St Mary's Hostel was the new name given to the Mount Blatherskite Hostel near Alice Springs in 1947. Run by the Australian Board of Missions it provided accommodation and schooling for Aboriginal children placed by their parents or committed to the Hostel by the Director of Native Affairs. A number of Aboriginal children returning from Mulgoa in New South Wales after World War II were also placed at the Hostel. St Mary's Hostel operated until the mid-1970s when it was renamed St Mary's Children's Village.
St Mary's Hostel was the name given to the Mount Blatherskite Hostel in 1947. However, in government correspondence about the Hostel it was often still referred to as the Mount Blatherskite Hostel as late as 1948. The Hostel was situated in the town of Mount Blatherskite approximately 6 kilometres south of Alice Springs. Run by the Australian Board of Missions it provided accommodation and schooling for Aboriginal children who were studying or doing apprenticeships in Alice Springs. Sister Eileen Heath continued as the Superintendent of the Hostel after its change of name. Aboriginal children were placed in the Hostel by their parents or were committed to the Hostel by the Director of Native Affairs.
In 1948 the Australian Board of Missions reported to the government that the Hostel usually provided care for an average of 27 children. At that time a further dormitory was being built so that the Hostel could accommodate up to 50 children at one time.
In 1948, after lengthy negotiations, the Commonwealth government agreed to provide financial assistance to the Hostel. As part of these negotiations, the government outlined some of its wishes for the 'objects of the Institution'. These, listed in a 1948 report, included the following:
1. To provide a home for the care and upbringing of all half-caste children committed to the institution. These will be for the most part unsupported half-castes from aboriginal camps.
2. To provide accommodation for half-caste children from rural areas, whose parents are in a position to send them to school in Alice Springs.
3. To accommodate girls and boys after school leaving age during training or apprenticeship, and whilst in employment in Alice Springs.
The report also specified that the staff for the Hostel should include a Superintendent, a nurse trained in child welfare, a married couple, a cook and a farm supervisor. The government also 'considered that the institution should be controlled on the dormitory system' with 4 dormitories - nursery, infant, primary and senior.
In January 1949, St Mary's took in a number of Aboriginal children returning from Mulgoa in New South Wales. These children had been evacuated from Church Missionary Society missions during World War II.
During the mid to late 1950s it became church policy to replace the dormitory system with group homes to provide for smaller group care. Cottages were purpose built during the late 1960s in the grounds at St Mary's Hostel.
A church news report from 1968, stated that by that year, St Mary's Hostel had become a village with four cottage homes, located around a central Church. The village was set in a 480 acre property on the outskirts of Alice Springs and provided accommodation for 49 children aged between 3 and 17.
A further report dated 1969 stated that:
The children come to the village at any age and are of any race. They might be aboriginal, part-aboriginal, part-European or European, and having in some cases, a slight Chinese mixture. Some come from remote station areas, having parents who want the child to be educated, but most come from broken and neglected homes, being brought in by welfare Department when they think that a child is in need of care.
When children first arrived at St Mary's, they were housed in the 'transit block'. This was an ex-army hut which was divided into cubicles. The report noted that due to staff shortages, there was no resident staff member to supervise the children placed in this block. Once the children were regarded as having adapted to life at St Mary's they would be moved into one of the cottages. Each cottage had a dining room, lounge, kitchen, laundry and bathroom. Two children shared each bedroom. They were supervised by a total staff of 12 adults. Most children stayed at St Mary's until they had finished their schooling.
In the 1970s, St Mary's built three more cottages in the town ship of Alice Springs. In 1972 St Mary's Hostel was renamed St Mary's Children's Village as a reflection of the new layout and the fact that the Village had come under the management of the newly formed Anglican organisation, St Mary's Child and Family Welfare Service.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Lady Gowrie Hostel At Alice Springs', The Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 March 1946, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48697838; Commonwealth of Australia, Report on the Administration of the Northern Territory for the Year Ending 30th June, 1946, 1946, http://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/docs/digitised_collections/remove/59205.pdf; NAA: A431, 1950/694 St Mary's Hostel - Alice Springs - Australian Board of Misisons - Institution for half-caste children; NAA: F1, 1957/300 Part 1 Welfare Branch - St Mary's Hostel - Policy and development, 1956-1958.
Prepared by: Karen George and Gary George
Created: 28 January 2011, Last modified: 7 November 2018