Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions

Past Event: 29 August 2013 to 27 January 2014

pink teddy
Stuffed bear given as a Christmas present to a child in Orana Methodist Home, Melbourne, Victoria 1960s. Soon after it was taken away without explanation.
Courtesy Jeanette Blick

Shares the experiences of some of the half a million children who spent time in institutional 'care'

Throughout Australia, over the course of the 20th century, about half a million children spent time in Children’s Homes and orphanages, training schools, reformatories and other ‘care’ institutions. In all, there were more than 800 of these institutions, mostly run by state governments, charities and churches.

Of the 500,000 children in these institutions, about a tenth were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children. A smaller number, about 7000, were British and Maltese child migrants. Only a tiny minority were orphans. Some children spent a relatively short time in these places, others spent their entire childhood ‘inside’.

Although so many children were brought up in institutions, what happened to them there is largely unknown to the wider community.

Finally, the histories of those who spent time ‘inside’ – histories for so long unspoken, unheard or disbelieved – are becoming an acknowledged part of our national history.

Featuring the words, voices and objects of the Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and all those who experienced institutional care as children, Inside provides a chance for all Australians to understand something of a history that has affected so many of us and was hidden for so long.

Inside is a travelling exhibition developed and presented by the National Museum of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Comments (33)

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Carolyn Anne Frawley 10 July, 2013 18:22
I am one of the half a million children now an adult of 65 years of age and to have this traveling Museum come over here to Western Australia would mean a great deal to me and many others. Please consider bringing over to WA for all to see.
anne bateman 27 August, 2013 14:15
I was lucky enough not to have been one of these children, however I think we could all benifit from veiwing this exhibition. I am also in West Australia so yes, please consider bringing it here
Heather Gillard (nee Dewan/Wood 6 August, 2013 07:49
I am one of many Aboriginal children that was placed in care and I am glad that this exhibition has been put together for all the forgotten Australian this exhibition gives those lucky people who had the wonderful upbringing that so many of us dreamed an insight to our lives and what it was like for some of us. I will be encouraging my children to go along to this exhibition as I'm sure will so many others like me.
Sonia Estago-Cers 17 August, 2013 10:25
What a great way to provide a voice for silent experience. I wonder if you have included the many non-Aboriginal or non-Immigrant Children also. Australian born children that where institutionalized during post war struggles that many Ozzy families faced. Boarding homes such as Haddon Hall run by the Sydney City Mission. All need to be heard, all are important.
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Robyn 29 August, 2013 14:11
As the daughter of a man who spent from age 2-1/2 until he was almost 16 years old in an Orphanage, I think an exhibition such as this is important. Our childhood experiences do inform our adult lives. My father didn't know how to function in a family; he had no memory of being family. He was the middle child of 8 born to my grandmother. She did not choose to send her children away. That decision was made for her and against her wishes. To add to the insult, because she could not financially assist in the upkeep of her children, she was denied access to them. Any wonder her sons were bitter towards her, and she in turn a bitter woman. It was disgraceful, but it was a hard solution to a problem : an woman with young children abandoned by her partner and no visible means of support.
debra mineely 30 August, 2013 21:02
my mother (now deceased) at age 13 carried her youngest sibling to the childrens home. two other siblings were also put in the same home due to family breakdown (alcohol and violence). my mother was reunited with her sister 50 yrs later. the horror stories that she told of her treatment. too upsetting to repeat. my mother flet enormous guilt for being the one carrying her to the home. she had no choice of course. the selfish parents (my grandparents) wouldn't pay for their upkeep at the home so they were treated badly and they would not allow them to be adopted. the boys were eventually taken out by their father but not the girl. too sad.
Ryszard Szablicki 22 September, 2013 11:34
Having lived the orphanage experience and wrestled with its legacy, I found that this exhibition displayed a poignant respect for those who endured life INSIDE. Thank you both, National and Victoria Museums.
Lauren Mosso 12 October, 2013 20:19
We all need to see this exhibition to grieve with those who suffered and to ensure that it never happens again.
Mark 23 October, 2013 00:02
It is disgraceful that the word care is put in quotes as though no one was cared for in institutions. I was involved in arranging foster care for vulnerable children (a system which continues now obviously) and clearly some institutions do indeed care.
Dr Jacqueline Wilson 8 January, 2014 15:48
Mark, I was in foster care a number of times in the 1970s. I have absolutely no problem with the word "care" being placed in inverted commas. The "Inside" exhibition is about giving a voice to the thousands of children who have historically been silenced by punitive welfare regimes. Bravo to the curators and the many people involved in this ground breaking and thought provoking exhibition. Dr Jacqueline Wilson
Petra 23 October, 2013 17:26
