When Ngal-a Mothercraft Home and Training Centre Inc (Ngala) began in 1956, it was both a maternity home and a training facility for mothercraft nurses. It was located in Lincoln Street, Highgate, in the premises that had originally been acquired for the House of Mercy in 1901, and which had continued from 1916 as the Alexandra Home for Women and from 1950 as The Alexandra Home for Mothers and Babies (Inc) and Mothercraft Training School.
'Ngal-a' is a Bibbulmun word meaning 'we two' or 'mother and child'.
In August 1959, Ngala moved from Lincoln Street, Highgate, to purpose-built premises on the corner of George Street and Jarrah Road in Kensington.
From September 1959, all infants who were admitted into State 'care' were sent to Ngala instead of being admitted to the Child Welfare Reception Home. These 'infants' were children aged from birth to 5 years and in some government reports were known as 'lone' or 'sole' infants, to distinguish them from babies who were admitted with their mothers. Writing its history in The Open Door (1980), Jean Lang reported (p.68) that not all sole children were admitted to Ngala because of child protection issues. Often, the mother was physically ill, or one or both of the child's parents were in a mental health institution. By the mid-1970s, according to Lang (p.85), there were an increasing number of 'multi-social problems', including a 'larger number of Aboriginal children…now being admitted from various tent villages'.
Young children with intellectual, and sometimes physical, disabilities could also be admitted to Ngala from 1959. There was a special wing for children with intellectual disabilities.
Single, pregnant women could be admitted privately to Ngala, or be referred by government agencies prior to the birth of their child. Until 1959, babies whose mothers were resident at Ngala were born at King Edward Memorial Hospital. After Ngala moved to Kensington in 1959, babies were also born at the South Perth Community Centre Hospital. Mothers and babies returned to Ngala after the birth. They were accommodated in the 'Alexandra Wing' at Ngala.
From 2 November 1959, Ngala also trained Infant Health Nurses.
In the first four months after its relocation to Kensington, Ngala admitted 230 pregnant women, mothers, babies and young children. In the year ending June 1961, 46 children were adopted from Ngala. Ngala also accepted babies who were awaiting adoption and whose mothers had not been admitted to Ngala before their confinement.
Lang (1980) writes that Ngala was involved in three aspects of the birth of children to single mothers: accommodation and support for young women who were determined to keep their child; accommodation and/or foster placement of babies while an adoption placement was sought for them; and the preparation of adopting mothers.
While the consent of both parents was legally required before a baby could be adopted from Ngala, State and Commonwealth inquiries have found that many young parents did not make an informed choice to allow their baby to be adopted. Following the Parliamentary apology to people involved in adoption in Western Australia in 2010, Ngala issued a statement of support and expressed regret for the trauma that past maternity and adoption practices caused to mothers 'and their children'. Submissions to the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices in 2012 showed that the impact of this trauma was long-lasting.
During the 1960s, children and young people referred to Ngala by child welfare authorities were recorded in the annual reports of the Child Welfare Department (Signposts, 2004 pp.372-373). A year-end census of children who were wards of the state and those who were classed as 'private children' under 6 years of age at year end was also reported. In 1961, there were 137 admissions (representing 51 individual children), with 20 children who were 'wards' and 6 under-sixes who were 'private children' at year end. In 1965, there were 95 admissions (representing 56 individual children), with 25 children who were 'wards' and 31 under-sixes who were 'private children' at year end. In 1968, the last year that statistics were presented in this way, there were 94 admissions (representing 57 individual children), with 2 children who were 'wards' and 16 under-sixes who were 'private children' at year end. From 1966 to 1968, the number of children who were classed as 'native wards' were also identified in admission statistics. There were six children admitted as 'native wards' in 1966, 9 in 1967 and 14 in 1968.
In 1975 (Signposts, 2004 p.373) Ngala was described by the Department for Community Welfare as providing short term care for up to 89 infants and boys and girls aged 0-5 years, with the average length of stay being 'around 1 year'. Sibling groups were admitted together and 'foster placements were actively sought for the children'. School-age and pre-school children walked to the local school. There was a range of play equipment including: 'garden, play area, 2 swimming pools, swings and slides, tennis court, cubby house, bikes, 2 sandpits, a boat, 2 adventure playgrounds and educational toys that could be used outdoors…TV, piano, radio or radiogram, library, toys and a fish tank'. Visits outside Ngala were said to be 'many and varied and included going to town, the zoo, on the ferry'. Ngala's approach to accommodating 'unmarried mothers' was also described: it provided for 'confinement' and assisted in 'rehabilitation'. This section of Ngala was known as the Alexandra Wing. At this time, aaccording to Lang (p.83), all but one of the pregnant women in the Alexandra Wing were 'schoolgirls' who were provided with a tutor while at Ngala.
In 1989, Ngala became a family support service called Ngal-a Family Resource Centre and no longer provided institutionalised out of home care. However, it continued as a subsidised facility under child welfare legislation.
08 February 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00159
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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