Work in Progress



Belfast, Northern Ireland April 2018:

I am preparing a paper with Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson for the European Social Science History Conference to be held in Belfast in April next year. The Conference is  organised by the International Institute of Social History (IISH), an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The tile of the paper: ‘PLEASE SIR, Will you be kind to tell me if I have got brothers or sisters…’ comes from a plaintive letter written by a child to the Head of the Victorian, Department of Industrial Schools  and Reformatories in about 1880.

This is the draft Abstract

From the outset, child welfare systems in Australia undervalued the importance of making and keeping appropriate records about the children in their ‘care’. When they were made, records were often ‘defective’ and sometimes disinformative. Many records were lost, destroyed, or were archived so poorly that they were difficult to access. Repeated warnings from official inquiries that this state of affairs would create problems in the longer-term were largely ignored. Using the case of Victoria, the paper examines why personal records were not seen as core business by exploring welfare ideology and the problematizing of children and their families. In the emergent age of rights, survivor testimony and advocacy, welfare agencies have conceded the right of Care-leavers to access historic records about their childhood. However, given the nature of the narrative found in these files, Care-leavers are beginning to challenge the prevailing accounts by asserting a counter-narrative.


Two little-known Children’s Homes in Ballarat

A request for information from a relative of an inmate led me to look again at some old notes I made several years ago about a little Children’s Home called the Bond Street Home. 

Upon digging a little deeper, I found that Mrs Elizabeth Nevett, the founder of the charity that ran the Bond St Home also founded another Home – The Children’s Laundry for mothers and babies and the Cottage of Mercy.

These two Homes – well, three if you separate the Laundry from the Cottage of Mercy – are somewhat unusual in the context of the large institutions that existed in Ballarat such as the Ballarat Orphanage, Nazareth House and St Joseph’s Orphanage….read on.

The Bond Street Home

This was a small privately-run, non-denominational Home situated at 56 Bond Street, Golden Point, Ballarat near Llanberris Reserve. From newspaper reports, it opened in 1898.

Mrs Elizabeth Nevett (1849-1944) was the President of a Committee of Management throughout its lifetime. Mrs Nevett, from a well-to-do family, was the wife of a leading Ballarat lawyer. Mr and Mrs Nevett were both prominent in public affairs in Ballarat and, jointly and separately, supported a range of charities. Mrs Nevett was the President of the Ballarat branch of the Australian Women’s National League (AWNL).[1]

Records of the Bond Street Home cannot be located at this time. It is possible that no official records were kept – or if they were, they were not archived when the Home closed in 1925. For information about the Home we have to rely on the occasional reports in the local press – Ballarat Courier and Ballarat Times. Thank goodness for the wonderful research tool called Trove.

It is not clear why the Bond Street Home was set up when a large Orphanage was already in existence in Ballarat East – not to mention the equally large Nazareth House (a Catholic orphanage opened in 1888) and the Canadian Rescue and Children’s Home (a small Home run by the Town & City Mission from 1897).

The boarding-out policy that allowed children to be placed in foster homes (sometimes with their own mothers) was an alternative in Ballarat (See e.g. Ballarat Star 25.12.1914, p. 11).

Mrs Nevett was not enamoured of the boarding-out system partly because she saw it as a commercial arrangement that allowed mothers to shirk their responsibility. Further, she considered a small Home like Bond Street offered a more homely atmosphere with assured values – a ‘real home life’ that paid foster mothers could not match (Ballarat Star, 12.12.1914, p. 2).

The relationship with the Orphanage was ambivalent. Appealing to members to donate to the Bond Street Children’s Home in 1899, the Chairman of the Ballarat Stock Exchange, JD Woolcott, felt it necessary to stress that ‘the institution in no way clashed with the Orphanage’. He pointed out that the Home frequently took in ‘little ones whose parents were living, but whose surroundings were such that it was to the interest of society that they should be rescued from them (Ballarat Star 21.2.1899, p. 2).

Yet, there were obvious tensions between this small institution (never more than 15 children at a time) and the large Orphanage (which at its peak had 230 children). When presenting the Annual Report of the Children’s Home for 1913, Mrs Nevett stated that ‘the government had withdrawn the small grant they gave us for many years, because we refused to amalgamate with the Orphanage’ (Ballarat Star 26.8.1913, p. 2). The basis of this refusal is not stated.

It is interesting to note that Elizabeth Nevett’s husband was never a member of the Board of Management of the Orphanage when men of his prominence in Ballarat’s civic affairs were enthusiastic to play that role. (Women could join a Ladies Committee, but Mrs Nevett never did join.) Despite considerable publicity given to financial donors, the Nevetts made no substantial contribution to the Orphanage – the legal firm of Nevett & Nevett contributed its first token guinea in 1909 – and that was their standard annual donation thereafter.

It is possible to hypothesise that Mrs Nevett founded the Children’s Home as her personal project – one she could govern and control without interference. She was the driving force: she

  • raised funds and marshalled in-kind support,
  • selected its staff,
  • signed off on every annual report, and
  • was the public voice of the Home in the local press. 

She was a devout Christian and brought the values of the Mothers’ Union of Ballarat (she was its Secretary in the 1890s) to her ‘rescue’ work with children. In 1909, Mrs Nevett was Gazetted as a Probation Officer for the Neglected Children’s Department (Victorian Government Gazette 3.11.1909, p. 4810).

