Thank you UrbanGrowth NSW for a vision of North Parramatta’s heritage future

No, that headline is not a joke – nor have I swapped sides. It was my personal response after attending Discovering Parramatta North Open Day, conducted by UrbanGrowth NSW on Saturday, May 27. From informal feedback, it was a response shared by many who attended, including Parramatta National Trust. Our focus may have been different from our hosts, but the experience began to put flesh on our alternative vision for the future. The aim of Open Day was to learn about the recent archaeological discoveries on the site. Above is Parramatta Holroyd Sun’s photo of nine-year-old Hannah Bunby from Parramatta North Public School. She wants to become an archaeologist and on a school tour the day before, she met the archaeologists led by Aboriginal Jamie Eastwood, right, in the pit where they were working.

One hundred people including school students, Parramatta Female Factory Friends and hospital personnel were given a preview on the Friday. On Saturday, 300 people participated in a succession of guided tours led by members of the state government’s development agency or by other experts who are consultants to the North Parramatta Transformation Project. UrbanGrowth’s project team leader Donna Savage gave a brief overview of the project and archaeological work to date, before each tour. She was followed by Jillian Comber, consultant in Aboriginal and historical archaeology, who is leading some of the research. Archaeological teams with indigenous expertise and links to the land have been working across the site.

Freely available were high quality fact sheets about the sites under investigation giving detailed information on the research to date and the history either known or newly revealed. Papers included Aboriginal History and Archaeology; Aboriginal Artefacts; Water Management 1803 – 1880s – Ditches, Dykes and Drains; The Parramatta Female Factory – an Archeology of Absence; The Ward for the Criminally Insane 1861 – 1963 – Escape from Parramatta Lunatic Asylum; and Parramatta Hospital for the Insane 1878 – 1983 – Change of Name and Change of Attitude. Some of the items excavated from the sites, above. Jamie explained that more than 2000 Aboriginal artefacts have been unearthed, and that some like spear heads of silcrete, indicate that trade was conducted with other groups, because silcrete is not a local stone.

As well as being a known Aboriginal settlement area, Parramatta North was the site of some of the colony’s first farms, from the 1790s. It was also home to early colonial institutions including the convict Parramatta Female Factory from 1818 and the Roman Catholic Orphan School from 1841, which later became the Parramatta Girls Home. Parramatta Gaol dating from the 1840s is also on this site. The Parramatta National Trust’s photo, above, of the excavated ha-ha (a deep trench with a sloping side that ends in a vertical wall), shows it was filled in with earth and old bed frames in the 1870s, denoting a change of practice in treatment of the mentally ill.

Both North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) and Parramatta Female Factory Friends were provided by organisers with tables close to the central meeting point. NPRAG displayed their artist’s impressions of UrbanGrowth’s proposed developments and of their own alternative proposals for creative arts facilities, and public open space for the benefit of community physical and mental health. The drawing of UGNSW’s proposals, left, drew an angry response from two staff members. One claimed they were a serious misrepresentation and another stated there was a great deal of misinformation circulating. While the drawings were concept only, they were sourced from the only information available from UrbanGrowth at the time. It was stated that the high rise buildings shown on the Cumberland Hospital side of the old Parramatta Gaol are now positioned on the east side. Another change that has been made as a result of community feedback is that there will be no new residential buildings in the historic Governor Gipps courtyard.

For some within UrbanGrowth and within the community, there is deep mutual distrust. UrbanGrowth claims misrepresentation while community members claim secrecy and planning to a hidden agenda. UrbanGrowth says it can’t display developer proposals until they have been drawn up by the developers and approved by Parramatta Council, while community members claim that UrbanGrowth won’t have control anyway if their current development application to sell off two thirds of the 30 hectare site in 17 super lots is approved. Anger and distrust foment between a rock and a hard place.

For those visiting the site, the inspiration of the day was the recognition of just how much information and evidence about our ancient and more recent past sits just below the surface of the site. It was illuminating to see what could be achieved when real money, expertise and resources are applied to archeological research and heritage building repairs. UrbanGrowth’s aerial view, above, of repairs being undertaken on the Roman Catholic Orphan School.  The state government argues that only by selling two thirds of the site can it afford the conservation needed on the other third. Those of us who have lately witnessed the demolition of Parramatta Swimming Pool before any alternative plan was in the pipeline, have only to remember how quickly the government could find $30 million to match Parramatta Council’s $30 million when community anger forced them to begin planning for a new aquatic centre.

