News Story

Mormon Youth Honour 19th Century Australian Women and Children

A group of Sydney youth from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been learning about living conditions and hardships endured by Australian women and children in the 1800’s.

Over the last six months the young people have been visiting and offering service at the Female Factory at Parramatta.

“The Female Factory at Parramatta was the first purpose built colonial establishment designed to provide accommodation and employment for convict women. It also functioned as a penitentiary and lying-in (maternity) hospital,” according to the website of community organisation Parragirls.

“Designed by emancipated convict, Francis Greenway, the Female Factory was the destination of all unassigned convict women sent to the colony of New South Wales. It played an important role in the provision of medical care for the wider female population and was an assignment depot, refuge, workhouse, a marriage bureau, hospital and prison.  This multiplicity of roles made it difficult to administer and it quickly evolved from a place of refuge to that of a prison.” 

In recent months, the Latter-day Saint youth have been sorting papers, cleaning, clearing weeds, doing various maintenance jobs, and painting inside and outside the 170-year-old building. They also cleared brambles, and installed new artwork.

One young Mormon volunteer said, “I learned so much about the suffering of others. I thought that the site felt really scary at first, but now it feels like a nice place to come back to.”

Earlier this month, children, youth and community leaders took part in a service to remember those who lived and worked in the facility.

SBS Television said of the event, “Even if only for a day, young laughter and sweet voices have replaced heart-wrenching sadness at an historic Sydney landmark. In the shadows of the now notorious Parramatta Girls Home, scores of children on Sunday gathered at the site to create a garden, make artworks and play audience to a choir. They were there to commemorate the 170th anniversary of what was originally Australia's first purpose built Catholic orphanage.”

“Constructed to accommodate both boys and girls within the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in 1844, the premises were later used as an industrial school for girls before becoming the Parramatta Girls Home in 1887.”

A 50 voice Latter-day Saint women and youth choir performed at the event.  

New South Wales Governor Marie Bashir planted a native bottlebrush tree as part of the service. “The site is one of the most significant sites in Australian history,” she said.  “This tree will symbolise the ‘Forgotten Australians’.”

Parramatta Member of Parliament, Geoff Lee, said the gathering was a wonderful and important event.  He said, “Moving forward from a place known for broken families, sadness and atrocities, is a healthy and beneficial initiative.”

Local Latter-day Saints have been working with Bonney Djuric, founder of the support network Parragirls and organiser of this event. She is campaigning for the site to be accredited as an international "site of conscience" to ensure that future generations can learn from it.

Organisers of the project expressed gratitude to the artists and volunteers who supported the project.  “As we remember those who were tragically mistreated or died here, a far-reaching impact of healing for this historical site will be felt now in our present day, and for many future generations to come,” Bonney Djuric said.

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