Poignant Children’s Day provides a healing balm

Children's Day - young artistInto the midst of searing revelations at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to the Sexual Abuse of Children came the soothing balm of Children’s Day, March 9, at Kamballa, North Parramatta. Organised by the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, led by former Parramatta Girl, Bonney Djuric, Children’s Day was designed to remember the children who once lived there and to imagine a much happier creative future for the first purpose-built orphanage for Catholic children.

The site of the old Parramatta Girls Home, also known as the Parramatta Girls Training School, began as the Roman Catholic Orphanage in 1844 and adjoins the site of the 1823 colonial Female Factory. The long history of maltreatment of women and children under their authority came to an official end in 1974, but the intergenerational impact of shame, hurt and low self-esteem continues.

In warm sunshine and the peaceful shade of old trees, more than 10 former Parramatta Girls came back to the site of their teenage incarceration to share in Children’s Day, For at least three of the women, it was their first return visit in the decades since their release. They felt the need to confront painful memories and with the support of friends and organisers, to begin the process of healing.

Children run through cleansing smokeA cleansing Darug smoking ceremony launched proceedings. Central to the day’s activities was access to Bethel, the children’s hospital built in 1862, where 129 children died and were buried in unmarked graves in North Parramatta cemetery. Some of the Parramatta Girls later endured their worst abuse there. Inside was an exhibition related to the past history of the site, while surrounding the outside of the building was a newly developed garden, where colourful flowers created from recycled plastic bottles were added by children and adults throughout the day.

Governor and Br Toby Butler with QuiltThe kindly presence of the Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir, (once a GP at nearby Pendle Hill and a child psychiatrist) added greatly to the sense of change, respect and healing. Here she stands with Brother Tony Butler in front of the quilt created by Bonney Djuric to remember the children who died at Bethel. Brother Tony is descended from the Day family, whose four little girls were admitted to the Roman Catholic Orphanage in 1859.

Most of the girls detained from as young as 11, were charged with “being exposed to moral danger” or neglect as a result of poverty and homelessness. From 1909, Aboriginal girls could be detained simply because they were Aboriginal.

Jeannie with GovernorAfter the ignominy of being a Parramatta Girl sent to the old Hay Gaol for more severe punishment, Aboriginal artist Jeannie Gypsie Hayes was thrilled with the Governor’s interest in her art. The growing collection of Jeannie’s heartfelt art works and poetry provides a vivid insight into the grim institutional life of girls at both institutions.

Organising team members included Bonney, Jeannie, artist Liz Day, Aboriginal artist Leanne Tobin, and new media artist and photographer, Mike K Chin. Mike was instrumental in organising assistance from young members of the Mormon Church with early work on the garden and cleaning up the buildings. A large contingent of young church choir members sang for the ceremony officially dedicating the Children’s Garden. Thanks to Mike for the use of his photos.

Geoff Lee, Bonney, Tash Burrell with flowers in gardenTaking their turn at planting whirly daisies in the children’s garden were three people who will be critical to the successful realisation of plans for the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct – Dr Geoff Lee MP, Bonney Djuric, and Tasha Burrell of Urban Growth NSW. Bonney’s vision includes transforming the Parramatta Girls Home site to Australia’s first national Site of Conscience.

Arts funding from state and federal governments enabled the employment of additional services including Marily Cintra’s from Health and Arts Research Centre.

The next event will be the play Parramatta Girls, by Alana Valentine, at Riverside Theatres, May 1-7, 2014.


Children’s Day connects past to present

Whirly daisies for PFFP Children's Day 2014-001Some of Marily Cintra’s whirly daisies made from recycled plastic bottles stand in front of a life size photo from  a former Irish institution for children.

Preparations are well in hand for Children’s Day, Sunday, March 9, 2014, 11am to 4pm, at Kamballa, 1 Fleet Street, Parramatta. Organisers of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project invite families to come with their children.

Come join us for a fun filled family event connecting past to present at the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. All activities are suitable for primary school aged children

          CREATE                 Art & Craft activities

          LISTEN                  Talking Circles – Parramatta’s flying foxes, Indigenous culture & bush tucker

            LEARN                   How to make a raised garden bed or a whirly daisy from recycled materials

            CONNECT            Past to present at this historic site in remembering children who once lived here.

 Built as an orphanage in 1844 this child welfare institution was once ‘home’ to generations of children who are referred to today as the Forgotten Australians.

Children’s Day brings together families to remember the children of the orphanage and others separated from their families and will include a ceremonial planting of a Memorial Garden by Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales.

Bring a picnic lunch or enjoy a free sausage sizzle. Vegetarian food available.

Join the fun on Children’s Day

Whirly daisies for PFFP Children's Day 2014-001Marily Cintra invites children to make whirly daisies with her from recycled plastic bottles at the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Children’s Day, March 9. Many other activities are planned, including discovery, hearing, and learning, and designing a children’s garden. While the site has a grim history of punishment of women and children, organisers aim to transform it to one of healing, learning and inspiration for a cultural-creative hub and an internationally recognised Site of Conscience.


Thanks to Professional Historians Association Blog editor, here is the latest post about the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project and its connections to the current Royal Commission. The PHA blog also provides links to related sites.

On 31 January, Bonney Djuric posted on Facebook “See ABC 7.30 Report NSW, tonight Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Parramatta Girls Home”. For over a decade, the former “Parramatta Girl” Bonney has been leading a movement to research and understand the impact of poverty and the child welfare system, as well as to work for system reform and healing for those whose lives were damaged during their time in the institution. This includes the preservation of the Parramatta Girls Home and the adjacent colonial Female Factory site and its dedication as a living memorial to the Forgotten Australians and others marginalised by society.

Bonney’s argument is that Australia’s convict legacy had an influence on its welfare system. The decades of transportation shaped ideas and beliefs about females who could be charged and committed to institutions for being ‘Exposed to Moral Danger’; a charge which did not apply to males. Not even two per cent of the inmates at Parramatta Girls Home, which operated from 1887 to 1986, had been charged with a criminal offence.

In 2007, Bonney contacted UTS Shopfront, the University of Technology Sydney’s gateway to the community. She wanted help in compiling a history of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. Since then, Parragirls and Shopfront have worked on several projects. Their fourth is the PFFP Memory Project: trace, place, identity, which aims to preserve the precinct’s history and turn it into an internationally recognised Site of Conscience.

With support from Arts NSW, the PFFP Memory Project is presenting a Children’s Day on site on 9 March 2014. And in May Riverside Theatre will present Parramatta Girls by Alana Valentine. The play tells of the courage, hardship and inequality the Parramatta girls experienced.

The photo (by Mike Chin) shows The Memory Project’s core team: artist, Mike Chin, former Parramatta Girls – Jeannie (Gypsie) Hayes and Bonnie Djuric, indigenous artist and teacher Leanne Tobin, playwright Alana Valentine and artist and teacher Liz Day.