|Historical notes: ||BACKGROUND
Historically Aboriginal children were separated from their families from the earliest days of the colony. Governor Macquarie established the first Native Institution in Parramatta as early as 1814 and in 1823 another Native Institution was started in Blacktown. Both these institutions were considered failures, one reason being that once parents realised their children wouldn't be allowed to come home, they wouldn't give them up to the institutions. (5051312) The Government also subsidised missionary activity among the Aboriginal people, including that of the London Missionary Society in the 1820s and 1830s (State Records). On the frontier of Wellington Valley the Reverend Watson gained a reputation for stealing Aboriginal children and as a consequence the Wiradjuri hid their children from the white men.
With the spread of settlers and their livestock came conflict and dispossession. The first bill for the Protection of Aborigines was drafted in 1838 after the Myall Creek Massacre in June that year (5056626). Thus began a systemic government approach to the regulation and control of the lives of Aboriginal people that got tighter and tighter until the 1967 referendum finally brought significant change.
Until 1881 Aboriginal people were under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Secretary, Police and the Lands Department. In 1880 a private body known as the Association for the Protection of Aborigines was formed and following agitation by this body, the Government appointed a Protector of Aborigines, Mr. George Thornton MLC (State Records). The Board for the Protection of Aborigines was subsequently created in 1883. "The objectives of the Board were to provide asylum for the aged and sick, who are dependent on others for help and support; but also, and of at least equal importance to train and teach the young, to fit them to take their places amongst the rest of the community" (State Records). This objective became the basis of future child removal policy: that the inferiority of the Aborigines would only be dealt with by removing the children and educating them in white ways.
In Darlington Point Reverend Gribble established Warangesda Mission in 1880 and in 1883 set up a separate girls' dormitory. The dormitory housed the girls separately in a building which included a dining room and kitchen as well as the dormitory room. Girls were brought in from many places and were trained to be domestic servants. (Warangesda HOD 5055095) When Warangesda Mission became an Aboriginal Station in 1884 the Aboriginal Protection Board continued to send Aboriginal girls to the Warangesda girls' dormitory. It was the Warangesda Mission/Station girls' dormitory which became the model or prototype for the later Aboriginal Children's Training Homes at Cootamundra and Kinchela.
Frustrated by the lack of legislative power to control the education and lives of Aboriginal children the Aborigines Protection Board successfully lobbied for a new act which was introduced in 1909. The Board's Annual Reports of 1909 and 1911 show the emphasis on training of Aboriginal children. The Board felt limited by the Act because it only gave them direct control over children over 14 who could be apprenticed. To remove younger children they had to apply to the magistrate under the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1905. The Board was of the opinion that the children would only become good and proper members of "industrial society" if they were completely removed and not allowed to return. (Brindley p48, A board official quoted by P Read and C Edwards.) The underlying assumption, as ever, was that Aboriginal people lacked the intellect to undertake anything but menial tasks. This later translated into the limits on the types of training provided; girls training for domestic service and the boys for labouring.
The Aborigines Protection Act was amended in 1915 and again in 1918 giving the Board the right "to assume full control and custody of the child of any aborigine, if after due inquiry it is satisfied that such a course is in the interest of the moral or physical welfare of such child. The Board may remove such child to such control and care as it thinks best." (Aborigines Protection Amending Act, 1915, 4. 13A.) A court hearing was no longer necessary. If the parents wanted to appeal it was up to them to go to the court.
The depression and drought years of the 1920s and 1930s were particularly difficult for Aboriginal people. Conditions in the reserves remaining from the soldier settlement land redistribution, were poor, often overcrowded, and it was easy for the government to prove neglect and remove Aboriginal children. In 1937, in response to public pressure from academic and missionary groups sympathetic to Aboriginal people, a meeting was convened of State and Commonwealth Aboriginal authorities. The result was an official assimilation policy formed on the premise that "full-blood" Aborigines would be soon extinct and the "half-caste" should be absorbed into society. Meanwhile the Aboriginal people were organising to become a force of resistance. The Sesquicentenary was marked by a National Day of Mourning and a call for the Abolition of the Protection Board. (The Abo Call 1st Sept 1938).
The Aborigines Protection Board was finally abolished and replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1940. Aboriginal children were then subject to the Child Welfare Act 1939 which required a magistrate's hearing and the child had to be proven neglected or uncontrollable. Aboriginal children continued to be sent to Cootamundra, Bomaderry and Kinchela, some went to Mittagong or Boystown. There were no specific homes for uncontrollable Aboriginal children so these were sent to State corrective institutions such as Mt Penang or Parramatta Girls. (Brindley 60) The education of Aboriginal children had generally been one of segregation until, in 1940, the Department of Education officially took on the role.
