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Parramatta Girls Industrial School

In 1887 the Parramatta Girls Industrial School (GIS) was established in the former premises of the Roman Catholic Orphan School. Also known as the Girls Training School (GTS) and Parramatta Girls Home (PGH), this institution was the principal child welfare facility for girls in NSW from 1887 to 1974.


Operating as the Kamballa & Taldree Children's Shelter from 1974 to 1983, the site was sub divided in 1980 and the Norma Parker Detention Centre for Women (1980-2012) established in the 'old' Orphan School section. The  southern Kamballa section was retained as administrative offices by the Department of Community services until 2010. 

Children 3 years to 15 were barracked together from 6pm to 6am, sleeping on boards clothed in chemises or day clothes and given no more than basic care, roamed freely within the prisons' sandstone confines like wild animals and treated as such with brutal use of corporal punishment which triggered rebellious outbursts that rapidly escalated into group hysteria. Where previously escape had been a form of resistance this was now impossible and behaviours such as sulkiness, gossip, rumour, riotous behaviour, obscene language and the lighting of fires became commonplace. This is turn increased punishment with greater notice taken of small faults. 



​Industrial Schools were established in Australia in 1867 following the legislation of the Destitute Children's Act 1866 (Industrial School Act) and an Act to Establish Juvenile Reformatories (Reformatories Schools Act) for children from poor families who may otherwise have ended up in prison or who were not eligible for admission to an Orphanage.

Industrial Schools were the responsibility of the Department of Public Instruction until 1956 when the Child Welfare Department was established. Unlike regular schools, Industrial Schools were more like prisons where children were committed by the Court for a determined period of time, or until they reached 18 years on a Welfare complaint such as Neglected, Uncontrollable or Exposed to moral danger or a Criminal offence.

​Newcastle Industrial School

The first Industrial School for Girls was established in the former military barracks at Newcastle under the supervision of Captain Jackson and Matron Agnes King in 1867. Girls exiled to this site were provided neither competent supervision or basic education and from the outset the institution was rejected by the local community. Plagued by disturbances and riots, the Newcastle establishment closed in 1871 with girls relocated to what was considered a more suitable site on Cockatoo Island.

Biloela Industrial School

Cockatoo Island was the location of the Boys Industrial School on board the nautical training ships the Vernon and Sobroan which were moored at the island. Used for convict re-offenders since 1839, Cockatoo Island was considered suitable because 'there was no other place available...and that they were fine old buildings and plenty of room for the children'. In an attempt to erase its convict associations, the island was renamed Biloela. Following the Public Charities Commission 1872-73, recommendations were made to close the institution and relocate it to a more suitable site, however this did not eventuate until 1887.

Cockatoo Island to Parramatta

On 9 May 1887 the first children were transferred from Biloela to the Parramatta site under the supervision of Matron Selina Walker. Among those transferred were children 18 months of age including boys up to the age of 7. After 1911, with the establishment of new facilities, Parramatta was used exclusively for girls and by the 1930's the lower age was fixed at 11 and the upper age at 18. 

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Parramatta Girls Industrial School c1910


South West Range kitchen wing

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Bethel - admissions section Parramatta Girls Home c 1970


​Located on seven and half acres enclosed within 16 ft brick walls, the Girls Industrial School remained much as it was when used as an orphanage. Functionally the site was divided into 2 areas- the Old Home section (main building, south west range and laundry) and in the southern grounds the Admissions section (hospital, school house).

Main 'Old Home' section

The main building contained 5 dormitories with showers in basement, administration offices and staff quarters. A free standing  isolation block containing 6 cells was located behind this building. A south west range linked to the main via a covered way, contained a dining room, kitchen, ancillary rooms and staff quarters above. The Chapel was converted to a recreation room and the laundry located  between this range and the rear perimeter of the site.  Cottages for the deputy superintendent and superintendent were built in front of the main building in 1944 and 1970.

Admissions section 

The original orphan school hospital (Bethel) was used for admissions and in 1936 a dormitory range (Keller House) and ancillary block was built south of this building. A school house located between Bethel and the south west range was demolished in 1970 on the completion of a new instructional range.

