'The Cootamundra Girls Home was fundamental to the process of removing Aboriginal girls. When removed, Aboriginal girls were trained to become domestic servants and farm hands in wealthy non-Aboriginal households. Girls in the homes were referred to as 'inmates' and parents were unable to regain access to their children until they turned 18yrs, and in many cases never again … The Girls experienced systematic racial discrimination to remove their Aboriginal identity and alienate them from their families (Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation website).'
Cootamundra Training Home was established in 1911, in the disused Cootamundra District Hospital, which had been built in 1889 and occupied a prominent position on a hill near the town.
The home was unique, as it was the only government-run home designed to train girls for domestic service. It was only for Aboriginal girls and has a significant place in the history of the stolen generations in New South Wales.
The Aborigines Protection Board told the government Cootamundra Home provided educational opportunities for orphan and neglected children, but the true purpose of was as a training school to change the behaviour of girls who had grown up on Aboriginal reserves, and make them acceptable for 'apprenticeship' to white employers. This was part of the Board's goal to get young Aboriginal people away from their families and communities and make them live as white people. Most of the girls who went to Cootamundra had living parents and were aged 13 or older. Few went to school. Cootamundra continued to train girls for domestic service long after the practice had been abandoned for non-Aboriginal girls.
The organisation of the home reflected its former use as a hospital, and the values of its founder, George Edward Ardill, Vice-President of the Aborigines Protection Board and the head of the Sydney Rescue Work Society and proprietor of the Home of Hope for Friendless and Fallen Women. The first staff members appointed at the home had worked for Ardill in the Home of Hope, or had worked at Warangesda Dormitory. These staff carried his values into the daily routine. These included the idea that work redeemed the soul of fallen women.
At Cootamundra girls slept in two dormitories, holding up to 25 girls each, and did all the cleaning, laundry and gardening work in the home. The regime at the home was hard, and former residents report being terrified at the thought they might be punished by being locked in a store room that they believed had been a morgue.
The first girls transferred to the Home had been in the Warangesda Dormitory. Girls were removed from stations and reserves and taken to the home after being reported to the Aborigines Protection Board by station managers or police, or spotted by the Home-Finder, Miss Alice Lowe. Lowe's role was to persuade parents that their daughter would benefit by being 'trained' at Cootamundra and 'apprenticed'. However, if the parents refused to send their daughter away, Protection Board inspectors, police or State Children's Relief Department staff would remove the child, sometimes after taking her to the Children's Court to be prosecuted. Girls were described on Board records as 'of an age to be apprenticed' or taken 'for training' or, if their parents resisted, as 'neglected.'
There was a school on site, but most girls were at or near school-leaving age when they were taken to the home and spent just a few months there being 'trained' before they were sent out to employment as 'apprentices' in homes in Sydney or rural New South Wales. These placements were arranged by Miss Lowe, who would also inspect the girls. Miss Lowe was, in the 1930s, replaced by Mrs Inspector English.
In 1940 the Aborigines Protection Board was replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The regime at the home became slightly more liberal, although it must be said the Aborigines Welfare Board instigated these changes to provide opportunities for Aboriginal girls to assimilate with white mainstream culture. Cootamundra girls began to attend the local high school, and enter their produce and craft in the Cootamundra Show. The longstanding Matron in this period was Ella Hiscocks. Cootamundra townspeople became more involved in fundraising for the home, and girls began to attend dances and socials. They also had more training and employment opportunities, although domestic service remained a priority.
When the Aborigines Welfare Board was abolished in 1969 the site was taken over by the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services and run as a girls home. In 1975 the buildings were sold to the Young Aboriginal Land Council and renamed Bimbadeen. In 2014 Bimbadeen was still in use as an Aboriginal-run Christian training centre.
Cootamundra Girls' Home was mentioned in the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) as an institution that housed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families.
26 July 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00031
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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