I visited this exhibit yesterday. My visit was one that I was apprehensive and excited about as I was in institutional care from birth until the age of 9 here in Victoria. I left the exhibit feeling angry, frustrated and let down. Why? Because I wasn’t raped, systematically beaten, abused etc. The exhibit focused purely on this aspect of institutional care, it painted a very biased view of the experiences of those in care. Frankly it is wrong, and offensive. Because I wasn’t systematically beaten, raped, deprived of nutrition etc I was forgotten in both the apology and the exhibit. What about the vast majority of us who never had these experiences, yet still suffer. Not from physical scars, but from a legacy of immature or non-existent emotional coping strategies, an inability to function in relationships because we have never seen them role modelled as children, from feeling like we are alone in the world with no-one who we can consider as family or a safe haven and the loneliness that comes with this, not to mention our inability to form attachments and the fear that comes with that because we weren’t held when we cried or told that everything would be ok. Most of us live with this legacy, of not knowing who we are and knowing that we are alone and forgotten somehow. The exhibit forgot this and us, and has done nothing more than forget me again. Apologies that I wasn’t beaten or raped because I didn’t fall into the minority case of institutional care and thus have been ignored again.
Garry 27 November, 2013 16:52
So sorry you see it that way Petra, you are right not all children were raped, systematically beaten, abused etc, and many of us are mindful of this. However these atrocities did happen and this does need to be told. This exhibition is also a stark reminder also of all those children who were placed into these various institutions and forgotten about and it is a tribute to them also. The points you bring forward are so real, I think in the context of your thread, this was emotional abuse which has been discussed at length in the Forgotten Australians, Cummins and the just recent Betrayal of Trust Reports. I don't think you have been forgotten your story is there, the problem is; emotions are very hard to display.
Margaret 9 January, 2014 08:53
Hi Petra, I wanted to say I'm so sorry that happened to you, and that you felt you weren't included in the exhibition. It sounds like you were neglected and neglect can be as harmful or more than other types of abuse. And, ironically, neglect is often neglected when we talk about abuse. I want to tell you your experience is valid. I was physically and sexually abused in care but the lack of love from anyone is what has most prevented me from healing. Unfortunately in many institutions it wasn't a minority that was physically and mentally abused. I'm glad that didn't happen to you, but it doesn't mean your pain is any less. All child abuse causes the child enormous suffering- emotional abuse and neglect causes no less suffering than any other.
Rupert 30 January, 2014 21:38
Petra I'm sorry you didn't feel included in the exhibition. Speaking as a Forgotten Australian who had a (kind of) similar experience to you (no sexual or physical abuse but still lacking strategies to cope with relationships / attachment / rejection ), I think you are most definitely included. The tension you feel comes from not recognising the abuse you did experience: neglect is abuse, so I believe you were abused in institutional care. This might come as a shock to you. It did to me as I had never thought of my time in institutional care as one of abuse. However, coinciding with the Inside exhibition in Canberra, I took the opportunity to discuss my experience with a professional counselor as I was feeling confused and upset. The counselor gently lead me through my experiences and showed me that the neglect I experienced was most definitely abuse. This was difficult for me to accept as I thought to see myself as surviving abuse was to also see myself as a 'victim' which I didn't and still don't. After much reflection and discussion with other Forgotten Australians, and my counselor, I now accept that I was psychologically abused while a child in institutional care. If any of what I've said is resonating with you - even just vaguely - you might like to talk through your experience with a professional counselor. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Best wishes, Rupert.
lisa 2 November, 2013 20:57
I agree with Robyn, I grew up in a home here in Victoria. I was never raped nor beaten. I was disciplined when I was naughty but no more than other children from an era where we were taught to respect their other people and that there were consequences to our actions. We all had chores that had to be done before we could go and play. A lesson's I think many children would do well to learn today. I was lucky enough to have a roof over my head and food in my belly, something many people went without. But not just that I was cared for, I had people who would spend time teaching me many things about life, things I passed on to my daughter. We would always have a birthday cake and there was a present for every child on their birthday. At Christmas we were given a piece of string that we had to follow around the home to we found a gift that was ours. But because we received one present I cherished it. I sometimes would what is really better for children who need care, would it be better to grow up in a larger place were there are primary care givers and staff who come in to help, or to be placed in a house where there are a few children with only one or two adults to bring up the children as they see fit.
annette wykez 5 November, 2013 17:37
I was saved from an institution but raised by a very ljmited couple and experienced many of the same problems of authoritive intolerant child raising practises.
Ron Love 27 November, 2013 18:07
I am one of many Forgotten Australians in West Australia who survived institutional care as a child. I believe there is an abundance of Former Child Migrants and more Care Leavers who would be interested in bringing the history of our long unheard and disbelieved treatment in out-of-home care to WA. Our stories are now becoming an acknowledged part of our national history. Please keep the ball rolling and offer the opportunity for others to learn of our truth.
hector 1 January, 2014 08:58