Mrs Nevett reported that Mrs Simpson, Matron for ten years, who retired in 1913, had served the Home since the children had been infants. And the children were

‘now getting to the age of usefulness, and desire to develop their garden and make it productive…’

This suggests that a proportion of the children had been long-term residents (Ballarat Star 26.8.1913, p. 2). Mrs Crowe took over as Matron from Mrs Simpson in 1913 and was much praised: Mr Hauser, the Principal of the local Mt Pleasant Primary School, reported that the children were clean and well dressed and attended school regularly (Ballarat Star, 7.11.1914, p. 11)

The War which began in 1914 created competing priorities for Mrs Nevett and the middle-class women who had previously volunteered their efforts on behalf of the Home. The Annual Meeting was delayed by seven months in 1915 and again in 1917 ‘because of the pressure of other work’, notably patriotic work that ‘overshadowed the small local charities’. At the same time, the Home was beginning to experience financial stress (Ballarat Star 10.3.1916, p. 4; 7.3.1918, p. 2)

Mrs Allen replaced Mrs Crowe as Matron in 1916 but the numbers of children slowly dwindled – by 1920 there were just seven including two boys working at the local woollen mill. Perhaps the boarding-out scheme was having an impact. In Ballarat in 1920, the local Inspector of the Neglected Children’s Department visited 538 boarded-out children in foster homes or in their own homes between August and October alone (Ballarat Star, 25.12.1920, p. 7)

Towards the end of 1922, Mrs Nevett decided she and her lady friends were not now able to continue its operations. It was time to close the Home. Mrs Nevett, through her husband’s legal agents, asked the Supreme Court for a ruling on the distribution of assets –

  • two blocks of land, valued at about £1 000 on one of which the home was built, and
  • money on current account amounting to £104.

It was noted that the Ballarat Town and City Mission carried on similar work in Ballarat and was willing to receive the assets and apply them to similar work. The Court so ruled, providing that the sum of £100 be gifted to the Free Kindergarten. The Ballarat Star (10.2.1923) reported that 56 Bond Street was up for auction.


The Children’s Home Laundry and Cottage of Mercy

This other institution was closely linked to the Children’s Home. It was set up by Mrs Nevett in 1898 or 1899 initially in a house on the corner of Dana and Raglan Streets, Ballarat.

The object of the institution was

‘to assist women upon whom society frowns to earn a living, and…prevent the necessity for boarding out children of shame.’ (Ballarat Star 31.3.1899, p. 2).

The ultimate goal was to train the ‘children of shame’ to earn their own living. The sparsely furnished laundry was managed by a small committee of women, but Mrs Nevett made a successful appeal for furniture, blankets and bedclothes, and cast-off clothing. ‘God’s work must prosper,’ was her keynote (Ballarat Star, 5.8.1903, p. 4).

In 1903, the Children’s Laundry moved to ‘Marlborough House’, in Victoria Street, Ballarat while the Cottage of Mercy moved to ‘Melrose’, in Eyre Street near the Benevolent Asylum. A Mrs Clennel (a former Salvation Army Officer) was in charge of the laundry and a Mrs Simpson was Matron of the Cottage of Mercy (although there is some confusion about whether Mrs Simpson was also Matron of the co-existing Bond Street Children’s Home).

An observer reported:

‘…it is not that children do the laundry work, but that the mothers do the work and the little ones do the looking on.’

The women in question, he reported, were those

‘not admissible to the Maternity Home…poor lasses who have been too trusting, and allowed themselves to be led astray…’

There were about a dozen ‘girls’ and their babies in residence at that time but over the previous five years some 50 ‘young girls and babies had been looked after and cared for’ (Ballarat Star 6.2.1903, p. 3).

In 1908 Mrs Nevett was compelled publicly to deny reports that the ‘girls’ were not allowed religious freedom. The Home was ‘strictly unsectarian’, and the residents could attend any church of their choice. She, herself, had given simple religious instruction,

‘the sole object being to try to awaken them to the knowledge of the All Father, the God of love, and to try and induce them to live higher and better lives…’ (Ballarat Star 23.11.1908, p.4)

The following year, Mrs Nevett would have been pleased with the unanimity of a public meeting on juvenile morality in Ballarat – in particular, neglectful parents allowing young girls on the streets at night and being thus placed in danger of ‘acts of brutality and immorality’. It was Mr Nevett who successfully moved for the formation of a council of 36 clergy and laymen (no women) to implement the range of resolutions carried at the meeting (Ballarat Star 17.2.1909 p. 1).

In 1910, Mrs Nevett reported that the government was

‘withholding State aid… because our Homes receive so little local support’.

She thought this ‘most unjust’ because they were amply supported by volunteers and in-kind support. Nevertheless, she was determined to push on. She had even purchased a block of land in Lydiard Street north where she intended to build the training laundry. Meanwhile, she reported, the Bond Street Home was free of debt (Ballarat Star 15.10.1910, p. 4).

However, all was not smooth sailing. In 1914, Mrs Nevett informed the public that the laundry was closing. She argued that

‘young women prefer to board out their infants, and are encouraged to do so by the State…’

And because the State had ‘become the foster mother’ relieving parents of all responsibility, maternity homes were no longer necessary. Tellingly, she went on to claim that the Wages Board was also making it impossible to make a profit from the laundry. She did not refer to the competition from the established laundry run by the Town and City Mission where ‘worthy women’ who had been paid a wage – although it too fell on hard times and was sold off in 1914 (Ballarat Star 14.7.1914, p. 3)

In lieu of a laundry, Mrs Nevett revealed her new plan for the Lydiard Street block: she would build a training home for children. Collectively, there were 13 children in the Bond Street Home and the Cottage Home (Ballarat Star 4.11.1911, p. 3). That goal was never achieved.

On 29 November 1944, Elizabeth Nevett (nee Dowling) passed away at her home in Ballarat, aged 93, living not quite long enough to see her beloved AWNL merge with the Liberal Party of Australia. But she may well have listened to the radio talk by the Party’s leader, Robert Menzies, in 1942:

…to say that the industrious and intelligent son of self-sacrificing and saving and forward-looking parents has the same social deserts and even material needs as the dull offspring of stupid and improvident parents is absurd.[2]

Having assisted ‘women upon whom society frowned’ and provided a Home to their ‘children of shame’, Mrs Nevett perhaps would not have fully agreed with Menzies’ sentiment.


