In late October/early November I was invited to Sweden along with Associate Professor Jacqui Wilson of Federation University (another Care Leaver) to talk about the state of play with the Australian Royal Commission’s recommendations on redress.
We planned to present an essentially negative story about why the Australian government had rejected the Commission’s recommendations on redress. Despite intensive lobbying by CLAN and other stakeholder, the government had been silent for more than a year on the whole question of redress.
A few days before we were due to present our paper, the government dropped a bomb. There would be a national independent redress scheme after all! There was much joy and excitement.
However, after frantic phone calls, emails and texts between us and our well-informed colleagues in Australia Jacqui and I were soon alerted to be cautious about changing the main thrust of our presentation. As the details (and the lack of them when Ministers were pressed for answers) one commentator (Wendy Bacon) accurately summed up the position: it was like getting a kiss and then a kick.
The opt-in principle is a cop-out
The scheme was to be based on an opt-in principle – and it was (and remains) clear that some of the States and churches were (and are) not too keen to opt in.
With the ink hardly dried on the government’s media release and a government-inspired Q&A sheet which had more Qs than As, Jacqui and I quite dubbed it a Clayton’s Redress Scheme. The participants – from over a dozen nations – needed a translation! It’s like the drink you have when you’re not having a drink, we explained. They got the point.
A couple of weeks ago, the CLAN CEO and I joined with a group of advocates, lawyers and other stakeholders in meeting with the Australian Minister for Social Services (Christian Porter) and (separately) with Opposition and cross-bench Parliamentarians in Canberra.
Minister Porter was not able to give us any firm commitments or expand on our knowledge about the National Redress Scheme that his government was proposing. Nothing had been clarified between the initial announcement and this meeting – at least nothing the government was prepared to divulge.
Mr Porter acknowledged that his government has no powers to oblige anyone to opt in to the scheme (except the two Territories who are small players anyway). He conceded that at least one State was implacably opposed to it and the five other states were non-committal. Likewise, he was not able to say which churches and charities, if any, have opted in.
His stock answer to our long list of questions was, “We are still working on that”.
The only clear commitment was to set up an Advisory Council which would, he said, have its first meeting before Christmas.
The Advisory Council
A few days ago Minister Porter’s colleague, the Attorney-General George Brandis, issued a statement announcing the names of the Advisory Council. There will be 15 members, among them CLAN’s CEO, Leonie Sheedy, and Caroline Carroll, the current Chair of the so-called Alliance for Forgotten Australians. These are the only Care Leavers on the Advisory Council.
The media release explains “the principal purpose” of the Advisory Council will be to give the government “independent advice”. It also indicates four areas in which particular advice will be sought.
One of these areas is “the governing principles that underpin the scheme”, which is strange given the government already has a very detailed report on that matter from the Royal Commission.
Another area – “how to best encouragestate, territory and non-government institution participation in the scheme” – seems very odd. Surely, it’s the Australian government’s role to work out how to get other levels of government and the churches and charities to join a national scheme.
The fourth area – about how the proposed national scheme should interact with “other redress schemes” – is something that Jacqui and I commented on in our Norrkoping presentation. It goes to fundamental problems inherent in grafting a sexual-abuse-only scheme on to schemes that have given redress to survivors of other forms of abuse and neglect. It will also turn on the question of how a proposed broad-based scheme for survivors of abuse in all forms of institutions can be integrated with schemes that focused on survivors in 24/7 closed institutions only.
The members of the Council have not yet been given a date for their first meeting or a schedule of dates thereafter.
In sum, an Advisory Council has been set up to provide advice to the Australian government, but the “opt-in-if-you-like” principle of state/territory governments and churches and charities remains in place and as of today’s date there is no change to the position Jacqui and I outlined in Norrkoping.
That is, the Australian government has made a public announcement about a redress scheme but is a very long way from being in a position to make it work. There is reason to believe it never will, unless there is a drastic re-casting.
This was the title of a paper I presented at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne on 13 December 2016 at a conference entitled (Re)Examining Historical Childhoods: Literary, Cultural, Social.
The conference was organised by the Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth.
I am working this paper up as a result of feedback and ideas raised in the discussion, and will publish it in full in early 2017, so I will only give the merest idea of what I covered on the day.
First I showed how the appalling language used by welfare and media over decades reflected (and in some cases still reflects) the values that underpin the prevailing views of working-class children and their families. Essentially, it is the language of contempt and disdain.
At the same time, the language signalled the power relations which oppressed and silenced those on the bottom rungs of Australian society. In particular, the voices of children are missing from what passes as the history of child welfare. Nobody thought that children might have something worth listening to – a theme that emerged time and again during the Senate Inquiry (Forgotten Australians 2004).
In addition, the personal records that Care Leavers find in the archives are totally inadequate – many are short on real facts, and are inaccurate, unbalanced, and misleading. (Not to mention the knee-jerk reaction to censorship when ‘third-party’ people are found in our records.)
A great deal has changed in the ‘Age of Testimony‘ in which thousands of former residents of instituions have told their stories to commissions of inquiry – have gone on record, and have been believed. I likened these stories to a kind of counter-narrative or crowd-sourced alternative history.
This alternative history is challenging and changing the way many historians look at the past. I also briefly alluded to ways in which Care Leavers are (re) examining their childhood narratives and reconstructing more complex and nuanced counter-narratives of their lives and that of their families.
