History of Kinchela Boys Home

History of Kinchela Boys Home

From 1924 to 1970, under the authority of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board and its successor, the Aborigines Welfare Board, between 400 and 600 young boys (and a small number of girls in its first year of operation) were incarcerated at the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home (Kinchela Boys Home) on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

These children are among thousands across Australia who were systematically kidnapped from their families and communities under accepted government and church policies and practices that created the Stolen Generations.

The intent was to re-program them to become ‘white’, an act tantamount to cultural genocide.

Kinchela Boys Home is one of the most notorious institutions associated with the Stolen Generations. Conditions within the institution were harsh and hostile. This was a place where physical hardship, punishment, cruelty, alienation and abuse (cultural, physical, psychological and sexual) are documented as having been part of the day-to-day life endured by boys who were kept and made to work there.

Upon ‘leaving’ Kinchela Boys Home, the boys’ troubles did not end there. Institutionalisation and the legacies of their treatment have resulted in ongoing pain and trauma for survivors, their families and communities.

The devastating effects continue to be felt by the descendants and families of the men, who struggle with intergenerational trauma.

Today, the former Kinchela Boys Home site is a place of deep significance to survivors, their families, the communities they were taken from, the communities in the Macleay valley and the broader community. As part of a long and complex healing process, the site and its deeply personal values must be respected by wider Australia.

Remaining buildings, landscape features and important spaces offer insight into the operation and conditions of the institution, and, as physical evidence of the reality and legacy of the Kinchela Boys Home, now provide the basis for truth telling. Envisaged as becoming a museum for the rich collection of oral and historical material already gathered, the site is entering its next phase. The story of the Kinchela Boys Home is once again set to become visible there at the site after having been silenced and made invisible. For information on the heritage listing of the former Kinchela Boys Home Site and the Conservation Management Plan prepared for the site, read more

  • 1924

    Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home (KBH) is established by the Aborigines Protection Board. The institution is located on the site of the Kinchela Aboriginal Reserve. Children of families living and farming at the reserve, including the Drew family, are incarcerated at the institution. KBH has the same function as the Singleton Boys Home, in Singleton NSW. That institution closed in 1923 and most of the boys were transferred to KBH. In the first years of the institution, the daughters of Aborigines who lived too far away from a school were accommodated at KBH. Dormitories, described as large “tin sheds”, were constructed for the children. The institution contains 29 acres of land used for farming crops, a dairy herd, horses, chickens and pigs.
  • 1926

    Extensions are made to the original manager’s residence at KBH.
  • 1932

    An article in The Macleay Chronicle describes the “care of Aboriginal youth” at KBH. The article notes that at this time the gardens managed by the boys contain cabbage, onions, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, beetroot, rhubarb, strawberries and a wide variety of flowers. The article includes photographs of the home.
  • 1935

    18 OCTOBER Official opening of new dormitory buildings at KBH. Original dormitories are replaced. The new dormitories and other buildings (including laundry) more than double the capacity of the home – accommodating over 80 boys. Constructed by Mr. A. J Avery of Taree, the new long rectangular buildings are clad in fibro internally with hipped corrugated steel roofs and timber floors internally. Another fibro building with cement floors is erected, used as a laundry, W.C, grocery, clothing and general store, scullery, tool room and powerhouse. The boys in the home contribute to the construction of the buildings, including mixing concrete for the floors and constructing the network of footpaths around the home. Complaints of cruelty and abuse are recorded against the then manager at KBH, Mr McQuiggin. Accused of drunken and abusive behaviour, he is reprimanded but remains employed, being relocated to Cummeragunja Mission (southern NSW). This prompts a walk off in Cummeragunja.
  • 1941

    The Kinchela Aboriginal Provisional School is closed and re-opened as Kinchela Aboriginal Public School. The school offers basic elementary education at a primary school level. From this time onwards, a small number of KBH boys are permitted to attend Kempsey High School. The number of boys attending High School gradually increases.
  • 1943-1944

