restricted in the home. Mother Rita scorned all pop music.  

art, Child Migrants, events, Forgotten Australians, memories, objects, Responding to the National Apology, Stolen Generations

No more silent tears #2

by Leigh Westin (guest author) on 14 July, 2011

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.

articles/lectures, documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

Medical testing on children

by Tom Thompson (guest author) on 12 July, 2011

The University of Melbourne, in 2009, acknowledged its prior use of children in orphanages as human guinea-pigs in medical research. Read Tom Thompson’s recollections of men in white coats giving him injections at a Children’s Home in Parkville, VIC.

Tom, who never owned a picture of himself when he was a child, received the image below just four years ago.

I’ve two scars on my left arm from medical testing of the antigen vaccination for the seed Salk Polio vaccine, done in the late 1950’s.

I don’t know the actual dates in which the different injections were given, as I’d never been to school or known what it meant for days of the week, months or years. I do however remember the events due to the pain and distress we endured.

I vividly remember being lined up before the men in white coats who came and gave the injections which blistered and caused so much pain.

Our life in the homes was strictly regimented and having strange men in white coats was something not to be forgotten.

I spent nearly 6 years in the Victorian Children’s Aid Society home at Parkville Victoria. Just across the road from Melbourne University and the Eliza institute in the same street of Parkville. Both institutions were involved in advanced medical research at that time utilising institutionalised children as guinea pigs. 

Both institutions have acknowledged their culpability in this research and publically apologised, however like Dr Joseph Mengele who experimented on children in the concentration camps and was on the wanted list for (for over 40 years) and the Nuremberg trials over his barbaric experimentation on children, he escaped capture and prosecution and lived out his life in South America.

I believe these institutions and CSL [Commonwealth Serum Laboratories] should be tried for what they’ve done. Under law there is no statue of limitations on culpable homicide. The vaccine used in the early tests was contaminated and known to cause cancer and other health problems.

Some of the original ‘seed’ polio viruses that had been originally obtained from Salk laboratories in the United States of America in 1955 and used to manufacture Australian polio vaccines tested positive to being contaminated with SV40, and yet was still manufactured and utilised by these organisations on children.

Tests in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s confirmed that SV40 was potentially carcinogenic.

I live each day not knowing when or if I will fall victim to some unknown disease.

Governments, medical institutions and health authorities all shout loudly how we should trust them, as they know best, but like Joseph Mengele, the people time and places change, but things really stay the same.

The photo is me at an age I don’t know, it was given to me by Professor John Swan 4 years ago, and was taken at the home in Parkville. The Swan family took me out of the home for weekend visits over a number of years. The photo was taken by Dr Ailsa Swan (who has since died).

Black and white photograph of a young boy standing on a swing.
The photo is me at an age I don’t know, it was given to me by Professor John Swan 4 years ago, and was taken at the home in Parkville. The Swan family took me out of the home for weekend visits over a number of years. The photo was taken by Dr Ailsa Swan (who has since died).


‘Melbourne Uni says sorry for trial on orphans’ 2009 report on The Age website

‘Polio vaccine tested at orphanages’ 2004 report  on the Age website

‘Institutions, the convenient laboratories’ 1997 report on the Age website. This article won the Melbourne Press Club Quill Award.

‘Vaccines tested on Australian orphans’ as reported in The Independent, UK, in 1997.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, photos

Recruited from Nazareth House, UK

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 12 July, 2011

Read the Catholic ‘Record’ newspaper’s report of the arrival of young Oliver Cosgrove, one of 65 children on board the SS ‘New Australia’ in 1953.

Oliver, aged four, and pictured on the right in the image below, was recruited from Nazareth House, London for the voyage. The ‘New Australia’ arrived on 22nd February 1953.

The report below is from the Perth Catholic newspaper, The Record, Thursday 26 February, 1953.

The photographs below were taken of the 1952 Christmas party at Nazareth House Hammersmith, London. One month later, some of these children boarded the ‘New Australia’.

A child migrant saw the photos on the noticeboard, removed them and brought them with her to Australia.

events, Forgotten Australians, memories, music, photos

Memorial song

by Adele Chynoweth on 3 June, 2011

Alan Bowles, who grew up in a Salvation Army Home, shares ‘Forgotten’, the song he wrote and performed at the unveiling of the Victorian memorial to Forgotten Australians, in Melbourne on 25 October 2010.

Attendees of the apology by the Salvation Army to former residents of children homes, Old Parliament House, Canberra.

