The Parramatta Girls Home

2015
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The Parramatta Girls Home

[media]The Parramatta Girls Home, which operated under various names from 1887 until 1975, was one of the most notorious child welfare and juvenile justice institutions run by the New South Wales Government. Up to 30,000 girls passed through its doors, making it a significant site of women's incarceration and experience. The buildings it occupied, some of which dated back to the 1840s, are part of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, which is listed on the Register of the National Estate but is endangered by proposed high-rise development in Parramatta.

Industrial schools and reformatories

Industrial schools and reformatories were institutions for children who had been found by a court to be neglected, vagrant or wandering, 'uncontrollable', abandoned, street-trading or guilty of petty crimes. In New South Wales, the Department of Public Instruction ran the institutions under the Destitute Children's Act 1866. [1] Children and young adults sentenced to an industrial school or reformatory usually served a four-year sentence, during which time they would learn rudimentary trades. The first industrial school and reformatory for girls in New South Wales was Newcastle Industrial School for Females, which included a reformatory and was founded in 1867. [2] After outbreaks of rioting there in 1871, the industrial school and reformatory moved to Cockatoo Island and the complex there was renamed the Biloela Industrial School. [3] Further rioting led to the closure of Biloela and the transfer of the industrial school and reformatory for females to Parramatta.

Parramatta Girls Industrial School

The Parramatta Girls Industrial School was established in 1887 in the old Roman Catholic Orphan School buildings at Fleet Street, Parramatta by the Department of Public Instruction. Parramatta combined the functions of a training school (industrial school) for girls in the welfare stream and a reformatory for girls on criminal charges or remand. Girls could also be moved to Parramatta because their foster placements failed or because they had problems in other institutions, such as those of the Aborigines Protection Board. Until 1904 a small number of boys under the age of seven years were also sent to Parramatta. Around four per cent of girls committed at this time were recorded as being part of Aboriginal communities and a similar proportion were Chinese, or found to be living with Chinese people. [4] The 'training' provided was in laundry work, sewing and cooking – the skills required by domestic servants – and girls' schooling was a low priority.

Between 160 and 200 girls were held in Parramatta Girls Home at any one time and the buildings were bleak and run down. It was constantly overcrowded. As a result the lines were often blurred between the reformatory and the training school, and girls who had committed serious criminal offences often mixed with girls whose only crime was being neglected. Girls who had been sexually assaulted were treated the same as young prostitutes. From as early as 1889 girls began rioting to express their anger at their conditions, leading to government inquiries into the discipline and management of the home.

An 1898 inquiry, triggered by a riot and a letter of complaint from the matron, revealed the complex and intense relationships between the girls and the staff in what amounted to a closed institution. This inquiry was unusual as girls were invited to speak. The girls saw the inquiry as piece of theatre, the continuance of a performance that had begun with the riot, which was itself a chance to speak out. One girl stressed she had carried a brick around so she looked threatening and another explained her role in the riot as a means of articulating her problems: 'we thought by playing up we would go to Court and be able to tell all we had to say'. Now, they used the safety of the inquiry room to address the staff directly. [5] As one said to the laundry mistress:

I was in the laundry with you for 14 months. I could not count how many times you punished me. You punished me once for talking and once for humming in the wash-house. You gave me 12 handers for humming in the wash-house, and you have punished me other times. [6]

The inquiry revealed solitary confinement and 'standing out' (standing with arms behind for two hours) were frequently and arbitrarily applied, and 'slaps' or strokes with the cane were not recorded. In addition, the inquiry heard that the staff hated each other, bought girls' affections with gifts and embroiled the girls in their personal disputes. The upshot of the inquiry was the replacement of the matron. [7]

Parramatta Girls Training Home

In 1905 the New South Wales Government introduced the Neglected Children's and Juvenile Offenders Act, which was the beginning of a system of juvenile justice in New South Wales. The State Children's Relief Board opened children's courts, which were intended to better meet the children's needs and shield them from the presence of criminal adults, although the differences were barely discernible. [8] Children's Court magistrates dealt with the petty crimes of children and 'charges' of neglect. They had the power to commit children to any institution and many girls who came before the courts were sent to Parramatta, irrespective of whether they were neglected or criminal. Girls who were wards of the Aborigines Protection Board and had been placed in Cootamundra Home or in service were sometimes sent to Parramatta. Until 1928 the home received girls as young as two years of age.

In 1912 the agencies responsible for caring for children in New South Wales were restructured and the management of Parramatta Girls Home was transferred to the State Children's Relief Department. It was renamed Parramatta Girls Training Home, a softened title that reflecting the welfare and reform aspirations of the department. However the buildings and most of the staff remained the same.