The draft Development Control Plan (DCP) and Development Application DA/1124/2016 relating to Parramatta North Urban Transformation Precinct are on display by Parramatta Council until June 13. You can make your submission online or by using the template created by NPRAG.

The Royal Australian Historical Society, The National Trust of Australia, Parramatta Female Factory Friends and NPRAG are all submitting objections to inappropriate residential development to Parramatta Council. At last year’s RAHS conference in Wollongong, NPRAG president Suzette Meade discussed the work NPRAG has carried out to protect and promote Parramatta’s heritage. Suzette’s presentation is on YouTube.

She explains that there are over “77 state heritage listed buildings around the Cumberland Hospital grounds. The Female Factory Precinct, filled with buildings designed by government architects Francis Greenway to Walter Liberty Vernon, is undergoing a National Heritage Listing Assessment and is a more than worthy candidate to be added to the current 11 convict locations on the UNESCO world heritage listing. If sympathetically re-interpreted and re-developed, this huge site could become Australia’s equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg but with one unique advantage – it is all real, all still there physically and historically and not some modern confection channelling the past.” Another Parramatta National Trust photo, above, reveals the layers of history under the site of the Female Factory.

The submission developed by Parramatta Female Factory Friends highlights the absence of a Master Plan. There is a precedent for this, they write, in that the Rozelle Hospital/Callan Park grounds and buildings’ Master Plan is the result of community input and acceptance. “This must be carried out for the Cumberland Hospital site as it has a far more singular, significant and extensive history than the Rozelle Hospital.”

Another concern they raise, is shared by every other community organisation – the height of buildings and transfer of floor space. The height of buildings seriously impacts heritage buildings and the valued park like setting of PNHS. These must be scaled back further, they say. Setbacks must be reviewed. They also point out that the DDCP (page 26 C.3) states that floor space cannot be transferred. “The DA is not a legal document,” they say. “There is no protection for future floor space ratios (FSR) being altered by a developer.”

(A quick note – I delayed publishing this in the hope that advice about potential World Heritage Listing would arrive in time from heritage consultants to the project. There has been a delay, but it is clear that it would still be subject to the qualifications expressed in submissions, above.)

One of the great concerns among the many protests is the proposal to preserve only a selection of heritage buildings and thus destroy the continuous narrative of the site. An example is the proposal to remove buildings like those from the 1960s on the site of the Parramatta Girls Home and leave only the old Roman Catholic Orphanage and the children’s hospital, Bethel (see Parragirls’ photo, above, right). Those newer buildings represent a change of government policy, when some of the girls gained access to education.There are many potential adaptive re-uses for all these buildings.

Parragirls represents girls formerly institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home. Under the leadership of Bonney Djuric, they have developed the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project.  It has been evolving since 2012. One of their long term aims is to establish Australia’s first International Site of Conscience. On UrbanGrowth’s open day, they were hosting an event, Long Time Coming Home, remembering the Stolen Generations and other Indigenous Australians who were separated from their families and communities. Above is the Mt Druitt Aboriginal Children’s Choir performing at the event. Unfortunately, it was finishing by the time I could get there, but from the pleasure expressed by departing audience member it was clear that the talking circle, art, song and storytelling were a great success.

This is the whole point of this post. Rather than the rush to sell off “surplus” land by the NSW government, let us all share in exploring the potential of this remarkable site. UrbanGrowth has shown us some of the real possibilities. In the meantime, we’ve just been alerted to another stunning government fiasco – Parramatta Advertiser, May 31, 20017, pages 8 – 9. Parramatta Council has blocked the use of the Old King’s School as the temporary Parramatta Primary School, owing to serious risk of flooding from the  adjoining Parramatta River. What does that say about former Premier, Mike Baird’s “thought bubble” proposal to move the Powerhouse Museum onto the nearby banks of the Parramatta River?

