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Standing Girl

Rising from her knees

source: MeJane 1973

'Well see she was put in detention (solitary) for rioting and each day for roughly a week that girl was brought before the whole school and made to go down on her hands and scrub a small tile.

On one particular occasion in front of the whole school and in front of twenty field men that a male senior officer brought to the school, she was instructed to scrub a piece of tile for 5 or 10 minutes while another male senior officer stood in front of the girl. She was then instructed to return and place the tile at his feet. After she finished punishment, the male officer said,”I’ll come like a thief in the night and the good Lord came down and walked amongst us. He built rock on rock and stone on stone." I can’t remember what else he said but these words stuck in my mind. She was then told to return to her cell with two men to escort her. She turned around and said, "If the good Lord did walk down amongst us by Jesus he’d strike you dead.” She then walked degraded to her cell. After that she went to Long Bay. She was 15.

The male senior officer used to walk around saying things like this, “You’ll polish this floor until I can see my face in it, and until I do there will be no breakfast, dinner, no tea.” After we had finished polishing, we were made to weed the grounds in the hot sun.'

This was Parramatta Girls Home in 1961.

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For those once incarcerated here and who return, Standing Girl is everywhere; she is on the muster ground, the covered way, at the end of her bed in the dormitory, in the shower room, dining room, laundry and under the bell on punishment. She stands in our memory. She stands now defiant rising from her knees to confront her abusers.

Standing Girl is an installation work created by a former resident of the state run child welfare institution Parramatta Training School for Girls. Inspired by an illustration that appeared in the Women’s Movement newsletter MeJane, 1973, of a paper cut out figure of a girl held in the male hand of authority that conveyed the utter sense of powerless felt by so many trapped in the child welfare system.

Standing Girl counters the official memorial commissioned by the NSW Government to recognise and pay tribute to people who were abused as children in the home in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

First installed on site in 2014, this work is now located near the laundry in a memorial garden established by Parragirls to mark the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Blue glazed tiles edging this garden were produced by Parragirls for the first anniversary of this event in 2019.

Now fashioned in metal, Standing Girl was initially constructed from foam core board, about 2 metres high with arms outstretched for inspection. Like a badge of imposed shame, the Children’s Court magistrate’s seal sits on her chest.

Today she stands as a form of resistance to forgetting; forgetting the presence of thousands of girls who once occupied this site.

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