Parragirls Past Present
A site based audio tour of the
Parramatta Girls Industrial School made by former residents.
WARNING: These audio recordings contain references to sexual abuse and physical violence. There is talk of death and illness, incarceration and abuse. The walk may bring up memories or associations from your personal history. If you need to pause for any reason, you can always stop the recording and restart when you want to. You make this walking tour happen.
Location: Front entrance to holding room 9m 34s
Maybe you’ve been in other child welfare institutions before you arrive here...you’d be sentenced to 6 to 9 months committal for the offence of being neglected or absconding or being uncontrollable or the classic charge was being exposed to moral danger.
What is considered ‘welfare’ and their charges i.e. neglect or running away from home and being exposed to moral danger.
I was 6 years old and my first charge was abandonment, they couldn’t find my parents so they charged me.
My little sister was 3 and she had a charge against her … it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t about our welfare...they didn’t look after our welfare …
Once you went in you had no idea how long you would be in there for. Internal examinations: forced examinations with the police watching.
Essentially this is a prison for children; it’s called a home; it’s called a training school; it’s called all these names but we knew what it was; it was a children’s prison and you would be imprisoned for no crime, for the crime of your own neglect, for the crime of society letting you down.
Location: Inside grounds main building 4m 28s
No personal possessions; controlled by bells and musters; regular body and strip searches. Everything that happened here reminded you that you had no value, that you were indistinguishable….Remind you that you are female and that this is 'dirty'; you are told that you will not achieve anything in life...Your identity is completely removed.
Reducing children to numbers: You didn’t have a name you had a number. I try not to think about my number…. I can’t read my notes…. This whole number thing has… it’s one of my breaking points...to mark a child with a number.
Location: Dormitories main building 3m 40s
If one girl messes up then the girls need to [in the middle of the night] dress up, make their beds, carry their mattresses downstairs, carry them back up and then change then repeat... You’re sleeping in a room with like 20 or 30 girls...if one girl did wrong, the whole dormitory copped it… you get bed drill.
Punishment: you had to carry your mattress down the stairs, from the top all the way down and in those days the mattresses were very heavy...if you fall, everybody else falls.
One of the girls were sexually harassed; she was put into segregation and was then shipped away; she was so big … I was attacked in there [the dorms] … she attacked me, and I never saw her again… you know where she went… I think we went to segregation and then she was gone … I had no defence.
Location: The covered way 4m 58s
The covered way was the only place where they can socialise (on Sunday); they were also punished (on Saturday). Some girls didn’t want to stay in the movie (on Saturday night) because they were afraid that they would be sexually harassed by the other girls. They would misbehave so that they would be punished by cleaning the covered way.
I wasn’t stuck in the room with the others …I didn’t like to be close to them because I’d been attacked in dormitory 5 … If it was going to, it was going to happen to you on the covered way…either be pulled out of muster and taken up to isolation, or from the main building when you arrive down to the clothing shed, or in the morning when you get up from the dormitory down to the dining room. It’s like an artery in the body of a space.
Mention of FACS worker who was re-telling the history of the place because she was lauding over us… she said, Who are you and I turned around and said my name. What I should of told her was go f**k yourself love. I said my name because she was standing on the step and I just transformed into an insignificant nothing and responded in the expectation that a superintendent would expect me to respond. I was beside myself that it happened. I was so angry that someone could turn me so quickly with a 'and who are you'.
Location: Main building dormitories & shower room 3m 28s
Standing at the door there waiting to drop your towel...what a ghastly place…they locked the gate behind you and inside was two small, very small confined areas… there was what you might deem your main area where you had a chair and that was all you had, a chair and a light above your head covered in steel meshing… the only way you could do to survive in there was curl up on top of that step and sleep… it was nothingness… it was just cold space, dark place. You’re out of sight in anyone came down, the screws wanted to come down and have a look, you were out of sight.
Location: Covered way/dining room 2m 26s
Not everyone had visitors. Those that were moved from one location to another had thorough notes on who they were. It made them feel followed.
They just knew everything about me …Mum and dad came to visit and Guildford Screw was on duty at the time…. Guildford had the audacity to come over and ask how my older sister was going (she had turned 18 and left PGH). When he turned away I told my parents about the bashings and I told them to move us dad because he is one of the worst bashing us girls and that’s when my dad got up and he was going to knock him there and then but my mum she said, oh no Jim, don’t! We’ve got to leave her here! Anything could happen. My dad sat down again but unfortunately, he wrote a letter mentioning about getting me out of there, about going to the authorities with the treatment of the girls or me… they forbid me to have that letter from my dad. It was only about 3 weeks later that I was on the train to Hay and when I was at Hay and my family would try to see me that would not let me. They said I had behaved badly.
Location: Covered way/dining room 4m 33s
Having child taken immediately after birth by welfare officers. They tried to convince and 'brainwash' the individual to give the baby up for adoption. All other women had their babies while the Parramatta Girls had their babies taken while at Crown St Women’s Hospital. Fathers went to look for their child’s baby to get them back. Girls constantly scared of having their child taken, girls at made to sign contracts that allow them to be adopted. During the first month, you were in limbo land with your baby. If push came to shove, I would’ve just kidnapped and run.
