Beyond the Walls: Sites of Trauma and Suffering, Forgotten Australians and Institutionalisation via Punitive ‘Welfare’

Jacqueline Z. Wilson

Abstract

Women’s and children’s welfare and institutionalisation are a neglected area of Australian public history, and the historic sites which operated as carceral venues within that field today stand largely forgotten, in many cases derelict. The prime example of such sites is the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct (PFFP). In practice, Australian women’s and children’s welfare was strongly focused on a punitive approach, resulting in many thousands of vulnerable people suffering significant harm at the hands of their ‘carers’. These victims comprise the group known as the ‘Forgotten Australians’. The article discusses the nature of the relationship between the historic sites and the narratives of individuals who were victims of the system, whether actually incarcerated or merely threatened with such. As a form of case study, the author’s own story of State wardship and her encounters with the welfare system is employed to illustrate the connections between the ‘generic’ stories embodied in the sites, the policies underlying the system, and the nature of institutionalisation. It is argued that immersion in the system can induce a form of institutionalisation in individuals even when they are not actually incarcerated. The effective omission of women’s and children’s welfare and the Forgotten Australians from the forthcoming national Australian Curriculum in History is discussed, with a focus on the potential of the PFFP to be developed as a public history venue emphasizing its educational possibilities as an excursion destination, and a source of public information on the field from convict settlement to the present day.

Keywords

Public History; Women; Children; Welfare; Institutionalisation; Incarceration; Trauma, Parramatta, Female Factory

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