Girls were placed in Parramatta for a variety of reasons: they had been committed by welfare organisations; had been charged with crimes; were on remand or because they had not settled into foster placements or other institutions. For most of its existence, Parramatta combined the functions of training school, for girls in the welfare stream, and reformatory, for girls on criminal charges. Until 1928 it received girls as young as two years of age.
The institution at Parramatta has a long history including several name changes from 1887 to 1975. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 girls passed through Parramatta over this time; it is a significant site in Australian women's and child welfare history. Girls in the Australian Capital Territory who were charged with juvenile offences or committed to an institution under welfare laws were also sent to Parramatta.
Overcrowding within the walls of the Parramatta complex meant the lines were often blurred between the reformatory and the training school, although various attempts were made to set up specialised institutions, such as Bethel and Keller House. La Perouse was established as annexe to the Parramatta, partly to alleviate crowding. It served as a privilege home, which means being sent there was a reward for good behaviour. Discipline was lighter, and the beach environment at La Perouse, was much more pleasant than Parramatta.
Throughout the history of Parramatta Girls' Home the buildings were bleak and run down and there were riots and complaints by girls, which attracted a number of inquiries. These inquiries, held at intervals from 1889 to 1961, reveal persistent problems with overcrowding, discipline and management. They also reveal the complex and intense relationships between the girls. Oral histories of the home confirm the strong bonds that developed within the home, and the girls' awareness of abuse and exploitation.
One of the most significant inquiries into the home was the Child Welfare Council Delinquency Committee Report, which followed an inquiry by Mrs Mary Tenison-Woods. That inquiry documented mismanagement in the home, abusive punishments and other failings. It also recorded a strong subculture within the home, and the depth of relationships (both positive and negative) between the girls. Tenison-Woods advocated a range of positive measures, including better child guidance and educational opportunities for the girls.
The reaction to the Tenison-Woods inquiry was immediate. In 1946 the New South Wales Government announced that the Parramatta Girls Training Home would be renamed as the Parramatta Girls Training School and reforms would be introduced. However the buildings, and most of the staff, remained exactly the same.
The Girls Training School Precinct, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta, NSW, Australia has been listed on the Register of the National Estate since 21 March 1978.
Parramatta Girls' Home was mentioned in the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) as an institution that housed Indigenous children removed from their families.
09 July 2020
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01317
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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