In 1933, The Australian Women's Weekly described the Convent of the Good Shepherd as offering a home 'to girls and women who want to rest and reform'.
According to historian Peter Quinn, this home was one of the few non-government institutions to receive funding from the state government to run juvenile justice institutions by the Child Welfare Department. Like many religious organisations, this home supported itself with a commercial laundry, worked by the residents.
According to research done by the staff of the Northern Territory Department of Health, it was a place where children from the Northern Territory were sent.
In August 1954, 2 residents of the Home, aged 29 and 25, attempted to escape using a rope made from sheets, but were injured when they had to jump the last 20 feet from their bedroom window. One woman had been working in the laundries at the Home for 13 years, and said to the press that she was 'tired' and wanted to find a job in the 'outside world'.
The women's attempted escape sparked media interest in the Home of the Good Shepherd, and an inquiry by the Department of Labour and Industry into working conditions for its residents. There were a number of articles about the Home in September 1954, in mainstream and Catholic newspapers.
An investigation by the Sun-Herald found that the Home's 180 residents worked around 35 hours a week, for no pay.
The Mother Prioress described the different types of residents at the Home of the Good Shepherd. She said that 55 girls (aged from 15 to 18) were there under Court or parental authority. The remaining girls and women were 'voluntary inmates and were free to leave at any time, or to come and go as they pleased.' She added:
'All inmates were locked in dormitories at night, because 'restrained' and voluntary inmates did not have separate dormitories, she said.'
There are a few accounts from former residents of the Convent of the Good Shepherd. One girl, who was from Hopewood Home, told the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care that she was placed in the Good Shepherd Convent by her guardian, LO Bailey, at the age of 14, in 1958. She said the Youth Welfare Association of Australia, which ran Hopewood, paid the Convent a weekly sum to care for 13 of the Hopewood girls. She wrote:
'The Good Shepherd Convent was in fact a COMMERCIAL LAUNDRY housed in a CLOSED INSTITUTION (a description given to my husband by Cardinal Clancy and Father Brian Lucas) where girls convicted in court could go (instead of Parramatta Girls Home or similar gaols) to serve their sentence … this Convent was a … de-facto prison … girls were locked-up 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, the Convent was totally enclosed by high stone walls (in some places topped by barb wire) and all the doors locked … 13 rather naïve girls found themselves in prison, 3 girls continued to receive an education but the other 10 were put to work in the Convent's "COMMERCIAL LAUNDRY", 6 of these girls were confined in this de-facto prison until they were 18, these girls spent 4 years or more working as UNPAID LABOURERS … When they neared their 18th birthday, they were called out of the workrooms, told to change their clothes, they were given a small suitcase which contained all their possessions, they were given [one pound] and shown the door. These girls were just dumped on the street a few days before their 18th birthday, they were not given a chance to tell the other girls that they were leaving.
I have asked [in Towards Healing hearings] if the nuns really believed that all of a sudden so many Hopewood girls became so BAD that they needed incarceration in a "CLOSED INSTITUTION" they ignore this question.
I have asked why we were NOT PAID, they claim THE ARBITRATION COMMISSION gave them permission not to pay us. BUT THEY WON'T TELL WHEN AND WHERE THIS DECISION WAS HANDED DOWN SO I CAN CHECK IT MYSELF.'
08 June 2018
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00160
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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