Three important comments have been received in the four hours since this post was published and are now added in the sequence in which they arrived:

  1. On Facebook from Cumberland Hospital historian Dr Terry Smith – “I have to say that I am deeply disappointed with what I’ve heard of the archeological interpretations of some of the finds on the site. Without any evidence whatsoever, one archeologist claimed in television interviews that patients were chained to the floor of the ward for the criminally insane and wiled away their days playing a harmonica. There is NO historical evidence that patients were chained to floors (or walls) of this ward. Apart from this fact, the patients in this ward were extremely dangerous and would never have been allowed a harmonica, the metal from which would have provided a easy weapon. The bedsteads were not buried in the 1870s but rather in the early 1960s when Dr Eric Hilliard wanted to remove as much of the old 19th century structures as possible that resembled a prison. This included filling in the Ha Has and demolishing the ward for the Criminally Insane and several old sandstonewalls! If these points can be so easily discounted, then one might wonder about the rigor of their other interpretations?
  2. From NPRAG president Suzette Meade – “UGNSW have in fact prepared a 3D model and submitted it to the Heritage Office 18 months ago (its in the minutes of the meeting available online to view). NPRAG requested for it to be viewable to public the staffer at the time said we could only look at it on their computer screen at their offices.
    We then submitted a Freedom of Information order to make it public and of course the reply was CABINET IN CONFIDENCE.
    What do they have to hide ?
  3. By email from TKD associate and senior heritage consultant  Sean Williams – “Part of the Cumberland Hospital (East Campus) site (essentially the Female Factory/Lunatic Asylum Precinct) and the Norma Parker Centre/Kamballa site is currently being assessed by the Federal Government for inclusion on the National Heritage List (NHL). UrbanGrowth NSW supports the listing.The Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy has confirmed that the NHL assessment is based on the identified heritage values of the place – ie the area nominated for inclusion on the NHL. The Federal Government does not take into consideration any current or future proposals for change unless they consider them to represent a substantial risk to the identified heritage values.

    In relation to world heritage listing, the Commonwealth has confirmed that the identification and assessment of the values would be expected to follow a similar rigorous approach to that for inclusion on the NHL, although the focus is on establishing whether the place has ‘outstanding universal values’.  Assuming that the site is nominated and the Commonwealth is satisfied that the place meets at least one of the 10 world heritage criteria, then it can refer the nomination to the World Heritage Centre to progress its evaluation and potential future inclusion on the WHL.  Again, UrbanGrowth NSW supports this listing.

    More about the WHL assessment process can be sourced from: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/about/world/world-heritage-listing-process.

    You can also visit the World Heritage Centre website at: http://whc.unesco.org/

  4. Another significant post was added to Facebook – History B4 High Rise about Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent

“Living Traces” offers an international vision for North Parramatta heritage site

1-living-traces-griefThanks to the vision and passionate commitment of artist Bonney Djuric, the current exhibition Living Traces – a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition – is giving us a glimpse of possibilities both poignant and beautiful. The possibilities are implicit in her proposed International Site of Conscience embracing the convict Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls Home. Both lie in the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct, a key site of Sydney’s colonial history from 1792 and part of the land of the Burramatta clan of the Darug people for at least 20,000 years.

This core of Australia’s national history is now threatened with subdivision and development by the NSW Government through its agency UrbanGrowth. The girls home is currently under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse and former individual male staff members are the subject of criminal investigations.

living-traces-workshop-bonney-djuricBonney, left, and the late Christina Green were the co-founders of Parragirls in 2006. Both had been institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home under a punitive welfare model  in the 1970s, though like most of the residents, neither had committed any crime. Both had struggled in adulthood to understand the harshness of their experiences and to find healing from the consequences. Parragirls was founded to assist other former residents to find similar recovery. As part of this process, following a chance meeting with artist Lily Hibberd, Bonney initiated the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project with Lily as creative director in 2012. There was little or no money. The early stages involved bringing to light through photography, history documentation, artworks, multimedia presentations and installations, a record of the abuses and punishments of life in the institution. A theatre production, a symposium conducted in partnership with UTS Shopfront and quiet meetings with former girls returning to face their past were all part of the process. They began to reach a wider public totally unaware of the history.

