In Australia, from the late 1860s to the early 1980s, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd provided residential care for children and young people who were unable to live with their families, had no accommodation within the community or were not attending school. During these times, charitable organisations and religious orders were called on to shelter children and young people who were experiencing neglect or abuse.
Sunday the 11th February 2018 was a significant day for many past residents of Good Shepherd homes. Over 100 women, men and children gathered with Good Shepherd Sisters and staff and volunteers of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (GSANZ) in the Memorial Garden at the side of the Good Shepherd Chapel at Abbotsford for a ritual and the unveiling of a sculpture commemorating Good Shepherd residents across Australia from 1863 – 1984.
After an Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’ which included a smoking ceremony, the MC for the day, Ms Gendrie Klein-Breteler from the GSANZ Mission Team, gave an outline of proceedings. Province Leader Sr Monica Walsh and Ms Fran Jenkins, representing the Memorial Committee, addressed the gathering. Welcome on behalf of the Memorial Committee
It is exciting to be here today after four plus years of planning and I thank all of you who have travelled to be here today from far and near. Whether your experience was positive or negative I hope this memorial will speak to you in some way.
Life has changed so much in the 40 years since the institutions were closed. It may be difficult to imagine Australia at a time when there were no youth refuges, no special schools – where there was nowhere to turn when life at home became unbearable. There were no child-care centres for parents struggling with the loss of a partner, illness or unemployment. This was an era when orphanages and residential centres were the order of the day.
Having said that, life in an institution was hard, harsh in some instances and I want to say how deeply sorry I am for cruelty and abuse which occurred within Good Shepherd institutions.
We sisters were instructed to show kindness, to be firm and fair, in our words and actions. I regret with all my heart the times when sisters failed you – when we failed to be what we were called to be – when we failed to hear your cries – when we failed to protect you from bullies in your midst.
I also want to acknowledge many of you for whom Good Shepherd homes provided refuge, safety, freedom from fear – an opportunity to learn. Many have shared with us that skills learned in different departments of the laundries helped them in future life. Others have complained of the hard work expected of them.
Today we remember and honour the thousands of women and children from 1863 until 1984 required to live away from family, acknowledging this as a mixed blessing. We honour their lives, we honour your lives, the told and untold stories of hope and despair. We honour your courage, your love, your determination.
From today this garden is named the Memorial Garden. A space where we remember, honour and acknowledge all past residents across Australia.
I want to thank the Architect, Robert Simeoni & his assistant, Erin Watson, who worked tirelessly on the memorial design. I thank Dean Smith, the fabricator, responsible for the resin poured layer by layer to achieve a seamless finish.
Finally I thank our Planning Committee who met across a period of four years to get us today – Fran Jenkins, Maree Holt, Jenny Glare, the late Sr Anne Manning and more recently Cath Campbell, Claire Tanner, Amanda Olle, Kathy Landvogt, Ethne Pfeiffer & Gendrie Klein-Breteler.
All present were invited to choose a word that conveyed something of their experiences and to place it on the Sharing Tree. The Memorial, designed by architect Robert Simeoni and Erin White and manufactured by Dean Smith was then unveiled. It is a steel cylinder filled with zinc fragments to represent the many different experiences of former residents and is engraved with the words anger, ashamed, fear, sanctuary, friendship, dreamers.
To conclude the ceremonies, a Ritual took place around the Sharing Tree as a song was sung. Guests were invited to enjoy a shared meal.