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.
It ceased being a shelter for children in 1983.
NSW Governor Marie Bashir told those present for the occasion that the site’s history was “one of the most significant in our history”.
For tens of thousands of years before colonial settlement, the precinct, near the Parramatta River, was used for “women’s business”, Dr Bashir said.
But during settlement, it became known as a place of sadness as convict women were sent to work in a factory there and then an orphanage was built.
Survivors of the Parramatta Girls Home also attended the anniversary, which came after some of them recently gave evidence at a public hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Dr Bashir spoke of the good intentions of the people who created the orphanage but said 170 years on “we are remembering with a lump in our throats”.
She acknowledged the “Parragirls” as survivors and said events such commemorative events were important, “lest we forget”.
Catholic Marist Brother Tony Butler, who has traced his family history and found a connection to the orphanage told the children “to listen to the stories of your elders because they are your stories too”.
NSW MP Geoff Lee said the state government plans to develop the heritage precinct, naming it as one of five major projects in the coming years.
Federal Labor MP for Parramatta Julie Owens also attended the day.
Other features included an exhibition by photojournalist, artist and Australian academic Kellie Greene who grew up in institutions in Ireland.