    New bathroom facilities are constructed at KBH, including bathrooms directly connected to the dormitories. A modern dairy and separator room are also constructed, along with a store and kitchen annexe.
  • 1947

    Mr Jacobs, the local inspector of schools, complains of poor educational standards in Aboriginal Schools due to low attainments of teachers. Arguing that Aboriginal students in mixed schools perform just as well as white students, he contends that Aboriginal students should be permitted to attend local schools, or else teachers in Aboriginal schools should be recruited from among the best and not the worst of the Department’s teachers. Jacobs proposes the amalgamation of the Kinchela Aboriginal School with the local Kinchela Lower School, by transferring the KBH school building to the public school site. White parents of students at the Kinchela Lower School oppose the plan. Jacobs meets with the parents to explain the benefits of the proposed plan. First, Jacobs highlights the benefit of savings in cost of repairs to the old local school building; second, that the increase in number of students would ensure that the school kept its very popular second teacher; and third, that Aboriginal boys would benefit from the contact with a male teacher and “other Australian boys and girls”. The proposal is rejected at a meeting on 15 December 1947. Of the 40 parents only 1 votes in favour of the amalgamation, with 33 votes against and 6 abstentions. Upon the rejection of the proposal, Jacobs remarks: I hope the next generation will be more broad-minded.
  • 1947 - 1950

    The swimming pool at KBH is constructed by the boys themselves.
  • 1948

    A new residence is built for the Manager at KBH. A cottage on the site is also rebuilt for use by the laundryman. A contract is let for the construction of a new barn and produce store for the farm.
  • August 1949

    Flooding of the Macleay River. KBH is inundated by the flood, the water rising to a height of 1 metre in all buildings. The boys are evacuated and temporarily accommodated at Burnt Bridge.
  • 1950's

    The original 1920s entry gates are replaced with a pair of gates with “Kinchela” and “Boys Home” in steel letters at the top. The boys at KBH participate in local sports activities, gaining a reputation in swimming, football, boxing and surf lifesaving.
  • June 1950

    Flooding of the Macleay River. The water levels cause extensive damage to the home. The boys are evacuated and temporarily accommodated at South West Rocks. After 1959, whenever the home is flooded the boys are relocated to the Aboriginal Reserve at South West Rocks in the former South West Rocks Public School building. This is also used as the base for South West Rocks sporting events and school holidays.
  • 1953

    JANUARY 3rd Burnum Burnum (Harry Penrith) gains his Bronze Medallion with South West Rocks Surf Life Saving Club. He is the first known Aboriginal to gain his Medallion with the club, and the second Aboriginal in Australia to register this achievement. The KBH school choir wins first place for the third successive year in the Kempsey Eisteddfod - small school choirs section.
  • Late 1950s

    The manger’s residence and two staff houses are raised on concrete and timber piers to avoid flood damage. Other buildings remain at their original level.
  • 1958

    FEBRUARY Kempsey Council bans the KBH boys from swimming in the local Kempsey swimming pool, along with the local Aboriginal community.
  • 1960

    The Aborigines Welfare Board requests the Department of Education merge the Kinchela Aboriginal School into the local Kinchela Lower School. The headmaster reportedly favours the merge and the Department gives its approval. However, a group of families in the white community protest and form a petition against integrating the schools, believing the amalgamation would “swamp” the school with Aborigines. The proposal is again rejected.
  • 1962

    Kinchela Aboriginal Public School closes.
  • 1963

    Pupils from the Kinchela Aboriginal Public School are merged into West Kempsey Primary School.
  • 1965

    Freedom Rides draw attention to racism in country towns, including Kempsey. Charles Perkins, first Aboriginal graduate from the University of Sydney, and other members of SAFA (Student Action for Aborigines) tour country towns in NSW to draw media and government attention to explicit racism experienced by Aboriginal people. The tour notes discrimination in education, and the poor standard of education that Aboriginal students are receiving. In Kempsey the Freedom Ride targets the local council-owned pool, which excludes Aboriginal people. KBH is not a focus of attention during the Freedom Ride visit to Kempsey.
  • 1967

