The site of Ashley Home for Boys was originally a government owned farm near Deloraine. The government transferred the Boys' Training School there from New Town in 1922. In 1926, following the recommendation of the 1925 Committee of Inquiry into the State Farm and School for Boys, the government changed the name. The Committee hoped that this would reduce the stigma attached to boys who were at the Home.
Until 1956, when Wybra Hall was established, Ashley provided accommodation boys aged about eight to 18. All of them were wards of state. They had been sent there for committing an offence or because they could not be managed in a foster or children's Home. Ashley was supposed to offer rehabilitation through encouragement rather than strict discipline. Four government inquiries emphasised the necessity for this, suggesting that managers at Ashley had difficulty implementing it.
In 1922, the government established the Mental Deficiency Board and State Psychological Clinic. The Boys' Training School, which later became Ashley Home for Boys, was one of the first places that the Clinic conducted intelligence tests. Boys diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability (often wrongly) were placed under the dual management of the Board and the Children of the State Department and its successors. In the first few years of the Board's existence, a greater proportion of boys at the School came under its auspices than from any other sources. This reflected a widely held belief that 'delinquency' and intellectual disability were connected. The perception that boys at Ashley were likely to have an intellectual disability persisted well into the twentieth century.
The 1925 Committee of Inquiry into the State Farm and School for Boys called for rehabilitation through kindly management rather than harsh treatment. The Committee considered segregation and classification of the boys with a system of rewards and withdrawal of privileges preferable to the cane. Classification and segregation became an important issue throughout Ashley's history because of the boys' wide range of ages, backgrounds, and reasons for being at the Home. In 1940, A Linton, the Superintendent, called for a 'cottage-colony' system that would enable more effective segregation. The government had approved funds to build a cottage for younger and 'less delinquent' boys, then withdrawn them because of plans to build a borstal for 'more difficult' boys. The government never built the borstal.
Linton wanted to use more 'modern' methods at Ashley:
'In recent years, a very great advance has been made in educational methods and equipment throughout the State, but this has not been extended to the training system at Ashley where conditions have remained stationary for many years. Not only does the absence of a progressive development policy prevent the best results being obtained, but it also creates a feeling of discouragement and 'defeatism' among those who have to face the problems and difficulties involved.'
Linton explained that most of the boys at Ashley either came from poverty stricken homes or had not received good 'early home training'. Some had intellectual disabilities. This meant that the government had a responsibility to do its best for them.
'In stepping in and undertaking guardianship of these boys, the State assumes the responsibility of providing a remedy for their handicaps that have previously prevented their having a fair chance of developing as normal citizens, and that...involves a comprehensive scheme of training and character-building rather than a merely negative system of punishment for offences which are often the inevitable results of early environment and circumstances.'
In keeping with Linton's comments, discipline appears to have softened during the 1940s. In the Annual Report of 1942, the Acting-Superintendent, SE Emms, claimed that behaviour was better and absconding had been reduced because of some changes in approach. The boys were now shown how to do their work and then allowed to do it with less supervision. The staff also allowed them more freedom. Emms wrote:
'The absence of close supervision does away with what might perhaps be considered enforced obedience, which constitutes a challenge to the boy performing a duty, or remaining within bounds. Left to himself, he performs the duty, or keeps within the given area as a matter of course.'
China, instead of enamel crockery, had been tried out in the junior cottage, where there were few breakages. Emms planned to introduce china in the senior dining room. He also began paying the boys for their work.
In 1943, a system of leave was introduced so that two boys at a time could visit Deloraine. No one had returned late or absconded.
The following year, J Chandler was the Acting Superintendent. The system of relaxed discipline continued, apparently with good results. Chandler claimed that punishment was rare. Instead there was 'friendliness and good will among all'.
Annual holidays at Port Sorell began about this time.
In 1950, a fire destroyed 18 of the 24 rooms in the main dormitory block. This, and concerns that the boys did badly after their release, led the government to establish the Inquiry into the Control and Management of Ashley Boys' Home in 1951. It produced a number of recommendations, some of which the government followed. These were:
Klein made seven allegations in all, claiming that Ashley was '50 years behind the times to Australian as well as to European standards'. According to Klein, boys were held in solitary confinement in unfurnished cells, there was little effective rehabilitation, no case files were kept which made it difficult to help the boys, and there was no time limit on sentences. If there was nowhere else for boys to go, they just stayed at Ashley. In the six months that Klein had been at Ashley, 13 of the 50 boys, aged 10 to 18 had absconded. He wrote: 'If even little children run away on dark, cold nights, without overcoats, without food, without money, they cannot be too happy!'