In the 1960s the work of British psychiatrist John Bowlby on "attachment theory", began to influence the institutional care of children in Australia. That an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally: rather than only being treated with affection as a reward (Cupboard Love) which was the prevailing theory of the 1940s (Wikipedia). Fostering then became the preferred option and a more common occurrence. In accordance with the assimilation policy which was still prevalent, Aboriginal children were fostered with non-Aboriginal parents.
In May 1967 a referendum changed the Australian constitution bringing positive changes for the Aboriginal people. One resultant change was the abolition of the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1969. After this time non-Aboriginal girls were admitted to Cootamundra Girls Home.
KINCHELA ABORIGINAL BOYS' TRAINING HOME HISTORY
The Board for the Protection of Aborigines gazetted the Kinchela Aboriginal Reserve (AR 174) on 23/4/1883. (1) Kinchela (originally known as Arakoon) was gazetted as a village in 1885 or 1886.(2) Dormitories were added to the Aboriginal Reserve in 1924 to accommodate the daughters of Aborigines who lived too far from a school and boys who were transferred from Singleton Aboriginal Boy's Home.(3)
The Kinchela village became a centre of shipping for produce and cattle on ocean - going steamers. Three sugar mills operated in the vicinity and the hamlet was the centre of a large maize growing area. Cheese making was an important industry and the village had a bakery and butchery, two churches, two schools, a post office and a hall.(4) Aboriginal people were excluded from the activities of the village and the local community successfully petitioned in the 1940s to prevent the Aboriginal boys from the Home from attending the local school.(5)
The precursor to Kinchela, Singleton Boys' Home was established by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines in December 1918 on the grounds of a former Mission. By the end of 1918 there were 46 boys accommodated there. The home was intended to accommodate the boys removed from their families under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act (No.2 1915) until they were old enough to be sent out to work. The boys were to receive training whilst in the home so they could be gainfully employed in manual or agricultural work when they turned 15 years of age.(6) They remained wards of the state until they were 18 and their income was held in trust by the Board. By 1923 eight boys had been placed in apprenticeships. By the end of 1923 the Board decided to dispose of the Singleton Home on the ground that the premises were unsuitable. The school on the grounds was officially closed on 15th January 1924 and the boys remaining at the home were transferred to Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home.(7)
Established in 1924 the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home had the same function as the Singleton Home. Under the Aborigines Protection Act boys between the ages of 5 and 15 were removed from their families if in the opinion of the Board (or those enacting its laws, the police or reserve managers) it was 'in the interest of the moral or physical welfare' of the child.(8) These boys were sent directly to Kinchela or if they had been taken at a younger age they were sent to Bomaderry Children's Home until they were old enough to be transferred to Kinchela. Once the boys were removed from their families and communities they became officially Wards of the State until they were 18 years old.
From the 1920s until the 1940s the Kinchela Home was known as an extremely harsh and cruel environment. After this time the home is said to have improved however oral history shows that conditions were still appalling. When describing the difference between the Bomaderry Home and Kinchela, one former resident felt that whilst there were difficulties with Bomaderry they were too young to comprehend the impact of the separation from their families until much later. He felt that the United Aborigines Missionaries tried to provide a loving caring environment whereas Kinchela was an institution. He described the manager at the time, in 1935, as "dictatorial and aggressive".(9) The staff were untrained and did not make the same efforts to provide a homely environment. The boys were referred to by number rather than name. Cases of beatings and sexual abuse are well documented. (10) The cruelty was investigated in the 1940s and some staff were dismissed. The policy of segregation from the rest of society became more relaxed and boys were permitted to engage in activities outside the home.
The original dormitories constructed in 1924 were large "tin sheds"; these were replaced in 1935.(11) The policy of assimilation was strictly enforced and anything connecting the boys to their Aboriginal culture was prohibited. The use of Aboriginal languages was banned in the home.(12) The boys could go to the annual Kempsey show but they were prohibited from speaking with other Aboriginal people.(13)
The first Aboriginal School in the area (Pelican Island Aboriginal provisional School(1)) was established in 1892 but only functioned for a year. In 1919 another school called the Pelican Island Provisional School was established, apparently on the Aboriginal Reserve and in July 1928 it was renamed the Kinchela Aboriginal Provisional School becoming an integral part of the Kinchela Boys' Home. It operated until 1941 when the School was closed and re-opened as Kinchela Aboriginal Public School which offered basic elementary education at a primary school level.(14) According to former Home Boys the Provisional School was staffed by the Manager of the Home or other staff members and on some occasions an elder boy. None of these were trained teachers and as a consequence the standard of education until 1941 was extremely poor. The boys were not permitted to attend the local Kinchela School. When Kinchela School was asked by the local school inspectors to accept the boys from the Home the parents of the white children voted thirty three votes to one against the proposal. The Kinchela community voted again in the 1960s permitting Aboriginal students to attend the Kinchela School.(5) A new school was built in 1941 (Kinchela Aboriginal Public School) and for the first time trained teachers were employed. Boys were also permitted to attend the high school in Kempsey after this time.(15) The Kinchela Aboriginal Public School operated until 1962.(16) The original Admissions Register, Punishment Books and Visitors Book for the Kinchela Aboriginal School can be found in the NSW State Archives. After the closure of the school the boys attended West Kempsey Primary School.