living-traces-workshop-gypsie-hayesAs Bonney explains in the Living Traces catalogue, “Important to both of us was coming up with a new model of ethical practice to engage with and interpret institutional sites of confinement that would place former occupants at the centre of the process rather than at the periphery as subjects, footnotes. . . . Slowly we have built community interest in the site, connections to arts, history and the museum sector, and are rekindling its early Indigenous history. Most importantly we’re exploring new ideas on how these sites can be used, and who should be involved in the process.” There are no similar models to guide the process. Aboriginal artist and Parragirl Gypsie Hayes, above, in a Living Traces workshop.

living-traces-workshop-jenny-mcnallyFor those of us who grew up outside Sydney and NSW, it it difficult to comprehend the fear and shame associated with the girls home. Although originally intended to provide safety and education in life skills for disadvantaged girls from the 1880s, instead it became a focus for brutality, moral judgements and the abuse of power, especially by male officers. As Bonney says in a video interview in Living Traces, “we were told we would never amount to anything.” Civic leaders and the media echoed these judgements, and until the home was forcibly closed in 1986, teenage girls were commonly threatened with the girls home if they didn’t behave. It was a mode of control and punishment, including shaved heads and solitary confinement, that had its origins in British naval practice in earlier centuries. Although Bonney and Christina Green (aka Riley) were each treated very differently in the home – Christina’s Aboriginality compounded her punishments – both buried their experiences until painful memory triggers became inescapable. For almost every former resident who survived the ordeal, this was the pattern – profound shame, guilt and burying memories of the past. Parragirl Jenny McNally, above, and her Living Traces collagraph, below.

living-traces-jenny-mcnallyLiving Traces, a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition has been a year long project with funding assistance from Arts NSW. Among the traces of the brutal and demeaning history perpetrated in the 19th century buildings of the Girls Home are names, initials and statements scratched into doors and window frames by girls locked in solitary confinement. So many records have been lost or destroyed by the state welfare authorities, and others not yet found, that sometimes the scratchings are the only evidence that a girl was ever there. Professional artists Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson conducted 16 workshops with 12 former Parragirls to create delicate multilayered collagraphs incorporating traces of these scratchings and others in which they respond to those marks on their own lives. The results are printed on exquisite German etching paper, displayed individually throughout the exhibition and gathered into collective artist books.

living-traces-bethel-its-time-for-transparencyThe exhibition is laid out in Bethel, left as seen at the launch of Living Traces, the children’s hospital built in 1862 for the adjacent Roman Catholic Orphanage opened in 1844. Both buildings were subsequently part of the Girls Home. A catalogue and information sheet guide visitors through rooms upstairs and downstairs, where sound recordings, videos, and installations create an atmospheric context for the stories being told. Upstairs in particular the sight of stripped back walls and scratchings on doors bear grim witness to the girls’ experiences. With the official opening on Saturday, September 24, performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay, presented the verbatim story of Jenny McNally’s struggle against shame and hiding her past from her family. As she spoke, she quietly wiped a window clean to reveal the words – It’s time for transparency. Her strength and dignity were almost palpable and her audience was deeply moved.

1-living-traces-its-time-for-transparencyArt is transforming a terrible history into a transcending experience uniquely personal and universally relevant, from which we can all learn and draw inspiration. Lily says, “Living Traces offers rare insight into the continuous history of a justice system that criminalises, incarcerates and punishes vulnerable children to this day.” For Bonney it is “opening up new ways of understanding ourselves as a nation who never questioned the rule of authority when it came to the fate of those who were placed in institutional care.” The goal is a Memory Museum for Women and Children for which they have already amassed a huge archive.

But there is an elephant in the room potentially threatening the future of the project, other than from the NSW Government. Without a unified voice, the government could easily ignore alternative proposals to their plans. In the last two years, government proposals for the site have led to the rise of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, which has been instrumental in mounting a widespread inclusive campaign to save the 30 hectare heritage precinct. With the National Trust and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, among others, they envisage a world class cultural, educational and tourist precinct that is economically viable and remains in public ownership. They have tried to engage Bonney and the Memory Project in the process. Last October they conducted a symposium about the future of the precinct drawing on a broad range of expert opinion and continue to garner support and commission alternative concepts to those of UrbanGrowth.

living-traces-bonney-djuricPrevious experience has taught Bonney to be deeply distrustful of heritage organisations, which “domesticate” or sentimentalise colonial history and fail to see the continuing impact on contemporary society. It is only her highly strategic and total commitment which has brought the project this far and won global recognition as the first Australian member of the 200 strong International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Bonney’s Living Traces collagraph, left.