[2020 note: audio file no longer available]

Hear more of Alan’s music on the Australian Johnny Cash & June Carter Show MySpace website

Forgotten Australians, memories, photos

Our day to clean the dining room floor

by Heather Templeman (guest author) on 31 May, 2011

Heather Templeman shares of photo of herself, aged 13, at Catherine Booth Salvation Army Girls Home.

Heather says:

It was our day to wash and polish the dining room floor. It was really quite big. We had already been on our hands and knees from washing the floor. After the floor had dried, we had to get down on our hands and knees again and rub the polish on. So our knees were sore so we thought well, we’ll go and get some rags and put them on our feet and run up and down and polish the floor that way and have some fun. We got a hiding for it but we had fun.
The photo was taken before we cleaned the dining room and it was taken by the Gardener. Can’t remember his name but have another photo he took of me and another girl. He liked the other girl a lot so he only got half of me in it. Pity as it would have been a nice photo. It was Captain C. who caught us but Matron who gave us the hiding, but it wasn’t as bad as what her other ones were.

Photo courtesy of CLAN

Melita and Heather (right) with rags on their feet ready to polish the floor.
Melita and Heather (right) with rags on their feet ready to polish the floor.
Photo courtesy of CLAN
Forgotten Australians, memories, photos

Nazareth House photos

by Gabrielle Short (guest author) on 27 May, 2011

On 15 April 2011 Dennis Fogarty posted a request on our Message Board, asking if anyone had photos taken during 1955-56, of Nazareth House in Sebastopol, Victoria. Gabrielle Short has kindly forwarded the following photos.

St Joseph’s Boys’ Dormitory, early 1960s
St Joseph’s Boys’ Dormitory, early 1960s

events, Forgotten Australians

Winlaton reunion

by Gabrielle Short (guest author) on 27 May, 2011

Gabrielle Short has organised a reunion of former inmates from the Winlaton Youth Training Centre. The reunion will take place at Open Place in Melbourne on 29 October 2011.

Gabbi has announced:

We are holding a reunion for all those who spent time in Winlaton Youth Training Centre October 29th 2011. I think this will be a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and take a trip down memory lane. I’m sure there will be plenty of interesting stories to tell good & bad. Most of us were put there for no fault of our own, most of us were only running away from the system itself that failed to care for us in other homes, some because of being exposed to moral danger, some as a result of rape, pregnancy, poverty, the list goes on. We were not the bad girls that we were lead to believe and portrayed to the public. I know a lot of girls who still to this day will talk of other homes they were in but not Winlaton because of the shame and stigma that was once attached with being in Winlaton well it’s time to hold our heads up high and be proud of who we are and the fact that we have survived and are still here to tell our stories.

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
Forgotten Australians, memories

He was living in a horse stable

by Wayne Chamley and Tony Danis (guest author) on 23 May, 2011

Dr Wayne Chamley, an advocate from Broken Rites, shares the history of Tony Danis. Tony was held in the Mont Park Asylum after escaping from a home run by the brothers of St. John of God. Wayne did a lot of advocacy work for Tony and he now lives comfortably.

Wayne writes:

When I first found Tony, he was living in a horse stable, working 6 days a week, as a stable hand and being paid $300 for the week’s work! Tony has poor literacy skills because he has never received any education. He is actually quite smart and because of his life-journey, he is now very street wise.

This is the statement that he dictated to me and which he sent as a submission to the Forgotten Australians Senate inquiry. It is a very sad and disturbing recounting of his appalling treatment. You will see that he identifies a Br. F. as one of his abusers and then this same person has counter-signed his committal certificate, as was required under the Lunacy Act.

Tony Danis’  experience at a Home, in Victoria, run by the brothers of St. John of God:

I was born in 1946. I live alone. Since about the age of 16 years I have been able to work sometimes, in either full time or part-time work to support myself. I have worked in a range of manual jobs. At other times I have had to live on social security while experiencing serious depression. For most of my life I have suffered seriously from asthma and this has been getting progressively worse in recent over the last six years or so. At the beginning of this year I had to finish working because of this illness and ongoing depression.

Records that I have obtained about my childhood indicate that I was first placed into care in St Anthony’s and St Joseph Boys Home at the same time. We were later moved to a Home for Boys … that was operated by the St John of God Brothers. At times I was taken for holidays to the St John of God farm … and also to a house that the Brothers had …

Placement in [VIC] Institutions

  1. St. Anthony’s Home: 1950 to 1951
  2. St Joseph’s Home: 1951 & 1952
  3. St John of God Home: 1952 to 1960

Domestic Routine

As I recall, the domestic routine … as fairly constant. I was in an upstairs dormitory and as I recall all of the boys who slept upstairs were the ones who either never, or rarely, had adults visit on weekends. The boys who got visitors were on the ground floor.

