Students inspired by brave Kinchela Boys Home survivors
02 Jun 2022
“Heart-wrenching”, “life changing”, “perspective altering”, “eye opening”, “it completely tore at my heart.”
These are just some of the comments from Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta students, teachers and staff who attended the moving Kinchela Boys’ Home bus experience at CathWest Innovation College during Reconciliation Week.
Those in attendance heard harrowing stories from Uncle Roger Patrick Jarrett and Uncle Robert Paul Young who recounted their experiences at the Kinchela Boys Home where between 400 and 600 young boys were systematically removed from their families and communities and incarcerated under government and church policies up until its closure in 1970. They are acknowledged as part of the Stolen Generations.
“It wasn't a home, it was a brutal institution,” said Mathew Parr, Education Coordinator at Kinchela Boys’ Home Aboriginal Corporation. “It was one of the harshest boys’ homes in Australia and certainly the harshest in New South Wales.”
Children were subjected to harsh and hostile treatment at the home. It was a place where physical hardship, punishment, cruelty, alienation and abuse (cultural, physical, psychological and sexual) were documented as having been part of the day-to-day life for children.
“To hear first hand the horrors faced by these young Aboriginal boys completely tore at my heart,” said Sophie, student at St Patrick’s Marist College Dundas.
“To learn about the Stolen Generation through books is one thing, but hearing it first-hand from survivors of the Kinchela Boys’ Home is another,” added her St Patrick’s schoolmate Mikaela. “This was truly an eye opening experience that provided me and my peers with a whole new perspective on the Stolen Generation and how the trauma caused several decades ago is still present and impacting people today.”
"I sobbed at the powerlessness and lost childhoods these men experienced,” said Ted Langford from Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta’s Jarara Indigenous Education Unit. “I felt their pain. No one should experience these horrors… the abuse, daily suffering, separation from family at such young ages while also losing their cultural identity.”
The two Uncles bravely told their stories and then openly fielded any and all questions from guests. Uncle Roger recounted vivid memories of how he and other children were locked up like animals to a giant Moreton Bay fig tree as punishment, often for minor things such as having dirty fingernails, wetting their bed, sweeping or mowing the grass the wrong way.
“We were locked up to that tree in bare feet, sometimes in the freezing cold,” explained Uncle Roger. “The chain is still attached but most of it has been consumed by the tree as it grew and now you can only see a few links. It’s a bit like us - this place stole a huge part of our lives and just like the links, there’s now only a few of us around to tell the story. But we’ll keep telling it and hopefully the next generation will too.”
"It truly is hard to believe that after all they lived through, they still had the resilience, fortitude and forgiveness to want to help others understand a truly shocking part of our shared history," said Clinton Boreham, CathWest Innovation College Teacher.
One of the most stark items on display in the bus is an article from the 1965 Dawn Magazine which likened the home to a country club where all the boys were happy and the managers claimed they treat the boys like their own, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I will never forget the looks that passed over the Uncles’ faces as they recalled the worst of the treatment they faced and the tears that rolled down their cheeks,” said Sophie.
“Today they sit before us telling their heartbreaking childhood stories of abuse and separation from family and culture,” added Ted Langford.
“These men are inspirational and send hope and healing to those willing to listen.”
The Kinchela Boys’ Home bus is a Mobile Education Centre (MEC) fitted out to tell the truth about the Kinchela Boys’ Home and Stolen Generations. It includes numerous photos and displays detailing the history of the home. There is also one half of the original metal gate that adorned the entrance to the institution. The other half is on display at the National Museum of Australia.
“Visiting the Kinchella Bus at Cathwest was a life-changing and perspective-altering experience,” said Amira Osborne, student at St Agnes Catholic High School Rooty Hill. “On the walls of the bus we saw the many names of boys that were taken to Kinchella and many of us saw names that could have possibly been connected to our family and our mob.”
"It was an honour to meet and hear the Uncles’ stories,” said Cloe Carrasco, student at CathWest Innovation College. “In the future, people will not be able to have that involvement. I will make sure that their stories survive by telling my future children about the time I met the survivors of the Kinchela Boys’ Home.”
Students from St Patrick’s Marist College Dundas were so moved by the experience, they established a task force to try and raise more awareness and incorporate more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recognition within the College community.
"As leaders of the future, we wish to bring light to these unfortunate events and share the stories of the Uncles," said student Elizabeth.
"As a nation, we need to have an understanding of our history and make amends with the mistakes of the past."
Read more about the moving conversation between CathWest Innovation College teacher Clinton Boreham and Uncle Robert Young after one of the presentations:
“From family stories, I knew that my Grandmother had worked at Kinchela on weekends as a cook and that she often petitioned the welfare board about the harsh conditions at the Kinchela home,” explained Clinton. “When I spoke with Uncle Robert (Bob), he recognised my grandmother's name and broke down in tears, telling me that she was the only one in the home that was kind to him.”
“He recalled a number of stories that further illustrated her kindness. When he told me the story of his first encounter with her, he said that all the other boys thought that she was a figment of his imagination and did not believe that someone in that place was so kind. I recognise that unfortunately, the kindness that my grandmother showed in the home was rare and that all members of the Stolen Generation suffered terrible injustices. I am so grateful that the stories told by Uncle Bob and Uncle Roger were shared in such a candid and honest way.”
“For me personally, I was able to hear the impact my grandmother had on others in the past. It is difficult for anyone to connect with the lives of grandparents long gone, but for me it means so very much. My mother has limited family tales having been stolen herself at such a young age.”
“For any generation that came after the Stolen Generations, there is so much loss in the connection we should have to our heritage and shared culture. The sorrow that lives in my loved ones is evident and it is hard to see beyond the pain. The Kinchela Boys’ Home bus allowed me to connect with the Uncles, hear stories about my grandmother which I never knew and gave our students an opportunity to hear the truth about the past from those who lived it first hand, in a safe and respectful way. I am grateful for having had this experience and hope the bus continues to tell the history of this awful time.”
Some extra quotes from guests who attended:
Emily Warren (student - CathWest Innovation College): "Being educated through first hand accounts on such horrendous acts was invaluable. The Elder’s were very open about their experiences as well as their mission to turn the Kinchela boys school into a memorial and a place of healing. Their strength was truly inspiring."
Paul Devlin (Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Learning Leader): “I was amazed by the rawness of the experience that is still in their words. The uncles quest to try and heal by telling their story. The need for more and more stories, like these, be told so that we can start to understand the trauma of the Stolen Generation. The mystery and beauty of how these men can forgive. The journey of Reconciliation is a long road and needs to be travelled by all Australians.”
Judy Wood (Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Manager Enterprise Services Desk): “I feel privileged to have experienced this tour. It was very moving, but if sharing their stories helps to ease the pain of the survivors, then I am grateful for the opportunity to listen. The bravery of the survivors to recount some of their most painful experiences, without bitterness, just raw honesty, was inspiring. Roger's comment about never being afraid to ask your parents anything, before it is too late, has certainly resonated.”
Jewel Osborne (student - St Agnes Catholic High School Rooty Hill): “The Kinchela Boys experience was a very effective talk and helped many young Aboriginal kids to understand the hardship they had faced growing up in the homes and being taught the ‘White Man’s Way’.
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