I gave a brief sampling from my recently-completed work on my mother’s side of the family. From an inauspicious starting point with an 11-year-old boy incarcerated at the wish of his brutish stepfather in 1865, I have discovered more than 30 members of the family who have been sent to a total of 16 different Victorian institutions over five generations. And the welfare system had no means of joining the dots that made up the story of this family.
Given the paucity of official records kept on these children, I have had to reconstruct my family’s story from a wide range of sources found outside the welfare industry. My manuscript is almost finished and I will be looking to publish the book in 2017 with the tentative title:
That’s Not My Child: The Welfare and a Family at War.
The Past is Not a Closed Chapter – It Shapes the Whole Book of Our Lives
This was the title of a talk I presented in Adelaide on 30 November 2016 at a workshop as part of the Routes to the Past Project, co-sponsored by the University of Melbourne, CLAN and the Dulwich Centre located in Adelaide.
If you do not know of the excellent work done on narrative therapy at the Dulwich Centre I strongly recommended you have a look at its website here .
The Routes to the Past Project is exploring the potential of collaborative approaches to counter-narratives using a range of approaches including
social work practices
therapeutic life story work.
My paper highlighted the absence of the voice of Care Leavers in their historical personal records – and how one-sided that makes the narrative. And, in many cases how inaccurate and misleading the story is that is told in the official record.
I talked about ways in which Care Leavers can be helped to become the experts and interpreters of their own histories and life stories. In the words of David Denborough of the Dulwich Centre:
“Every one has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.”
There was a gratifying amount of interest in my presentation at Parramatta on 20 October as part of a panel on Righting the Record: Towards a National Summit.
The Archivists Society of Australia has placed a live video of the presentation on U-Tube at:
Furthermore, it will appear in the next issue of Archives and Manuscripts, the journal of the Australian Society of Archivists (published by Taylor & Francis).
Reaching back into a strange past
This is a lightly edited version of a presentation I gave as a panel member at the Archivists Society of Australia (ASA) in Parramatta NSW, on 20 October 2016.
Other members of the Panel, which was chaired by Joanne Evans of Monash University, were:
Bonney Djuric – artist, author, activist and founder of Parragirls and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project, which supports Parragirls to document their stories and preserve the Girls Home and adjacent Female Factory as Australia’s first Site of Conscience.
Barbara Reed – a consultant in the field of records, archives and information management. She has been involved in a number of project, including the recently published Best Practice Access Principles and Guidelines for Care Leavers Records. Barbara has also been a consultant on records for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Sue McKemmish – Associate Dean of Graduate Research and Director of the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics at Monash University. Since 1990, Sue has developed and taught Australia’s leading professionally accredited graduate program in archives and recordkeeping. Her research focusses on archives and human rights, and the participatory or inclusive archive.
In the hour before our panel, Justice Jennifer Coate, of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, gave a most interesting address on the Royal Commission’s perspectives on records and archives. I will post a link to her speech when it is posted on the Commission’s website.
The Royal Commission provides a fresh and insightful assessment of the state of play in historic recordkeeping practices. The Commission frames the discussion through the twin concepts of
records as core business and
records as in the best interests of the child.
These are both critically important. The real challenge is making those concepts work in reality.
However, the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference have created problems. As Justice Coate explained, the vast array of institutions it encompasses vary enormously in scope, what they do for children, and the way they operate. It is difficult to offer advice about records that is pertinent to all.
The records that should be kept about 24/7 ‘locked-in’ children must necessarily be very different from those kept about a child who voluntarily attends a sporting club or a community organisation on a sessional basis.
By contrast to that broad remit, the Commission is limited to a narrow focus on matters relating to sexual abuse. We at CLAN say that accurate records must be kept about all critical events affecting the nurturing and protection of the child in care, not just sexual abuse.
We envy the records of childhood that others take for granted—birth certificates, photographs, artworks, school reports and medical histories, and other childhood mementos.
Reaching back to a strange past
We survivors of 24/7 ‘locked-in’ institutions reach back into a strange past where birthdays, anniversaries, christenings and other family occasions were never celebrated. We reach back to a past where there were no family stories handed down by parents and other relatives. A past which disconnected us from family and community.
In reaching back to this past, we apply for our ‘file’ expecting to find detailed, accurate records about our time in ‘care’ and the answers to questions about our childhood, e.g.
Who put me into ‘care’? Why? Many think we must have done something wrong.
Where were my parents? Many of us were told, sometimes maliciously, that our parents did not love us, were dead, or were bad people.
What became of my brothers and sisters? Many of us were split up.
What medical treatments and vaccinations did I receive? I feel a goose when the doctor asks and I can’t tell her.
Did I have school reports and certificates?
Why was I transferred to other placements?
Who were the staff who looked after me? Did they record the fights I had?
In short, the archived records represent a repository of hope where we will find answers to questions that have nagged away at us, all the years of our adulthood.
Many Care Leavers are profoundly disappointed, even shocked and sometimes re-traumatised because, if their records haven’t been lost or destroyed:
Many have large gaps in information, meaning it is not possible to create a coherent story
Many contain inaccurate or misleading statements
Official records are almost entirely negative. Far from finding milestones and achievements as we grew older, we discover the content is almost always about us as problems and we find insulting and demeaning, or downright hostile comments about us or our parents
Parents and children were rarely encouraged to keep in contact. Letters were rare; and even when they were written, sometimes they were not given to the child to whom they were addressed. Nobody thought it important to keep alive the prospect of reunion or reconnection with our family in the future. The records were never envisaged as an important resource to that end.
