A Home in Waiting in Sydney

You are here

In 1966 I went to a home for unmarried mothers in Camperdown, Sydney. The youngest six of all the young women there slept in little beds in a row on the upstairs veranda. In the mornings we sat in the living room and worked hard folding ten plastic bags together and inserting them into a sleeve until morning tea time. We folded thousands and thousands. It was never-ending and while I believe the home received payment, we were not paid for our work. We were given no choice about completing the work and we didn’t dare refuse. In the background, the radio played, ‘across my dreams with nets of wonder I chase the bright, elusive butterfly of love’. It played over and over again. The talk-back host had a tongue twisted with nastiness and derision, insulting those who phoned in. We were disengaged. The radio talk concerned the outside world and we weren’t a part of it. We were outcasts.

When morning tea time rolled around, we could finally stop folding. We had the same food every day, large pots of tea or coffee essence and Sao biscuits with Vegemite or jam.
Lunch and dinner were were much the same. Each dining table had a limit of six occupants. Each table group took turns helping with cooking, setting the tables (they always had to be done in a particular way with butter served in little butter dishes), clearing the tables and washing the dishes. The food was unappetising. The vegetables were overcooked.

Mrs M. was in charge of the kitchen. All workers had to be cheerful and well-mannered. Dinner was more formal. Matron rose from her position at the head of the large middle table and said grace, blessings and thanks and little prayers. We looked around the room or at our feet or at one another. Mrs M sat at the other end of the table. She watched us constantly and noted any irregular movement and frowned her disapproval. Dinner was not good to eat. We made up for it with plenty of bread and jam. And yet, I was losing weight consistently and I was miserable.

I was enrolled in correspondence school and was given permission to go to the local library which was nearby. Another girl had to accompany me. The library had no books that were useful for my studies. Besides that, my application for membership was denied because my address was still my parents’ address and out of the local area. To get to the library we had to walk through some streets near the shopping centre, where I saw some students from my school. I hid from them. I was ashamed. I was terrified of being recognised. After two visits to the library I didn’t go out on weekdays again.
There were two little single bedrooms in the house and I was moved from the dormitory into one of them. It was a shady, cold room. My lessons from the correspondence school were posted to me. I felt too depressed to do any assignments, but I liked to read. I was absorbed in The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and some of Chaucer’s works. Through these works, I escaped to other worlds.

 

I wrote this account of my experience because these practices of forced adoption were secret for a long time and many people still cannot imagine what happened and what it was like to experience forced adoption.