Cootamundra (Aboriginal) Girls’ Home (Or: Coota Girls)

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Image: Cottamundra Wattle – Australian National emblem

[Note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are respectfully advised that this article contains images and names of persons who are deceased.]

The Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, more commonly known at the Cootamundra Girls’ Home, is another of the old children’s homes worthy of another look by the Royal Commission.

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Image: Cootamundra Girls’ Home

Located at Cootamundra, NSW, the Home was operated by the New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board from 1911 to 1968, for girls, under 14, forcibly taken from their families under the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909. These girls were members of the “Stolen Generation” and were denied contact with their families while being trained to work as domestic servants for wealthy families in Sydney. The “Bringing Them Home” report (see previous posting) contains accounts of abuses associated with the Home and the domestic placements.

The prevailing attitude of “Social Darwinism” is clearly enunciated in an address to the NSW Parliament, by a member of the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1915.  “[Half castes] are an increasing danger, because although there are only a few full-blooded Aborigines left, there are 6000 of the mixed-blood growing up. It is a danger to us to have a people like that among us, looking upon our institutions with eyes different from ours.”

Between 1912 and 1975 approximately 1,200 Aboriginal girls were removed from their families and placed in Cootamundra.

The 35 acre Home property has since been passed on to the Young Local Aboriginal Land Council who, in turn, has leased the property, on a long term lease, to the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship as a Christian vocational, cultural and agricultural training centre called Bimbadeen College. It is now listed as a Historic Heritage site by the NSW State government.

A book, “Home Girls”, by Peter Kabaila, contains a collection of stories of the survivors, intended to mark the 2012 Centenary of the Home while there are many other primary sources available (see details below). About 400 former residents and their families attended the Centenary ceremonies.

For most of the old Homes, there is usually some unique feature which holds special significance for former residents. The main gate was the symbol for the Kinchela Home for Boys (see previous posting). In the case of Cootamundra, it was the old “wishing” well. The old well had disintegrated and was bricked over in the 1980s, when the Aboriginal Welfare Board was disbanded and was no longer the caretakers. A memorial replica of the well was built by a local stonemason from local granite.

As one Coota’ Girl has noted, “Many of us spent long quiet hours sitting on the well looking down the driveway hoping our mothers were coming to take us home.” Aunty Lorraine Peeters came up with the appropriate quote “Sitting on Our Wishing Well, Waiting for Family to take us Home”. This is inscribed on the outside of the rim of the new well.

The other memorial is a group photograph of the Girls with Matron Hiscocks which was taken with them sitting on the old well. This photo and other acknowledgements are attached to an engraved polished stone. This stone (which faces the well) represents a mother coming up the driveway to take her child or children home. Former residents finally unveiled the two memorials on the 20thOctober 2006.

One day in 1956, an Aboriginal artist visited the Home and donated one of his paintings a year later. This sat on the Home wall for decades and it, too, had special significance to the Girls. When the Home closed, it disappeared for many years, and was eventually found hanging on the wall of the executive meeting room of a NSW government department.

In the late 1990s the Girls reclaimed the painting and donated it to the National Museum.

The said artist was none other than Albert Namatjira, not only one of the very best Australian Aboriginal artists, but also one of the very best of all Australian artists. The painting, “Arreyongo Paddock, James Range” is now virtually priceless.

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Image: Arreyongo Paddock, James Range – A. Namatjira

One Cootamundra Girl, Joan Coogan, who was 11 or 12 on the day of the Namatjira visit, said they had been overwhelmed by the artist. ”He was so dark! He was a beautiful person and he seemed a little bit shy,” she said. [A quick Google search will reveal that Namatjira was treated as badly as any of his people, despite his global fame.]

Cootamundra Girls

Image: Cootamundra Girls

Cootamundra Girls in Line

Image: Cootamundra Girls in Line

Another Cootamundra Girl, Jean Beggs, wrote the following poem about the painting and its painter.

THE PAINTING OF LIFE

Orphans who were forced to melt into a white society

Orphans who threw away their brushes along with the colour black

To keep the canvas of life completely white

Exclusion, missions, jails and orphanages became the black reality

But don’t cry a tear for us

Cry for the people who cannot cry

Cry a tear for a kind gentle man

Whose heart reached out to ease the pain

And gave the girls a beautiful painting

A painting whereby the canvas was neither black or white

But with vivid, lovely colours for both societies to see

The picture on the canvas was painted by Albert Namatjira

newspaper advertisement

Image: A newspaper advertisement with handwriting on it from the time. The writing says: “I like the little girl in the center of group, but if taken by anyone else, any of the others will do, as long as they are strong.” The preferred girl was marked with an “X” on the photo.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: A first look at the Internet

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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One Response to Cootamundra (Aboriginal) Girls’ Home (Or: Coota Girls)

  1. Margaret Stuart says:

    I went to the bible college known as Bimbadeen College 2 years of training. I enjoyed my 2 years I was 18 years old during 1980 – 1982. Amazing support as we lived by faith no Centerlink income just lived on the generosity of other churches and the movement of the AEF was very powerful by the Spirit of God and the leadership of Mr David Kirk RIP.

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