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  Reading 11E

Caroona and St Heliers

The Caroona Mission (originally Walhollow Station) was located about 20 kilometres from Quirindi and was established in the late 1870’s. There were usually around 200 Aboriginal people living in accommodation provided by the government under the control of the station manager. The mission had its own school which went to primary level and at one time was used as a showpiece of the fine work undertaken by the Aboriginal Welfare Board as the following extract written by Superintendent A.W.Lipscomb from The Dawn attests:

My first visit was to Caroona Station. This settlement is located about nineteen miles from Quirindi, and the same distance from Werris Creek. It is one of our oldest stations, and usually carries a population of over 200 people, although the number at present is somewhat less. Since the War this Station has been entirely rebuilt, and is now a modern up-to-date settlement with lovely homes, School, Hall, Church, Farm buildings and other amenities. A proud record of Caroona Station is that every family has been able to live independently of the Board’s assistance throughout the past five years, and not one ration has been issued. Even the old folk are being looked after by their young able-bodied relatives, who are in good steady employment. The homes are nicely furnished; many have wireless sets and refrigerators and nice gardens have been made around the homes.

This reference reveals that Aboriginal people were in ‘good steady employment’, but it is clear some degree of social alienation from mainstream society was active. The station was a significant distance from Quirindi and all the facilities such as a school, church and a hall reflects a people living in an isolated situation that could be described as sub-cultural and institutional.

St Heliers is located on the outskirts of Muswellbrook towards McCullys Gap and was originally a property occupied by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dumeresq who was part of the colonial force who went to the Upper Hunter Valley in the late 1820’s. A section of the property of around 450 acres was purchased by the government in 1945 and served as a child welfare institution until its closure in 1986. As an orphanage this institution has been identified by members of the Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council as a place where Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and was very much a part of the Stolen Generations.

The removal of Aboriginal children from their natural parents was commonplace during the 20th century. It is has been estimated that around 8,000 Aboriginal children in New South Wales were taken from their parents and placed into state institutions. It is widely regarded from an Aboriginal perspective that not one Aboriginal family has escaped from the trauma of having children torn from their parents. As a result thousands of Aboriginal children lost their cultural identity and became alienated from their natural families. Such government action leaves Aboriginal people with no doubt that the process was one of pre-meditated paternalism. The taking of Aboriginal children from their families and placing them in an Institution to weaken resolve would remain at the forefront of government policy well into the late 20th century.

The following extract reveals that the sentiments of the early decades of the twentieth century were still impacting upon Aboriginal life many decades later. The Superintendent of the Aboriginal Welfare Board A. W. Lipscomb in December 1953 reflected this policy:

The Board recognises the generally accepted principle that a child’s natural heritage is to be brought up in its own home, under care of its natural parents. There is no wholly satisfactory substitute for this. Unfortunately, some parents, despite all efforts on their behalf, prove themselves incapable or unsuitable to be entrusted with this important duty, and the Board is forced to take the necessary action for the removal of the child.

The best substitute for its own home is a foster home with competent and sympathetic foster-parents. Failing this, the only alternative is a Home under management of the Board’s own offices.

The Aboriginal children that found their way into St. Heliers have a special place in this infamous chapter in Australian history. A retired schoolteacher from Muswellbrook recalls that in the 1960’s the average number of Aboriginal children who attended Muswellbrook South Primary School from St. Heliers averaged about eight. According to sources the children were always ‘neatly dressed’ and travelled to and from the orphanage by bus. It was the role of the teachers to integrate them into mainstream society and to this effect “ I think we were successful. A few of them became very good football players and gained employment.”


Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee