Cootamundra Training Home was established in a disused hospital building by the Aborigines Protection Board in 1911. It housed only Aboriginal girls, and was designed to train girls for domestic service. In 1940 its management passed to the Aborigines Protection Board. It continued as a girls' home for Aboriginal girls until it was closed in 1969, although in its last years a few non-Aboriginal girls were sent there.
Cootamundra Training Home was established in 1911, in the disused Cootamundra District Hospital, which had been built in 1889 and occupied a prominent position on a hill near the town.
The home was unique, as it was the only government-run home designed to train girls for domestic service. It was only for Aboriginal girls and has a significant place in the history of the stolen generations in New South Wales.
The Aborigines Protection Board told the government Cootamundra Home provided educational opportunities for orphan and neglected children, but the true purpose of was as a training school to change the behaviour of girls who had grown up on Aboriginal reserves, and make them acceptable for 'apprenticeship' to white employers. This was part of the Board's goal to get young Aboriginal people away from their families and communities and make them live as white people. Most of the girls who went to Cootamundra had living parents and were aged 13 or older. Few went to school. Cootamundra continued to train girls for domestic service long after the practice had been abandoned for non-Aboriginal girls.
The organisation of the home reflected its former use as a hospital, and the values of its founder, George Edward Ardill, Vice-President of the Aborigines Protection Board and the head of the Sydney Rescue Work Society and proprietor of the Home of Hope for Friendless and Fallen Women. The first staff members appointed at the home had worked for Ardill in the Home of Hope, or had worked at Warangesda Dormitory. These staff carried his values into the daily routine. These included the idea that work redeemed the soul of fallen women.
At Cootamundra girls slept in two dormitories, holding up to 25 girls each, and did all the cleaning, laundry and gardening work in the home. The regime at the home was hard, and former residents report being terrified at the thought they might be punished by being locked in a store room that they believed had been a morgue.
The first girls transferred to the Home had been in the Warangesda Dormitory. Girls were removed from stations and reserves and taken to the home after being reported to the Aborigines Protection Board by station managers or police, or spotted by the Home-Finder, Miss Alice Lowe. Lowe's role was to persuade parents that their daughter would benefit by being 'trained' at Cootamundra and 'apprenticed'. However, if the parents refused to send their daughter away, Protection Board inspectors, police or State Children's Relief Department staff would remove the child, sometimes after taking her to the Children's Court to be prosecuted. Girls were described on Board records as 'of an age to be apprenticed' or taken 'for training' or, if their parents resisted, as 'neglected.'
There was a school on site, but most girls were at or near school-leaving age when they were taken to the home and spent just a few months there being 'trained' before they were sent out to employment as 'apprentices' in homes in Sydney or rural New South Wales. These placements were arranged by Miss Lowe, who would also inspect the girls. Miss Lowe was, in the 1930s, replaced by Mrs Inspector English.
In 1940 the Aborigines Protection Board was replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The regime at the home became slightly more liberal, although it must be said the Aborigines Welfare Board instigated these changes to provide opportunities for Aboriginal girls to assimilate with white mainstream culture. Cootamundra girls began to attend the local high school, and enter their produce and craft in the Cootamundra Show. The longstanding Matron in this period was Ella Hiscocks. Cootamundra townspeople became more involved in fundraising for the home, and girls began to attend dances and socials. They also had more training and employment opportunities, although domestic service remained a priority.
When the Aborigines Welfare Board was abolished in 1969 the site was taken over by the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services and run as a girls home. In 1975 the buildings were sold to the Young Aboriginal Land Council and renamed Bimbadeen. In 2014 Bimbadeen was still in use as an Aboriginal-run Christian training centre.
Cootamundra Girls' Home was mentioned in the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) as an institution that housed Indigenous children removed from their families.
1911 - 1969 Cootamundra Training Home
1969 - 1974 Bimbadeen Girls Home
Sources used to compile this entry: Dawn and New Dawn 1952-1975: A magazine for the Aboriginal people of New South Wales, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, 2004, http://aiatsis.gov.au/collections/collections-online/digitised-collections/dawn-and-new-dawn; 'Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls' Training Home', in State Heritage Register, Heritage Council, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, 2012, https://www.hms.heritage.nsw.gov.au/App/Item/ViewItem?itemId=5061346; Goodall, Heather, Invasion to Embassy: land in Aboriginal politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, 2nd edn, Sydney University Press (originally published Allen & Unwin, 1996), Sydney, 2008, 505 pp; Mellor, Doreen and Haebich, Anna, Many Voices: reflections on Indigenous child separation, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002, 324 pp; New South Wales. Aborigines Protection Board (ed.), Report of the Board, Government Printer, 1881-1941. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.aus-vn1447508; New South Wales. Aborigines Welfare Board, Annual report of the Aborigines Welfare Board for the year ended 1940, Government Printer, 1941; New South Wales. Aborigines Welfare Board (ed.), Annual report of the Aborigines Welfare Board for the year ended …, Government Printer, 1949-1968; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp, http://hdl.handle.net/1959.4/40786; Read, Peter, The stolen generations: the removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883-1969, Foreword by Andrew Refshauge, 6th reprint edn, 1981 , https://www.aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au/media/website_pages/research-and-publications/completed-research-and-evaluation/Stolen_Generations.pdf; Thinee, Kristy and Bradford, Tracy, Connecting Kin: Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their records [completed in 1998], New South Wales Department of Community Services, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998, https://clan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/connectkin_guide.pdf.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 21 February 2011, Last modified: 5 September 2017