[1]The Australian Women’s Register reports: ‘The Australian Women’s National League (AWNL) was a conservative women’s organisation established in 1904 to support the monarchy and empire, to combat socialism, educate women in politics and safeguard the interests of the home, women and children. It aimed to garner the votes of newly enfranchised women for non-Labor political groups espousing free trade and anti-socialist sentiments, with considerable organisational success.’ (

[2] Robert Menzies, ‘The Forgotten People’, Speech broadcast on 22 May 1942, reprinted in Sally Warhaft (ed.) 2004 Well May We Say…The Speeches that Made Australia, Melbourne, Black Inc: 155.




4-8 July: Australian Historical Association (AHA) Conference From Boom to Bust, at Federation University, Ballarat

‘Saving the Remnant Fabric: Contesting assessments of an orphanage heritage site’ Abstract accepted


Some 150 years ago the Ballarat Orphan Asylum was built on unwanted crown land to accommodate orphans and neglected or deserted children—the casualties of the gold rush. One hundred years and thousands of children later, the central building was demolished to make way for smaller-scale accommodation. The site was then sold off to private interests and in 2016 the majority of the remnant fabric was demolished prior to rezoning and development.

A long campaign led by former residents succeeded in preserving elements of the facility against the wishes of powerful commercial interests by, among other things, producing an alternative history that demonstrated the relevance of how and why they remember, understand, and feel about the social values of the place—in contrast to ‘institutional’ histories which privileged significant adults, administration and architectural form over children.

Furthermore, having won community support the residents were also able to achieve the reconstruction of a lost avenue of honour memorialising former residents who enlisted in the Great War.

This case study illustrates the way history can be used for contested purposes.

Also at the AHA conference at Ballarat, I will be on a panel  to be chaired by Prof. Keir Reeves 

CAFS Panel – Ballarat: Democratic Paradox – An exemplar of civic participation concealing its outcasts Frank Golding, Cate O’Neill, Jacqueline Wilson

The Abstract is as follows:

Ballarat has long been a regional city defined by its history and heritage variously characterised as boomtown built by gold, or birthplace of Australian democracy. The city also has a significant record in child and family welfare stemming from the social upheavals of the goldfields era. However, in recent years, the city has become alerted to its dark history of abuse of children in closed institutions and schools as well as clerical abuse. Hosted by Child and Family Services Ballarat (a community service organisation dating back in various iterations to 1865), this panel will bring together academic and community historians with advocates, heritage practitioners and members of the public, to explore how Ballarat’s ‘difficult heritage’ is being remembered, commemorated and contested. This session will look at diverse cultural heritage representations in and of Ballarat including loud fences, avenues of honour, public records, websites, oral histories, testimony, protest, and memorials, and the ways in which the narratives of Ballarat’s history are being transformed by the shameful and painful stories coming to light.

(This session, a public event, will be held at the new CAFS Legacy & Research Centre.)


Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse in official inquiries

In Valencia, Spain, in April, I presented my analysis of how and why sexual abuse has come to dominate media and the Australian Royal Commission. And the impact of  other forms of abuse and neglect being pushed off the agenda.

See the version as presented in Valencia, Spain in April  here.

Associate Professor Jacqui Wilson and I have been invited back to Sweden in November to present the next stage of our thinking about the Royal Commission.

We are calling our presentation: ‘Was it all a waste of time? The failure of the financial redress proposal by the Australian Royal Commission into the Handling of Child Sexual Abuse’, 

Thinking on the positive side, we  will show that the Royal Commission 

  • Has amassed and made public a hitherto dispersed and often secretive database,
  • Forensically identified the gaps, inconsistencies and failures of State-based and church-based redress schemes in Australia.
  • Has stimulated the major churches and previously recalcitrant states, particularly the two most powerful, Victoria and New South Wales, to reconsider their previous positions and it is expected that even without a national independent redress scheme, significant improvements will be instituted in coming years.
  • Stimulated some important changes already; e.g. the progressive removal of legislative barriers to civil litigation and, more important to some victims, the referral of hundreds of apparent criminal cases to the justice system.

Nevertheless, there will be casualties especially among Care Leavers who suffered other forms of abuse and neglect and will continue to be denied justice and struggle to have their voices heard in the face of gale-force outrage about child sexual abuse which is entrenched as ‘the core transgression of childhood innocence’ and society’s ‘ultimate collective shame’.

This is a sincere invitation to make any suggestions that we should include. 


Young People Transitioning from Care: International research.

Jacqui Wilson and I have submitted a chapter for a proposed  new book on Care Leavers with the above title.

Our chapter is titled: ‘Muddling Upwards: The Unexpected, Unpredictable and Strange Path from Care to High Achievement’.

It examines the many barriers Care Leavers face in completing school and getting to university to compete with their more privileged peers  for the career and other life style opportunities that having university qualification can bring. 

More important, it explores through case studies the circumstances underpinning the success of a few Care leavers who do make it against the overwhelming odds. 

This publication is with the publisher now. Release is imminent.



Superintendent Kenny dubbed them the Last of the Mohicans, but Percy and Bertie Cooper and their sisters, Lily and Sophie, never understood The Mister’s joke. The Coopers had no books of their own in the Ballarat Orphanage. Learning to read stories from the Bible and Deeds that Won the Empire was deemed sufficient for the world they would inhabit in later life.

The Coopers had not seen their father for many years. They thought he was dead. He had tried to look after them when their mother died; but finally the Orphanage was the only way. Bertie was the youngest, just five. There, among the masses, he would come to see less of his siblings as the years went by until he almost forgot who they were to him.

Billy Broker was more like a brother, especially after The Mister told Percy Cooper he was old enough to earn his keep at 14 and sent him out to service. Billy Broker had come into the Orphanage the same year as the Coopers. He was Bertie’s age when his father had died. Billy and Bertie looked out for each other over the years, the one keeping watch for the other when they raided the apple orchard at Woodman’s Hill.