Kinchela Boys Home was 16 miles from Kempsey on 32 acres of land along side the Macleay River. In 1952 the home was described in DAWN magazine (published by the Aborigines Welfare Board) as having lawns, gardens, swimming pool and a playground. Twenty nine acres of the land was given over to a large vegetable garden and a dairy herd of 33 head and four horses. Weekly church services were held at the home together with Sunday School.(17) The boys also participated in local sports activities during the 1950s, gaining a reputation in swimming, football, boxing and surf lifesaving.(18) The location of the home on the river flats next to the Macleay River caused flooding problems on numerous occasions ( as recorded in Dawn Magazine in 1954 and 1956) .(19) After 1959 whenever the Home flooded the boys would be relocated to the Aboriginal Reserve (Reserve 82168) at South West Rocks in the former South West Rocks Public School buildings. They would also use this place as a base for their South West Rocks sporting events and school holidays.(19) DAWN Magazine of December 1954 described the Home: "buildings of a simple design and comprise dormitories, dining room, recreation room, kitchen, ablution block and the usual out buildings and school."(20) The same article notes some boys were given the privilege of attending the local picture theatre in Kempsey. If they attended with a white friend they could sit in the general area whilst other Aboriginal people had to sit in a segregated area of the theatre.
Increasing Aboriginal activism together with the positive results of the 1967 Referendum which changed the Australian Constitution to include Aboriginal people, finally lead to the abolition of the Aborigines Welfare Board and changes to the way Aboriginal children were removed and segregated. The Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home was closed in 1970. After closure of the Home the Aboriginal community lobbied to keep it for the control and use of the Aboriginal Community. The Minister for Child and Social Welfare determined the site would be sold and advertised it to be auctioned on 5th May 1972. Thanks to the advocacy of strong Aboriginal voices, such as Mary Duroux, the government overturned its decision and the former home was passed into Aboriginal ownership. (21)
The former Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home now belongs to the Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council who lease it to Benelong's Haven, a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre for Aboriginal people.
The former Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home is a place which is connected to very difficult memories. In 2002 a Kinchela Boys' Home Reunion was held at the site. Former residents describe the loneliness, fear, physical hardship and abuse they suffered at the home. They describe how their lives have been irreparably damaged as a result.(22) At the time of the reunion their experiences were recorded in the local paper: "Jail was not as hard as that place. I can't remember a day I wasn't caned." One man described being made to walk on his knees for five hours whilst holding a metal bar above his head. "All the boys were made to line up and every one, about 60, had to bash me as I walked down the line. If they didn't, they were made to follow behind me and be bashed themselves." (23) The Deputy Premier of NSW and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs used the occasion to formally apologise to the former Home Boys and congratulated them on their courage in returning.
1. NSW Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs, Aboriginal Reserves in NSW, Occasional Paper No.4
3. State Records Archives Investigator - Agency Detail 3985 Kinchela Aboriginal Boy's Home
4. Draft Kempsey Shire Community-Based Heritage Study Overview and
5. National Library Bringing them home oral history project: Don and Beverly Elphick, This is where we learnt we weren't white, 2001
6. State Records Archives Investigator - Agency Detail 3989 Singleton Aboriginal Boy's
8. Aborigines Protection Amending Act, 1915, 4. 13A
9. National Library
10. National Library; The Koori Mail, June 28, 2002
13. National Library
14. State Records Archives Investigator - Agency Detail 2879 Pelican Island Aboriginal
School/ Kinchela Aboriginal Public School
15. National Library
16. State Records Agency 2879
17. DAWN March 1952, p14, 15
18. DAWN February 1954, p22
19. Britton, Geoffrey. Assessment of heritage impact for the former public school site,
Geoffrey Street, South West Rocks 2005
20. DAWN March 1954, p20; DAWN December 1954, p23
21. Coastal Custodians Volume 2, Issue 9. D & B Elphick, This is where we learnt we weren't white, 2001
22. Bringing Them Home
23. Sydney Morning Herald 9/9/2002