History of Kinchela
Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home
(Excerpts from Louise Thom’s Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, Heritage Branch, Office of Environment and Heritage, see full report and heritage listing www.environment.nsw.gov.au)
The former Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home fronts South West Rocks Road alongside the Macleay River, 16 miles from Kempsey. Prior to establishing the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, The New South Wales Board for the Protection of Aborigines gazetted the Kinchela Aboriginal Reserve on April 23 1883. Kinchela (originally known as Arakoon) was gazetted as a village in 1885/1886. Dormitories were added to the Aboriginal Reserve in 1924 to accommodate the daughters of Aborigines who lived too far from a school and boys who were transferred from Singleton Aboriginal Boys’ Home.
The Kinchela village became a centre of shipping for produce and cattle on ocean-going steamers…Aboriginal people were excluded from the activities of the village and the local community successfully petitioned in the 1940s to prevent the Aboriginal boys from Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home from attending the local school.
The precursor to Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, Singleton Boys’ Home was established by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines in December 1918 on the grounds of the former Mission. By the end of 1918 there were 46 boys accommodated there. The home was intended to accommodate the boys removed from their families under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act (No. 2 15) until they were old enough to be sent out to work. The boys were to receive training whilst in the home so they could be gainfully employed in manual or agricultural work when they turned 15 years of age. They remained wards of the state until they were 18 and their income was held in trust by the Board.
…By the end of 1923 the Board decided to dispose of the Singleton Home on the ground that the premises were unsuitable. The school on the grounds was officially closed on 15th January 1924 and the boys remaining at the home were transferred to Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home.
Established in 1924 the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home had the same function as the Singleton Home… [B]oys between the ages of 5 and 15…were sent directly to Kinchela or if they had been taken at a younger age they were sent to Bomaderry Children’s Home until they were old enough to be transferred to Kinchela.
From the 1920s until the 1940s the Kinchela Home was known as an extremely harsh and cruel environment. After this time the home is said to have improved however oral history shows that conditions were still appalling…The staff were untrained and did not make the same efforts to provide a homely environment. The boys were referred to by number rather than name. Cases of beatings and sexual abuse are well documented. The cruelty was investigated in the 1940s and some staff were dismissed. The policy of segregation from the rest of society became more relaxed and boys were permitted to engage in activities outside the home.
The original dormitories constructed in 1924 were large “tin sheds”; these were replaced in 1935. The policy of assimilation was strictly enforced and anything connecting the boys to their Aboriginal culture was prohibited. The use of Aboriginal languages was banned in the home. The boys could go to the annual Kempsey show but they were prohibited from speaking with other Aboriginal people.
The first Aboriginal School in the area…was established in 1892 but only functioned for a year. In 1919 another school called the Pelican Island Provisional School was established, apparently on the Aboriginal Reserve and in July 1928 it was renamed the Kinchela Aboriginal Provisional School becoming an integral part of the Kinchela Boys’ Home. It operated until 1941 when the School was closed and re-opened as Kinchela Aboriginal Public School which offered basic elementary education at a primary school level. According to former Home Boys the Provisional School was staffed by the Manager of the Home or other staff members and on some occasions an elder boy. None of these were trained teachers and as a consequence the standard of education until 1941 was extremely poor. The boys were not permitted to attend the local Kinchela School. When Kinchela School was asked by the local school inspectors to accept the boys from the Home the parents of the white children voted thirty three votes to one against the proposal. The Kinchela community voted again in the 1960s permitting Aboriginal students to attend the Kinchela School. A new school was built in 1941 (Kinchela Aboriginal Public School) and for the first time trained teachers were employed. Boys were also permitted to attend the high school in Kempsey after this time. The Kinchela Aboriginal Public School operated until 1962… After the closure of the school the boys attended West Kempsey Primary School.
In 1952 the home was described as having lawns, gardens, swimming pool and a playground. Twenty nine acres of the land was given over to a large vegetable garden and a dairy herd of 33 head and four horses. Weekly church services were held at the home together with Sunday School. The boys also participated in local sports activities during the 1950s, gaining a reputation in swimming, football, boxing and surf lifesaving. The location of the home on the river flats next to the Macleay River caused flooding problems on numerous occasions. After 1959 whenever the Home flooded the boys would be relocated to the Aboriginal Reserve at South West Rocks in the former South West Rocks Public School buildings. They would also use this place as a base for their South West Rocks sporting events and school holidays. Some boys were given the privilege of attending the local picture theatre in Kempsey. If they attended with a white friend they could sit in the general area whilst other Aboriginal people had to sit in a segregated area of the theatre.
The Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home was closed in 1970. After closure of the Home the Aboriginal community lobbied to keep it for the control and use of the Aboriginal Community. The Minister for Child and Social Welfare determined the site would be sold and advertised it to be auctioned on 5th May 1972. Thanks to the advocacy of strong Aboriginal voices the government overturned its decision and the former home was passed into Aboriginal ownership. The former Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home now belongs to the Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council.
The former Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home is a place which is connected to very difficult memories. In 2002 a Kinchela Boys’ Home Reunion was held at the site. The Deputy Premier of NSW and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs used the occasion to formally apologise to the former Home Boys and congratulated them on their courage in returning. On 14 February 2012, Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home, along with Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home and Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home, were added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register.