When they were nearly 13, a new kid, Ivo Ignatius Bibby, joined their small raiding parties – but only after a sharp bout of fisticuffs had proved his merit. Ivo Ignatius was his name, and he wasn’t going to let any snotty-nosed brat make fun of him. Not like the ‘Yard Boys’ – Charles Foott, Harry Foott and John Foott. Harry was called the middle leg – and his brothers laughed along with the mob.

Within two years, Bertie Cooper, Billy Broker and Ivo Ignatius Bibby had become so tight in one another’s company that The Mister dubbed them The Three Musketeers. And then the war broke out in earnest. Had they been old enough, they would have joined the excited rush to the AIF recruiting stations. In 1914, no one imagined that the war would last so long that 15 boys still living at the Orphanage would grow old enough to enlist – including Bertie, Billy and Ivo Ignatius.

Many boys from the Orphanage had already shown them the way. Ballarat ‘orphans’ still in their teens enlisted at more than double the rate of the nation’s teenage recruits. And they were quicker to put their hands up. More than 20 former Orphanage residents enlisted in 1914 – twice the proportion nationally. Another eleven Orphanage boys enlisted in the first half of 1915.

We should not be surprised by the boy’s enthusiasm to ‘have a go’ given the militaristic culture of the institution. Drills had been introduced as early as 1869 and, from 1894, military instructors provided gymnasium classes. The instructor for 20 years up to 1914 was Sergeant-Major William Brough of the Ballarat Militia, a Boer War veteran and policeman. In 1900 a brass band was introduced and in 1909 the Orphanage adopted “a rousing marching song” of its own.[1] The Argus may have been closer to the mark than it realised when it commented in 1889:

when the time comes, [the children] will go out to fight the battles of the world, well prepared physically, and armed with a store of useful, practical knowledge.[2]

In all, 105 ‘old boys’ enlisted; and of these, exactly 100 embarked for overseas to fight the battles of the British Empire.

All single men under 21 were required to have the written consent of a parent or guardian – and this was always going to be problematic. Just 25 of the 43 Orphanage boys who admitted being under 21 gained consent, although it is likely that some of these 25 forged signatures.

Twelve of the boys gained the consent of a ‘guardian’ – a capricious term. Some guardians were self-appointed, others were nominated for the occasion: a sibling, grandparent, uncle or aunt, and some just friends. Superintendent Kenny gave consent for a number of boys, including both of the boys he employed at the Orphanage, Walter Granland and Harry Reed. Harry nominated his brother William Reed as next-of-kin; but when Harry won the Military Medal for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”, the citation was sent not to his next-of-kin, as was the usual practice, but to The Mister as his guardian. Even when the Superintendent gave his consent as guardian that was no guarantee that the boy was 18. Alf Glassford, for example, was barely 17. The Mister also signed for Percy Cooper, Bertie’s then 20-year-old brother, even though he had left the Orphanage in 1912.

Eleven of the under-21 year-olds gained consent from their nominee as next-of-kin, a term even less precise than guardian. Percy Lowen, for example, told the recruiting officer his mother was dead and he did not know where his father lived. He brought along a friend as his next-of-kin to sign the consent form declaring himself 18 years and 9 months old. In 1946, Percy confessed that he was just 16 at the time. In fact, he had not yet had his 16th birthday.

Thomas Watson and his younger brother Norman were typically inventive. Both claimed to be 18: Thomas enlisted in April 1916; Norman enlisted in March 1917. Both said both their parents were dead. Thomas nominated an aunt as next-of-kin while Norman nominated Thomas. Norman was not entirely convincing and he was asked to clarify matters. In his statement, he maintained he was 18 but confessed:

I told [the recruiting sergeant] that my mother left me when I was 13 months old and I have only seen father twice during my lifetime. I have been out working since I was able to and I generally lived with the people I worked for…My grandfather… looked after me until I was seven years old, and then my uncle William Watson now deceased had me placed in the Ballarat Orphanage. I am 18 years and 5 months and was born at Ballarat. My mother’s name was May Watson, she lived at Ballarat. I do not know my parent’s [sic] whereabouts. I think my mother has married again and lives somewhere near Colac. My father’s last address was Mount Magnet, West Australia. My next of Kin is my brother Thomas Watson at present on active service in France.

Their ‘dead’ father was indeed living in Mount Magnet and, hearing of Norman’s enlistment, wrote to the AIF in May 1917:

This is to certify that I am willing to give my son Norman Edward Watson, age seventeen years, my consent to enlist in the Australian Military Forces.

Confirmed in their suspicions, the AIF could not continue with someone known to be just 17, even with his father’s consent. They discharged Norman who had already served for 102 days. But three months later, he was back in the army – a girlfriend was his next-of-kin – and within a few weeks he was on a ship bound for the Middle East. A number of other under-age boys managed to volunteer for service without anyone’s consent at all. Some recruitment officers were known to turn a blind eye if a lad was strong and enthusiastic.

The system itself turned a blind eye to Lindsay Irving’s enlistment. He had joined the Navy as a ‘ship’s boy’ in 1912 two days before his 16th birthday. On his 18th birthday, 3 June 1914, he signed up for seven years’ service. Two months later when war was declared, Lindsay was automatically assumed to be ‘in’ for the duration. His widowed mother living in Ballarat was not asked to approve his war-time enlistment. Seaman Irving did not return to his mother until February 1919.[3]

The Government relaxed the recruiting regulations in May 1918 to allow men under 21 to enlist without the consent of their parents or guardians. They were now able to join up at 18, but could not serve at the front until they were 19. The Minister for Defence, Senator Pearce, afterwards ruled that youths could be enrolled without their parents’ consent if they proved they were over 19.[4]

And so it was that the Three Musketeers, now 19, were finally able to enlist. They didn’t know it then, but they would be the last three boys from the Orphanage to put on the uniform.

