Laundry work Girls Industrial School c1910
Muster c1926 Girls Industrial School
Cleaning duties Parramatta Girls Home c1970s
Rooftop riots - Parramatta Girls Home 1961
Ministerial visit Parramatta Girls Home 1973
Parramatta Girls Home/ Norma Parker Centre main building Fleet St.
Parramatta Girls Home
The Industrial School for Girls - later known as the Parramatta Girls Home - was first occupied on the 9 May 1887. Previously the site had been occupied as the Roman Catholic Orphan School.
The term Industrial School became popular during the Industrial Revolution era. Previously 'Workhouses' or 'Female Factories' were earlier terms to describe 'welfare' institutions - Industrial Schools differ in that they were specifically established to care for neglected, orphaned and abandoned children.
Australia was the first country to attempt to introduce legislation which would see the establishment of Industrial Schools. The initial Bill failed and it was fourteen years later in 1866 that the Industrial Schools Act was legislated. Provision for the establishment of Industrial Schools was first introduced in England with the 1857 Industrial Schools Act and in Ireland with the Industrial Schools Act of 1868.
Australia's first Girls Industrial School was established in 1867 in former military barracks at Newcastle (Newcastle Girls Industrial School). Riots by the girls and resistance by the local community saw the Industrial School relocated to the former convict barracks on Cockatoo Island in April 1871. This establishment was known as the Biloela Girls Industrial School and accommodated girls up to the age of 18 years together with boys up to the age of seven. Accommodation and conditions at Biloela proved entirely unsatisfactory and it was often the subject of official inquiries. With the introduction of the Boarding Out (foster care) system in 1881 the state owned orphanages eventually closed and with the former premises of the RCOS at Parramatta now vacant a decision was made to relocate the Girls Industrial School to Parramatta.
Children's Shelter- Reformatory - Training & Industrial School
Industrial Schools were intended for children who were neglected, abandoned, orphaned, destitute or had been convicted of a criminal offence. The institution served the dual purpose of an Children’s Shelter (Remand Centre), Reformatory and Training School for girls who had come to the attention of the child welfare authorities and classified as either delinquent (dangerous) or neglected (perishing). This classification was intended to determine where girls were placed however due to economy and efficiency separate institutions were not established and all girls were sent to the same institution. Following repeated calls, a functionally separate Training Home was established in the former Orphan School hospital building for younger or more vulnerable girls. This initiative was abandoned in 1927 when the La Perouse Girls Training School was established as an annex to Parramatta. The former Training Home building was then put to use as Admissions.La Perouse closed in 1939 and a ‘new’ institution established at Linnwood Hall, Guildford. This was followed with the establishment of the Thornleigh Training School for Girls in 1946 which was run in conjunction with the Parramatta institution for girls approaching the end of their sentences who had responded well to their training.
The term 'school' was a legacy from when child welfare institutions were the responsibility of the Dept of Public Instruction (Education). The Dept of Child Welfare was not an autonomous authority until 1956. A matron-superintendent was responsible for day to day management with the first being Mrs Selina Walker. All subsequent superintendent's were men with women serving in sub-ordinate roles as 'officers'.
Children were committed to the institution by the Children's Court on either a 'welfare complaint' or ' criminal offence' for an indeterminate period ranging from 3 months up to 6 years and sometimes longer.
An estimated 30,000 children passed through this institution with an average of 160 girls in residence at any given time. These figures rose during the late 1950's, 60's and 70's peaking in 1970 with a recorded 307 girls in residence. In 1966, the resident population averaged around 250 with the transient population that year around 500. On average between 7 and 12% of girls were of Aboriginal descent. Many of these girls were transferred from the Cootamundra Girls Home.
Environment, routines & procedures
On arrival girls were stripped, searched and issued with a number, a uniform - a basic brown and blue wrap around coverall, no bras, underwear made of unbleached calico. They were kept in a separate area known as 'admissions' until medically cleared then transferred to dormitories in the 'old home' section of the institution. Until 1966 the institution was used as a children's shelter for girls awaiting a court appearance or on remand until a final hearing.
The atmosphere within the institution was one of fear with all movement within the institution restricted and accompanied with the locking and unlocking of doors supervised by officers. All trace of individuality was removed: no privacy; no doors on toilets or showers, no lockers.
