Kamballa was an institution for girls aged 15 to 18 years. It was established on the site of the Parramatta Girls' Training School, as a response to public concern and protests about the running of the institution. The establishment of Kamballa was announced in July 1974, and the first girls started in November 1974. It was formally opened in March 1975.
Taldree Remand Centre for younger boys was established at the same time, in a separate building on the site. Kamballa and Taldree shared administrative staff and some facilities, including kitchens and a school building, although the boys and girls were kept separate and there was no mixing of the children from the two institutions.
Kamballa was proclaimed under the Child Welfare Act, 1939 as "a school for the reception, detention, maintenance, discipline, education and training of children and young persons committed to an institution to be known as 'Kamballa'" (New South Wales Government Gazette, 7 March 1975, p. 807). According to press at the time it was announced, "Kamballa" was the "Aboriginal word" for "young woman", although the language used and cultural group it was from were not identified ("Child detention centres to close", Sydney Morning Herald 5 July 1974, p1).
Kamballa was often described as being designed to cater for the needs of girls found unsuitable for other training schools or institutions. Formed as a response to the poor conditions at Parramatta, Kamballa was "…an experiment to see if unmanageable girls could be rehabilitated if staff taught life skills and fostered relationships with us" (Borderline, p15). The emphasis was to provide extensive counselling and vocational and educational opportunities to facilitate individual development, and to build trust in the adult staff. To facilitate this, it housed around 10-20 girls at any time. Girls were sent to Kamballa from other institutions, including Minda and Reiby Training School.
Sandie Jessamine, one of the first girls admitted to Kamballa in November 1974, recalls the daily routine in her memoir Borderline (pp181-2):
Up at 6.30, chores before breakfast, schoolwork before lunch on weekdays, sewing after lunch until three.
After classes we had rec - swimming, netball or reading - or sometimes a psychologist talked to us one-on-one, about our goals, behaviour and plans for release…during the evenings we watched TV or practised shooting hoops. The grounds had outside lights so we didn't trip over our feet…Saturday was big weekly cleanup. We'd spend the whole morning scrubbing, mopping and dusting all the rooms in Kamballa. The afternoon was leisure time.
While Jessamine recalls a more relaxed environment at Kamballa than at other institutions, with access to vinyl records and magazines, a swimming pool and the opportunity to put on a performance for family members, she also makes it clear that it was still an institution. Jessamine escaped multiple times over the wall, and also recalled being put in isolation 8 times during her time at Kamballa.
In May 1980, Kamballa's premises were transferred to the Department of Corrective Services for conversion to the Norma Parker Detention Centre for Women. The Kamballa girls moved to adjacent buildings previously occupied by Taldree, although the general Kamballa program remained the same. Kamballa closed as a residential facility in 1983, and the girls were sent to the Minda Remand Centre. The buildings were then used for offices by the Department of Community Services until 2009.
The buildings used for Kamballa are part of the Parramatta Female Factories and Institutions Precinct. In November 2017, the Precinct was added to the National Heritage List. The inscription notes that "the Precinct is outstanding in its capacity to tell the stories of women and children in institutions over the course of Australian history". It has also been listed on the Register of the National Estate since 21 March 1978.
Sources used to compile this entry: Child detention centres to close, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1974, 1 pp; 'Dismay after Parramatta's historic Norma Parker Detention Centre orphanage damaged by fire', Parramatta Advertiser, 10 January 2013, http://parramatta-advertiser.whereilive.com.au/news/story/dismay-after-historic-site-damaged-by-fire/; Parramatta Female Factory and Institutions Precinct, National Heritage List, 2017, https://www.dcceew.gov.au/parks-heritage/heritage/places/national/parramatta-female-factory-and-institutions-precinct; 'Girls Training School Precinct, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta, NSW, Australia [Register of the National Estate]', in Australian Heritage Database, Department of the Environment, Australian Government Department of the Environment, http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=3028; Han, Esther, 'Female Factory tales to be told', The Sunday Sun-Herald, 4 November 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/female-factory-tales-to-be-told-20121103-28qub.html; 'Kamballa', in State Records Authority of New South Wales website, State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW 2016, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/agency/460; Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, 2006-, http://www.parragirls.org.au/; Quinn, Peter E, Unenlightened efficiency: the administration of the juvenile correction system in New South Wales 1905-1988, University of Sydney, History, 27 March 2006, http://hdl.handle.net/2123/623; Thinee, Kristy and Bradford, Tracy, Connecting Kin: Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their records [completed in 1998], New South Wales Department of Community Services, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998, https://clan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/connectkin_guide.pdf; Email from former resident to Find & Connect web resource, 17 March 2019, New South Wales Government Gazette, 7 March 1975, p. 807, Department of Youth and Community Services Annual Reports 1974, 1975, 1980.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry and Kirsten Wright
Created: 23 March 2011, Last modified: 3 February 2023