Location: Laundry 2m 48s
We had jobs ironing in the laundry. As punishment, were made to iron during the weekend. Often made fun using the commercial washing machines, overloading the machine with washing powder to form excessive amounts of bubbles. Girls were punished through being put in isolation. Would also stand on the brake of the machines and wobble around. Girls wanted to get caught and wash up - would steal tea leaves and save toilet paper and needed the gas flame to light the tea leaves and smoke them (didn’t have matches and lighters). Would get caught and made the scrub the dining room and polish the floor. Would slip and slide around the dining room, then made to scrub the floors in the covered way. We made fun, but we got in trouble for it.
Location: Laundry Loft 4m 12s
If you were sent to the loft (above laundry), you were sent there to be 'tortured'. Girls who were put in the loft to scrub would stand in one spot with a bucket and brush and made to scrub the rafter over their head for 15 minutes, then 15 minutes scrubbing on the floor, then the rafters again etc. This would occur for days. Pigeons rested in the loft, therefore the cleaning involved cleaning the faeces of the pigeons. Very physically exhausting and painful for girl’s arms.
Scratching their names into the rafters – very rough wooden beams – while they are already on punishment and within the small amount of time the officers were away/not looking. Highlights the immense acts of defiance the girls engaged in, while also considering the consequences of this behaviour (being sent to Hay).
Location: Parragirls memorial garden - laundry area 10m 3s
Buttons, chips of crockery, the edge of a comb (anything you could get your hand on that would make a mark) were snapped in half and saved for scratching. The ones that were just trying to survive were cutting into themselves to make sure they could still bleed. I woke up today and I’m still alive.
Many Parragirls now have scaring along arms from self-harm after being released from the Parramatta Girls Home, as a result of the worthlessness and hopelessness they felt once they left. I’m not worthy because I’m a criminal and I’m bad... I saw my life as a dead-end; parents didn’t understand what had happened (the mental/emotional side of things). Girls would get highly emotional in real-life situations and would react with extreme actions.
Girls were locked in the dormitory and one of the girls hung herself. I remember holding her so tight around the legs and trying to push [her up to get the rope off her neck. Others never found out if they survived, there was no follow-up … Jesus, there’s so many horror stories in here.
I’d seen girls use pins and that sort of thing… they’d cut their wrists and mark their bodies. Pins are very important, were bitten off and sneaked out in the clothing seams. Were inserted into the skin. Pins were still found in girl’s bodies 50-ish years later. If you remove it, we need to save it for the museum … My existence was my own damage, my own bodily injuries. I chose that over the scratching because I was terrified of the consequences, so I marked myself and chose that way of seeing my own blood instead of seeing my name on a wall. Once women were in Parramatta, they become self-destructive because it was the only way [they] could cope.
Location: Bethel upstairs 5m 28s
People have different memories within this building.
Segregation rooms (upstairs on right) – step up from isolation. Attempt to eradicate what the rooms were used for – some girls didn’t know what occurred in the rooms – the secret side. Some girls spent nearly a month in there – had split lips, hair missing, black eyes and bruises – made to stay in segregation until the wounds healed. You were away from everybody… it might have been illegal to keep us there for as long as they did. Length of stay depends on injuries.
Some were also put in there for protection – had same treatment (same food). Therefore, still much like punishment. Victimization because they couldn’t beat me, they put me away, I just had a mouth on me.
Location: Bethel 7m 44s
They don’t believe us, they don’t believe what happened to us. What they don’t want to believe. Rape experienced by girls. Doubt from men: If all these rapes happened, where are all the pregnancies...they knew our cycle. Girls could hear one another while scrubbing in the cover way – could hear the girls in the dungeon and shower area that were being raped and abused. Female officers were approached by the girls and were too frightened to speak up about the male officer’s behaviour.
Girls were left in the dark in isolation cells at night, no lights.
Girls were bashed in the officer’s offices. Were hit and fell downstairs (while pregnant), officers claimed to help, and the girls were sent to isolation (without being given medical assistance from a doctor). I said ‘At least this time you can’t knock me around’, and he punched me right in the stomach.
Location: Kamballa Mural 6m 30s
Memories of the trauma re-emerging: My nightmares are our memories now, we walked out the gate 50 years ago and try to put it behind you...all of a sudden, you’ve got to try to remember things and all of a sudden, Pandora’s box opens… the memories keep flowing. Has allowed the women to learn from one another, given input to each other. Everyone has similar or the same stories but have formed good friendships, understand one another and go on journeys together. Have learned not to be ashamed and can talk about their individual experiences. This is not going to hurt me anymore, I’m old enough now to be able to take it.
Lack of trust towards institutions and others – this is lost (even towards own children or neighbours). Not speaking up or remembering about experiences prior to returning to the site.
The Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has provided a platform.. to continue to fight while feeling pressure to gain recognition and respect. Need DoCS to be answerable for everything that has occurred throughout history and needs to occur now. We can’t fix the future if they don’t recognise our past.