About the Parramatta Memory Project Lily explains, “The Site of Conscience founding ethos is to bring ‘Memory to Action’ past and present experiences of women and children who have been in state welfare institutions. It is place of recognition for women and children who have been subjected to terrible injustice, cruelty and punishment in welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parramatta Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home are conjoined as the mother and child of this system from its colonial origins and legacies from the 20th century to the present day.

living-traces-gypsie-hayes“The Memory Museum for Women and Children will make the physical and emotional link between the Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home and the intergenerational and contemporary issues for all those who have similar experiences. This is a museum of inclusion: a home for otherwise disparate and vulnerable people: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and many others who have been treated unjustly and abandoned by the state and their carers.” International Sites of Conscience generate huge visitor numbers, she says, and strong economic returns. Gypsie Hayes’ Living Traces collagraph, left.

It’s time to talk. In the meantime, UrbanGrowth has just announced –

Sprout

Growing ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct

Two days of panel discussions, working sessions, inspirational presentations, site tours and displays to help us grow ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct. Thursday and Friday, November 10 and 11. The Chapel, Norma Parker Centre,
1 Fleet Street, North Parramatta NSW 2145.
Sprout
is free to attend. Pre-registration is required, as we have limited space. Register

I regret that I shall be unable to attend, but you can still make a contribution by phoning  Sara Wilson on 0419 815 087 or emailing parramattanorth@urbangrowth.nsw.gov.au

Living Traces continues only from Friday September 30 to next Sunday, October 2, 2 – 6pm, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta North.

Workshop images – Lucy Parakhina; Collagraph images – Lily Hibberd; Other images – Suzette Meade

Despite the weekend deluge, another step forward in saving public assets

NPRAG - Julie Owens 2 - PoolIt took a lot of commitment for people to trek through Sunday’s deluge to attend the protest march (see previous post) from Parramatta Pool to the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. In fact, the march had to be cancelled on police advice owing to safety concerns with flooding and wild winds. Nonetheless, a couple of hundred people crowded into the foyer of Parramatta War Memorial Pool to hear some stirring speeches. And they were well rewarded. Federal member for Parramatta, Julie Owens MP, above, announced that should a Shorten Labor Government be elected on July 2, one of their first actions would be a recommendation to the Australian Heritage Council that National Heritage status be granted to the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. The crowd cheered and applauded. National Heritage listing is a prerequisite for World Heritage listing, which was granted to the adjoining Old Government House in 2010.

NPRAG - Luke Foley - Suzette - PoolJulie Owens stated that Parramatta Park, which includes the swimming pool site, was declared as Australia’s first public park in 1858. Parramatta, she said, is not merely Sydney’s second CBD, but a leading Australian city dense with indigenous and colonial history. A succession of speakers expressed deep anger at the secrecy with which the Baird state government has developed its plans and how any objection was seen solely as rejection and the individuals as “haters”. Luke Foley MP, leader of the state opposition Labor Party, said he was in favour of the expansion of the stadium, which currently threatens the future of the pool, but he is also in favour of the pool. Why can’t we have both, he asked, to the cheers of the crowd. Luke Foley, above, with Suzette Meade, North Parramatta Resident Action Group president.

The rally was organised by NPRAG, which has been growing fast since it was formed only 18 month’s ago in response to community anger. The state government had announced the sale of much of the land in the North Parramatta Precinct as “surplus” and the development of thousands of new residences, including 20 and 30 storey apartments. Deputy leader of the opposition and shadow minister for planning, Michael Daley, described NPRAG as extraordinarily reasonable. Members have only asked for a pause and the opportunity for widespread community input into planning. They have not been intransigent in opposition to change and are open to ideas and discussion. In the crowd were members of Parramatta Swimming Club, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, Save the Powerhouse Museum, Western Sydney Wanderers, environmentalists, historians, local residents and supporters.

