Dr Barnardo’s Homes (Australia Branch) began in 1883 when eight boys travelled from Dr Barnardo’s Stepney Home, London, to Australia. From 1920 to 1965 Barnardos ran an official Immigration Scheme under which many children migrated to Australia. In the post-World War Two period, Barnardo’s established family group homes in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Its child migration program had ceased by 1964 and the organisation then offered a range of children’s and family services. In 1966 the name of the agency changed to Dr Barnardos in Australia.

The initial aim of the charity founded by Dr Thomas Barnardo, of Dublin, was to provide homes for the homeless children of London and other cities in the United Kingdom. Dr Barnardo’s Homes has been operating since 1883 when a party of eight boys left Dr Barnardo’s Stepney Home to start a new life in Australia. Barnardo’s ‘official’ immigration scheme began in 1920, with the first party of 47 boys leaving the United Kingdom for Australia in 1921. Many children were sent to Australia under this scheme until 1965.

The first party of girls arrived in 1924. They were allowed to come to Australia on the condition they worked as domestic staff for at least two years after their arrival. According to an April 1924 advertisement from Barnardo House, girls were ‘drafted into selected good homes for domestic duties.’ Boys were ‘placed in the country for training in rural pursuits.’

Dr Barnardo’s was originally located at Scarborough House, Doll’s Point, Botany Bay. This building proved not to be suitable and in 1924 Barnardo’s moved to a mansion called Melrose at Ashfield. That house was renamed Barnardo House. It was a receiving home and served as a temporary place of residence for up to 60 boys and girls who were on holidays, in between employment or convalescing from illness. By 1937 it was referred to as a Training Home and was for girls only.

In 1929, the Barnardo’s farm training school at Mowbray Park, Picton was opened. The school was initially for boys and girls aged six to fifteen years, but was later used entirely for boys. It closed in 1959, and was replaced by a smaller farm school at Scone on the Upper Hunter River, which trained boys aged fifteen to sixteen years in farming skills. The school took migrant children, and later admitted Australian children. It closed in 1982.

In its first 10 years 1,000 children came to Australia with Dr Barnardo’s and by 1938, 2340 children had arrived in Australia. The first children were aged over 14, but by 1937 a number of younger children had been sent to Australia, with the smallest being aged six. Many were aged between 8 and 14, an action The Sydney Morning Herald reported had been taken by Dr Barnardo’s to relieve ‘congestion’ in the boarding out scheme it operated in Britain.

No children arrived during the World War II years (1939-45). In 1944, the first Australian girl was admitted to Barnardo’s care. After the war, Barnardos continued to send children to Australia on a diminishing scale.

Barnardo’s UK suspended it’s child migration program to Australia in July 1958 following reports of child sexual abuse occurring at Mowbray Park in Picton, and similar concerns for children residing at Green Wood in Normanhurst. Following investigations conducted by Barnardo’s, the NSW Police, and the NSW Child Welfare Department (which resulted in prosecutions) the migration ban was lifted in August 1958, on the condition that the Picton and Normanhurst homes remain under close supervision. These incidents eventually led to the closure of Mowbray Park in 1959. The Barnardo’s child migration program ceased in 1964.

In 1955, foster care was introduced followed by a Holiday Home Scheme which allowed children in homes to be boarded with families during the school holidays. In 1964, Barnardo’s House in Canberra was opened. This was the first residential children’s home for permanent care to be opened in the Australian Capital Territory. The Boarding Out Family Grant Scheme was also introduced in 1964 to help widowed or deserted mothers.

The post-war years saw a number of family group homes opened: Greenwood (1951-1968); Tarana at Belmont South (1959-1977); Hartwell House Kiama (1960-1970); Atherstone House Cronulla (1962-1977); Rickard House West Ryde (1962-1982); Illawong at Keiraville (1962-1975); Ladd House and Fairfax House at Normanhurst (1966-1976) and Karingal House, Lindfield (1960-1984).

In 1966 Dr Barnardo’s Homes (Australia Branch) changed its name to Dr Barnardos in Australia.

Barnardos Australia controls the records of Dr Barnardos Homes and Dr Barnardos in Australia. Some client records are lodged with the State Library of New South Wales (Mitchell Library).

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