I too lived in a Children's Home from age 9 to 14 and it as in the 1930s I was at the age of 14 sent to work on a farm in a remote part of Victoria Whilst in the Home I was well cared for both physically and emotionally and at time punished but not unreasonably so I later became President of the Home in which I had grown up I am immensely grateful for the good life spent in the Home and for the new life it afforded me and I regard myself as being richly blest for all that has meant to me and to my chldren and grandchildren. I have nine grandchildren and seven of them so far have university degrees. THEY ARE THE BENEFICIARIES of 'my days in the Home' If I carry any scars (and I do)it is because of the indecent haste with which Churches, Governments and other agencies have excused themselves and offered apologies for alleged "sins of the past' but have been strangely quite in offering pastoral support for the carers of those days who did their work with great care and dedication and were in the words of the Church Prelates of the day "doing the work of the Lord" They are now accused by a new generation of being responsible for what may have happened in the past "As for me and my house" "I dips me lid" to those who in earlier days loved the unlovable and in doing so made all the diference to so many lives.
Cyndy 3 January, 2014 08:08
I live a state home which was run by the church, every year then I had turn 13 they gave a needle, it turn out to be depo in which my hair fell of course they denied it was the needle, but 40 yrs later I still don't have any hair, we were put into cottages so have a sort of family life. We called them aunty and uncle and they had kids of they own aswell. Uncle use to come into my room and try to abuse me, he never rape me but what he did was worse, when I told of what was happening I was not believe and I had to stay with them. I think I may not be the only one as mine best friend use to wet the bed and I ran away. People ask me why don't I sue over the depo, I can't because the place close down in the eighties, now it's a semtier. There some good thing that I learnt for that home aswell
Stephanie 6 January, 2014 19:18
I studied the Forgotten Australians last year - very moving story and glad justice is being served.
Margaret 9 January, 2014 09:09
I was in a home and I was abused. I was beaten very badly, sexually abused and neglected and still have difficulty coping with everyday life. I wanted to say that if people feel they had a good experience in a home then that's good. Maybe in that home there was no abuse, at the time. But for those of us that were abused it's very hard to tell, and to be heard. I want to come to the exhibition but I am afraid I would just start howling and never stop. I also wanted to say there is no excuse for abusing children. There never has been. And that we were never unlovable, just unloved.
Lynda 11 January, 2014 22:52
I plan to visit the exhibition from country Victoria. My maternal grandfather was placed in care on two separate occasions due to financial hardship. He was the only child to be sent and I have been told that his mother had to make a decision between himself and his sister; from which he never emotionally recovered. My grandfather was a hard man, an alcoholic, and sexually abused my mother and aunt. He never spoke about his time in care. My brother sexually abused my sister and so the intergenerational abuse continued. I have, at 45 years old, finally broken the links with my dysfunctional family. I am keen to see the exhibition because I have often wondered what my grandfather's experience was like and what happened to him, and how this has shaped where I am today. It is important to remember the profound effects of care experiences on the generations to follow.
eril 21 January, 2014 20:01
An excellent exhibition exposing the results of a dysfunctional society & system. So many with lifelong injuries!
Jillian 28 January, 2014 00:14
I saw the exhibition today and felt very emotional and somewhat angry, not only with the system who let me down but also my parents. I was taken to St Aidans, Bendigo because I was an "uncontrollable" child. My parent physically abused me on a weekly if not daily basis. My step grandfather sexually abused me before and after St Aidan's. I would continually run away from the abuse one believed me...hence the convent so the nuns could teach me how to live...give me discipline! I would have been no older than nine or ten years old...I can't remember the exact age. I was terrified, bewildered as no one believed my story and was branded a liar. Going to St Aidans was even more traumatic, I can't begin to tell to stories of what went on within the convent walls. It wasn't a happy place and friendship were frowned upon, the nuns repeated told us we no good and would never amount to anything. While my abuse wasn't physical from the nuns, It was certainly emotional and verbal, I remember being hungry all the time, we would gather at the kitchen door after our lumpy porridge and hold up our pinnies and if we were lucky we would get the toast crusts - left from the nuns breakfast. We were even luckier if our clothes fitted, we have two changes per season, one set worn while the other set was in the wash, bad luck if you got them dirty as you would have to stay in dirty clothes until the clean items returned from the laundry. I remember being continually scared of the bigger girls who felt they had the right to hurt/ discipline the younger ones. While going around the exhibition memories flooded back, tears rolled down my cheeks and I just wanted to yell ...that this was true and it wasn't fair .....between my family and the institution that was there to guide and protect me I lived my younger years frightened, lonely, rejected, isolated and absolutely no self esteem. Luckily I have made a life but the legacy of St Aaidans stay with me on a daily basis and is never far from my mind! Many stories along the same vein can be told regardless of what institution we were in but I was somewhat disappointed that St Aidans didn't feature in the exhibition other than maybe twice. Maybe more research needs to be done so the stories from other "inmates" can be told.
helen laffin 29 January, 2014 12:38
where is this exhibition travelling to next ?
Discovery Centre 30 January, 2014 10:10