NPRAG - Jamie Parker - crowd - PoolJamie Parker MP, Greens member for Balmain, right, addressed the crowd about his own youthful memories of swimming at the Parramatta Pool and the role of the War Memorial pool in contributing to a strong sense of community. It takes years to create the resources valued by communities, he said, and to just remove them, without alternative, publicly discussed plans, is profoundly destructive. He fully supported the impassioned plea of a previous speaker, to consider the significance of the pool as a memorial to those who fell in World War II and the importance of providing low cost access and swimming lessons to children. Recent migrant families especially, may have no understanding of the dangers water poses for the inexperienced.

NPRAG - Luke Foley - crowd - PoolSpeaker after speaker made reference to the secrecy of government decision making as it affects the whole of NSW and to the subsequent distrust in which they are held by so much of the community. A representative of the CFMEU spoke angrily about Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as merchant bankers, who ignore the needs of ordinary citizens. While union members will hold steadfast to protecting the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, they have already been protecting the historic Windsor Bridge for more than a year. The state government plans to replace the bridge while demolishing the 1795 Thompson Square – the oldest town square in Australia. Windsor locals have now maintained a day and night vigil over their heritage for well over 1000 days.

NPRAG - Crowd - PoolNPRAG organisers made quite clear that they were not members of any political party, but that they would work with those politicians that gave priority to community needs and were prepared to be honest in discussion. Julie Owens said that for a long time she had tried to avoid involvement in what was essentially state business, but with the dismissal of elected local governments and no opportunity for democratic engagement, she felt a responsibility to step in. National Heritage listing is certainly a federal responsibility and a primary aim of NPRAG, The National Trust NSW, the Parramatta Female Factory Friends and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project.

Christina’s legacy reveals the ignorance of Alan Jones’ claim

Christina - St Joseph Hospital“Mum is finally at peace” – with these simple words, Christina Riley’s son marked the end of her long battle with illness, two days ago, at St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn. Chris was also known as Christina Green. Her life was an extraordinary story of resilience and survival against almost insurmountable odds. Born of Wiradjuri and European parents, Chris was taken from her family at the age of three. There appears to have been no other reason than that she was Aboriginal. With Bonney Djuric, Chris was the co-founder of Parragirls in 2006, women who survived incarceration and abuse as teenagers in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. In Bonney’s careful documentation of the emergence and evolution of the child welfare system in NSW, her book Abandon All Hope records that by 1909, the only reason needed for committal of Aboriginal girls to state care was “being Aboriginal”.

By the age of nine, after years of rape, torture and abuse at the hands of a foster family and with no memory of her birth family, Chris was taken into state institutional “care”. As she wrote in her recently published book, The Life of Riley, see below with Geoff Lee MP, “when human beings are Christina - Life of Riley launch 0914treated like filth, they lose their hope and their identity.” She was 13 when confronted with a crisis about who she was. At roll call, an officer “presented my first name, then surname, then two other surnames from my past foster parents, and ending with ‘whichever one you are’. Well that moment was a very embarrassing and dramatic 10 minutes of my life. I answered protesting she could use any name she bloody well liked, and walked off leaving everyone at assembly bewildered.”

Her “insubordination” set off a cycle of punishments and detentions at state institutions, including Parramatta Girls home. Eventually this led to three periods at the infamous Hay Institution for “the worst behaved, depraved, delinquent young girls in the state.” Amazingly, Chris survived the treatment meted out to her and with professional help, it took 25 years to write her book. It became the way she could eventually bring herself to look back at her past and try to understand why all this had happened to her. In the meantime, she became a foster carer to many children and mother to a family of her own. Her commitment to the protection of children and her later struggle to acquire an education were inspirational.

1-Christina - with granddaughter Oct 14As she reestablished links with her birth family, and worked with Bonney on the development of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, she put forward ideas for a memorial garden, an education and research centre, and recorded a video interview with Lily Hibberd which will have an important place as the proposals come to fruition. The site was an indigenous women’s place long before white colonisation and Chris was also developing a concept for Aboriginal cultural tourism. Increasing illness prevented her from furthering this idea, but she leaves a gift to the Australian community that will be increasingly recognised.