Musters and body searches were part of the daily routine, all mail was censored and family visitors were restricted to once a week. Conditions and routines were draconian and very few were offered any schooling -rather they were kept on 'training duties' such as laundry, kitchen, general maintenance and cleaning. On leaving the institution most girls were ill-equipped to reintegrate into society.
Discipline & Punishment
Punishments included withdrawal of privileges such as visitors, and certain activities; standing still for hours, scrubbing concrete or wooden floors on knees continuously with a scrubbing brush, toothbrush, or brick; demotion to a lower grade dormitory or labour intensive work duties (i.e. laundry work, toilet cleaning, furnace work); segregation or isolation in solitary cells on bread and water. Several areas were set aside for segregation and confinement including the 'dungeon' basement rooms, isolation cells and segregation rooms in the former RCOS hospital building. All were unfurnished windowless rooms, secured with a solid bolted door. Anti-psychotic drugs or sedatives were also used as a form of chemical restraint on girls considered difficult to manage.
Like earlier institutions, Parramatta was notorious for riots. The earliest of these occurred in 1887 then in 1890, 1898, 1899, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1953, 1954, 1958 and 1961. It has been suggested that for every riot at least another dozen were quelled before they got out of hand. Many of the riots started during mealtimes when most of the girls were together and according to accounts given, were terrifying events with some girls collapsing on the floor weeping hysterically while others rampantly destroyed every object and piece of furniture they could.
Hay Girls Institution 1961 -1974
Following a series of riots in early 1961 the Hay Girls Institution was established as a maximum security annex for girls committed to Parramatta who the authorities felt needed 'additional discipline and training'. Prior to this girls 15 years and older could be sent to Long Bay prison on the basis that they had infringed the rule, 'Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline'.
Parramatta Girls Home Closes
Campaigns by the newly formed Women's Liberation movement called for reforms to the welfare system. In July 1973 ABC TV This Day Tonight put to air a program exposing the brutality of Parramatta and the Hay Girls Institutions. This was later followed by protests outside the Girls Home in December. In April 1974 the Child Welfare Minister announced the closure of Parramatta however what he did not mention was that an alternative facility 'Reiby' had been built at Campbelltown in the previous year. Girls committed to Parramatta during the changeover period remained until the completion of their sentence.
Kamballa & Taldree Children's Shelter
Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institution for Girls were officially closed in June 1974 however in October 1974 the main section of the site was known as 'Kamballa'. This was made official on 7 March 1975 when the institution was named Kamballa (Girls) and Taldree (Boys) Childrens Shelter. Taldree operated until 1980 at which time the boys section was transferred to Werrington with the Kamballa section operating until 1983.
End of an Era
In 1980 the Department of Corrective Services took possession of the original orphanage buildings and established the Norma Parker Detention Centre for Women. Since 2010 Norma Parker Centre ceased as a detention centre but continues to be used for administrative purposes by NSW Corrections.
Parramatta Girls Reunion
In 2003 the Parramatta Girls re-united for the first time since leaving the institution. Joining them was Sydney based playwright Alana Valentine who went on to write the Parramatta Girls play. The play premiered two weeks after the Hay Girls re-union in March 2007 at Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills and has subsequently been taken up in HSC Drama studies.
Reliving the Horror.30/5/03 ABC Stateline
More Victims of Parramatta Girls Home .. 6/6/03 ABC Stateline
The Reunion. 27/06/03 ABC Stateline.
The Girls get together. 24/10/03 ABC Stateline:
The ‘Girls’ Re unite. 7/11/03 ABC Stateline
Exposed to Moral Danger - In our very recent history, the 1960s and early 70s, teenage girls were locked in cells in an old jail in the town of Hay, in southwestern NSW.Deemed troublemakers at the Parrammatta Girls Home in western Sydney, they were subjected to a militaristic regime of state-sanctioned harsh discipline. Behind high walls, and a long way from the Sydney-based authorities, many abuses occurred over the years. ABC Radio National Hindsight.
For information on Institutional Records of the Parramatta Girls Home here
Other Names: Parramatta Industrial School for Females 1887-1912, Girls Training Home – School (GTS) 1912 -1925, Parramatta Girls Home (PGH) 1925 -1974, Kamballa (1974-1983) & Taldree (1974-1980).
For Schools: Study Guide : Forgotten Australians
What do they tell us about social life in Australia in the twentieth century and especially about aspects of childhood for poor and disadvantaged children...study guide