Every day boys were woken early, they then dressed and went to the dining room for breakfast. After meals some boys were rostered to clear the tables, sweep the floors and help with dishwashing. Boys not rostered were allowed to go outside and play. Later a bell went and boys went into classes.

While many of the boys went to classes for most of the day, I only went to short classes in the morning. After this I was put onto other duties. These varied and included gardening, maintenance jobs, working in the kitchen after lunch and helping to prepare vegetables for the evening meal, cleaning the dormitories and making beds.

After school classes had finished we were allowed to play outside and then we would come in for tea. All boys had showers either before or immediately after tea and showers were supervised by the brothers.

After dinner, boys were allowed to watch TV until about 8.30 pm at which time they had to go to bed. Before going to bed, many boys upstairs were given a red medicine every night. This made me feel very groggy.

On weekends, boys were allowed to play various games and sometimes we were taken by brothers to a football match. Sometimes the brothers would get very drunk while we were at the football.

Experience of Abuse

I experienced severe and sustained abuse which was carried out by several of the brothers when I was in the Home … and at the … Farm and in the house …

I experienced the following abuses

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Starvation
  • False imprisonment
  • Incarceration in a psychiatric institution sat the instigation of the brothers
  • Deprived of an education and subjected to unpaid child labour

Sexual abuse

During my nine years (approximately) in the Home … I was sexually abused many times and by several of the brothers. I also experienced instances of harsh physical abuse. The sexual abuse varied from fondling by one and sometimes more brothers and it took place when I was in the toilets and during the night when I was in the dormitory. Over a period of 3-4 years I was abused frequently by five brothers.

On another occasion I was raped … by Brother F. in a toilet. All the time I was crying and in a lot of pain.

On another occasion when I was about 10 years old, I was held down by three brothers in the corridor of the dormitory and, while one continued to hold me on the floor, the others manually pulled out some emerging pubic hair and chest hair. As they did this, they joked and referred to my having “bum fluff” which had to be removed.

The sexual activities of the religious brothers were not confined to within the precincts of…[the Home]. On occasions boys were taken from Cheltenham for holidays. In my own case I was taken for holidays to the farm and to a holiday house.

The two brothers at the holiday house were Bro. H and Bro M. Both these brothers abused me and I was also abused by a Bro. B while I was at the farm.

Physical abuse

From the time I was placed into ‘care’ … I experienced physical abuse at the hands of various brothers and I lived in fear. I was not the only boy who was treated like this although I did seem to be singled out, on several occasions, for particular punishments. The abuse took the form being punched in the body and/or hit on the side or the back of the head. On other occasions I was beaten by an individual brother using a piece of cane and at times I was whipped by a brother using a leather strap.

Many times I received a beating when I arrived late at the breakfast room along with another boy, L. who had red hair. The circumstance that led to my often being late for breakfast is linked to the fact the L. and shared the same dormitory. Each morning L. had to put calipers on his legs on order to be able to walk and if L. was slow in getting ready, I would stay in the dormitory and help him to put on his calipers. Thus I was often punished for helping my friend L. while L. himself was punished for being late because of his having a physical disability. Another boy who was often punished for being late was L. W.


Hunger was a constant companion while I was in the ‘care’ of the brothers. This reflected the fact that the amount of food made available to boys was insufficient and often the meals lacked any variety. Consequently, sometimes boys did not eat a meal then our hunger got worse.

When boys are staying at Lilydale we were allowed to help with some of the farm work including milking cows and feeding chicken and pigs. The pig’s feed included leftovers from the kitchens and this was transported to the piggery on a truck or a trailer. I can recall occasions when I and other boys would ride on the same vehicle going to the piggery and we would eat the best of the scraps before they were fed to the pigs.

False imprisonment

On one occasion when I was about 11 years old, I was whipped very heavily by a brother using a leather strap. Because the assault upon me and the pain that I was experiencing, I could not stop crying and so I was then locked in a dark room and left there for three days. Every now and again I was checked by a brother and during those days I received only bread and water.

When I was let out of the dark room I was crying and very upset. I learned that while I had been locked up, all of the boys had been given new leather scout belts. Later that evening, Bro. T. came to see me in the dormitory. He had brought me a new scout belt and the buckle had my own name on it. Bro. T. was a very kind person. Although he knew about the abuse that was going on, because boys told him, he did nothing about it.

