The Parramatta Girls’ Training School was an institution sadly run like many others throughout the 1950’s to the 70’s.
Sexual abuse, psychological abuse and state sanctioned slave labour weren’t just accepted regular practice at Parramatta Girls’ – these crimes were built into the foundation of the organisation.
I have acted for more than 162 adult survivors of Parramatta Girls’ Training School.
That number alone demonstrates the appalling gravity of the systemic crimes committed by members of this institution.
I can tell you that Parramatta rates as one of the worst institutions for child abuse in Australian history.
I’ve heard too many personal stories about the abuses suffered by the victims. The psychological torture. The unspeakable evil. No person should ever have to endure the level of evil suffered by teenage girls at this institution throughout the 1950’s up until 1974.
Officers who patrolled within Parramatta Girls’ high walls were bottom of the barrel types. You needed no qualifications to land a job with this establishment. No university degree or TAFE certificate. The pay was basic. It was work you took if you couldn’t get any better. We entrusted the lives of our most vulnerable to this institution, which chose to give power and control over these young girls to a collection of desperate, uneducated and immoral thugs.
Child welfare work was ‘on the job’ learning in those days. The absence of any structured training meant sadistic perverts passed on their skills to the next in line, perpetrating the same culture of evil from one year to the next.
Nothing ever changed.
Superintendent Percy Mayhew ruled Parramatta Girls’ like a ruthless warlord. He taught new officers to fondle, beat and rape the girls. Most girls didn’t know what sex was when they arrived at the front gates.
The poor pay and lack of qualifications required meant this institution attracted men on the fringes of society. The lure of direct access to children combined with an easily obtained position of power is a desirable mix for a paedophile. A job at Parramatta Girls had the ideal job description for a would-be criminal with a lust for a smorgasbord of sex with pubescent girls.
They were Percy’s boys. He ruled his kingdom with these minions at his beck and call. They did whatever they wanted. They had no fear of being caught. They knew Percy was on their side.
Such was the strength of Percy’s power – no one would ever take the word of a Parramatta Girl against an officer of the Child Welfare Department.
The girls had nowhere else to go. Magistrates in those days didn’t have the options they have today.
Parramatta was the largest institution in New South Wales for girls. Inmates were a mix of juvenile offenders, girls charged with exposure to moral danger, and those deemed generally ‘uncontrollable’. The latter group had done nothing wrong. These so-called ‘uncontrollables’ and EMD’s were victims of abuse with nowhere else to turn but to the State’s care and protection.
These were young girls. Traumatised, innocent children who needed love and protection.
Instead, they were thrown into Parramatta Girls’, where they would spend up to 12 months in the worst possible environment for a vulnerable child.
There was no counselling. No special programs. No diversional therapy. No school lessons. The girls were forced into hard labour in the commercial laundry from early morning until dinner time. The work was monotonous, gruelling and stinking hot. Female officers kept the girls working under an iron fist.
Life in Parramatta was lived most days with your nerves on a knife-edge.
There were no kind words or soft tones. The institution had no intention to heal or nurture – just to break and silence. Any attempts to fight the system led to solitary confinement, or worse – girls would be threatened with a trip on the overnight train to the dreaded Hay Institute (a maximum security prison for girls in the Riverina district that remained a guarded state secret until the early 2000’s).
I am convinced girls were being sexually abused at Parramatta daily. The stories I have heard and those told to the Royal Commission are indescribably heartbreaking.
I have spoken to survivors who lived there from the 1950’s until the day it shut down. The abuse was so frequent, involving so many girls – it must have occurred on a daily basis, like some form of sickening ritual. The sort of culture that condones this type of routine institutionalised practice would have understandably screened out any staff who wanted to help the girls.
Well-intentioned workers would not have survived.
They would have been bullied out of the system. With no one willing to blow the whistle, Superintendent Percy Mayhew’s power strengthened, and the girls at Parramatta had no chance left.
The occasional riot was like a pressure valve exploding. The media reported the riots while police were brought in to ‘control the girls’.
One police officer fired his gun at the rioting girls. A witness described this at a Royal Commission hearing in 2014; she described the sound of the bullet whizzing past her head. There was no explanation from the police as to why an officer opened fire on a group of unarmed teenage girls who couldn’t escape.
Most adult survivors are now aged in their sixties and seventies.
Their general health is poor and so is their dental hygiene. In fact many had teeth pulled out at Parramatta. The government dentist couldn’t be bothered with fillings.
Chronic lung disease is common.
Almost all of the survivors deal with some form of mental illness as a result of their trauma.
Most are struggling financially and trying to get by on the aged pension or disability pension. They’re renting from public housing. The lucky ones are in long term relationships. Many are single because of the trauma they suffered in their youth. Histories of depression and severe anxiety are common.
Clients tell me their lives have been hard. They wish they could do something for their children. Maybe leave them a small inheritance when they pass. At least be able to have their funeral prepaid.
You’ve heard it said, “You can’t change the past, but you can fix the future.”
This is true. We must help these women find justice.
If you were or someone you know was abused at Parramatta Girls’, I encourage you to please come forward and share your story with me.
An apology and a respectful financial settlement from the Department of Family and Community Services can help turn your life around.
We will fight as hard as we can to give you a more positive future – and bring this institution to account.
For more information on the atrocities committed by the Parramatta Girls Home, download the case study below.
Image Source: smh.com.au