The United Protestant Association of New South Wales Ltd (UPA) is a Christian welfare organisation established in 1938. By 1953, the UPA had established 13 children's homes throughout New South Wales. The Association was organised into 12 district councils. More than 3,000 children, including British child migrants, were placed in UPA homes but, owing to the high costs of providing residential child care, most UPA district councils converted their homes to aged care by the 1990s.
The UPA was founded at Grafton in 1938 by the late Thomas Agst, B.E.M., J.P., a militant Protestant who fell out with the Presbyterian Church and joined the United Protestant Association of Australia in 1935.
Agst wrote in his autobiography, published as The UPA Story:
One cause which actuated me to do something to establish Homes for children was the fact that there was a Roman Catholic Convent (now Cowper Homes) in the Clarence District with a large number of Protestant children because there was no Protestant Home for them. This position could not be allowed to continue but no one seemed to care. Something simply had to be done without delay to give to the Protestant people the facilities they should have. To my surprise I received no assistance or encouragement from the Protestant Ministers and in some cases experienced open opposition. Most of them were just not interested in the practical side of Christian work let alone the militant side of the Association's objectives.
After offering a home to a family of Protestant children who were about to be sent to the Catholic convent Agst and his wife Rosetta ended up with seven children in their care. Agst decided they needed a properly conducted home. He launched the United Protestant Association of New South Wales in around 1938 and by 1941 had separated from the Australian Association.
Over the next forty years the UPA expanded services to children and established aged care services at more than twenty centres throughout New South Wales. Agst was a skilled organiser and promoted his work with children and the aged, and his fanatical anti-Catholic beliefs, with weekly radio broadcasts and, from 1946, the Gorton Pty Ltd Printing Works and the newspaper The Protestant World.
The United Protestant Association homes were: Melrose (Pendle Hill); Sunnylands (Wollongbar); Adelaide Walker (Strathfield); Woodlands (Newcastle); Rathgar (Grafton); Rathmore (Grafton); Ellimatta and Ellimeek (East Maitland); Glen Eden (Glen Innes); Buena Vista (Orange); Gumleigh (Wagga Wagga); Lillimur (Dubbo); The Laurels (Kogarah); and Murray Vale (Albury), as well as several family group homes. It also ran Strathmore House in Melbourne (1951-1953).
Each UPA home had its own committee, called a district council, that raised funds from its own community and applied for state and federal government grants. Regional district councils also ran opportunity shops.
UPA homes offered care for children who could not, for one reason or another, live at home with their families. Some children stayed for a few days, while others stayed for years. Children came to the homes as babies, young children and teenagers. It was also a receiving agency for child migrants, taking a number of British boys into Melrose.
From the 1960s into the 1980s the United Protestant Association Councils began to close down children's homes and convert properties into aged care facilities. By the 1990s most of the district councils had stopped providing child care.
In the late 1990s the United Protestant Association collated its surviving records into case files and a single database, listing: name (including aliases); age; date of birth; gender; parents; siblings; admission and discharge dates; and a cross reference to the child's personal file. The United Protestant Association has a good collection of photographs of the homes and former residents.
The United Protestant Association is non-denominational and committed to caring for disadvantaged children as well as to the provision of care and accommodation for elderly people. By 2012 it had 9 regional offices, in addition to its Sydney head office. United Protestant Association continues to provide support and information to past care leavers, including the services of a dedicated counsellor. It has copies of The Protestant World, which often mention children in UPA homes.
In 2013, the UPA's surviving children's service is Youth Care UPA in the North Coast region, an accommodation, casework and supervision service.
In 2013 the United Protestant Association issued an unreserved apology to children abused while they were living in the Woodlands and Ellimatta Homes, and acknowledged it had paid compensation to victims. The apology was issued in a Sydney Morning Herald article by Joanne McCarthy, published on 28 September 2013:
The United Protestant Association was "fully supportive of every effort to bring to light what is clearly a shameful and disgusting part of Australia's recent history", general manager Steve Walkerden said.
The UPA "unreservedly" apologised on Friday to children harmed while in its care and detailed its knowledge of appalling abuse of children at the Woodlands and Ellimatta homes over nearly four decades. The abuse of children as young as four and the lifelong impacts of that abuse were a tragedy, Mr Walkerden said.
"We unreservedly apologise to those who were harmed as a result of the time spent in a UPA home," he said. "We are committed to open communication with any former children who lived at Woodlands or any other home run by UPA.
"We have a dedicated after care worker who is able to offer access to records. UPA is willing to make reparation payments to those who were abused. We have reported all known matters to police and work co-operatively with them."
UPA received the first abuse allegations at Woodlands in 1998, and has paid reparation to some victims.
McCarthy's article stated that former residents of Woodlands have given distressing testimony to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and stated that an organised ring of paedophiles, including members of the Anglican and Catholic clergy, had sexually abused boys during a Christian programme held on Sundays at Woodlands in the 1970s. A girl from Ellimatta was allegedly abused by a gardener.
Sources used to compile this entry: Agst, Thomas Urich [with Robert J Martin], The UPA Story, United Protestant Association of NSW Ltd, Wahroonga, n.d., 67 pp; McCarthy, Joanne, 'Paedophile ring used boys home', The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 September 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/paedophile-ring-used-boys-home-20130922-2u7w6.html; 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, http://nma.gov.au/blogs/inside/files/2011/02/connectkin_guide1.pdf; Site visit to the United Protestant Association, 12 April 2012; Email correspondence with staff of United Protestant Association, 24 April 2012; 18 February 2014; 17 April 2014.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 22 March 2011, Last modified: 5 September 2017