Thousands of children passed through Goulburn's orphanages over more than a century.
But this fact was not unusual for such a populous place in NSW, says historian Jo Henwood.
Ms Henwood spoke about just two of those institutions, Goulburn's Saint Joseph's and Saint John's orphanages, at a recent online talk at Bathurst Library.
The Catholic institutions were built in 1905 and 1912 respectively by Goulburn's renowned architect, EC Manfred.
They were a continuation of an orphanage in Clinton Street, also operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1864 to the early 1900s.
Both survive today; Saint John's has been ravaged by successive fires, while Saint Joseph's has been extensively restored by Maggie and Daryl Patterson, who have used it for humanitarian and welfare purposes. It is now known as Holmwood Guesthouse.
Ms Henwood, who also spoke about Central West and Sydney institutions, said orphanages were borne of British and colonial societies' middle class struggle on how to deal with abandoned children.
"They thought that children would be good for domestic labour so these places became like sausage factories," she said.
"You see the same attitude towards women and aboriginals; 'how can we take care of people who are a risk to society's aesthetics?'"
Only about four per cent of children in orphanages did not have parents, according to statistics. Many parents simply could not look after their offspring due to financial or social circumstances.
The institutions were established by the NSW government from the 1820s but later, when their effectiveness was questioned, were taken over largely by the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Goulburn, as a large population hub, was also home to the Gill Memorial Home for Boys from 1936 to 1976 and the Saint Saviour's Girls Home from 1929 to 1969. The council acknowledged these 'forgotten Australians' with a garden and plaque in Victoria Park in 2007.
Ms Henwood said life at Saint John's was very regulated.
"One of the great things about Saint John's was that the boys saw themselves as sportsmen," she told The Post.
"There were chores in the morning, 7.15am Mass, school work and sport."
While children weren't designed for orphanages, the Sisters who ran them ranged from being tough but fair to "torturous," Ms Henwood said. At times there were five Sisters dealing with hundreds of residents.
While ex-residents of Saint John's, like Phil Merigan, have spoken fondly of their time, former occupants of Saint Joseph's have reported a mixed experience of physical abuse and boundless generosity from the Sisters and community.
At a 2015 Saint Joseph's reunion, one former resident, Vanessa Irving, spoke of the 'harsh conditions.'
"As I stood in the entry hallway I could still see myself kneeling down with toothbrush 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 told The Post.
The Pattersons have thrown open the doors of the building for combined Saint John's and Saint Joseph's reunions.
Ms Henwood said it was a shame that Saint John's had been destroyed by fire.
"It's a great building and while it's been mooted for several things, nothing has eventated," she said.
The former Historic Houses Trust officer, who has worked at numerous heritage sites, said many people were "immeasurably scarred" by their time in orphanages, but others less so.
"You have to respect what is their truth," Ms Henwood said.
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