Australian Orphanage Museum opens in Geelong

April 6, 2023 BY

The Australian Orphanage Musuem is located in Ryrie Street, Geelong. Photo: SUPPLIED

THE new permanent home of the Australian Orphanage Museum now open in Geelong tells the story of a dark and little-known chapter in Australia’s history.

The museum’s exhibits are presented from the perspective of those who lived in orphanages, children’s homes, foster care, training farms, missions, and laundries.

As vulnerable children, they lived and worked without love and nurturing and were often subject to cruel physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

The unique collection of historic artefacts and memorabilia includes cots, gates, badges, crockery, diaries, plaques, signs, pews, suitcases and several other objects.

Set up by the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN), the museum’s collection has grown exponentially since CLAN’s establishment in 2001.

It comprises a range of items collected by CLAN co-founder and chief executive officer Leonie Sheedy and others, as well as donations of objects and memorabilia made to the museum by care leavers as well as by some past provider organisations and members of the public.

A feature of the exhibition is “The Raft of the CLAN”, a giant painting by artist Peter Daverington, which depicts the survival of abandoned children left to fend for themselves.

The collection was held in CLAN’s Sydney office until 2019, when it moved to a temporary home in Geelong, and eventually into its permanent home in Ryrie Street thanks to a federal government grant.

CLAN – the peak agency supporting and advocating for victims of abuse, neglect, and child labour – chose Geelong to be the museum’s new home as the Geelong district at one point had 13 orphanages; the largest number outside Australia’s capital cities.

The Australian Orphange Museum celebrated its official opening last Saturday, with Deputy Prime Minister and Corio federal member Richard Marles doing the honours.

Ms Sheedy said the opening was wonderful, with about 150 care leavers also known as “Clannies” in attendance, including three 90-year-olds.

“Not many [care leavers] were orphans – eveybody had parents, but we had parents who couldn’t look asfter us because of the war, death, desertion, poverty, divorce, ill health, mental health… they’re the reasons children ended up in those places.

“We’ve been speaking about this for 22 years but the Australian community hasn’t heard our voices.

“Lots of people know about this history, but it’s pretty isolated – a lady came in yesterday, brought in by her daughter, and she didn’t know anything about the museum but her daughter did.”

The Australian Orphanage Museum is at 351 Ryrie Street, Geelong, and is open Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm. Entry is by admission.

For more information, head to aomuseum.com.au