Records are one-dimensional
We Care Leavers were never given the opportunity to contribute to our personal record—so what passes as an account of our childhood is one-dimensional. It’s clear that the writers of those records never imagined that the subject of their writings might one day read what was written about them and their families. The makers of records could write opinions masquerading as facts without being made accountable for their value judgements. In effect, they compiled secret dossiers—and were never called to account.
Rights to records
The Royal Commission’s Consultation Paper on Records and Recordmaking does not give sufficient weight to fundamental issues relating to rights about personal records.
The United Nation’s Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) declares
the right of the child to an identity,
the right to maintain contact with parents,
the right to have a say in decisions that affect them.
The Convention should influence how records are made and gaining access to them.
Some of you may know the National Standards for out-of-home care, which were agreed across the national child protection community in 2011. Standard 10 states:
Children and young people in care are supported to…have their life history recorded as they grow up…to help them recall the people and events that have shaped their lives.
CLAN has written its own Charter of Rights to Childhood Records. High on the agenda is the retrospective application to Care Leavers of the right of the child to contribute to the making of the record and the right of the child to share ownership of the record once it is made.
We agree with David Denborough who says:
Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.
Counter-narratives: hearing the silenced voices
It is not too late to learn the importance of involving children in contributing to their own story. Children in Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) today can and should have the right to make a contribution to their record as it develops. This can be done in a range of creative ways other than by written documents.
Is there a way of doing this retrospectively for Care Leavers? In the vast majority of cases, the official records do not supply a coherent narrative that meets the need to know the truth about the past, and to tell the truth to others such as our children.
Therefore, CLAN is encouraging a process of creating a counter-narrative that is richer and more psychologically satisfying for Care Leavers, and to offer a more balanced history to other Australians.
In part, this can be in the form of using existing rights to add our own version of events to official records where they are inaccurate or misleading—or incomplete.
Preferably, it means writing our own versions of our stories gleaned from sources outside official records, and publishing them in a variety of modes and spaces. This is happening more and more, and we urge more Care Leavers to get to work on their stories.
Interpreting the metaphors of our lives
Let me finish with an anecdote to make the point that paper documents sent to the archives are not the only truth. It concerns the former Ballarat Orphanage, my home for eleven years. This struggle will interest Bonney Djuric and others who fought to preserve the historic Parramatta site.
In 2011, former residents of the Orphanage began a long campaign to constrain the demolition plans of the new owner of the privatised heritage site. Facing the Victorian Heritage Council, and later the City Council and the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal, the developer commissioned a history. This old brick wall circa 1880s was under scrutiny.
The hired historian ducked into the paper archives and reconstructed this description of the wall:
the pier-braced brick boundary wall…runs for approximately 100 metres, and most of this is in a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond with three stretchers separating each header. The wall was evidently punctuated by a gateway, as there is a clearly ‘filled-in’ part with much later brick and a dip in cornice height of about 30cm. This section is about 10m-wide in stretcher bond.
I think of all those children whose lives were governed by that wall—and those who used it as their means of escape. I was one who regularly sat on that wall facing the spot where the tram terminated at the Orphanage corner, hoping and yearning to see one of our parents alight. The weeks turned into years before, one day, our father did step off a tram—and after he had gone, the Superintendent told me Dad would not be allowed to visit us any more if he upset me again.
My brothers and I were reunited at the wall 40 years later. In our minds—our personal archives—we would never think of it as ‘a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond’.
The past can’t remain the exclusive property of the powerful. Ultimately, we are all historians capable of making meanings of the metaphors of our experience.
 For ways in which records re-traumatise Care Leavers see: Jacqueline Z Wilson & Frank Golding, Latent scrutiny: personal archives as perpetual mementos of the official gaze, Archival Science, Vol. No. 1: pp 93-109.
This is the text of a short presentation I gave at a gathering at Monash University on 14 September 2016.
The occasion was the 10th Anniversary of COSI (the Centre for Organisational & Social Informatics – a flash name for a dynamic group of research academics who work in partnership with community groups on issues around records, archives, information systems, and the management of knowledge).
Ideas for research
The first place to look for ideas is the Royal Commission. While we regret that the Abbott/Turnbull governments have so far rejected the Commission’s recommendation for a national independent redress scheme, it would be an utter waste of time (5 years) and public funds (more than $500 million) if we don’t build on their work in a number of other important areas.
To quote Linda Tilgner from Maria Tumarkin’s essay in The Conversation last week:
There is a window of opportunity around the Royal Commission. If that window closes, it’s gone…The danger is that the Royal Commission actually becomes a destructive process because it creates a false perception that we have done something when we haven’t.
The personal files emanating from these private sessions (around 7,000) will be sealed—not available to researchers for decades—but we have a mountain of aggregated public data that we can and should make use of.
To date there have been
44 Case Studies (with fully indexed transcripts and reports of findings),
26 research reports (with more coming as we speak), and
13 consultation or issues papers (which have generated nearly 900 public submissions).
Lots of these reports have the capacity to be enriched and developed further, refined, applied—not to forget archived. As recently as Monday this week in his opening remarks at the 44th Case Study, the Chair of the Commission, Justice McLellan said:
Apart from providing a valuable resource for the Commission these reports will be an authoritative source for other research and policy work long after the Commission has completed its final report.
That’s a gilt-edged invitation to researchers and policy wonks to get their sleeves rolled up.
In this gathering, I hardly need mention the Commission’s Consultation Paper on Records and Recordkeeping Practices. The closing date is 3 October and I expect everyone here will be having a close look at the Paper and making a written submission. You have so much to offer. The Paper raises many timely issues. And these will be live in the years ahead.
