History of abuse inspires commitment to Parramatta National Site of Conscience

Norma Parker CentreHorrific and heartbreaking stories are being told by former residents of the government operated Parramatta Girls Training School (pictured – also known as Parramatta Girls Home.) at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, today, Wednesday, February 26. http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/newsroom/webcasts/ The women speak with searing honesty, strength and dignity. The high personal, emotional cost of bearing witness in this way is nonetheless partly outweighed by the relief of being heard respectfully by a government agency. They hope to contribute to healing processes within their families and society, to bring remaining perpetrators of abuse to justice, and the implementation of child welfare policies that give children a voice, allow them to be heard, understood and cared for.

It seems amazing that some of these women have survived at all to tell their stories with such passion and clarity. It is little short of a miracle that a small group of former girls, led by Bonney Djuric, is committed to turning the site – part of the colonial Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – into a place of healing, education, creativity and ultimately, Australia’s first National Site of Conscience. To this end, they are organising a Children’s Day at the Parramatta site, on Sunday, March 9.


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.