As we celebrate Parkerville Children and Youth Care’s 114th birthday, we look back on our history and the origins of our organisation; what makes Parkerville great, and the challenges we have overcome.
At the turn of the century, the industrial revolution created immense human suffering as well as wealth and expansion. The lower classes in society paid the price – the revolution’s never-ending need for labour in places like factories and mills meant that people would work for most of their day in terrible conditions, which impacted their health significantly. Many new workers recruited in the industrial revolution were women, especially women with children. As you can imagine, the women of the day did not have access to the childcare facilities and services we have today. While there was the option to live where they worked (and have meals provided), most said no – the unhygienic and dangerous conditions were not exactly considered ‘child friendly’. This need for childcare evolved into a practice known as baby farming. Often, children would be sent to (usually) other women who took on custody – and if the child was young enough, would also wet-nurse them. However, as time went on, baby farmers realised that (especially in the case of lump-sum payments) it was more profitable if the children died shortly after receiving payment, as the money would not cover the care of the child for long. Baby farming eventually became synonymous with infanticide.
While the religious groups and churches of the time were more concerned with staying in favour with the upper classes and propriety – and saw the lower classes as filthy and a ‘breeding ground for evil’ – one particular woman, Emily Ayckbowm, created the Church Extension Association (CEA). She believed that the Anglican Church needed to be more inclusive and nurturing of the poor. She and the CEA even created what was called ‘bun schools’ – food and basic education was provided for those who could not afford it. Only a few short years later, Emily was given the title ‘Mother’ in the order of nuns she established, the Community of the Sisters of the Church. One woman who was drawn to this cause was Katherine ‘Kate’ Clutterbuck – later known as Sister Kate.
Around the time Kate was 22 years old, she joined the Order and met other Sisters, most notably Sister Jane Ashdown, who became her companion for the following 40 years. A year after Mother Emily’s death in 1900, a few of the Sisters of the Order left for Western Australia in two groups as per request by the then Dean of Perth. The first group was comprised of three of the Sisters – Vera, Rosalie, and Susannah – who created a small school shortly after they arrived. Today, this school is more commonly known as Perth College (situated in Mount Lawley). The second group was Sister Kate and Sister Sarah, as well as approximately 22 orphaned children. However, the Perth community and Church hierarchy was less than willing to contribute to the care for such a large number of children. Vera, Rosalie and Susannah’s school was given official support by the Church, yet Kate and Sarah’s orphanage and children were not, and as a result, the Sisters and the children were made to feel very unwelcome and out of place in Western Australia. The creation of a new (mixed) orphanage was considered unnecessary and seen as something that would divert funds from two (same-sex) orphanages that already existed. However, with the Archbishop’s blessing, a crèche was opened in May 1902 – first situated in William Street in the Perth CBD, and later moved to Fremantle.
The need for a Children’s Home weighed heavily on the Sisters’ minds, especially as baby-farming became more prominent in Australia. Once word spread around Perth that the Sisters were offering genuine refuge and care for at-risk children, babies and children were left at the doorstep in droves, which resulted in the eventual creation of a Children’s Home. On Christmas Day 1902, Sister Jane (Ashdown) joined Sisters Kate and Sarah and aided them in their search for suitable land for a Children’s Home. After months of searching, the Sisters found a 20- acre property in Parkerville that had just come on the market that met all of their requirements. Parkerville Children and Youth Care was born.
The years leading up to World War I were shaky as the Children’s Home, as it was then still known, was trying to establish itself. While the Sisters excelled in areas such as the cottage system of housing for the children and their strong opposition to corporal punishment (instead, rewarding positive behaviour and enforcing recognition and understanding of consequences – unheard of at the time), there was still a constant issue of having enough room in the buildings on the property to home every child. While the First World War left a huge hole in the heart of Parkerville (of the seven original Parkerville orphan boys that enlisted, only one returned – discussed further in the ANZAC Day post), it also contributed to a better financial system. Parkerville gained more supporters, especially within the Church community, who donated significantly, which allowed for new buildings to be built. While the ‘George Turner’ building and the ‘Busy Bee’ cottage were opened in late 1929, the Great Depression found its way to the home. Parkerville suffered from staffing issues, a lack of funds, and a monumental increase in the number of children in their care. None of these issues were helped by the deaths of Archbishop Riley in 1929 and Sister Sarah the year after. However, their deaths ushered in a new era of the relationship between Parkerville and the Church.
As a new Archbishop was appointed, it only increased the issues Sister Kate was having. The Board of Control whittled down the number of children in care against Kate’s wishes, and she was looking for more help in the home – by that point, she was in her seventies, and carrying an enormous amount of responsibility. The new Archbishop, Henry Frewen Le Fanu, was asked by Kate to go to England, talk to the Order of Sisters, and have some new recruits sent to relieve the workload. However, Le Fanu took this to mean that Kate needed replacing, and he had been given authority over the Children’s Home by the Head of the Order of Sisters. Sister Kate agreed to retire by the end of 1933, and only asked that a young man by the name of Colin Campbell be given 3 years’ work and land. The community reaction to Kate’s forced retirement was phenomenal – crowds gathered, tributes were published, and children who had been raised in the home came back to say goodbye. However, Le Fanu did not change his mind. Sister Kate met with A. O. Neville and expressed interest in working with Aboriginal children at Parkerville’s Cottosloe Beach house. In 1933, she drove her ‘horse and trap’ out of the grounds for the last time.
This is a small glimpse into Parkerville’s history and origins, but the most important part of any story is always the beginning. Without Sisters Kate, Jane or Sarah, without Mother Emily, Parkerville Children and Youth Care would not be what it is today – it wouldn’t be at all.
On Parkerville’s 114th birthday, it is important to remember where we come from and what we have done so that we may learn from mistakes and guide ourselves into the future.
Happy birthday, Parkerville Children and Youth Care!