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Covered way view to main building

Management and Staff

In the early years a matron-superintendent was responsible for day to day management with the first being Mrs Selina Walker until 1889. Thereafter the institution was managed by male superintendents and deputy's with all sub-ordinate positions filled by women.


Until 1956 all staff were employed by the Department of Public Instruction (Education) after that date officers, ancillary and administrative staff were employed by the Department of Child Welfare and teaching staff employed by the Department of Education. 

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Muster c1910

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Above: Dormitory c1910 Below: Laundry

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The walls resonate with our memories; from our words carved into the stone, to the Female Factory's mortar bound together with hair shaved from the heads of convict women. Ask any Parragirl why the concrete on the covered way shines so well and she will tell you it's because of the skin worn from her knees as she scrubbed it night after night.


Children - classification & committal

The institution served the dual purpose of an Children’s Shelter (Remand Centre), Reformatory and Training School for children 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 separate children into different institutions - to punish and reform those charged with a criminal offence, and to protect and educate the vulnerable.

Children were committed to the institution by the Children's Court on either a welfare complaint or criminal offence. Most were charged as 'neglected, uncontrollable or exposed to moral danger' and sentenced on a general committal of 6 to 9 months ‘training’. Once admitted their length of stay was determined by the Superintendent with many remaining for years.

Reformatory or Training School?


The prison like atmosphere of the Industrial School was a failing by the government to establish separate reformatories for children who had committed a criminal offence with all equally condemned as immoral or criminal. This mixing together of different classifications always presented problems though there was an attempt between 1912 and 1927, to segregate girls to a functionally separate Training Home within the institution.

Routines & Conditions

Conditions were draconian and followed a fixed daily/weekly routine with girls rising at 6.30 am cleaning, dressing breakfast, muster, training duties or school, broken by lunch and muster, then dinner at 5.30pm, muster then to dormitories and evening showers with lights out at 9pm sharp. Very few girls were offered academic studies, for most education consisted of domestic training in laundry work, cooking, sewing, cleaning and general maintenance. 

On arrival girls were stripped, searched and issued with institutional attire and a number. All movement within the institution was restricted and controlled by officers; every trace of individuality was removed, with no privacy, no personal possessions, no mirrors,  no doors on toilets or showers. Dormitories were crowded with up to 36 beds in each and were devoid of furniture. Musters and body searches were part of the daily routine, all mail was censored, family visitors were restricted to once a week or fortnight, and for most of the day, girls were not permitted to speak.

Discipline & Control

Rigid rules, monotonous routine and extreme punishment prevailed and abuse flourished. Punishments included withdrawal of privileges such as visitors and other activities including sports; 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 fatigue duties (i.e. laundry work, cleaning drains and toilets, stoking the furnace), withdrawal of meals, segregation or isolation in solitary cells on restricted diet; the use of anti-psychotic drugs or sedatives to manage difficult girls, or sent to Long Bay Prison for 3 months, or after 1961 to the Hay Girls Institution.

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1961 riots girls on roof of Keller House admissions dormitory


Above: Entrance to Hay Girls Institution

Below:: Interior view cell block Hay Girls Institution

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Like other institutions, Parramatta Girls Home 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. Research indicates 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. Following a series of riots in 1959, 1960 and 1961 a maximum security annex was established in a former colonial gaol at Hay NSW. 

Hay Girls Institution

Established in 1961 as an maximum security annex to the Parramatta Girls Home, Hay Institution for Girls was a place of sadistic, inhumane and extreme discipline modelled on a similar institution for boys operating in Tamworth NSW since 1945. Both institutions were former gaols built around 1880 and shared the same basic design comprising of cells known as cabins divided by a central corridor with exits at both ends.


Hay accommodated up to 10 girls at any given time and had a high ratio of officers to inmates with 5-6 officers on duty all the time. Staffed by untrained 'officers' with only male staff allowed keys to the ‘cabins’ Hay was a place where teenage girls were subjected to brutal discipline and control, unrelenting routine and hard labour for a minimum period of 12 weeks. Many stayed longer. 