    27 MAY Referendum changes the Australian Constitution to include Aboriginal people, giving recognition to Aboriginal people as full Australian citizens. It brings substantial change and highlights the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are second-class citizens with many limitations on their lives. SEPTEMBER A Joint NSW Parliamentary Committee examining Aboriginal Welfare finds that Kinchela, “has a rather cold institutional atmosphere probably brought about by the dormitory system” and recommends its closure. OCTOBER Herbert Simms, a former KBH boy, is appointed as new manager of the home, after joining the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1965.
  • 1969

    The Aborigines Welfare Board is abolished following the 1967 Referendum. The referendum also results in changes to the way Aboriginal children are removed and segregated. Responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs is assumed by the Federal Government, and Aboriginal children under the care of the Aborigines Welfare Board become Wards of the State.
  • 1970

    MAY The Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home is closed. The last boys are transferred from the home in May, with a number being sent south to Royleston Boys Home in Glebe, Marella Mission Farm in Kellyville and Berry Boys Farm in Berry.
  • 1971

    APRIL The Aboriginal community in Kempsey express interest in reacquiring the Kinchela reserve for use as either a conference centre or cooperative farm. John L. Waddy, Minister for Child and Social Welfare, rejects the proposal.
  • 1972

    APRIL Minister Waddy announces former KBH site (Kinchela Reserve) is up for Crown auction on May 5th. MAY 4TH The advocacy of strong Aboriginal voices, including Mary Duroux, results in the government overturning its decision to auction the former KBH site on 5 May. MAY 19TH Department of Lands announces it has arranged 1972 sale of the former KBH site to former KBH boy and entrepreneur Ken Brindle, who plans to develop the site as an Aboriginal craft centre. The local Thungutti association, who seek to use the site as a cooperative farm, oppose the announcement. SEPTEMBER Minister Waddy announces the Kinchela reserve is withdrawn from sale and is leased to Thungutti association of Kempsey for three years with option for renewal.
  • 1975

    MAY 9th The former KBH site is transferred to the NSW Aboriginal Lands Trust.
  • 1976

    Benelong’s Haven, an Aboriginal drug and alcohol rehabilitation hostel, takes over the use of the former KBH site on a 99-year lease.
  • 1988

    The former KBH buildings are renovated. The buildings are reclad, reroofed and refurbished by Benelong’s Haven. A verandah is constructed connecting the complex of buildings so that it can remain functional during floods.
  • 2002

    A KBH survivors’ reunion, ‘K.B.H. The Journey Home’, is held on the site
  • 2012

    The former KBH site is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register in recognition of its significance in the history of NSW. One of the KBH entry gates with the words ‘boys home’ on top of it is handed over to the National Museum of Australia for conservation and display in its permanent exhibition about the Stolen Generations.
  • 2013

    The former KBH site is designated as an Aboriginal Place under the National Parks and Wildlife Act in recognition of its significant and longstanding associations for Aboriginal people of NSW.
  • 2014

    OCTOBER 25th An official 90th anniversary commemoration of the opening of KBH was held on the former KBH site honouring the memory of all of the Aboriginal children who went through KBH.
  • 2014 – 2016

    KBH survivors and their families worked with Design 5 Architects on creating a Conservation Management Plan for the KBH site.
  • 2016

    DECEMBER The 2nd half of the 1950s KBH entry gate with the word ‘KINCHELA’ is found at a property in Smithtown and is now in the possession of KBHAC.
  • 2017

    APRIL 28th Unlocking the Past to Free the Future: Kinchela Boys’ Home - A Conservation Management Plan wins 2017 National Trust (NSW) Heritage Award for Research and Investigation/Analysis. DECEMBER Benelong’s Haven closes and vacates the KBH Site
  • 2018

    25th and 26th MAY KBH survivors lead a Schools Sorry Day event and Community Sorry Day event at the KBH site. This is the first time this has been possible.
  • 2019

    MAY The NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, The Hon. Don Harwin, announces the awarding of an NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Grant to KBHAC to prepare an Interpretation Plan for the KBH Site.

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