Parramatta Girls Industrial School

In August 1886 the Roman Catholic Orphan School was vacated and on 7 April 1887 proclaimed  the Industrial School for Girls. From 1887 until 1983 this institution has been known as the Girls Training Home, Girls Training School, Girls Industrial School, Parramatta Girls Home and Kamballa and Taldree, all of which reflect changing attitudes and policies in the development of child welfare in Australia.

This institution was Australia’s longest operating state controlled child welfare ‘Home’ and holds particular significance for the Forgotten Australians and Stolen or Lost Generations with upwards of 20,000 children passing through its portals.

Industrial SchoolS

Industrial Schools were established around the 1850s to cater for children from the poor classes who may otherwise have ended up in prison or who were not eligible for admission to an Orphanage. They were not schools in the accepted meaning of the word, but more like prisons in that children were committed by a court for a prescribed length of time, and were confined to the institution with very limited contact with the outside world. In NSW, Industrial Schools were operated by a sub branch welfare division of the Dept of Public Instruction (Education) until 1956, at which time the Department of Child Welfare was formally constituted.

Australia's first Girls Industrial School was established in 1867 in former military barracks at Newcastle - a location which proved unsatisfactory for both the children and the local community, and so was relocated to former convict barracks on Cockatoo Island in April 1871. 

Underground Cells Cockatoo Island

Biloela Girls Industrial School, Cockatoo Island catered for children 18 months to 18 years including boys up to 7 years of age. Conditions here were appalling and the subject of many inquiries and recommendations and in 1881 when a new Boarding Out (foster care) system was introduced, suggestions were made to relocate the Industrial School to a more suitable site.

Biloela Girls Industrial School

Parramatta Girls Home

On the 9 May 1887, children from the Biloela Girls Industrial School, were transferred to the former premises of the Roman Catholic Orphan School at 1 Fleet St Parramatta.

Though well known as an institution for adolescent and teenage girls, until 1911, children as young as 18 months were kept here including boys up to the age of 7 years. Between 1975 and 1980 boys 11-15 years were kept when operating as the Taldree Children's shelter.

Girls Industrial School, Parramatta

Reformatory or Training School? 

The criminalisation of children by State welfare authorities.

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 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 determine where children were placed however due to economy and efficiency separate institutions were not established and all girls were sent to the same institution. This mixing together of the innocent and experienced always presented problems though there was an attempt between 1912 and 1927, to segregate girls to a functionally separate Training Home within the institution.

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. As a result, innocent children were mixed in with children who had offended against the law. In doing so all children who spent time in this institution were condemned as immoral or criminal. Its presence exerted control over the wider female population and the role and value of women and was a constant reminder to all girls that they could be locked up if they did not comply to social standards. This created an impossible situation for all who ended up here, most had come from impoverished circumstances, many had been abused, neglected or abandoned and had nowhere else to go. 

Kitchen - West Range Parramatta Girls Home
Parramatta Grisl Home Main Building rear view
West Range Parramatta Girls Home
Laundry, West Range, School, Parramatta Girls Home c1956

Management & 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. 

Committal procedures

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 and as a result many remained here for years.

Childrens Depot & the Industrial School

Until 1966 the southern section of the institution was known as Admissions and 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 Shelter 'Admissions' section in 1966 while the 'resident' population  averaged around 180 annually. Numbers peaked in 1970 with 307 girls in residence.

Bethel - Parramatta Girls Home former RCOS Hospital
Keller House Admissions Parramatta Girls Home

Controlled environment

On arrival girls were stripped, searched and issued with a number, a plain cotton dress, work  'coverall' either brown or blue, socks, singlet, underpants, nightdress and a pair of shoes. Bras were not standard issue until 1966 with calico underwear and dresses made on site. Until 1966, when the new Minda Remand Centre at Lidcombe opened, girls remained in the 'admissions' section until medically cleared then transferred to the main 'old home' section of the institution. Dormitories were devoid of furniture or fittings except for up to 36 iron frame beds set on opposite sides of the room with a single toilet in an adjoining annex. Windows were barred and a single door to each dormitory was locked at night with no possible escape for girls n the case of fire.

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. 

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 offered academic studies for most schooling was of a domestic nature such as laundry, kitchen, general maintenance and cleaning and therefore a source of free labour which kept operational costs to a minimum. Rigid rules, monotonous routine and extreme punishment prevailed and abuse flourished, as evidenced in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2014-2017).

Punishment & Control

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.

Isolation cell PGH


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 c1973

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'.

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Welfare Reforms & the Womens Movement

Campaigns by 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 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 1973.  Most girls committed to Parramatta Girls Home during the changeover period were released by August 1974.

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Womens Movement protest 1973 Parramatta Girls Home

Kamballa & Taldree Children's Shelters

Dick Healey & Deputy IÁnson Parramatta Girls Home 1973

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.

Kamballa Mural

End of an Era

In 1980 the original site was divided with the Main building, West Range and Laundry acquired by NSW Corrections and established as the Norma Parker Detention Centre for Females. The remaining southern section known then as Kamballa, continued operations as a Children's Shelter until 1983 and after this date, until 2010 as administrative offices for the child welfare department.

Parramatta Girls Reunion

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 2007 the first Hay Girls Reunion was held in March to coincide with International Women's Day and Alana Valentine's play 'Parramatta Girls', premiered at Belvoir St Theatre. 

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: ABC Radio National Hindsight.

Parragirls (PFFP) Memory Project

In 2013 Parragirls launched the PFFP Memory Project which continues today to engage with the history, heritage and legacy of the Parramatta Girls Home, the Roman Catholic Orphan School and the Female Factory in bringing together artists, scholars and Parragirls to document, record and interpret these sites and the institutional experience as Australia's first Site of Conscience.

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