One of the most striking aspects of the work of the Royal Commission is that the closed institutions—orphanages, children’s Homes, youth detentions centres, and even foster care—are still generating a disproportionate workload. Of the nearly 6,000 private hearings, some 44% of all reported sexual abuse occurred in these closed institutions. Many of them date back 20, 30, 40, 50 and more years ago. History has not done with these victim/survivors (not to mention other forms of child abuse which the Royal Commission hasn’t looked at because of its Terms of Reference being limited to sexual abuse).
And yet, although we have demolished the old warehouses for children, we seem to have solved very little—and learned even less about OHHC (Out-of-Home Care: a modern term for separating children from their families) Consider this graph from the Productivity Commission:
In the past decade we have seen an 80% increase in the number of Australian children who cannot live with their families. More than enough children to fill Etihad Stadium. And an outrageously high proportion of these castaway children are Indigenous. Imagine the questions the new Royal Commission will be asking in 2030.
There are many questions researchers could apply to the current situation. A couple of examples:
How is the welfare system handling the rights of these 43,000 children e.g. their right to maintain contact with their families and community?
What sort of records are being made? What will change in the archiving practices available to the next Royal Commission?
If you are looking for work projects, look no further than the new wave of OOHC.
One of the recurrent issues arising in the Royal Commission’s research projects is the lack of uniformity across Australia on definitions of key terms and on what is collected and reported.
Time and again, research reports start with a grizzle about the problems of fluctuating terminology. The AIFS compiled a guide to statutory definitions of child sexual abuse in 2013, and even within that limited area, there is no agreement on terminology. Each Australian state and territory has constitutional power to make laws relating to child protection. These laws, created in different jurisdictions at different times, vary in scope and nature and there has never been a unified approach across the nation.
Why do definitions matter?
They matter because they affect how we conceptualise problems, how we prioritise issues, and create policy responses and change practice.
Take terms like ‘emotional abuse’ and ‘psychological abuse’ which appear frequently in reports. Professor Patrick Parkinson advised the Royal Commission against including emotional or psychological abuse within the compass of any national redress scheme because the terms lack objectivity.
Of course, it is equally open to Parkinson to suggest that emotional or psychological abuse be authoritatively defined so that it can be included in redress schemes.
On the other hand, there are terms that are insensitive and even offensive e.g. ‘child sexual abuse perpetrator’, ‘child prostitution’, and ‘child-on-child sexual abuse’ (the latter sadly used without proper care even by the Royal Commission).
So there’s a big job of work to do in analysing the language used in reports and striving for some consensus about what we mean. We could look at the work of ECPAT published just this year: Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, Adopted by the Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 28 January 2016
The National Summit on Rights to Records
I’m hoping the national summit and related projects like Routes to the Past will generate ongoing research; e.g. archiving the counter-narratives.
We know there are hundreds of counter-narratives ‘out there’, and more are coming every week. To a large extent, Care Leavers are driven by their concern that officials have expropriated their stories. And Care Leavers are saying: nothing about us without us!
I think archivists are getting the message that not all ‘documents’ are words on paper. Many Care Leavers were deprived of formal schooling and are not at their best in writing down their thoughts – although I hasten to add that it would be condescending to underestimate them intellectually – as was the case so often when they were children.
We must never overlook the other forms that are increasingly appearing. Over the past couple of years, I have seen members of CLAN create political and personal ‘documents’ in the following formats:
videos (smart phones give us access to new creative forms)
artworks (ranging from sculpture to pavement chalk work)
donations of childhood memorabilia to the Australian Orphanage Museum at CLAN headquarters in Sydney.
It would be great to have an accessible inventory or searchable archive of this rich source of Care Leaver history. CLAN is doing marvellous work but its resources are limited and so are its technical prowess when it comes to archiving.
So there’s an agenda to start with.
 Opening Remarks, Case Study 44, 12 September, Sydney
ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) is a European-based non-governmental organisation and a global network of civil society organisations. ECPAT initiated an Interagency Working Group to draft a set of Terminology Guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The Guidelines were adopted in 2016 in a meeting in Luxembourg (hence dubbed the “Luxembourg Guidelines”). The Guidelines set out three categories of terms.
A term appears to have a generally agreed meaning and/or can be used without stigmatising and/or otherwise harming the child; e.g. child sexual abuse
Where there is some disagreement, special attention should be paid to how this term is used.
A brilliant essay given by Maria Tumarkin at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday 7 September 2016.
A short version was published in The Conversation on Friday 9 September – reprinted here with permission.
Among other things, Maria asked: “Have we outsourced the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission?” Some say yes. Others, like Maria, asks: Who is the ‘we’ in the question?
What is the link to Svetlana Alexeviech and Chernobyl? Child sexual abuse, says Maria, is like radiation poisoning, omnipresent and invisible.
It stays in people’s lives like radiation stays in the soil for thousands of years. It stays in families and physical places. It kills people. It makes people sick for generations to come. It is that future that is already here. No colour. No smell. Nothing to tell us it’s here.
She draws on the words of Psychiatrist , Paul Valent, to introduce another startling metaphor:
Some people call child sexual abuse ‘soul murder’. It is a real destruction of a person’s value and dignity … Generationally too … It interferes with love. It is the opposite of loving.
Maria argues that, if ‘we’ are outsourcing the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission, it will count for nothing in the end ‘if we continue relying on it to do the work of public reckoning with the history of systemic sexual abuse of children in this country’. It’s our work.
