The Convent of the Good Shepherd at Abbotsford was established by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1863. It was the first institution established by the Sisters in Australia - four Irish women travelled from France and landed at Port Melbourne on 24 June 1863, and purchased the property on the banks of the Yarra River at Abbotsford. A number of different institutions operated on the site at Abbotsford from its beginnings until 1971, when the Sisters ceased as providers of residential care. At its peak, the site accommodated more than 1,000 people.
In 1864, the Sisters established an Industrial School (consisting of a refectory, work-rooms and a laundry) and a Private Reformatory for Roman Catholic Girls on the site. The Victorian government had passed the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act in 1864, providing for the establishment of industrial schools for 'neglected children', and reformatories for 'criminal children'.
The orphanage, known as St Joseph's, opened in 1865. Another section known as St Mary's housed the 'voluntary admissions' to the Orphanage, from c.1908.
Like many other Good Shepherd institutions around the world, the laundry was an important facet of the operations at Abbotsford. The commercial laundry, known as the Magdalen laundry, provided income for the Sisters, and work for the girls and women in the Sisters' care. According to Alan Gill, in Australia in the 1950s there was a saying, 'Bad girls do the best sheets'.
Another section of the Abbotsford Convent was the Magdalen Asylum (built in 1877). Unlike other 'female refuges' of the time, it did not admit pregnant women and their infants. (Catholic women could go to the St Joseph's Receiving Home at Broadmeadows from 1902.) Inmates of the Magdalen Asylum were housed in a building called Sacred Heart. The majority of them worked in the laundry.
In December 1883, the Reformatory relocated to Oakleigh, due to overcrowding at Abbotsford.
In April 1956, the Good Shepherd Convent was declared an approved children's home under the Children's Welfare Act 1954.
Later in April 1956, the Convent of the Good Shepherd was declared as an approved juvenile school under the same legislation.
A building known as St Anne's housed a cooking and typing school from the 1960s, as well as accommodation for some of the Magdalen inmates.
In 1960, the newly established Social Welfare Department designated the Good Shepherd Convents at Abbotsford and Oakleigh as Youth Training Centres to receive young offenders. These Youth Training Centres, or Juvenile Schools, run by the Sisters were the only institutions of their type in Victoria to receive 'voluntary placements'. Merritt reported in 1958 that of the 300 girls housed in the Good Shepherd schools, only 18 were wards of state. The rest had been sent to the Sisters by their families, on account of their 'unmanageable, unsatisfactory moral behaviour'.
The Youth Training Centre at Abbotsford was closed by 1974 (however, St Margaret's Youth Training Centre at Oakleigh, remained operational).
In 2004, the site of the former Convent of the Sisters of Good Shepherd was entrusted to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation, following a seven-year campaign by activists to 'save the convent' from planned residential development.
06 September 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000144
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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