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 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. Girls from the Australian Capital Territory who had been convicted of juvenile offences or charged under welfare laws were also transferred to Parramatta.
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. By the early 1950's the youngest girls were at least 10 years of age. In the late 1960s numbers at Parramatta Girls Training School peaked, with 307 girls, including those in its annexes at Ormond and Hay.
Overcrowding within the walls of the complex meant the lines were often blurred between the reformatory and the training school, although various attempts were made to set up specialised institutions within the walls.
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.
Parramatta Girls Training Home was investigated in 1945 by the Delinquency Committee of the New South Wales Child Advisory Council, led by Mrs Mary Tenison-Woods. The report was extremely critical of the management of the establishment and of the approaches used to deal with the girls within it. As a result, the institutions' name was changed to Parramatta Girls Training School. However, on the inside, the staff stayed the same and very little changed for girls.
There was a close relationship between Myee Hostel and the Parramatta Girls' Training School in the post-war period. In 1965, the Annual Report described the routine process in which young women and girls went from Parramatta toMyee:
'The majority of pregnant girls admitted to Myee Hostel are those transferred from the Parramatta Training School for Girls. These are transferred in the seventh month of pregnancy, attend Crown Street Hospital for ante-natal treatment, are confined in that Hospital and returned to Myee until their post-natal clearance usually after six weeks. However under Section 21C of the Child Welfare Act any girl who is an expectant or nursing mother may be admitted to Myee Hostel. '
The 1967 Annual Report described services to mothers at Myee that were formally integrated with social work going on at the Parramatta Training School.
'This year a special service was introduced for a particular group of unmarried mothers, namely pregnant girls at the Girls' Training School, Parramatta. A social worker has been allocated to work full-time with these girls, who are transferred from Parramatta to Myee Hostel in the last weeks of their pregnancies before their confinements at The Women's Hospital, Crown Street, Sydney. The social worker sees a girl at Parramatta then follows her through to Myee, the Hospital and later to her home or to wherever she is eventually placed. The support and intensive counselling given to the girls is helping them to become settled, to accept their situation, to be willing to co-operate in making plans for their future and later to carry them out. This service is also extended to pregnant girls who are committed to the Convent of the Good Samaritan at Arncliffe.'
Annexes to Parramatta were created, for girls who were preparing to leave, at Ormond in Thornleigh. These functioned as 'privilege homes', and were a middle stage between the outside world and Parramatta. They were used for girls who were due to be discharged. In 1961 however, after a series of dramatic riots at Parramatta, an annexe was created to punish girls. This was at Hay, in a former prison for male offenders. Girls who committed crimes or misdemeanours in Parramatta were sent to Hay for up to three months, during which time they were kept in brutal isolation. They were then returned to Parramatta.
Throughout this period Child Welfare Department Annual Reports contain images of positive activities conducted at the home, including cooking, dressmaking and basketball. It also publicised images of renovations and refurbishments. A 1967 report even described the main building as retaining its 'old world charm'. The words of former residents and historians paint another picture: of an institution that was repressive, regimented and abusive. The existence of Hay was not widely acknowledged.
In 1973 protests outside Parramatta Girls Training School by the Women's Liberation Movement, led by Bessie Guthrie, attracted media and parliamentary attention. At the end of 1974 the Parramatta Training School was officially closed and the buildings were redeveloped as Kamballa, for girls, and Taldree, for boys. Some of the buildings later became the Norma Parker Detention Centre. Most of the site is now vacant.
A photograph taken at the time Parramatta Girls Training School was converted to Kamballa shows the efforts of the Department to win positive publicity. The image shows girls playing with a dog and with number one records. The photograph was republished by The Sydney Morning Herald in December 2012. When the article was reproduced on the Find & Connect web resource a former resident of Parramatta wrote:
'Parramatta Girls' Home did not allow short skirts. We were not allowed to sit around playing records and we definitely did not play with a dog! PGH was an inhumane, brutal, strict institution where punishments included flogging, scrubbing concrete in the same spot for hours on end on bare knees, isolation cells, dungeons, long stretches of time without talking, having our hair cut short, laundry work etc.'
Former inmates of Parramatta have conducted a number of reunions, and plays, documentaries and books have been produced about their lives, greatly increasing community awareness about their experiences. The buildings at Parramatta form part of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct - a significant site in Australian women's and child welfare history.
Parragirls is lobbying for the preservation of the Parramatta Industrial School site as an international Site of Conscience. The New South Wales Government and Parramatta Council are currently preparing master plans for the site, which is likely to be developed.
A fire occurred in the Orphan School building on 21 December 2012, causing significant damage and destroying the historic interior, and much of the remaining graffiti from its time as a girls' home.
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.
18 February 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01318
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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