This experience of being locked in a small dark room has had a profound effect upon me and to this day I experience uncomfortable anxiety if I am in a dark room and the door is closed.

Incarceration in the psychiatric institution at Mont Park

At the instigation of the Brothers of St. John of God, I was incarcerated in the Mont Park Asylum for more than two years.

The circumstances that led to my being incarcerated need to be explained. When I was 12 years of age I ran away from the Home on three separate occasions. My motivation each time was to try to escape from the abuse, the terrifying experiences, the persecution and regular beatings that I was getting at the Home. The sequel to each escape was for me to be returned to [the Home] and then I was punished for my action. Usually this took the form of further beatings by various brothers.

In one escape I managed to get to the Royal Botanical gardens and I entered the back of Government House. One of the gardeners met me and I was taken to a kitchen at the back of the large house. After a short time the wife of the Governor came and talked to me. She arranged for me to be washed and given food and I told her about being whipped and abused by the brothers. Her response was that I was making the story up. Soon after, a police car arrived and I was taken to a police station close by and I was questioned about my escape. After this I was driven back to [the Home] in a police car in the company of female police.

After my third escape I was sent away from [the Home] by the brothers and I was placed into a receiving house at Mount Park Asylum. This was a terrifying experience. I was first placed in unit M10 which was like a prison. During the day I was allowed to move around within large communal rooms and I could watch TV. As I was fairly small and only a young teenager (13 years old), I was sometimes physically attacked by some of the older patients with mental illnesses. I was not allowed out of the unit unless I was accompanied by a member of staff.

During the night I was locked up in a small cell that had bars on a window and a solid door with a small, barred, glass window in it.

I spent about two years at Mont Park until one day a Dr R. had a long talk to me. I recall this doctor made an assessment of me and then told me that I should not be in such a place. I was 14 years of age.

After my meeting with this doctor, arrangements were made for me to live in a private house in Preston where one of the nurses lived. After a short time I got a job in a local clothing factory and I continued to board at the house for a few years.

Deprived of getting a basic education and subjection to unpaid child labour

As I have outlined in the section that describes the domestic routine at [the Home], I was given little opportunity to get a formal education. This was not the case for other boys who spent several hours each day in school classes. The chance to learn to read and write was denied me by the brothers and instead I was kept in a situation of unpaid child labour. For most of the time at [the Home], I was required to do domestic work for the brothers.

In his Submission to the Senate Inquiry from Broken Rites, Wayne wrote:

We are aware of at least two statements made by different, former inmates who allege that two different boys sustained injuries, as a consequence of beatings, that probably resulted in death. One of these boys was thrown down a staircase (according to the witness) soon after he arrived at the [farm]. We are also aware of at least two boys who both experienced serial, sexual abuse and who were (as juveniles) certified under the Victorian Lunacy Act (1915) and then incarcerated within the Royal Park Asylum. This was the Order’s final response to each boy’s continuing efforts to abscond from the Home; his chosen strategy for escaping from his paedophile attackers. In one of these cases the brother who filled out and signed the committal report was the ‘alpha’ paedophile!

Tony Danis and Wayney Chamley
Child Migrants, memories

Northcote Farm School remembered – 70 years later

by Graham Budd (guest author) on 29 March, 2011

Graham Budd recalls the influential staff at Northcote Farm School during his residence from 1939: Colonel Heath as a man in the wrong place, “but a man for all that”, old Wally the bootmaker, and Mrs Odgers, with a great affection:

As far as I personally am concerned Northcote Farm School was dominated by two extraordinary people. Lt Colonel Sydney John Heath MC, DSO, OBE, MVO ex-British army, boxing heavyweight champion, joined the army as a 14 year old drummer boy, worked his way up through the ranks. A feat that would have taken some doing back in his day. Lost one arm in WWI. Six foot, two inches, a personality that dominated everyone around him. A pair of grey green eyes that would light up with uproarious laughter and at other times become as cold as ice and seemed to be looking into your very soul. Almost instinctively most people feared him. A fierce disciplinarian with a voice that could clearly be heard half a mile away. The majority of children feared him intensely, some hated him. I did neither, I think that even at that young age I recognised him for what he was – a man among men, a man that it would be most unwise to argue the point with. He was a soldier who had never known any other sort of life. Whether such a man should ever have been put in such a position is perhaps an arguable point, but the fact was he was there.

The second personality that concerned me was Mrs Patricia Violet Odgers, nee Herr. My cottage mother. Married an Australian army officer after WWI, they moved onto a bush block at Renmark SA, cleared the block and planted it down for grape vines, he was filling in his time doing odd jobs during that period of time waiting to pick his first crop. No-one knows exactly what happened but he was putting gravel on his driveway using a shovel and a horse and dray. He was found lying on the driveway – the dray had gone over his head.