I am grateful that Chris could give the Acknowledgement to Country at the launch of my book in 2013.  Her extraordinary legacy of resilience and survival demonstrates the ignorance and injustice of radio shock jock Alan Jones’ recent tirade that “we need stolen generations”.

The photo above, taken 18 months ago, shows Chris in her favourite role, caring for one of her grandchildren. Rest in peace, Christina Riley.

Exposed to Moral Danger is confronting, but rewards the viewer

Exposed to Moral Danger0001Exposed to Moral Danger rewards anyone prepared to listen, observe and contemplate the impact of the former state run Parramatta Girls Home on the girls who were detained there. “Exposed to Moral Danger” is the charge under which most of the teenage occupants were held. The exhibition is both confronting and inspiring. For those who have seen it in conjunction with Alana Valentine’s play Parramatta Girls, at Riverside Theatres, it is particularly powerful and deeply moving. Without these illustrations, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to even begin to enter the world experienced by the much vilified “Parramatta Girls”.

Five artists worked for a year on creating works for Exposed to Moral Danger, at Bethel, on the site of the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Three of them are former “girls”, Les OubliettesBonney Djuric (her work Les Oubliettes, left), Christina Green and Jeannie Gypsie Hayes. Allow time to immerse yourself in the offerings. Their honesty and meaning are inescapable.

Christina is now too ill to attend in person, but co-curator of the exhibition Lily Hibberd has ensured her presence in a video interview recently recorded at Chris’s northern NSW home. Chris was taken from her Aboriginal Riley family as a three year old in 1958 and for more than a decade was shunted between foster homes and institutions, where she experienced varying degrees of punishment, extreme brutality and sexual abuse – all without explanation. At the age of 15, in a state of anger, bewilderment and confusion, she was sent to Parramatta Girls Home and from there, three times to the old Hay Gaol for the severest forms of punishment.

In the video, Chris responds to Lily’s gentle questioning with candour and simplicity. Although her education was very limited, Chris began writing a few notes about her life more than 25 years ago. Over time, it became a way of gaining some perspective on what had befallen her. She found she was entitled to counseling, which became a critical support in her efforts to piece together her own life and ultimately to assist other “girls” to find healing and peace of mind.

2. Christina GreenIn the next few weeks, Chris’s story The Life of Riley will be published as part of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project. Like Lily’s video recording of the same name, the most extraordinary qualities of the book are Christina’s spiritual strength, her wisdom and warmth. She has come to accept the cruelties and injustices, embraced her Wiradjuri dreaming and worked for respect and mutual understanding between Aboriginal and non-indigenous Australians.

For a decade, she has worked with Bonney Djuric to raise the profile of the Parramatta Precinct and its nomination as Australia’s first national Site of Conscience – a place of remembering, learning and creativity. Her commitment to telling her story she hopes will encourage others who suffer to seek healing. These days she is inspired and blessed by the support of her children and grandchildren. In the photo above, Chris gives the Acknowledgement to Country at the book launch of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, Parramatta, March 2013.

The upper level of the Bethel building is still very difficult for some former girls to visit. There they met with brutality and rape by some of the most senior officials and incarceration in cells that still bear their rebellious carvings and scratchings on old doors. While absorbing the meaning of the markings on the doors and Bonney’s evocative installations, you are surrounded by Jeannie’s hurt and mocking voice reading her poem Little China Doll.

Downstairs, artist and prison teacher Liz Day has created a delicate installation around the letters ILWA, which girls used many times to mark their bonds with each other against abuses by authorities. Healing, growth and hope are symbolised by the soft grasses emerging from moist soils, while grass roots and leaves are revealed in positive and negative images of ILWA.

Memory of Water proposal (1)-001Among several works by Darug descendant, artist and prison teacher Leanne Tobin are her sketches for Memory of Water, left and below, a proposed future garden and waterway. The project would link the site to its former use as an important ceremonial place for Burramattagal women and its subsequent colonial and 20th century uses.

Memory of Water item sketchesExposed to Moral Danger will extend beyond its original closing date of May 18, though opening hours will be reduced. Check detail. Although resources for the exhibition were limited, it provides a remarkable glimpse of the possibilities of the site as part of the future North Parramatta framework masterplan.

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.