Bertie Cooper had been discharged from the Orphanage to his older sister Sophie (now Mrs White of NSW) back in August 1915. He was working as a farm labourer when he heard about the new rules. By 4th July 1918 he was in training camp impatient to join his brother Percy on the Western Front. For months, he endured what he thought were pointless drills and route marches. Finally, on 22 October 1918, he was among the 900 reinforcements aboard the troopship Boonah which sailed from Adelaide bound for the Middle East via Fremantle. When the ship arrived at Durban on 16 November, to his utter consternation, Bertie was told that the Armistice had been signed five days earlier. To make matters worse, he would never set foot on foreign soil. ‘Spanish’ influenza was rampant in Durban and the ship was quarantined. On 24 November, the Boonah steamed back to Australia. During the journey home the dreaded virus erupted on board with devastating results – hundreds were stricken and 27 soldiers and four nurses later died.[5] Bertie was bitterly disappointed that he did not make it to the front, but he could say he had been with some of the last men to die for Australia.

Meanwhile, Ivo Ignatius Bibby was aboard the troopship Carpentaria when it set sail from Sydney on 7 November 1918 bound for Europe via the Panama Canal. Just off Auckland, the news of the Armistice came through by wireless. Like Bertie, Ivo never set foot on foreign soil because Auckland was also hit by the deadly influenza epidemic.[6] The troops were transferred at sea to the SS Riverina to return to Sydney. After a short period in quarantine, the Riverina was declared clean and the troops disembarked on 28 November. Discharged in time for Christmas, Ivo Ignatius glumly shared the roast turkey with an even glummer roommate in their boarding house in Footscray.

That roommate was none other than Billy Broker. Billy had left the Orphanage in November 1914 and bided his time to ‘do his bit’. But, despite his enthusiasm, Billy would not even set foot on a ship. His mother put her foot down. Under the new rules he knew he didn’t need his mother’s approval, but Jane Broker wrote to the State Recruitment Committee in July:

I am a widow and an invalid. I desire to have my son with me until he is 21 as he is my whole support.

Technically, she had no rights, but a sympathetic recruitment office thought her claim should be checked. How much of his pay did he give his mother? he was asked. He did not dillydally with his answer: 10/- out of £2/10. A simple enough exchange, but, together with a bout of illness, the process caused Billy’s enlistment to be delayed. By the time he was accepted, on 25th September, Billy’s dreams of getting to the front had sailed away. He sat around in suburban barracks, cleaning his rifle, attending parades, for 91 days, awaiting the inevitable notice: ‘surplus to requirements’ and demobilisation. They let him go home on Christmas Eve 1918. Around the Christmas dinner in their ‘civives’, Bertie Cooper and Ivo Ignatius Bibby could at least talk about their all-expenses paid sea voyage, but what could Billy Broker say about his 91 days military service?


 In 1919, the Orphanage was welcoming back many of the old boys who had been away at the front. It was time to take stock:

Some have returned who have been in the fighting line from 1914 to 1918, some have gained commissions, some are maimed, others have lost their health, while still others seem to have gained by their experience. We welcome them all home again and it shows that they still love their old home and have happy memories and feelings of gratitude when they so uniformly return to visit it after their years of absence. Some have been away for as much as twenty five years returned to recount their adventures and experiences.[7]

And the 20 who did not come home? Not a word was spoken. Perhaps the grief and the guilt were unspeakable.

Many of the surviving boys had grown to adulthood in the trenches. As early as February 1916, Dr. John Richards, an honorary Medical Officer at the Orphanage and an officer in the Army Medical Corps, told the Orphanage committee that he had seen many youths at Gallipoli who were not strong enough to carry their knap-sacks in storming heights. Some had collapsed and were hospitalised, he said. In Richards’ opinion no recruits under 20 years of age should have been allowed to go to the front.[8] The bullish Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, conceded in Parliament on 1 September 1916, that:

…it would have been better if the boys under 21 had not been sent. They succumb more quickly to hardships and do not recover from wounds as rapidly as older men. The fight is for grown men.[9]

And yet much worse was to come in the slaughterhouses in France and Flanders.

For some, the war did not end with the Armistice. Bertie’s brother, Percy Cooper, for example, had enlisted in May 1916 and was involved in the last major action of the War in France. The Mister had approved his enlistment because both parents, it was said, were dead. However, in December 1918 his father wrote to the AIF from New Zealand asking for ‘full particulars’ of Percy’s death. He was thrilled to learn that he had been misinformed. In September 1920 Percy returned to Ballarat and married his sweetheart, Doris. But he was not the young man who had left to fight the battles of the Empire. Without notice, he deserted Doris and their two small children. In 1926, Doris wrote to the AIF from Ballarat pleading with them to

…help me trace my husband Percy Cooper who has been missing from home since first week in September 1925 & suffering from nervous breakdown…Please help me if you can for the sake of his little ones & for what he did at the war. I am ill and long for his return.

Percy did not return. Many years later, he wrote to the AIF from New Zealand to say he had been with his father for the past 22 years. Was the boy making up for a childhood lost, or was the man still fighting a war that would not end?


[1] Ethel Morris, A Century of Child Care: The story of the Ballarat Orphanage 1865-1965, The Committee, 1965; and the Ballarat Orphanage Annual Reports of the respective years.

[2] Argus, 8 June 1889, 10.

[3] Courier (Ballarat ) 20 February 1919: 4.

[4] Scott, 1941: 460. Senator Pearce’s clarification is in the Argus, 10 May 1918: 8.

[5] Ian Darroch, The Boonah Tragedy, Access Press,  2004.

[6] Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 November, 1918: 6; and 27 November 1918: 7.

[7] Ballarat Orphanage Annual Report, 1918-19: 6.

[8] Argus, 20 March 1916: 2.

[9] Argus 2 September 1916, 19. He was explaining why the conscription proposal would not apply to men under 21. A few days later Hughes appeared to resile from that position: Argus, 7 September 1916: 8.