The Child Welfare Department

In 1923 the Child Welfare Act was introduced, creating the Child Welfare Department and aligning welfare and disciplinary measures for children. To deal with overcrowding a better system of classification was introduced and buildings were renamed, such as Bethel and Keller House, while Yarra Bay House at La Perouse was established as an annex and privilege home to reward girls for good behavior and ease their transition to release. From the 1940s girls from the Australian Capital Territory who had been committed to institutions were transferred to the NSW Child Welfare Department and sent to Parramatta. [9]

Girls continued to express their discontent by rioting. On Christmas Day 1941, nine days after the visit of the reformist Minister for Education, Clive Evatt, the girls rioted against the strictures of their superintendent:

In the mayhem furniture was overturned and broken. Screaming girls threw bricks through the large glass windows and the wild melee only stopped when the alarm sounding police wagons came screaming to a halt outside the yard. [10]

The rioting and constant escapes by inmates led to yet another inquiry. [11]

Child Welfare Council Delinquency Committee

In 1943 the Child Welfare Council Delinquency Committee, led by Mrs Mary Tenison-Woods, investigated the Parramatta home and conducted psychological and intelligence testing on inmates. The report documented mismanagement in the home, abusive punishments and other failings. It condemned the conditions at Parramatta:

…inadequate buildings and its nineteenth century regime of cold baths, household chores, prayers, classes, bells and musters; conditions which could not be matched at any institution throughout the Commonwealth. [12]

The report recorded a strong subculture existed within the home. Tenison-Woods wrote the girls formed a 'peculiar sorority', passing each other love notes and scratching initials into each other's bodies with pins. This was a means of surviving a regime that included strip searches, inspections for venereal disease and the requirement to show bloodstained underwear to a staff member so their menstrual cycles could be monitored. This was while girls were expected to learn the skills of table-setting, dressmaking and flower arrangement, in preparation for a life of 'gracious living'. [13]

Tenison-Woods advocated a range of positive measures, including better child guidance and educational opportunities for the girls. [14] The reaction to her inquiry was immediate. In 1946 the New South Wales Government announced that the Parramatta Girls Training Home would be renamed as the Parramatta Girls Training School and reforms would be introduced. However, again, the buildings and most of the staff remained exactly the same.

Parramatta Girls Training School

The annual reports of the Child Welfare Department claimed the new Parramatta Girls Training School had instituted positive changes but the reality of life within the institution changed little. By the early 1950's the youngest girls were 10 years of age but the institution grew steadily more crowded. This was partly because ideas about children's institutions were changing and many religious and charitable homes that had taken vulnerable girls and young women were closing down. As a result there were fewer options for girls whose problems were simply the absence of guardians or welfare issues. In the late 1960s, numbers at Parramatta Girls Training School peaked with 307 girls, including those in its annexes at Ormond and Hay. By that stage some vocational guidance was introduced but educational opportunities remained limited. [15]

Parramatta and adoption

A number of girls sent to Parramatta were pregnant and some former residents have said they were impregnated when they were raped inside the home. Young expectant mothers were sent to Myee Hostel, near Arncliffe. In 1965, the Child Welfare Department's Annual Report described the process:

The majority of pregnant girls admitted to Myee Hostel are those transferred from the Parramatta Training School for Girls. These are transferred in the seventh month of pregnancy, attend Crown Street Hospital for ante-natal treatment, are confined in that Hospital and returned to Myee until their post-natal clearance usually after six weeks. [16]

The 1967 Annual Report explained that a social worker had been allocated to work full-time with pregnant girls:

The support and intensive counselling given to the girls is helping them to become settled, to accept their situation, to be willing to co-operate in making plans for their future and later to carry them out. This service is also extended to pregnant girls who are committed to the Convent of the Good Samaritan at Arncliffe. [17]

A number of former residents of the home have described how they were persuaded, and sometimes forced, to relinquish their babies for adoption.

Ormond and Institution for Girls at Hay

By the 1960s Parramatta had an annex at Ormond in Thornleigh, which was a 'privilege home'. The opposite extreme was the Institution for Girls at Hay, which was established after a series of dramatic riots at Parramatta in 1961. It was a former prison for male offenders. Girls who committed crimes or misdemeanours in Parramatta were sent to Hay – drugged and transported in a van overnight – for up to three months, during which time they were kept in brutal isolation. [18] They were then returned to Parramatta.

