RETURNING to the former St Joseph’s orphanage generated a well of emotions in two former residents.
But in keeping with Sunday night’s theme of hope, Vanessa Irving and Katie Cavanough were there to make peace.
The owners of ‘Liminis,’ Maggie and Daryl Patterson had invited former residents back, knowing that, like Uganda’s child soldiers, they had also felt abandoned.
The evening was about giving hope to the marginalised. At the start of proceedings Mrs Irving presented a peace rose to the Pattersons for planting in their garden.
It was in memory of the estimated 2000 children who passed through the orphanage over 69 years.
“I would like you all hold hands and spare a minute silence for those who have passed through these doors they once called home and (pray) that they find peace and happiness in their lives,” Mrs Irving asked the crowd.
St Joseph’s orphanage was originally located in Clinton St but due to growing numbers, the Catholic Church commisioned construction of the Taralga Rd facility.
The EC Manfred designed building was finished in 1905, complementing the boys orphanage in Mundy St, also run by the Sisters of Mercy.
Mrs Irving said during the war years the institutions took in children from the child immigration scheme. In the 1950s and ‘60s, indigenous children who became part of the ‘stolen generation’ arrived.
Mrs Irving went there as a ??yo in ??. Ms Cavanough became her best friend.
Around them were children from every walk of life and social status, including broken families, welfare intakes and orphans. They ranged from a few months old to early teens.
“Life was harsh,” she said.
“They had regular duties, usually starting around 6am each day, the older girls caring for the younger ones, who were known as their charges.
“On a chance visit a short time ago Maggie and Daryl invited me in to see the place once more. Memories came flooding back as I walked down these now quiet and lonely hallways and it was I who ended up being the tour guide, describing the many aspects of our daily lives when I lived here as a child.
“As I stood in the entry hallway I could still see myself kneeling down with tooth- brush in hand, scrubbing the intricate parquetry tiles before having to operate the monstrous polisher that was twice my size, being ever so careful as it would throw you around the room like a rag doll while trying to operate it.”
She remembered the early morning walks down the long drive on cold, frosty days as the children went to school.
The “harsh conditions” had long lasting effects on many.
“It affected them emotionally, psychologically, and socially - being at the hands of those who they looked upon for guidance, compassion and understanding only to be punished and shown cruelty, wearing the ever-growing feelings of being judged, never belonging or ever fitting in.
“Even today, to hear about a possible reunion can leave them feeling sick and empty inside.”
But she remembered the good times too - the laughter, children singing, sport, movie nights, trips to the beach and going to the Tommy Hanlon circus. Later, the orphanage installed a pool and there was the occasional Mr Whippy treat.
“Much of this was possible due to the hard work of the Bradfordville community and the Goodwill ladies, many donating clothes, shoes, food and toys for us to play with,” Mrs Irving said.
Both orphanages closed in 1974 and the children moved into two cottages purchased by the Church in south Auburn St. By 1987, these too had closed and the children were either fostered out or returned to families.
“As a new chapter begins to unfold, I'd like to say thank you on behalf of all the children to those wonderful people of this amazing community who put so much time and effort into making a difference for us, and to this wonderful old building for giving us shelter when we needed it most,” she told the crowd.
She wished the Pattersons every success in their Liminis venture.
Goulburn MP Pru Goward thanked Mrs Irving for her courage.
“There are many people here who have heard stories like yours but they never fail to shatter and shock us,” she said.
“They remind us that every child deserves a childhood and that there were times we absolutely ignored the rights and needs of our precious children.
“We need to remember it over and over again because the lessons of history will be forgotten if we’re not reminded of what they are, and we will make the same mistakes.”