Copy of a Find & Connect blog post announcing a new grants round by Genevieve Wauchope | RAD2 Grants Officer, Find & Connect project:
A new round of the Records Access Documentation grants for organisations to document records relating to care leavers will open in October. Successful projects will be funded to $15 000.
The grants are being funded as part of the National Find and Connect services, to support eligible organisations to describe records relating to children living in ‘care’ during the 1920s-1980s. The purpose is to improve access for past care-leavers to records that have not yet been properly documented.
At the end of the projects, information about the records (not the records themselves) will be included on the Find & Connect website to assist Care Leavers and support services in finding out what documents exist and where they can be found. This will cut back on time and frustration spent trying to trace important records.
The RAD2 Grants Round has taken on feedback from the previous grants round in 2012 and made the application process easier and simpler. Applications will be online and will be open for longer. There is also a project officer based in the Find and Connect web resource team to help out along the way.
Workshops will be held around the country during the application period to discuss potential projects and help records holders decide if they want to apply. We’ll also be hosting webinars as support for those who can’t attend a workshop in person. Further workshops will be held in 2017 for successful grant applicants. If you’re interested in attending a workshop later this year, let us know by contacting email@example.com. We’ll go where there’s the greatest demand, so don’t forget to get in touch! For places we can’t get to, we’ll run webinars, so no-one will miss out.
We’ll keep you updated on the blog as the workshops are scheduled and grant applications open. All the grant information will be available from the Find and Connect web resource once the application period opens.
This is an updated version of a paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association in Ballarat July 2016
Scene 1: 1956
I’m 18 and studying at the Ballarat Teachers’ College in Dana Street. It’s our weekly assembly. We all stand up to sing from our blue song-books: ‘Ballaarat’.
A city built on gold , She gave her wealth untold.
It made our land, so great and grand,, A Land of Liberty…
…So let your voices ring, In praise of everything.
At B.A. double L., double A.R.A.T.
Now, more than 50 years on, I can’t believe I sang along ‘in praise of everything’: just three years earlier, I had escaped from the emotional wasteland of the local Orphanage. But I sang as heartily and artlessly as any of my fellow teachers-in-training.
Scene 2: May 2015
The ABC’s 7.30 is on the telly. Leigh Sales stares down the barrel of the camera:
Tomorrow, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heads to Ballarat. The regional Victorian city was home to some of the most notorious paedophiles Australia has ever seen. The effect of the abuse has been felt far wider than simply amongst the many victims. It’s intergenerational and it’s scarred the entire city.
I travel to the County Court in Ballarat the next day with questions on my mind. Will these revelations shake the core beliefs about the city? Will Ballarat people, brought up like me on the stories of Eureka’s ‘wealth untold’ and the birth of liberty, ever look upon their city in the same way again?
How will historians of the future encapsulate this city? Will they agree with David Marr that ‘Ballarat in the 1970s…was one of the unsafest places for a Catholic child to grow up…’? Why just Catholic children?
Scene 3: back to the 1850s
I put those thoughts on hold while I meditate on a largely invisible part of Ballarat’s history. Over the years, Ballarat has created some 19 institutions for its outcast children. I grew up in one of them.
It is painful to track the many ways we children were described. In the nineteenth century we were: criminal, neglected, destitute, abandoned, illegitimate, wayward, waifs and strays, urchins and vagabonds, street Arabs and youthful Bedouins. In the twentieth century we were children without sufficient means, or, more recently, children in need of care and protection.
You can tell from the labels that there was compassion, but it was never far from other emotions: fear, loathing and blame. As early as 1856, the Ballarat Star pleaded for compassion for the child casualties of the gold rush:
[P]rosperity and progress seem fairly to be our destiny. On the other hand, want and woe, vice and crime, are fearfully prominent in our community. In many a desolate tent…lies the subject of conjugal or parental desertion; or the unhappy victim of “sickness unto death,”…the most abject destitution.
The Star also cited a number of cases of appalling sexual exploitation of young girls. The writer called on Ballarat’s civic leaders:
to initiate a project for the establishment of an institution which shall combine in its organisation the features of an orphan and destitute asylum, a female penitentiary, and an immigrant depot…
Three years later, the Star was running a ‘law and order’ crusade: to rid the streets of urchins who were, it said, …‘hastening with a fatal facility into an appalling precocity in vice and crime’. Children had to be rescued from drunken fathers, vicious mothers, grown-up sisters working as prostitutes, and the ‘fatal influence of parental example’.
With a Benevolent Asylum for the aged and infirm about to open its doors, the paper made a plea for a section to be set aside for children.
The Star made a distinction between ‘young vagrants and criminals’ on the one hand, and the ‘yet uncriminal orphans’ on the other hand. A separate reformatory and district orphanage were called for.
The Benevolent Asylum opened in 1860, and by 1864 there were more than enough children to warrant a large school on site. The Victorian government paid a subsidy to the Asylum of £3 per month per ‘orphan’, but it was clear that it was not desirable for children to be housed together with unmarried mothers (‘fallen women’) and people who were aged or chronically ill.
These children were gradually removed. The older ones were indentured as servants. Some were despatched to industrial schools (including the new Ballarat Industrial School for girls which opened in 1869). Others ‘considered too “superior” for State care’ were transferred to the new Orphan Asylum which opened its doors late in 1865 at the other end of town.