The settlement commission decided that Violet could not manage the block and that since they had not paid for the block perhaps it would be best to send her back to her parents and give the block to someone else. This is as far as I know what happened. Her father Mr Warren Herr, a well known Melbourne business man, a fine example of the ultimate Victorian gentleman, didn’t want a weeping woman under his feet all day so sent her off on a world tour which lasted quite a long time. While having breakfast in a London hotel one of the quests told her of this strange children’s home in Kensington where young children were collected into groups and sent off to Canada, Australia or South Africa.  Violet found it hard to believe so set out to find the place. I remember the day she visited us. Mainly because we got very few visitors and those that did come spent their time talking to the staff and only looked at us kids in the manner of an auctioneer looking over a mob of cattle. Violet did the reverse and spent the day talking to us. She told me years afterwards that she was horrified at what the children said to her that day and decided somebody should do something about them. In the end the penny dropped and she thought, “Why not me?”, a decision that I firmly believed saved me from going barmy.

She volunteered to help supervise a gang of 28 boys and girls of whom I was one, being sent to Northcote School, Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. Upon arrival, January 6 1939, she asked Col. Heath for a job. He of course was delighted, Violet being a very different type of person usually found in such places. Well educated, old enough to have experience, in her forties, young enough to keep up with the kids. Obviously wasn’t there because she had to work somewhere and couldn’t get any other type of job, which would describe most of them. She was given No. 12 cottage, 16 boys of whom I was one. A very lonely boy of 11 years. A country boy as opposed to the city breed type, which was the average. Very homesick. Missed my Grandfather, who had opposed very strongly my being sent away. Missed by stepfather a TPI from WWI who had died in March 1938, a man I was strongly attached to. He had been a sergeant in the Coldstream Guards and I adored him. I think that is why I took a different attitude to the Colonel, there was a similarity between them. Mrs Odgers quickly recognised that I wasn’t interested in sports or skylarking as most boys are but I lived in a world of books. She did everything possible to encourage me.

The place was run on a presumption that “an idle boy is a troublesome boy” which is true, but Northcote took it to extreme lengths. The only time we got to ourselves was from 1pm to 5pm on a Sunday. A period spent wandering all that area between the Werribee Gorge and the Brisbane ranges. Sometimes even wandering as far as Bacchus Marsh, a distance of a very hilly 7-8 miles by the shortest but hardest route. It was of course a region considered “out of bounds” and beyond all the youngest of us. The rest of the week was rise,  7am cold shower, do whatever work you were rostered for after making your bed military style. The work would be half an hour of housework, then 20 minutes physical exercise down near the central dining room, run by the Colonel himself. Then community breakfast, plate of porridge with milk but no sugar, two rounds of bread and dripping, one glass of milk. Back to cottage on the double, nobody ever strolled. Finish whatever you started before the physical jerks session, collect school books, homework, etc. and off to the state school, a half mile down the road.  At 12 pm back to dining room dinner, mutton stew with rice and tapioca, alternate days except Sunday when it was dried apricots and custard. 1pm back to school. 3 pm hurry home put school books away in your personal locker, which contained just about nothing else, bags etc. were unknown. Out at the run where the Colonel stood blowing his whistle. Then all working together under his watchful eye planting trees, digging drains, digging gardens, building a tennis court, cleaning drains, etc., etc. After which, back to the cottage evening meal at 5pm. Two rounds bread and dripping, two rounds bread and jam, melon and lemon – I cannot remember anything else. One glass of milk.  At this meal we were permitted to talk at the other two, silence was the rule. But in your cottage we all listened to The Argonauts children’s session on Mrs Odgers’ wireless. I think it was actually given to us by her father. The meals never varied the three years I was there as far as I remember.

Mrs Odgers received the newspaper The Argus sent in the mail each day and she contrived to see that I had time to read it each day. I was the only one that received this luxury. The evenings were spent attending scouts, boxing lessons run by the Colonel, farm lectures from the farm manager – we had 3600 acres. Choir practice, Mrs Odgers was the organist, or anything else anyone could think up to keep us occupied. 8 pm bed. The beds were army style cots, no glass in the windows just fly wire with a canvas blind that was not allowed to be lowered unless it was actually raining. No talking in bed. That was that. We had to write home once a month. I discovered years later that they did not receive a single letter neither did I receive a single reply. What happened to our letters is anyone’s guess.

