St Michael's Orphanage, run by the Sisters of Mercy, was opened at Baulkham Hills in 1902. It was also known as St Michael's Boys' Home. The Orphanage housed boys aged 5 to 12 years. St Michael's became St Michael's Children's Home in the 1960s and became group homes for boys and girls.
From 1921 St Michael's Orphanage, like most private institutions at the time, received 5 shillings per week from the New South Wales Government for every orphan in its care.
William (George) Fossey, a former resident of St Michael's, emailed Find and Connect staff in 2012 to say:
I was at Baulkham Hills Orphanage which was on the Kellyville Road just outside of Parramatta. My memories are vague, but I do remember that I helped out with the chicken farm that they had which was at the back of the convent which was on the other side of the road from the orphanage. This orphanage was run by a different order of Nuns than Kincumber if my memory serves me right.
In 2007 Frank Heimans interviewed Ray Aquilina, a former resident of St Michael's, about his time in the orphanage. Ray was placed with his brother because their father, a single man, had to work night shift, but according to Ray the majority of boys in the home were from foundling institutions and were aged five and older.
Ray's account is mostly positive and often funny, and he describes the dairy, riding the lift used to carry vegetables indoors, the process of meal times and the challenges and rewards of being raised alongside 150 other children. But Ray was only three and a half, and being separated from his father was very hard.
We walked down and I looked at this building and I thought "we're going in here". I just had something in the back of my mind that told me this was going to be a fixture.
We went in and it was the biggest building that I'd ever seen in my life. I suppose it was like somebody looking at a castle it was just so big. We went up the front stairs and we pressed the bell and a nun came out. We went into a little room there we talked for a few minutes and I gather they were busy because it didn't take too long. Then come on we'll take you round to the rocking horses so we walked around into the refectory where all the kids ate. There were two rocking horses there. There was a little one and there was another one with two baskets on the bigger one. Paul got on the bigger one, I was on the little one and then Dad said "I'm just going to get the coupons" The war was out and there were coupons for butter and whatever. I knew at that stage he's not coming back …
[Interviewer]: How did you feel at three and a half being left in an orphanage?
It was terrifying. I'd never had so many people around me all the kids. I'd never run to a regime. You had one nun with one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty kids and when you went in of a night time to wash. You'd stand at your basin and you'd wash you right arm, soap it up, wash it off then you'd dry it and wash your other arm then the left leg and everything was done to direction. After that the area where we went to class and school was out an end door and I don't know what I was doing trying to do up a sandal or something or other. Everybody disappeared and suddenly I was stuck in this big wash room. Where did everybody go to? I had no idea and I remember wandering through the place crying I didn't know where I was. One of the women thought it was one of the cutest things she'd ever seen I think. Picked me up in the kitchen there and I stayed there until the kids came. They kept an eye on me after that to make sure I knew which way I was going.
Like most boys in St Michael's, Ray Aquilina moved to St Vincent's Westmead for high school.
According to Ray Aquilina, the building was demolished around 1970.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Orphans', The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 February 1921, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15959476; 'Sisters of Mercy to close Baulkham Hills centre', Parramatta Sun, 2 August 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20170422130903/http://www.parramattasun.com.au/story/249395/sisters-of-mercy-to-close-baulkham-hills-centre/; Heimans, Frank, 'St Michael's Orphanage Part One; Interviewee Ray Aquilina, born 1939', in The Hills: Sydney's Garden Shire, The Hills Shire Council, 29 November 2007, http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Library/Library-e-Resources/Hills-Voices-Online/Community-Stories/St-Michaels-Orphanage-Ray-Aquilina; Heimans, Frank, 'St Michael's Orphanage Part Two; Interviewee Ray Aquilina, born 1939', in The Hills: Sydney's Garden Shire, The Hills Shire Council, 29 November 2007, http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Library/Library-e-Resources/Hills-Voices-Online/Community-Stories/St-Michaels-Orphanage-Ray-Aquilina-Part-2; 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; Correspondence between Find and Connect staff and William George Fossey, 24 August 2012.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 8 March 2011, Last modified: 19 March 2015