The Orphan Asylum’s Committee of Management made it clear from the outset that while it would take in children of ‘the Orphans of honorable parents’ (‘the perishing classes’) it did not want children of ‘the criminal and abandoned’ (‘the dangerous classes’). Parents and guardians would be put straight if they ‘labored under the impression that all Orphans, without regard to legitimacy, morals or respectability, were to be received’ into the Asylum.
No child would be admitted without a birth certificate and a marriage certificate showing father’s name; and a doctor’s certificate declaring that the child was free of contagious diseases. The dichotomy of the deserving and undeserving poor lingered for decades. In 1943, when I was admitted to the Ballarat Orphanage (the tag was changed in 1909), my medical report declared me free of syphilis and epilepsy (but, ‘without blood tests’). At least the requirement to show a marriage certificate had been waived.
The Ballarat Orphanage warehoused more than 200 children at any one time, including many wards of the state. Most were not orphans: they were children whose parents were incapacitated through illness, or whose families were unable to look after them because of poverty or homelessness or family breakdown, desertion or – despite the original rules – children of unmarried mothers or those with a parent in prison.
The Catholics, of course, had additional, separatist reasons for setting up two large institutions of their own: Nazareth House in Mill Street and St Joseph’s in Sebastopol.
Some institutionalised children were not locals. Despite serious opposition in Ballarat, a Boys’ Reformatory – ‘a receptacle for the scum of Victoria’ – was opened in 1879 on the site of the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ (previously the site of the Girls’ Industrial School). More than 100 boys were transferred from the gaol at Jika (Coburg) and many of them immediately absconded. Later, some of the ‘reformed’ boys defied attempts to place them in passive service and these resisters were then housed at the Probationary School for Boys at Alfredton (1890-92).
Towards the end of the century, a private reformatory for girls, Brookside, was opened by a Mrs Rowe at Cape Clear, but after runaway girls told police about floggings, having their hair cut, being confined to bed, bread-and-water diets, and other brutalities, the reformatory closed.
There was another large group brought in to Ballarat – Aboriginal children. It is instructive to read a speech by Catherine King, MHR for Ballarat. She told the Australian Parliament in 2008:
The four children’s institutions in Ballarat — Nazareth babies home, Ballarat babies home, Ballarat Orphanage and St Josephs — were all recipients of stolen generation children, many of them coming from as far away as Gippsland. I am ashamed to say that, as a 20-year-old working in what was the Ballarat Orphanage, I did not know its part in the history of this generation of children and I would like to add an apology for my ignorance and my lack of curiosity about the history of the institution I worked in.
All told, over the years, tens of thousands of children spent time in one or other of these 19 closed institutions in Ballarat. And in addition, hundreds of destitute children were boarded out in private homes – a foster ‘care’ system which commended itself to government because it was cheaper than keeping children in large institutions. In 1914, for example, in and around Ballarat, there were nearly 500 children boarded out, many to their own mothers.
Child and family welfare, then, has a substantial – but grossly neglected –presence in Ballarat’s history. The little that has been published is, with notable exceptions, benign, shallow and self-congratulatory – in some cases no better than lipstick on a pig – and blind to the widespread abuse of the vulnerable children taken into ‘care’ whose voices are never heard.
A case in point is the responses to former inmates of the Ballarat Orphanage who requested Heritage Victoria (HV) in 2012 to place the site, now in the hands of private developers, on the Victorian heritage list. The Executive Director of HV delivered to the Heritage Council a contrary presentation which included 60 photographs, only two of which included people – and none of these were children.
HV was fixated on the built form of the place and it seemed incapable of seeing the value of the place to those who once lived there.
Charitable institutions in the nineteenth century were often constructed as grand and publicly visible buildings, reflecting the importance the society placed on providing for its underprivileged population.
We former inmates begged to differ. We wanted the ‘remnant fabric’ of the place protected because what remained represented our extraordinary childhood – a total institutional experience removed from family and normal community. Behind the grand façade we ate, played, fought, slept, darned socks, washed and mended clothes, worked the farm and the vegetable garden, swept the yard, polished the floors and went to the elementary school on site.
We wanted to be able to tell our children in years to come about the communal baths and showers, lack of privacy, harsh discipline, physical and sexual assaults, the ever-pressing hunger, the chilling cold of the nights and wetting the bed, being separated from our siblings and missing our parents and not knowing why we were there.
The historian hired by the private developer asserted that the place evoked ‘mixed emotions’ and our valuing of the place seemed to be a ‘very personal response’ – as if that was our weakness. Although both parties argued for its retention, the 1880s brick wall illustrates the gulf in understanding. The historian described it this way:
the pier-braced brick boundary wall to Stawell Street runs for approximately 100 metres, and most of this is in a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond with three stretchers separating each header. The wall was evidently punctuated by a gateway, as there is a clearly ‘filled-in’ part with much later brick and a dip in cornice height of about 30cm. This section is about 10m-wide in stretcher bond.
I thought of all those children who experienced the wall in other ways. Some once clambered over it in search of freedom, or their parents. I was one of many who sat on the wall facing the tram terminus, hoping and yearning to see one of our parents alight.
The weeks turned into years before, one day, my father did step off a tram – and after he had gone, Superintendent Morton told me he would not be allowed to visit us any more if he upset me again. He didn’t ask me why I was upset. It certainty was not my father’s visit. When my two brothers and I reunited at the wall in the 1990s, none of us thought of the wall as ‘a weathered variant of Yorkshire bond’.