Transferred under the cover of darkness, on arrival girls had their hair cut short, then locked in a cell where they had to remove the wall paint with a brick or scrubbing brush. Once done they were moved into a cell for the term of their stay. Each cell contained a single bed, thin mattress, pillow, one blanket, sheets, bible and night can.

Every movement, action and word was directed and controlled by officers. Silence was maintained 24 hours except for a short 10 minute period. Other measures included 'eyes to the floor' and 6ft apart at all times. To speak to an officer, girls were required to their raise their arm, wait for permission  then start with 'report to you' and wait for response.

No visitors, no mail, no schooling, no privacy with hard labour and activities known as 'practices' throughout the day. Training included laying and breaking up concrete paths, digging, scrubbing, cleaning, painting and other repetitive back breaking and futile tasks.


Intended to break a girls spirit, for most it did - leaving many with severe post traumatic stress disorder and other physical and mental health problems. Girls would return from Hay robot like in their actions which inevitably led to more punishment and often a return visit. 

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The Women's Movement & Welfare Reforms

Campaigns by activist Bessie Guthrie and the newly formed Women's Liberation movement called for reforms to the welfare system. In July 1973 ABC TV This Day Tonight put aired 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, failed to mention the new Reiby facility at Campbelltown was now in operation. Most girls committed to Parramatta Girls Home during the changeover period were released by August 1974.

End of an Era

Both Parramatta and the Hay Institution for Girls were officially closed in June 1974, however in October 1974 the main section of the site was renamed Kamballa. Officially proclaimed on 7 March 1975 as the Kamballa (Girls) and Taldree (Boys) Childrens Shelter, the institution ceased operations  in 1983.

How Many?

Over its 96 year history, an estimated 20,000 children spent time in this institution. For some, their sisters, mothers, aunts and grandmothers had also spent time here; for others the connection to this site reaches back in time to the orphanage period and the convict Female Factory.


Until 1966 the southern Admissions section was used as a Remand Centre and Children's Depot for girls on remand or awaiting a court appearance. This created a transient population within the institution, where some girls were held for a week others months in this section. An estimated 500 girls were processed through the Admissions section in 1966 while the 'resident' population averaged around 180 annually. Numbers peaked in 1970 with 307 girls in residence.

Parramatta Girls Return

In 2003 the Parramatta Girls re-united for the first time since leaving the institution. The reunions were covered in a series of broadcasts on ABC TV Stateline program in 2003 and 2004. In March 2007 the first Hay Girls Reunion was held  to coincide with International Women's Day and Alana Valentine's play 'Parramatta Girls', premiered at Belvoir St Theatre. 

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Main Dormitory building Parramatta Girls Home 2016


Laundry building with rear of South West Range 2016


View through covered way to South West range and Recreation room (former orphanage Chapel) 2016


In 1997, Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, outlined allegations of institutional sexual abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The reports of two later major national inquiries, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children in 2004 and Protecting vulnerable children: A national challenge in 2005, recommended the establishment of a Royal Commission into the sexual assault of children and young people in institutions after those inquiries heard further allegations of institutional child sexual abuse. 

On 12 November 2012 the Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, MP, announced the decision to establish a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. For victims and survivors, telling their stories has required great courage and determination. We now know that countless thousands of children have been sexually abused in many institutions in Australia. We must accept that institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations. 

What remains?

This institutional site is one of the very few remaining 19th century child welfare establishments in Australia today. Most of the original buildings remain with the south west range, chapel and laundry now restored. Repairs to stabilise the main building have been carried out but extensive work is needed before it can be occupied.

Records & Welfare Files

Former residents can request a copy of their Welfare Files directly from Families and Community Services or contact the NSW Support Service for Forgotten Australians, Wattle Place for assistance and support. Further information on institutional records and the history of child welfare in Australia is available on the Find & Connect website.

3 View of the former RC Orphan School, Pmatta taken from the opposite bank of the Pmatta R
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