After leaving 8th grade, moved to No 8 cottage where 14 boys were  kept to provide weekly labour working in  the kitchen, the Colonel’s personal garden, the bootmakers staff dining room, laundry etc. etc. A year at that then moved down to the farm a quarter mile away in opposite direction to the state school. Then we milked 100 cows. Northcote is listed in dept agriculture records as one of only two dairies that milked over 100 cows in 1938/39 in Victoria. Worked a large piggery, several hundred pigs. , a chicken farm, grew all our own vegetables and killed six sheep a week, hence the mutton stew. The 20 biggest boys did all that sort of work, aged 14 to 16 years, all living in what was known as the Bunkhouse with a married couple in charge. These boys were paid 6d per week. The younger ones were paid 2d, 1d must be put in Sunday’s church plate. Boy-girl relationships were strictly taboo. A rule which concerned me seriously as Dorothy Barber was my best friend. Much effort was put into keeping us apart. A thing we both strongly objected to. Mrs Odgers came to the rescue after I left her cottage by occasionally invited the two of us to her cottage for Sunday night’s tea, not sure the Colonel was game to take her to task for it. I eventually married her. We had nine children, not having a family of her own, Dorothy was determined to create one. Looking back I think we overdid it a bit, but Dorothy was happy. Unfortunately she died in 1976 in a road accident and took our youngest daughter with her. I have never forgotten her.

This gives something of the skeleton of our lives. It of course, raises many questions but Northcote’s main faults if one can call it that was total lack of personal relationships with anybody. Unless you were lucky enough to have a brother or sister then the feeling of being deserted by the world was very strong. Mrs Odgers realised that. It was perhaps the thing that differentiated her from the run of the mill staff. The fierce, physical punishment dished out to some of the boys was criminal to say the least. But that was the standard old fashioned army way. But we were children, and children who had many hurdles in life to jump over at that. I never received any such treatment at the hands of the Colonel, in fact, I got along well with him, but I witnessed many of his sins which horrified me, especially as no-one ever bothered to tell us what the victim had actually done. Neither did I ever witness or knew about any sexual crimes, rumours of which surface now and again. But Dorothy did fill me in about things like that many years later. So they did happen. Twice, however, I was physically bullied by adult men on the staff and once threatened by a school teacher in the staff dining room when working as a waiter there. She demanded I serve her first as she had to get back to school.

I replied, “So do several people”.

She jumped to her feet and threatened me.

Old Wally the bootmaker spun around in his seat and glared at her and said, “You touch that boy and I’ll box your ears until they fall off. If you’re in such a goddam hurry, why don’t you go get it yourself? No-one is stopping you!”, a speech that forever fixed him in my memory.

by Graham Budd, February 2011.


Forgotten Australians, memories

Forgotten because you’re not seen

by T. (guest author) on 28 March, 2011

T. shares her personal history ngrowing up in Children’s Homes in Victoria. The National Museum respects T.’s wish not to have her full first name or family name published.

T. writes:

I was placed in a home in 1974, due to my mother becoming ill. This prevented her from caring for us properly and there were marriage problems at the time. The first home my sister and I were placed in was St. Catherine’s for two to four weeks. No record exists of my sister and I having been there although on my sister’s file (other homes) the name St. Catherine’s is wrote and a line crossed through it. I can remember being there and my sister and I didn’t go to school while there. Our brother was in a different home. The second home was Allambie and I slept on a mattress on the floor because there were not enough beds. My sister and I could not see our brother as he was in a different area. I would try to go into the playground (pretending I was younger) so I could see him as I missed him. I would get told off for doing so (I was 6) and I felt angry and upset that I couldn’t see him.

The third home we remained in until 1975. There were rules such as eating all of your meal or you didn’t get dessert, line up to go in the dining room, walk to the left on the staircase, go to Sunday school and pray before going to sleep at night and there were set times for doing things (meals, watching the news, brushing teeth etc). We went to a local primary school on a bus from the orphanage and we all wore the same uniform at a time when government primary schools didn’t have a school uniform. We didn’t go to school friend’s birthday parties etc, not that we got invited, we knew we couldn’t go anyway, in this way I felt like an outsider. We had a Christmas party in the home and we could choose from a small list, one present that we hoped for. They were presents such as a small jewellery box or a stuffed doll.

One day I was given a small transistor (radio) by a family I stayed with one weekend. I was so happy I could not even thank them, I couldn’t get the words out and I felt guilty that I didn’t thank them. It disappeared, I can’t remember if I took it back to the home but from my memory nothing could be kept at the home.

