HERITAGE NEWS: Paramatta Female Factory and Institutions Precinct

The Paramatta Female Factory and Institutions Precinct, has recently been inscribed on the National Heritage Register. The submission was made based on the area’s links to the institutionalisation of women and girls from the settlement of Europeans in the area to the present day uses of these original buildings for modern institutions.

From the Australian Heritage Database, Summary Statement of Significance:
‘The Parramatta Female Factory and Institutions Precinct is an outstanding example of a place which demonstrates Australia’s social welfare history, especially regarding the institutionalisation of women and children over the 19th and 20th centuries. Institutionalisation was a core element of Australia’s welfare system for over 150 years, where those receiving social services were placed in ‘care institutions’ which provided government services in a residential setting. Through this period, the Precinct was the site of the Parramatta Female Factory for women convicts, a Roman Catholic Orphan School for Catholic children, and finally the Parramatta Girls Industrial School, a home for girls seen as neglected or wayward, including children from the Stolen Generations. Together, these facilities provided shelter, education and oversight of thousands of women and children, but they were also often places of poor treatment and abuse. Women and children had a distinctive experience of institutionalisation, due to the particular moral judgment that was imposed on women and their children who lived in poverty or were considered to be outside social acceptability.
Institutionalisation was progressively abandoned as a widespread model of care in the 1960s and 1970s in Australia, and the Apology to Forgotten Australians in 2009 highlighted the trauma experienced by children in institutions throughout Australia. The experiences of institutionalised women and children were frequently disregarded and dismissed while they were resident in institutions and afterwards. In light of the historical failure to recognise people’s experiences, and the difficulty many former residents feel in telling their stories, the Precinct is able to present the experiences of these women and children in a way which allows the Australian community to recognise and witness the reality of institutionalisation. The Parramatta Female Factory and Institutions Precinct can act “as a bridge and a shared cultural space for witnessing nation-wide experiences of institutionalisation and incarceration” (Tumarkin 2016).
Precinct has retained buildings and spaces demonstrating the range of institutions on the site. These include original accommodation buildings and walls from the convict-era female factory, the original building of the Orphan School, and a number of buildings, walls and courtyards which were part of the Girls School, such as dormitories, assembly spaces, a chapel, and school and dining rooms. The remains of the Female Factory are rare in Australia, with few remnants of convict-era female factories left. Through this original fabric, the site demonstrates the distinctive experience of institutionalised women and children, who were subject to the system of care and control at the core of welfare institutions.
The site also has significant archaeological potential in the form of remnants of the Female Factory, both of buildings previously on the site and artefacts associated with its day-to-day functions. This archaeological evidence has the potential to contribute to understanding of the lives of convict women, providing a perspective on their experiences which is not accessible from existing written sources’

For more information, please see:
Australian Heritage Database
Australian Dept of Environment and Energy