Hi Helen, the exhibition is travelling to Western Australia and will be showing at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle from March 14th until June 29th 2014, and then onto the Queensland Museum from August 9th until November 16th 2014.

Pippa 17 February, 2014 13:47
Is the last chance to see the exhibition in Brisbane?
MV Customer Contact Centre 20 February, 2014 11:20

Hi Pippa

Thanks for your comment. At this point in time, the exhibition is heading to Queensland Museum from 9th August to 16th November.  There are no futher locations or dates confirmed, so Brisbane might be your last chance to see it!

Cyril Kelleway 21 January, 2015 15:01
I am wondering if you can possibly help me to find out if my Uncles Percival Henry and Sydney Kelle(a)way may have been in your orphanage prior to the 1st World War when their parents left them in Melbourne and came to New Zealand please? I am researching my Family Tree and would really appreciate any suggestions or help you can offer meplease? Thanking you Regards, Cyril Kelleway Auckland.
Michelle 23 April, 2015 11:39
Hi, I know this is a very old post, and I have only stumbled across the fact that Melbourne Museum had this exhibition here. I am so unhappy that I missed out on seeing this. Do you have any idea if they will be coming to Melbourne again in the future? Or who can I contact to find out where this travelling exhibition goes to? regards
Discovery Centre 25 April, 2015 12:01
Hi Michelle, we're sorry you missed the exhibition. We don't know of any plans for it to come back to Melbourne. The exhibition was put together by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, so send them an email or give them a call and they should be able to let you know any future plans for this travelling exhibition.
Cecelia Pinkstone 13 September, 2015 23:31
Hi , I was a child placed in care with three of my siblings at Cheltenham Childrens Home and the first group to go to Orana.I loved my time there . So many happy memories.Would loveto be able to see photos etc from my time there.I was a first year student at Burwood High School and went in as second year to the newly built High School. Such wonderful memories
Kathleen 21 December, 2015 20:07
I have yet to see the exhibition and have been researching details of my Aunt Aleathea, known as Pauline SIMPSON. In 1928 when she was 9 years old, Pauline was taken and left at a children's home. She died in 1928, never knowing she had a mother and family in New Zealand; and they never knew what had happened to her. I can only guess what her life may have been like, though hoping there was some happiness for her. Reading some of the stories from other people who spent some or all of their childhood in a children's home, makes for a time to reflect on life in general.

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children cleaning the floor, on hands and knees Girls make beds

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