We called our staff member by Christian name and we slept in rooms of 6 to 8 girls a room. We were grouped by age and although my sister and I were a year difference we were in separate rooms. We were called by our Christian name and once a girl came into the home who had the same name as my sister so her name was changed to a different one.

Discipline didn’t always seem fair. There was a girl there who said she was going to run away and the staff member told her to do so. She did and she was brought back. I don’t know if she did anything wrong but I was sad because I thought they didn’t understand how much she missed her family. There was also a time my sister and I were squabbling over something and the staff member came up and hit her in the face, causing her nose to bleed. This seemed more wrong to me than what we were fighting over. I always felt that there was no-one to talk to about things like that then because you lived there and it was a time when the adult was believed.

I did have good times in the home because I had friends in the home and we could go outside and play in the trees when I was there. We also had a movie night at one home and went in a swimming pool a couple of times. I remember a carnival at the last home, it was open to the public, it was fun but also made me sad to see all the children who could be with and go home with their family.

When I was in the homes one very true family friend used to visit us. My maternal grandmother always did and although it is not recorded on my files I see my late mother in one of those visits. There is one record of my maternal grandmother listed, and listed incorrectly as a name not hers or ever had by her. There are relatives who you never see again as they don’t visit. I think you become forgotten about because you’re not seen. You lose that connection and bond to relatives and grow up having to do things very much for yourself. There is that support system that you don’t have.

I will not add anything about my time after I was released from the home. I can’t say it has been a good outcome for all of us (my sister and my brother) but I don’t wish to write about that. We haven’t grown up as some people do and I know my experiences are different again to that of others who grew up or lived in institutions.

This is my experience, from T.

art, Forgotten Australians, theatre


by Wings for Survivors (guest author) on 7 March, 2011

Alchemy Theatre’s production of Sanctuary, written by Chris Dickens and directed by Deeanne Clapton is touring Victoria this month. Sanctuary creates an opportunity to continue the conversations about our institutional history and the development of our national character.

The tour is proudly supported by the CAFS Heritage Program Ballarat, the Department of Human Services Grampians Region and the Helen McPherson Smith Trust.

Alchemny Theatre – Sanctuary
Child Migrants, memories

The Argonaut

by Graham Budd (guest author) on 16 February, 2011

Graham Budd arrived in Australia from England in 1939 and was sent to Northcote Farm School in Victoria. Here he recalls winning a national competition run by ABC Radio’s The Argonauts, and how his joy was tempered by the remarks of a cruel cottage mother.

I arrived in Australia in the Jervis Bay on 6/1/39 along with 28 boys and girls bound for Northcote farm school Bacchus Marsh Victoria. I was 11 years and 5 months old and not at all happy, although excited as I looked on the venture as an exciting experience. I was bitter at leaving my grandfather, my young half brother aged 3 years and still mourned the loss of my stepfather who had died March 1938. He was a TPI [totally and permanently incapacitated] from World War I, ex-Coldstream Guards. I was very much attached to him.

The 161 children of Northcote were scattered in about 8/9 cottages each with a cottage ‘mother’. These ‘mothers’ came in various grades of intelligence and attitudes. Looking back as an adult I realise some were close to being insane, which gave rise to the following:

In December the ABC Argonauts children’s session on the wireless launched a competition for the best original Christmas card. Our cottage were all avid listeners as their session coincided with our evening meal so we had time to listen to it. Our ‘mother’ got some of us to enter the competition, she paid for the postage stamps, and in due course I was amazed to be told I had won. An Australia-wide competition, that was quite something. The home gave me the prize, a fountain pen and pencil set, but as they opened all our mail in and out, they did not give me the letter that must have come with it. All I got was the opened box. The incident caused quite a lot of comment around the place. These ‘mothers’ carried on a sort of private war among themselves, a ‘m boys are better than yours’ attitude which gave rise to the following:

A few days later I was walking past one of the cottages when the ‘mother’ who was standing on the verandah stopped me and said, “Oh Budd, I suppose that it doesn’t matter how clever you are, the Australian government isn’t going to spend any money on you. When you finish 8th grade they won’t send the likes of you to high school. You are going to have to work for a living whether you like it or not”.

Of course the statement was true, but the tone of voice and her general manner have stayed with me all my life. I have often wondered whatever possessed her to employ such a person in such a job. I was lucky that my own ‘cottage mother’ was different. Although she could not alter the general thrust of the place, her treatment of us under her care was excellent. I stayed in contact with her until she died, aged 84 – an association that lasted 36 years. She was in fact the only person apart from my grandfather and the ex-soldier stepfather who gave a damn about me as a person until I married at age 23. It was a lonely life.

