The site of Ashley Home for Boys was originally a government owned state farm near Deloraine. The government transferred the Boys' Training School there from New Town in 1922, later changing the name. The Home served the whole state.
For much of the twentieth century, Ashley provided accommodation for boys who had broken the law or were wards of state who had absconded from placements with foster mothers or children's homes. Later on, admission was restricted to young people on remand or a detention order.
The Department's annual report from 1956 described the purpose of the Home thus :
'to provide care and training for older wards, who, because of maladjustment and delinquency, require special institutional control.'
The Listen to the Children report described the daily routine at the Home:
'Chores at Ashley, like Wybra, consisted of weeding, milking, gathering fodder, feeding the animals and doing inside work like polishing floors and general cleaning. Retribution was swift if any boy was found not to have finished his chores properly.'
The report also described a 'secure unit' at Ashley for boys considered to be a high absconding risk or 'uncontrollable', which was said to be 'constructed in the same manner as a prison cell'.
In May 1950, a fire at Ashley burnt out 18 of the 24 rooms in the Home's main block.
In October 1951, the Public Service Commissioner led an enquiry into allegations made by a former staff member in the Tasmanian press about conditions at Ashley. Mr Klein, a Dutch migrant, described it to the Hobart Mercury as being:
'50 years behind the times to Australian as well as to European standards...I feel strongly that a stranger should not criticize a government institution of this state, but I feel it is still more strongly as my duty on behalf of the young human beings concerned to publish some facts about Ashley Home for Boys at Deloraine.'
Klein was employed at Ashley as a recreation officer from April to September 1951, when he left the Home for another job. One of Klein's claims was that boys were being held in solitary confinement in unfurnished cells. A subsequent letter to the editor of the Launceston Examiner supported Klein's allegations and made the claim that floggings took place at Ashley.
Klein's statement contained the following observation about how Ashley approached the 'rehabilitation' of its residents:
'There are no case histories at the disposal of Ashley Home. Names, ages, denominations, the cases for which the boys were committed, etc are known: but there are no reports giving sufficient information on the past, or on the (mostly shocking) home conditions of the boys.
So the very material which is essential for an insight into the boys' psychological structure, which should be the basis for an effective individual and group readjustment treatment, is missing.'
The committee established to investigate such claims about Ashley recommended that younger boys be accommodated in a separate institution in another part of Tasmania.
In 1952, a member of the Ashley Advisory Committee spoke of their consideration of a plan to send 'very difficult' boys away to another institution, possibly in Tamworth, New South Wales. It was claimed that a separate institution for these boys would not be economically viable in the small state of Tasmania.
In 1952, proposals for the rebuilding of the Home were developed. At this time, the Public Works Department made the claim that the Home was never planned, 'the buildings just happened to grow up around the place with no relation to one another'. The plans were presented in September 1952, and included plans to separate boys at Ashley into different 'classes'. They included two dormitories in a single storey building, each accommodating 15 boys. There was also a separate annexe with six single rooms for the 'most troublesome' boys.
At this time, the Government was well aware of the need to house younger boys 'without criminal tendencies', for instance, offences like truancy, separately from the older boys. A proposal was made that the government purchase Wybra Hall in Mangalore and establish there an institution for 'juvenile delinquents without criminal tendencies'.
The new institution at Mangalore would be accompanied by measures to introduce a 'more homely atmosphere' at Ashley and to accommodatie the boys in cottages. In October 1952, the Chief Secretary outlined the plans for redeveloping Ashley and establishing another institution in Wybra Hall. Following the completion of the new section at Ashley, work would then commence on building several cottages, where 'better boys' could live away from the main building, in the care of cottage parents. The 'bad offenders' would be segregated from other boys at Ashley, and the younger boys would be transferred to the new institution at Mangalore. The Chief Secretary stated that it would be 'worthwhile' to have a reciprocal arrangement with a home in New South Wales, so that Ashley's 'worst boys' could be sent there.
In May 1953, the state opposition made statements to the press about juvenile delinquency and Ashley, sparked by a court decision to send two boys aged 14 and 16 to Hobart Gaol, rather than to the Home. The opposition leader, Mr Townley, criticised the government for delaying its response to recommendations made by the committee that had been enquiring into Ashley since late 1951. Townley claimed that staff at Ashley were poorly trained, and that the institution kept poor records of its residents, with little information in case histories and inadequate follow up of boys after they left.
The committee presented its final report on Ashley in September 1953. The report contained a recommendation that the government establish a special department under a Commissioner of Child Welfare. This new department would oversee the treatment of young offenders, child welfare functions currently with the Social Services Department, and also inherit areas relating to children from departments such as Education and Mental Hygiene.
In July 1954, the Chief Secretary announced that the government was creating a new position, the Superintendent of Child Welfare.
Wybra Hall opened in 1956. Just over thirty years later the government closed it. All the children were transferred to Ashley. With the money made by the sale of Wybra Hall and saved by its closure, the government put up new buildings at Ashley to provide accommodation for girls who since 1979, had been sent to Wybra. It also set up better facilities for education, including arts and crafts.
Ashley Youth Detention Centre, which replaced Ashley Home, was declared as a detention centre under the Youth Justice Act 1997.
Tony Young's interview was conducted as part of the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project run by the National Library of Australia. In it, he describes his family background in Wynyard, his experiences as a ward of state, and his adult life. In 2012, he is the Tasmanian representative of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.
Contact Information Services/Reader Services, the National Library of Australia, Canberra ACT 2600:
Phone: (02) 6262 1687 Fax: (02) 6273 5081
Location: Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra ACT 2600
The Proposed Home for Mental Defectives in Hobart is a file containing correspondence of the Public Health Department about a proposal to build a home for children with intellectual disabilities. The Mental Defectives Home at St John's Park was no longer a suitable place for children as the site was now mostly for elderly people. The file also contains minimal information about Ashley Home for Boys, Lachlan Park, the Magdalen Home, and Wybra Hall.
Contact the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO):
Archives Office of Tasmania, 91 Murray St, Hobart TAS 7000
Phone: (03) 6233 7488
Fax: (03) 6233 7902
25 September 2013
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/ref/TE00031
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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