Throughout this period Child Welfare Department annual reports contain images of positive activities conducted at Parramatta, including cooking, dressmaking and basketball. It also publicised images of renovations and refurbishments. A 1967 report even described the decrepit main building as retaining its 'old world charm'. The words of former residents and historians paint another picture: of an institution that was repressive, regimented and abusive. The existence of Hay was not widely acknowledged.

The closure of Parramatta Girls Home

In 1973 protests outside Parramatta Girls Training School by the Women's Liberation Movement, led by Bessie Guthrie, attracted media and parliamentary attention. At the end of 1974 the Parramatta Training School was officially closed and the buildings were redeveloped as Kamballa, residential accommodation for girls, and Taldree, for boys. The Department of Corrective Services later used the site as the Norma Parker Detention Centre, named for a crusading child welfare officer. This was the first prison facility in New South Wales that allowed mothers of babies and very young children to keep their babies with them. This use of the facility returned the site to its original origins as the Female Factory. The site is now empty but remains in government ownership.

Royal Commission testimony

In 2014 the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse heard testimony from 16 former residents of Parramatta about the sexual and physical abuse they experienced at the home, while other women contacted the commissioners to tell their stories. One case study describes the punishments the girls endured: [19]

At both Parramatta Girls and the Hay Institution, girls often faced harsh punishments if they were deemed to have stepped outside these rules. For example, if girls at Parramatta were caught sleeping facing the wall, they would be dragged out of bed and taken to scrub the concrete walkway on their knees with a bucket of water and a brush. … Scrubbing concrete, floors or rafters, sometimes for more than 12 hours, was a common form of punishment. So too was food deprivation.

Other witnesses said they had teeth forcibly removed as punishment. Girls were stripped naked and sent to isolation cells where many report they were sexually and physically abused by staff members. [20] Girls were physically and verbally abused, drugged and subjected to invasive physical examinations and inspections. The Royal Commission found that not one of the men accused of sexual assault was charged with an offence and that all but three have since died. [21]

Memorialisation and preservation

Former inmates of Parramatta Girls Home have conducted a number of reunions since 2005 and have formed an organisation called Parragirls. Plays, documentaries and books have been produced about their lives, greatly increasing community awareness about their experiences. [22] Parramatta Girls, by Alana Valentine, first ran at Belvoir Theatre Company in 2007 and had a successful season at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre in 2014. It is a New South Wales Higher School Certificate text. [23]

Parragirls has, with artist Lily Hibberd, developed the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project and is lobbying for the preservation of the Parramatta Industrial School site as an International Site of Conscience. [24] The site currently hosts installations that capture the stories of the place and highlights surviving elements of the site. A fire occurred in the Orphan School building on 21 December 2012 causing significant damage and while the building has been restored, the historic interior and much of the graffiti remaining from its time as a girls' home were destroyed. The upper story of Bethel, the former Male Orphan School, contains original timbers, including doors graffitied with the acronym 'ILWA': 'I love worship and adore', the acronym Parramatta girls used to express their sorority over the decades.

The Girls Training School Precinct at 1 Fleet St, Parramatta has been listed on the State Heritage Register and the Register of the National Estate. On 30 July 2015 the Australian Government announced that the Female Factory Precinct site was being considered for the National Heritage List. [25] At the time of writing the New South Wales Government and Parramatta Council are preparing master plans for the development of the site.

References

Djuric, Bonney. 'A Past Revisited'. Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children. Edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson, 119–131. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014.

Djuric, Bonney. Abandon All Hope: A History of Parramatta Industrial School. Perth: Chargan My Book Publisher, 2011.

Commonwealth of Australia. Find and Connect Web Resource Project, www.findandconnect.gov.au, viewed 1 August, 2015.

Parry, Naomi. 'Tracing the Past: The Find and Connect Web Resource.' Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children. Edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson, 145–162. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014.

Commonwealth of Australia. Report of Case Study No 7: Child Sexual Abuse at the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay. Sydney: Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, October 2014. Available online at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/0e4ec1ab-f372-496e-a98f-de3c0f268fb9/Report-of-Case-Study-no-7, viewed 1 August, 2015

Notes

[1] 'New South Wales – Legislation: Destitute Children Act 1866 (1866–1901),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/nsw/biogs/NE00002b.htm, viewed 1 August 2015

[2] 'New South Wales – Organisation: Newcastle Industrial School for Females (1867–1871),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/nsw/biogs/NE01070b.htm, viewed 1 August 2015

[3] 'New South Wales – Organisation: Biloela Industrial School, Cockatoo Island (1871–1887),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/nsw/biogs/NE00444b.htm, viewed 1 August 2015

[4] Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940' (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Department of History, 2007).