Mr JE Pedley, a resident of Deloraine, wrote a letter to the Launceston Examiner in support of Klein. Pedley made an additional allegation against the Home, that the Chief Secretary allowed 'floggings', as long as another official witnessed them.
The government asked the Public Service Commissioner, Mr BJ Thomson, to conduct an inquiry. It began on 16 October 1951. Thompson only investigated the allegations that boys were locked in their cells and that they were beaten. He found the use of the word 'floggings' to be inaccurate. Boys were, however, caned as a last resort, after an investigation by the Superintendent, and in front of another officer. Regarding solitary confinement, the boys were placed in 'cubicles' not 'cells'. There was no furniture in case the boys broke it or hurt themselves. They left the cells (or cubicles) to wash, attend parade, work, go to school, and wash their clothes but were placed in them for meals and leisure time.
In May 1953, before the Inquiry into the Control and Management of Ashley Boys' Home reported, the opposition leader, Mr Reginald Townley, made statements to the press about juvenile delinquency and Ashley. He was sparked by a court decision to send two boys aged 14 and 16 to Campbell Street Gaol, rather than to Ashley. Townley criticised the government for delaying its response to recommendations made by the Inquiry. He claimed that the staff at Ashley had poor training, that the case histories contained little information, and that follow up after the boys left Ashley was inadequate.
The government established the final inquiry of the 1950s, a Parliamentary Committee on Public Works, to consider the building recommendations made by the Inquiry into the Control and Management of Ashley Boys' Home. The Committee recommended that:
In 1963, after concerns in the media about the numbers of boys absconding from Ashley, the Legislative Council established a Select Committee to inquire into the discipline, rehabilitation, work, and leisure activities of the boys.
According to the Select Committee's report, following the establishment of Wybra Hall and the removal of the younger boys, the ages of the boys now ranged from 15 to 18. These boys were segregated into three groups:
When boys arrived at Ashley, they were assessed, sometimes by a psychiatrist. Those who were 'unambitious' were placed in the 'general duties squad' where they learned painting and building. Other boys did farm or woodwork. Education was by correspondence course. For recreation, the boys did swimming, gym, played tennis or table tennis, watched television, listened to the radio, and read. Some visited Deloraine families in their homes and attended youth clubs and social functions.
According to the Committee, discipline followed 'modern ideas'. Boys were organised into classes with those on their best behaviour going to the Privilege Cottage. They were allowed more freedom and could go home at the weekends. The classes below the Privilege Cottage were more controlled. They still had privileges but could lose them for misbehaviour. The Secure Unit accommodated boys that the staff found difficult to manage. The Committee emphasised that corporal punishment was uncommon:
'In conformity with modern trends corporal punishment is rarely used. It does not often achieve anything and has been known to have a bad effect, not only on the boy but the one who administers it.'
The Committee defined control as 'designed to introduce the boys to a programme of work and sport in an atmosphere of affection'. It suggested that there should be plenty of work and play provided to keep the boys occupied. According to the Report, the Police believed that the boys were 'left idle too much, and tend to gather together, talk and quarrel'. The Committee disapproved of the boys being given cigarettes.
On release, the boys were placed in employment. Welfare officers were supposed to supervise them until they were 18 but pressure of work meant that this did not always happen. The officers were also supposed to work with the boys' families.
The Ombudsman's 2006 Listen to the Children report, suggests that, despite these numerous inquiries, Ashley did not achieve a culture of kindly discipline and encouragement. The Ombudsman wrote:
'Claimants repeatedly described the management regime as harsh and rigid and in many respects the environment appears to have been similar to that of a prison, with a strong culture of bullying and intimidation.'
In all, the Ombudsman received 149 complaints about Ashley.
In 1988, just over thirty years after Wybra Hall opened, the government closed it. All the children were transferred to Ashley. With the money made by the sale of Wybra Hall and saved by its closure, the government put up new buildings at Ashley to provide accommodation for girls who, since 1979, had been sent to Wybra. It also set up better facilities for education, including arts and crafts.
In 1999, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, which replaced Ashley Home, was declared a Detention Centre under the 1997 Youth Justice Act.
12 May 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/tas/TE00031
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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