THE SUBJECT CHILD (21 February 2015)

(Frank Golding, 19/2/15, based on a true story, but all names have been changed)

Josie grew up in an ordinary family with her sister Bev and brother Colin. At her 21st birthday party, many years ago now, her parents set up a display of snaps from a babe-in-arms to her graduation day. They plundered the stack of albums that recorded Josie’s ever-changing childhood. As well, they also created a ‘This-is-Your-Life’ display of her many school reports, certificates and awards, sporting trophies, holiday postcards, and even vaccination certificates.

Josie wanted to die: how could they? Then she noticed that her friends seemed really interested in this exhibition of her life. They were soon swapping jokes about first boyfriends, clothes they wouldn’t be seen dead in now, secrets they had kept from their parents.

Amazed that her parents had kept so much stuff from her childhood, Josie was tickled pink that they had gone to such trouble to put it all together – with love and pride. At 21, Josie was a self-assured young woman: she loved her family and felt loved in turn; but all the same she looked forward to leaving home knowing that some part of her family would always go with her and some part of her would always stay with her family even when she married Geoffrey and moved interstate for a while.

Last year, at her 50th, a tribe of children – two of her own and five nieces and nephews – presented her with a new laptop, a special gift from the whole family, and competed with one another to help cut the cake and eat it too. Grandparents buzzed around like bees blissed with nectar. The technology had changed, some of the photos had now faded, but Josie now enjoyed the role of family archivist.


Josie’s friend and neighbour, Pam, was put in an orphanage at five years of age. Her sister Jenny, nearly two, went to the nearby Babies Home; but their baby brother, Bobby, stayed with their Mum. At least, that’s what they were led to believe in the years that followed. When she turned four, Jenny graduated to the orphanage although not to the same dormitory as Pam. When she left school at 15, she and a change of clothes in a small brown suitcase were despatched to a town in the Wimmera to be ‘in service’ as a domestic. A couple of years later, Jenny was sent with her brown suitcase to a farm near the Murray, again ‘in service’. Nobody thought to send them to the same area. Or even to tell the one where the other was now living.

On first leaving the Home, Pam had tried to keep in touch with Jenny but her letters were never answered. Were they even delivered? When she called at the Home a few years later they told her that no one knew where Jenny was now. She had absconded from her job and the notice in the Police Gazette didn’t get a result.

Pam had no idea where their brother Bobby was now. She had not seen him since he was a baby. She wouldn’t know him if she ran into him on the street. Come to that, Pam wasn’t sure if she would recognize Jenny if they bumped into each other. It crossed her mind that Jenny had found their mother and was living with her and Bobby who would be almost a grown man by now.

Unlike her friend Josie, when Pam turned 21, not a soul knew. She told anyone who asked the date that she hated birthdays. In fact, she had never had a birthday party – nobody did in the Home. She was tempted to confess all this to her boyfriend at the time, but her head flashed warning signs: he and her handful of other friends would drop her if they knew that her parents had dumped her all those years ago.

She continued to carry her childhood secret for many years. Her self-esteem was so low that she had never told Phil, the man she loved and had married. When their children, Sally and Johnny, came along Pam went out of her way to make sure their birthdays were celebrated with gusto. Phil was puzzled when she said she didn’t know how to arrange a birthday party. He knew her parents had been very ill for most of Pam’s childhood, far too sick to buy presents for her. Phil understood. He laughed it off and just got on and organised the first party. Pam soon got the hang of it. Sally and Peter would get everything that she never had as a child – and the same at Christmas – they would want for nothing.

It came as a huge relief the day she confided in someone at last. It was as if by accident over coffee with Josie. She knew she could trust Josie: the nearest she would ever get to having a sister again. Josie set the photo album on the table and opened it to the page with the sticky note.

“No, they aren’t my little darlings. The little girl in the tartan school tunic is me. And the toddlers holding her school satchel? Colin and Bev.”

They laughed at the family likeness. “All the good looks come from Geoffrey,” Josie declared in mock modesty. “You want to see more? Look in the cupboard under the stairs,” Josie explained, and recounted the story of her party for her 21st.

Pam felt the duty to reciprocate, but the thought hung uneasy in the air. Was it time? First a confession: she had plenty of photos of her children, but not a single shot of herself as a child. That could not go unexplained. Who would have a camera in an orphanage? Pam tried to brush aside her embarrassment, but the redness burst out from her neck and rushed up her cheeks.

“But nobody chooses to live in an orphanage,” Josie remarked. “Come to that, nobody chooses the family that brings you into the world. What have you got to be ashamed of?”

“It’s all the awkward questions,” Pam replied. “What happened to your father? Why did your mother give you up? Did they come and visit you? Do you see your parents now? Why not? I’d feel like a goose: I can’t answer any of these questions. I don’t know anything about why I was put in a Home. I suspect that our father had cleared out, but that’s just a guess. I don’t know what’s become of my mother and Bobby. And now Jenny, simply gone. And now…and now…another confession. I’ve lied to Phil all the time we’ve been together. Well, not exactly lied; just not truthful with him in the beginning…and he gained the wrong impression…then the years pass…and you just keep everything a little obscure.”


On the day Pam turned 50, she decided she had had enough of hiding her childhood past from her own family. In her words:

 “I took Phil to the local pub – the only place where we could be private and in public at the same time – and spilled the beans. I was so nervous, but once I started, it all tumbled out. Growing up in an orphanage when I wasn’t an orphan. My father, the mystery man; my mother; Jenny and Bobby. Not that it took long. I had so few facts to tell. The Home people never told me anything. In the end, you just gave up asking when your parents were coming to get you. Or whether Bobby could come and live with us too. They told me my Mum didn’t want us any more. I just gave up and accepted things as they were. After a few years in the Home, I almost forgot that Jenny was my sister. There were too many other children – great friends some of them and others who terrified me. I can’t talk about what happened there.