[5] Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940' (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Department of History, 2007), 138

[6] State Records NSW, Parramatta Industrial School for Females (1887–1912), NRS 14718, Transcript of evidence in the Public Service Board enquiry into the Industrial School for Girls, Parramatta (09 May 1898–10 May 1898), 4/7790 cited in Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940' (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Department of History, 2007), 138

[7] Bonney Djuric, Abandon All Hope: A History of Parramatta Industrial School (Perth: Chargan My Book Publisher, 2011), 60–66

[8] Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940' (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Department of History, 2007); Rod Blackmore, 'History of Children's Legislation in New South Wales – The Children's Court,' History of the Children's Court, Children's Court Home, http://www.childrenscourt.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/childrenscourt_aboutus/history.aspx, viewed 1 August 2015; Christa Ludlow, 'For Their Own Good': A History of the Albion Street Children's Court and Boys' Shelter (Surry Hills, NSW: Network of Community Activities, 1994); 'New South Wales – Glossary Term: Children's Courts (1905–), Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00969, viewed 1 August 2015

[9] 'Australian Capital Territory – Event: Transfer of Children from Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Norfolk Island to New South Wales (NSW) (1941–1986),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/act/AE00131

[10] Cited in Bonney Djuric, Abandon All Hope: A History of Parramatta Industrial School (Perth: Chargan My Book Publisher, 2011), 89

[11] Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940', PhD, University of New South Wales Department of History, 2007, 272

[12] Cited Bonney Djuric, Abandon All Hope: A History of Parramatta Girls Industrial School (St Georges Terrace: Chargan, 2011), 92

[13] Naomi Parry, '"Such a Longing": Black and White Welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940' (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Department of History, 2007), 272

[14] 'New South Wales – Organisation: Parramatta Girls Training Home (1912–1946),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01317, viewed 1 August 2015

[15] 'New South Wales – Organisation: Parramatta Girls Training School (1946–1974),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01318, viewed 1 August 2015

[16] Department of Community Services, Child Welfare Department Annual Report 1965 (Sydney: VCN Blight, Government Printer, 1965) available online, https://www.opengov.nsw.gov.au/publications/13232, viewed 10 August 2015; cited in 'New South Wales – Organisation: Parramatta Girls Training School (1946–1974),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01318, viewed 1 August 2015

[17] Department of Community Services, Child Welfare Department Annual Report 1967 (Sydney: VCN Blight, Government Printer, 1965) available online, https://www.opengov.nsw.gov.au/publications/13234, viewed 10 August 2015; cited in 'New South Wales – Organisation: Parramatta Girls Training School (1946–1974),' Find and Connect Web Resource, http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01318, viewed 1 August 2015

[18] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of Case Study No 7: Child Sexual Abuse at the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay (Sydney: Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, October 2014), 7; available online at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/0e4ec1ab-f372-496e-a98f-de3c0f268fb9/Report-of-Case-Study-no-7, viewed 1 August 2015

[19] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of Case Study No 7: Child Sexual Abuse at the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay (Sydney: Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, October 2014), 2; available online at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/0e4ec1ab-f372-496e-a98f-de3c0f268fb9/Report-of-Case-Study-no-7, viewed 1 August 2015

[20] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of Case Study No 7: Child Sexual Abuse at the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay (Sydney: Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, October 2014), 18; available online at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/0e4ec1ab-f372-496e-a98f-de3c0f268fb9/Report-of-Case-Study-no-7, viewed 1 August 2015

[21] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of Case Study No 7: Child Sexual Abuse at the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay (Sydney: Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, October 2014), 19–23; available online at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/0e4ec1ab-f372-496e-a98f-de3c0f268fb9/Report-of-Case-Study-no-7, viewed 1 August 2015

[22] Bonney Djuric, 'A Past Revisited,' Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children, edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014), 119–131; Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, http://www.parragirls.org.au, viewed 1 August 2015

[23] Riverside Productions, 'Parramatta Girls,' by AlanaValentine, directed by Tanya Goldberg, program, 2014, https://riversideparramatta.com.au/wp-content/uploads/1692_RT_Parramatta-Girls_A3program_rev-art-3low-res-web.pdf, viewed 1 August 2015

[24] Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project, http://www.pffpmemoryproject.org, viewed 1 August 2015

[25] Melanie Kembrey, 'Parramatta Female Factory Precinct to be assessed for National Heritage List,' The Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/parramatta-female-factory-precinct-to-be-assessed-for-national-heritage-list-20150730-gintou.html, viewed 1 August 2015

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