It is only recently, through a chain of formal inquiries – and through the work of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) and other advocates — that the voices of survivors are now being heard, and those voices are seriously challenging the traditional narrative of bountiful compassion.
Full marks to Catherine King MHR for acknowledging that when she was 20 she was both ignorant and lacking in curiosity about the children she looked after. She was an insider, working close to these children; imagine what that might say about other citizens of Ballarat who did not take the trouble to look over the wall.
When the royal commission came to town, many Ballarat citizens and historians were totally unaware that the golden city sat on a time-bomb of institutional child abuse.
Can we be optimistic that in future citizens of Ballarat will be more curious, and historians more inquiring, of the ‘care and protection’ provided to our most vulnerable children?
 Ballarat Orphan Asylum, Committee of Management, 2ndAnnual Report 1866:12. See also Nell Musgrove (2013) The Scars Remain: A long history of forgotten Australians and children’s institutions, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly: 18-26.
Ballarat Star 23.12.1879: 2; Ballarat Star 19.9.1879: 2.
Ballarat Star 25.9.1879: 3; 5.12.1879: 2; 15.12.1879: 2, 7.
The Argus 17.7.1899: 5; 2.8.1899: 4. See also Sophia Callaghan (2004) Towards submission and servitude: The punitive reformation of juvenile female offenders at the Brookside Reformatory for Protestant girls, 1887-1903. BA (Hons) Thesis, University of Melbourne; and Helen Doxford Harris, Criminal & Other Case Files at: http://helendoxfordharris.com.au/archives/240.
Hansard, 14 February 2008: 457. See also Ballarat & District Aboriginal Co-operative Ltd., Faded Footprints: Walking the past, (The Co-operative, Ballarat, n.d. 2008?). My own memory is that around 10 per cent of the children I lived with in the Ballarat Orphanage were Aboriginal: Frank Golding (2005) An Orphan’s Escape: Memories of a lost childhood, Lothian, Melbourne.
Ballarat Courier, 25.12.1914, p. 7. See also Shurlee Swain (2012) ‘Making Their Case: Archival Traces of Mothers and Children in Negotiation with Child Welfare Officials’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 11.
 See e.g. Wilson, Jacqueline Z., & Frank Golding (2015) ‘Caring about the Past or Past Caring: The Contested Narratives of Memory’, in Shurlee Swain & Joanna Skold (eds), In the Midst of Apology: Professionals and the Legacy of Abuse amongst Children in ‘Care’, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has recently released 55 submissions in response to their ‘Consultation Paper: Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care’
I became aware of the above Consultation Paper only yesterday, and as I am leaving the country on Tuesday 15 March for a month I have time to make just a few comments on some selected aspects of the Paper. I wish I had more time because I think it is a very important area of discussion.
1. The Royal Commission’s attention to OOHC
My observation is that the Commission has not done nearly enough in this sector which is commonly described as crisis-driven. The Commission reports that OOHC is by far the largest category of institutions identified in the more than 4,700 private sessions. More than 40 per cent of all reports of child sexual abuse were located in the OOHC sector. (Footnote 1: Depending on how tight the definition of OOHC, this figure could be as high as 46%.)
Yet only 11 of the public hearings of 37 to date have examined OOHC. This is unjustifiably disproportionate. The Commission has allocated far more time to Case Studies involving churches and schools than to OOHC.
The OOHC Round Table conducted by the Commission in April 2014 was profoundly disappointing, and Case Study 24 held in Sydney in March and June 2015 more closely resembled a cheerful seminar than rigorous examination of experts and the hard facts.
It was dominated by agencies with a vested interest in putting their best foot forward while advocacy representatives were accorded inadequate opportunity to give their insights. The commissioned research on the evaluation of OOHC practices that prevent child sexual abuse was depressingly inadequate.
2. The poor state of knowledge throughout Australia in relation to the incidence of child sexual abuse in OOHC (pp. 27-31)
The lack of accurate, consistent and complete data is a major problem which the Royal Commission must address in its final report—or preferably by commissioning more research as a matter of urgency. It is difficult to know what changes might be effective, as the Paper says, without knowing ‘the true shape and size of the problem’ (p. 28)
Yet, we need not be totally paralysed by this lack of national data. Some data produced by and for the Royal Commission to date should be taken as symptomatic of issues where immediate action (or at least further investigation) is warranted. The high incidence of sexual abuse in residential ‘care’ compared with other forms of OOHC is a case in point.
It is remarkable—and great cause for concern—that while only 5 per cent of children in OOHC are in residential settings, 33 per cent of reports of child sexual abuse in the period 2012-2014 come from residential facilities (Charts 1.1 & 1.2).
This raises questions such as the quality of supervision of residents, the training and professional development of staff, and, indeed, the process of determining which children are placed in residential facilities and why, and the relationship which is allowed (or not) between inmates and their families.
3. Child-on-child sexual abuse
The Paper states: ‘We have been told that more needs to be done to better protect children from, and respond to, issues of child-to-child sexual abuse in OOHC’ (p. 6). I think this is a very complex issue and should not be rolled out so glibly. The Paper states: ‘We have heard evidence in public hearings that child-to-child sexual abuse is a serious and common problem in contemporary OOHC’ (p. 6).