The Xmas card incidentally was a hand-drawn picture of a warship with guns blazing and a submarine no 1939 obviously sinking but another no 1940 just coming to the surface. The warship was of course named The Argonaut – very appropriate for the time.

Graham Budd

You can hear segments from ABC’s radio show The Argonauts below:

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations

Beyond the home gates

by Adele on 10 January, 2011

The report Beyond the Home Gates: Life after Growing Up in Catholic Institutions is based on interviews with 40 people aged in their 40s to 70s who left Catholic children’s institutions in Victoria between 1945 and 1983. The researchers are Elizabeth Branigan, Jenny Malone, John Murphy and Suellen Murray.

The research was guided by a reference group chaired by MacKillop Family Services, with membership including representation from people who grew up in institutional care and the support and advocacy groups VANISH and Broken Rites.

art, Forgotten Australians, painting, photography

Art work dedicated to Forgotten Australians

by Jo Malham (guest author) on 4 December, 2010

Jo Malham’s father-in-law, Ernie, is a Forgotten Australian. Here, she shares some works inspired by Ernie’s history.

Jo explains:

I am an artist currently studying my Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts).  Throughout 2010 my works have been inspired by stories and the plight of Forgotten Australians.  My father-in-law, Ernie Malham, was taken from his parents when he was seven years old.  He was never told why and never told where his eight brothers and sisters were.  Ernie is 84 years old now and lives contentedly with his son and myself, his daughter-in-law.

My art is a mixture of painting, mixed media works on canvas and digital images.  The images contain symbolic messages to communicate the wretchedness of being a Forgotten Australian.  The finished paintings and mixed media go on to be photographed then manipulated to show another aspect to the message being communicated.

documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

Neglected Children’s Depot

by Kathryn Lucas (guest author) on 26 November, 2010

Kathryn Lucas would like to find more information about the Royal Park Depot in Melbourne. Can anyone help?

Composite image of a long row from a register of deaths in 1909

Kathryn Lucas, while researching her family history, discovered the death certificate of Edna Muriel Holmes, the daughter of her great grandfather.

articles/lectures, Forgotten Australians, memories, objects

Blick bear

by Adele on 18 November, 2010

This soft toy was donated to the National Museum by Jeanette Blick.

Soft toy made by Pentridge Toy Makers c.1962

Jeanette was a resident of Orana Methodist Home for Children, Burwood Victoria. The toy was made by prisoners at Pentridge Gaol:

A Pentridge prisoner with a propensity for, say, woodcraft or textiles might have found himself encouraged to join the ‘Pentridge Toy Makers’, a group founded in 1961 to produce toys for ‘needy’ and ‘destitute’ children. Products of the Toy Makers’ labours (upwards of 6,000 toys and hobbies annually, at their peak) were ceremonially displayed and distributed at lavish Christmas events held in the jail, to which groups of children from refugee communities, orphanages, and so on, were invited.[1]

The teddy bear was given to Jeanette circa 1962. She recalls receiving the gift:

I can remember receiving the teddy one Christmas as I did not have a family to go to for the holidays, so I had to remain in Orana over Christmas. Christmas day, I remember finding the teddy on the bottom of my bed. I did not know where it had come from as it was not wrapped and there was no tag/card on it.

I took it to the cottage mother and told her someone had left this on my bed and she said it was for me. She also told me that the prisoners in Pentridge Gaol had made the teddy.

I think I cried most of the day. This was the first gift I had received in years.

In the New Year a family came and took me for the rest of the holidays. I left the teddy on my bed as I was instructed to do (I wanted to take it with me but was not allowed) and when I came back it was gone.

I never saw it again until I opened my suitcase when I arrived in Cobram at my mother’s house. Someone must have put it in the case with the toothbrush, pyjamas and knickers that were there as well. I do not know who had done this or why.

[1] Wilson, Jacqueline Zara  (2004) ‘Dark tourism and the celebrity prisoner: Front and back regions in representations of an Australian historical prison’ in Journal of Australian Studies 82: 1–13. The activities of the Pentridge Toy Makers ended in 1976 as a result of fire in their storage shed. (ibid., p. 172).

Forgotten Australians, Responding to the National Apology

Don’t let this happen to the kids in the homes now

by Lynn Meyers (guest author) on 15 November, 2010

Lynnette Meyers
Lynn MeyersA response by a Forgotten Australian to the National Apology at Parliament House, Canberra, on 16 November 2009


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.