Colebrook Home was opened in Quorn in 1927 by the United Aborigines Mission as an institution for Aboriginal children. The Matron and 12 children from Oodnadatta Children's Home were the first residents. In 1944 the Home moved to Eden Hills where it accommodated up to 50 children. In 1961 children from Gerard Mission Children's Dormitory moved to Colebrook. In the mid 1960s, 20 to 30 children lived at the Home. This number dropped to five in late 1971. Colebrook Home moved to Blackwood in 1972 and closed in 1981.
The first Children's home run by the UAM had been established three years earlier in Oodnadatta by missionary, Miss Annie Lock. Initially housed in an iron shed, the children were then moved to a small cottage purchased by the UAM in 1926. The following year the twelve children resident in the home were brought to Quorn, along with Matron Ruby Hyde who had been caring for the children since 1925. The children were relocated in order to remove them from the influence of their families so that they could be more easily assimilated into white society. As missionary Violet Turner described in her history of Colebrook at Quorn, the UAM believed the children needed to be in a place where 'they could no longer see the [sic] natives or hear the sounds of corroborree'. It also aspired to raise children in a Christian environment. For many years Matron Hyde, a graduate of the Melbourne Bible Institute, ran the home with the assistance of Sister Rutter who had migrated from England.
The initial home site was plagued by inadequate water supply, so in 1933 it was moved to another location where the water situation was marginally better. In 1944, after drought caused further severe water restrictions, the Government gave permission for the UAM to establish a home in Adelaide. That same year the Mission took up a lease on a ten-acre (4 hectares) property at Eden Hills, a southern suburb of Adelaide. This property included a building which was transformed into children's dormitories. By 1950 more than fifty children were resident. Until 1953 they were schooled within the home. After that year they were accepted into the local Blackwood Primary School. In 1952, as a result of a split within the UAM, Sisters Hyde and Rutter left Colebrook to start their own hostel for girls, Tanderra. Colebrook, which had been under stable and constant management for 27 years, was then run by a succession of superintendents.
In 1954 the local Board of Health inspected the Home and found 'insanitary conditions' which they attributed to lack of staff and lack of funding. Two years later after another inspection, they wrote that the 'appalling conditions' were 'a menace to health, of not only the staff and inmates of the home, but to the residents living in the district'.
During the 1950s discipline and Christian education dominated the life of the children. One of the staff members regularly woke children during the night for Bible readings and prayers. Children who wet the bed were punished by being sent to school without breakfast.
In 1966 after inspections by the Department of Social Welfare, the UAM's licence to accommodate more than 5 children under the age of 12 was revoked. The report stated that the Home was not suitable for a large number of children because the staff lacked an awareness of the emotional and social needs of Aboriginal children. The Home was also lacking in amenities and not enough staff were employed.
In 1969 the lease to the property was not renewed because of community concern about the Home. The UAM were permitted to remain until a decision was made about the buildings and property.
In 1972, the remaining children in the Home were moved to a nearby cottage in Blackwood and the building at Eden Hills was demolished. In 1981 Colebrook was officially closed. During the fifty-four years of its existence Colebrook was 'home' to over 350 children. After the closure a number of former residents came together to form the Colebrook Tji Tji Tjuta. In conjunction with the Blackwood Reconciliation Group, this group secured funding to erect a memorial at the Eden Hills site. It serves as a monument to the many children who went through the home. The figure of a weeping mother serves as a testament to the many mothers whose children grew up without them.
Colebrook Home was one of the institutions that came under the scrutiny of the 2004-2008 Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry. Witnesses described incidents of physical and sexual abuse which occurred during the 1950s and 1960s.
Colebrook Home was mentioned in the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) as an institution that housed Indigenous children removed from their families.
In 2021, the South Australian government has agreed to be a funder of last resort for this institution. This means that although the institution is now defunct, it is participating in the National Redress Scheme, and the government has agreed to pay the institution's share of costs of providing redress to a person (as long as the government is found to be equally responsible for the abuse a person experienced).
Sources used to compile this entry: George, Karen, Finding your own way, Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia Inc., 2005, http://nunku.org.au/resources/; Hampton, Ken and Christobel Mattingley, Survival in our own land: 'Aboriginal' experiences in 'South Australia' since 1836, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1988; Mullighan, the Hon E.P., Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry: Allegations of sexual abuse and death from criminal conduct, presented to the South Australian Parliament by the Hon. E.P. Mullighan QC, Commisioner, Children in State Care Commission of Enquiry, Adelaide, South Australia, 2008, 564 pp, https://www.childprotection.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/107201/children-in-state-care-commission-of-inquiry-introducation.pdf.
Prepared by: Karen George and Gary George
Created: 15 February 2011, Last modified: 5 November 2021