It is disappointing that this statement is so vague. What evidence? Who provided it? Was it substantiated evidence? Some of this evidence may have been coloured by the first version of the commissioned research (now amended) which made a wholly unsubstantiated claim about child-on-child sexual abuse which was picked up and repeated by Counsel Assisting the Commission on 10 March 2015 who stated:
The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child to child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care. (Footnote 2: Gail Furness SC, Public Hearing, 10 March 2015, para. 96, p. 22)
This fallacious and damaging statement has not been publicly corrected and remains a permanent part of the Commission’s official record. Much better research is needed in this area—as a matter of some urgency. In the meantime, sweeping generalisations should be avoided.
Likewise, the use of terms like ‘perpetrator’ and ‘abuser’ should not be applied to children in OOHC without sensitive and nuanced discussion about what such labels imply in the context of closed institutions and the ethics of labelling victims/ survivors/ perpetrators.
Moreover, the phenomenon of child-on-child sexual abuse needs to be better defined, described and analysed. It is most unlikely that all incidents allotted to this category of events are conceptually the same.
Issues such as the age gap between the two children, their relative lengths of time in ‘care’, and any prior history of sexualised behaviour could be significant variables in differentiating types of incidents—and the ways they are best handled.
4. Historical sexual abuse
In reference to sexual abuse that occurred in OHHC many years ago, the Consultation Paper states that ‘We have heard numerous accounts of the significant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children that occurred in these institutions and its detrimental impact on many people’s lives’ (p. 4).
It is disappointing that the Paper then dismisses what it calls ‘Historical context’ and then ‘Shifting attitudes’ in a single page (p. 20). This suggests to me the writer of the Paper is much too ready to dismiss historical experience as irrelevant to contemporary OOHS and, worse, to suggest that somehow times have changed.
This is a concern because we know that, while closed institutions like orphanages and other forms of residential life have changed in terms of architecture, size and human scale, many of the features of the old culture have not changed.
This is illustrated by the report of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People which is cited in the Paper. (Footnote 3: Inquiry into the adequacy of the provision of residential care services to Victorian children and young people who have been subject to sexual abuse or sexual exploitation whilst residing in residential care, 2015.)
Social history is rarely marked by sudden shifts in policies and institutional practices and the then-but-now syndrome can be hazardous.
Moreover, survivors of sexual abuse, even when it occurred decades ago, hardly ever think of that experience as ‘historical’. Many of them attest to the fact that the past is always with them. Many of them have come forward to the Commission precisely because they think there is something to be learned from their ‘historical’ experience. They don’t want the lessons of the past to be ignored.
In addition, it is well known anecdotally among Care Leavers that many children in OHHC today are the children and grandchildren of former state wards and Homies. I know of no systematic research that assesses the incidence of inter-generational institutionalisation. None of the relevant authorities think this data could be useful to them, but I beg to differ because such a study would shed some light on how families get on, and stay on the welfare treadmill—and thus become potentially the next generation of abused residents.
5. Access to Care Leaver records and information
It is pleasing to note that the Commission is working in the important area of access to records. The summary on pages 118-19 is a very good listing. However, I think there are three very important elements that the Paper misses because it focuses only on the problems of access.
The first of these is related to the participation of the young person in OOHC in constructing the record. The young person’s voice is almost always silent in these records because agencies who make and keep the records rarely think to invite the subject person to make a contribution to the record. This is a significant omission because critical incidents are always recorded from an adult’s perspective whereas the child is likely to have some important insights worth recording.
One result of not engaging the young person is that when they do gain access to their records, they are often shocked by the prevailing negativity of the contents, especially when value judgments of the adult writer are so obviously unwarranted or unfair.
Many Care Leavers complain about omissions from their records especially when they recall events such as a complaint they made about their treatment. Involving the young person in contributing to the records would almost certainly make it a more balanced narrative of their life in OOHC.
Likewise, there are some legislated opportunities for Care Leavers to challenge usually by adding another version of events to the record. However, this opportunity is rarely exercised for a variety of reasons not the least being the government and non-government agencies rarely publicise the existence of this provision.
The second and related issue is that of ownership. Care Leavers often speak of making application for ‘my file’ in the mistaken expectation that as adults they own the record made about them as children and can go and pick it up. They are genuinely shocked to be told by record keepers that the Department, or the agency, owns the file and the best they can expect is a photocopy of it, or some of it. This mismatch of expectations with harsh and unreasonable legal reality is the cause of considerable angst.
In some cases, Care Leavers, especially those who may have been abused and are considering taking an action for redress, are suspicious of agencies’ motives in withholding material. It is my contention that there is little justification for government and non-government agencies being so precious about their control of these records. A change of legislation accompanied by a change in culture is required.
The third issue that the paper omits is reference to statutory obligations related to record making and keeping. It beggars belief that a government or non-government agency can hold custody of a child sometimes for years and not be required by law to construct and maintain an official record of the child’s time in their custody. But such has been the practice in many cases that records were never kept or were so superficial as to offer no insights into the circumstances at a later time. It should not be difficult to develop a list of essential items of information that should be kept in every child’s record.
These would be matters relevant to
identity such as birth certificate, name and last known address of immediate family members, and evidence of family religious affiliations such as the child’s baptism certificate or similar;
reasons for the child’s initial admission to OOHC including any court orders;
medical conditions and treatments;
details of all changes of placements including reasons for transfer;
names of any person who visits the child while in care;
critical incidents that affected the child’s development positively or negatively; and
arrangements made when the child or young person was to be discharged for OOHC.
It should not be difficult to mandate that these primary documents must be safeguarded by the relevant agency and their loss or destruction should result in a penalty for the offending agency.
I trust you will find what I have written in haste to be of relevance to the Royal Commission’s further work in this somewhat neglected area.