At around 5am on 22 December, on Fleet Street in Parramatta, something dismaying happened - part of the heritage-listed building, most recently known in its long and somewhat shadowed history as the Norma Parker Periodic Detention Centre for Women, was destroyed by fire.
|Norma Parker Periodic Detention Centre minus roof|
The building has had several incarnations during its 168 years. It was originally purpose-built as a government orphanage for Catholic children, and opened in 1844 with 113 charges under the age of 13. Nearby in the same precinct in the grounds of the present Cumberland Hospital are the remains of the Parramatta Female Factory, the mean, dirty and overcrowded facility in which an estimated two thirds of convict women transported to New South Wales spent time.
Over the years the Roman Catholic Orphan School was extended until it could accommodate 250 children, though overcrowding still occurred and sanitation suffered. Social policy changed with the State Children Relief Act (1881) which disfavoured barrack-style institutions, the school was closed and the orphans turfed out in August 1886. It reopened the following year as the Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls, housing neglected or destitute girls (classed as 'perishing'), and those with criminal convictions (classed as dangerous), placed there by the child welfare authorities. Girls at risk of 'moral danger' were also admitted, ie. ones who went with boys, ran wild, or wagged school (compulsory after 1880). Ages ranged from nine (after 1946 this was raised to 12) up to 18.
Parramatta wasn't the first industrial school in NSW. One had opened in disused military barracks in the Government Domain off Watt Street in Newcastle in 1867 - the Newcastle Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls. But after inmates, apparently mostly Sydney girls, repeatedly rioted, used 'obscene language' and busted out, it closed in 1871 and the girls were transferred to a new facility - the Biloela Industrial and Reformatory School for Females - on Cockatoo Island in Sydney. In 1887, the Biloela girls were moved to the industrial school at Parramatta.
The Parramatta Industrial School for Girls is more commonly known as the Parramatta Girls Home, or the Parramatta Girls Training School. Life there, by most accounts, was hell. On arrival all girls were stripped and searched, and for a time intimately examined to assess whether they were sexually active - regardless of why they'd been admitted. How incredibly offensive, and irrelevant. They were issued with a number, a coverall as a uniform, and underpants but no bra - convict slops, basically. There were no lockers for personal belongings, no locks on showers or toilets and, judging by photos, a continuation of the earlier orphanage's barracks-style accommodation. Musters and body searches occurred daily, mail was censored, schooling absolutely minimal. Sexual, physical and psychological abuse were commonplace. Punishments were gruelling, and anti-psychotic and sedative medications used to restrain some girls.
|Rooftop riot Parramatta Girls Home 1961 |
Photo courtesy parragirls.org.au
During its long history, Parramatta Girls Home accommodated around 30,000 girls, with an average of 160 in residence at any one time, peaking at 307 in 1970. Between 7 and 12% of those girls were of indigenous heritage.
In 1975 the old home was renamed Kamballa (Girls) and Taldree (Boys) Childrens Shelter. Taldree operated until 1980, and Kamballa until 1983. In 1980, the Department of Corrective Services took over the original Catholic orphanage buildings and established the Norma Parker Correctional Centre for Women, a small, low security prison. It closed in 1997, reopened as the Norma Parker Periodic Detention Centre for Women, but had ceased operating again by 2010.
Some of the women who had been through the Parramatta Girls Home reunited for the first time in 2003. Sydney playwright Alana Valentine has written a very successful play, Parramatta Girls, based on their experiences, which premiered in 2007. On 16 November 2009 the Prime Minister apologised nationally to the 'Forgotten Australians' - all those children placed in orphanages, children's homes, foster care, and other forms of 'out-of-home' care during the 20th century.
Comprehensive and very informative website dedicated to promoting the preservation of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct http://www.parragirls.org.au/
For information on creative contributions towards the PFF Memory Project, and the planned Public History Symposium later in 2013
Alana Valentine talks about 'Parramatta Girls'
Newcastle Industrial School (by Jane Ison) http://nis.wikidot.com/