 “Phil was astounded. He said he knew there was something I had been holding back all the years we’d been together.

 ‘“You must tell the children,’ he said. ‘They will be so proud of you and what you’ve made of yourself. They’ll want to know your story.’

“Phil convinced me. ‘You can’t live the rest of your life not knowing where your sister and brother are,’ he said. ‘Your children have an auntie and an uncle somewhere they’ve never met. Perhaps cousins too. There must be somewhere you can find what happened back when you were babies, and where they are now.”’


When she wrote to the Department, Pam was given the runaround at first. The Department held only parts of the files. If she were patient, she could get access to most of what they had in their archives; but she would also have to go to the organisation that ran the orphanage. She didn’t like that: she had been brutalised and humiliated in that place and couldn’t bear the thought of going back to ask a favour.

Then she found the orphanage had shut down and a different kind of agency had taken over the records. The Department gave her a head start on who to contact, but would give no guarantees about whether they had kept her records even though the Department had sent her there as a state ward and contributed to the running costs of the place. She thought the Department should have had a copy of everything the orphanage wrote about her.

It took almost a year to get the dossiers but, even when she combined their contents, her childhood was a very short story indeed. Pam asked Phil to go through the documents to see if she had missed anything about her parents, or Jenny and Bobby – and how she might make contact with them. She found nothing except fleeting mentions but occasionally there were sections blanked out that might have been about her mother or Jenny. The Department told her they were about another person – and ‘the third party rule’ applied. What was this third party doing in my file? she asked; it might be a clue to our family’s story. But this was a no-go zone. She wondered why they had kept these records all these decades. What good were they doing taking up space in an archive if the person concerned was not allowed to read them, in full?

She asked the Department if she could have a look at Jenny’s file but they said that was illegal, a breach of privacy. If she got Jenny’s consent, they would reconsider. How could she get Jenny’s consent if she didn’t know what had become of her? So while she gained some understanding of why she was made a state ward, she longed to know her mother’s side of the story, to know why her father had deserted her and abandoned his family. The hope that the childhood records would provide a means of reconnecting to her family now seemed naïve.

Putting that all to one side, Pam was struck by the gap between what she found in the records and her life as a child. There was nothing about the day-to-day life of the orphanage. None of the things that stuck in her mind were there: the vicious fights, the cruel punishment for wetting the bed, the weevils in the porridge, the vile Epsom salts every Saturday to clean out your system. She found nothing about cleaning your teeth with salt, sharing bath towels with other girls, mending tunics handed down from girl to girl year after year, the toilet doors being taken off so staff could keep their eye on you even while you wiped yourself clean.

She expected, at least, to find records about her schooling and her illnesses. Some years she remembered her teachers gave her reports to take home to Matron, but these were never kept, it seems, just as they were never discussed with her at the time. She remembered at least two occasions when she was very ill – she thinks German measles, maybe the flu, but there was nothing in her records. Her doctor had been incredulous that she could not tell her what vaccinations she had had as a child. If anything was ever written down about her health, it was not included here.

Most of the pages seemed written by bureaucrats to tell other bureaucrats something they felt was important. Most of it, Pam felt, was trivial, just routine. No one seemed to care if her name and its spelling were just plain wrong. Her date of birth was incorrect on two occasions. If they were sloppy about that, how could she rely on their claims about her mother? It was obvious that they never intended, or envisaged, that one day she – ‘the subject child’ – would read what was written about her. They could be as rude as they liked adding judgmental comments about her mother without any reference to the facts. Memorialising gossip as perpetual truth.

Some notes made her angry, including an inspector’s comment about what a happy girl she was – and ‘making good progress’. She would swear she was never asked if she was happy. No inspector ever talked to her. She was never invited to contribute anything to the record that was being made about her. She wanted to scrawl over some pages: “Lies, all lies!”

If she were ever going to connect with her family again – and find the authentic story she needed to know – she would have to follow other footprints.






Human Rights and Memory: Fourth Annual Conference of the Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory Network, University of Lund, Sweden, December 2014  

Frank Golding, 19 December 2014

I travel to Sweden via Hong Kong, England, Norway and Denmark to speak on the theme of the rights of the child – or, more to the point, the violation of rights when a child is abused. A network within the conference has taken up that particular focus and I am also to address the members at a workshop on the day before the main conference kicks off.

The conference program confirms that people memorialise breaches of human rights and crimes against humanity in many nations and in many forms. Scholars and activists will talk about a wide range of atrocities across the globe: in Latin America, Japan, Cambodia, Albania, Timor-leste, the Middle East, the US, Africa, China. The list seems endless. And of course the Holocaust, the interpretation and memorialisation of which is still a contested matter six decades on.

Experts will discuss the different ways atrocities are remembered – collectively and in particular communities; who remembers them; why some atrocities are remembered and others seem soon forgotten; how human rights abuses are communicated in literature, film and art, in museums, in education programs, and now even in video games.

They will discuss cosmopolitanism and transnational memory as well as grass-roots initiatives, trying to connect collective memory with people’s lived experience. There will be discussions about truth and reconciliation, reparations, and retributive justice.

The leisurely journey to Sweden is broken at Hong Kong. If ever there was a living example of human rights being abused, it’s here on the streets where thousands of young people demonstrate brave resistance to China’s restrictions on the right to vote for freely chosen political candidates.

As far as the eye can see young Hong Kong people set up camp in the central business district
As far as the eye can see young Hong Kong people set up camp in the central business district

You do not need to be on the streets for more than a few hours to get a sense that young Hong Kong people know that they are making history. In the recent “clean-up” thousands of yellow sticky-note messages are souvenired to save them from the garbage collectors.

People clamber over the barricades to add to the sticky-note messages
People clamber over the barricades to add to the sticky-note messages

The digital camera-in-phone is irresistible. Millions of images have created a living archive. The children of the protesters will memorialise the umbrella as an inspired symbol of passive resistance to the abuse of naked power.

The yellow umbrella becomes the symbol of resistance
The yellow umbrella becomes the symbol of resistance

From Oxford, I fight a lightweight human rights battle of my own. My near-new suitcase comes off the Heathrow carousel without its handle. The airline refuses to accept responsibility. I protest. They offer a compromise: get it repaired when you get home to Melbourne and they will pay the bill. A man of 76 years, I tell them, cannot lug a suitcase around the globe without benefit of handle. You can do better than that, I tell them. Ashamed, they surrender and pay reparations. If only all the struggles of the world could be resolved so easily.

It's safer on the Isis (Thames) than on the streets of Oxford when students are running late for class
It’s safer on the Isis (Thames) than on the streets of Oxford when students are running late for class


At Greenwich, our hotel room has an engraved glass bathroom door. From a throne of my own, I can read the headlines: “Revolutions, executions, weddings, beheadings, Kings, Queens, consorts (and bad sorts), jousts, plots…here’s the Greenwich Visitor’s guide to Greenwich’s Royal past.” History while you shower! It was all clean fun in those days. How readily the blood of violent conflict is washed away.

Palatable history for the tourist can be published on the bathroom door
Palatable history for the tourist can be published on the bathroom door

The Imperial War Museum is flourishing in the centenary of the “war to end all wars”. Intending to spend an hour or so, I stay the whole day; and still there’s more to see. Outside, a pair of 100-ton guns with a range of 16 miles compete for attention with a chunk of the Berlin Wall shouting its graffiti slogan “Change your life”.

The twin guns could shoot a target in London 16 miles away
The twin guns could shoot a target in London 16 miles away
A slab of rock and cement from the Berlin Wall
A slab of rock and cement from the Berlin Wall

You pass them after a short walk through the Tibetan Peace Garden opened by the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Peace Garden is the entry way to the Imperial War Museum
The Tibetan Peace Garden is the entry way to the Imperial War Museum

Inside, I view the work of British artists of the war, under the title “Truth and Memory”. In the bookshop they sell other memories – reproductions of wartime posters:


Self-indulgence helps the enemy, Britons are told – emphatically:

British values on the Home Front during World War 1
British values on the Home Front during World War 1

At the front, young soldiers are primed on rum – even on Mondays.

At the Tower of London I see a spectacular art installation to commemorate one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. Entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation of 888 246 red ceramic poppies – one for each British fatality in the First World War – fills the moat around the Tower. I am just in time: all the poppies are now sold to the public and the dismantling has begun.

A sea of ceramic poppies makes a spectacular sight
A sea of ceramic poppies makes a spectacular sight


I suppose the millions of pounds shared equally amongst six service charities will be put to good use. While I’m sure that two of the aims – to “create a powerful visual commemoration” and “to reflect the magnitude of such an important centenary” – were achieved, I’m not so sure about the other – to create “a location for personal reflection”.

In Trafalgar Square I am reassured to find officials retain a sense of the ridiculous. Standing tall alongside Nelson and other famous cocks-of-war stands a preposterous cobalt blue chook – with attitude.

The British sense of humour is still indulged. Boris' Johnson's chook, maybe?
The British sense of humour is still indulged. Boris’ Johnson’s chook, maybe?

I fly to see a friend in Norway. I resist seeing the world war two bunkers again. The majestic monument to the Battle of Hafrsfjord at Gamle is another matter. The three giant swords embedded in rock is surely the most striking memorial I’ve ever seen. I have to take another set of photos to add to those I took on previous visits.

Some memorials are so eloquent they don't need explaining
Some memorials are so eloquent they don’t need explaining


But it’s the unexpected Christmas pageant in the fading light at Sola that I remember best. Scores of children carry flaming torches with happiness in their hearts and carols on their lips.


Eventually I get to Sweden via Copenhagen, Denmark. I can’t pretend to understand the complex relationships between the Nordic nations throughout the centuries, let alone in the twentieth century. I know a little about the German invasion and occupation of Norway and Denmark from 1940. I pick up some discussion about Sweden’s neutrality which, at times, was sorely tested in both directions. I learn about the thousands of refugees, many of them Jewish, who fled to Sweden from Norway and Denmark where they were hospitably received. I wonder if that is entirely true of the refugees of the modern era. If there are tensions, and there surely are, they are carried quietly. [UPDATE: see this news item.]

The conference goes well. The University of Lund is openhearted. Discussions are civil. Controversial argument is met with counter-argument, or a polite request for a fuller version of the paper. Applause is warm but short – each day ends at a bar for more animated but never agitated discussion. Early morning greetings are heartfelt once the coffee arrives.

IMG_5990  IMG_5859P1020636

The only weapons in Lund are the cycles without brakes mounted by half-crazed students late for class and with no regard for elderly pedestrians who must share the same tracks.

By the final afternoon, brain-drained, I beg off to visit the famed Skissernas (Sketches) Museum. I find an incomparable collection of first draft sculptures or early sketches of famous works – not considered to have the same value as their finished product and gifted or sold for a nominal amount. It’s an archive of the creative process, showing the path of the artist from the first idea to the finished work.

Smart thinking: you can't afford the finished work, so what about the early drafts and sketches?
Smart thinking: you can’t afford the finished work, so what about the early drafts and sketches?

IMG_6047 P1020768

I wonder if some equivalent museum would like to acquire my first-draft novel before it becomes a best-seller?

On the way home, the Hong Kong uprising is about to be cleared by the police and military.


The messages are history in the making.


The streets have been cleared but...
The streets have been cleared but…

PHOTO CREDITS: Frank Golding & Elizabeth Moore-Golding (2014)

4 thoughts on “Work in Progress”

  1. I understand your idea, and I completely appreciate your post.

    For what its really worth I will tell all my friends about it,
    very resourceful.

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