Mount Penang Training School for Boys, or Mt Penang Training Centre, was established by the Child Welfare Department in 1946 at Kariong, near Gosford. It replaced the Gosford Training School which had been on the same site. It was a reformatory for boys convicted of offences or had been difficult to manage in other Child Welfare Department institutions. Some children were transferred from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and placed in this Home. Mount Penang was predominately for older boys, aged 14 to 16 years of age. In 1959 it held 380 boys. It was officially renamed the Mount Penang Detention Centre in 1988..
In the 1950s Mount Penang was divided into the Main Institution, which had dormitory-style accommodation, and the Privilege Cottage, which had separate bedrooms, dining and recreation rooms. The site reused the buildings of the former Gosford Training Home.
In the 1950s, there was large-scale landscaping of the site, with the boys carrying out stonemasonry and land clearing. According to the 1962 Child Welfare Department Annual Report:
The grounds of the institution have been landscaped on a large scale, involving the removal of a sizeable hill. Stone won in the process has been used to face the terraces and build walls and rock gardens, this work being carried out by the boys under trained supervision. The lads take great pride in their stonework, a number of them becoming remarkably expert in stonemasonry, a craft which is something of a dying art in the outside community.
A video on youtube features former residents describing the labour and harsh conditions which created the landscape at Mount Penang. The young men worked in a row, turning over the soil in a whole paddock with only shovels, digging one by one. One man recalled boys collapsing in the hot sun and being left there or moved under a tree, and not receiving any water. Another man commented: 'During the day we were made to either dig stones with a pickaxe from the paddock for a new oval, dig tree stumps out with pick axes.... chain gang shit really' ('In honour of those who endured …', 2013)
Each day was deliberately long and exhausting, and like similar regimes in girls' homes like Parramatta, was designed to effect personality changes. The 1964 Child Welfare Department described the policy:
An inmate of Mt. Penang is exposed to a regulated, demanding programme from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. In the course of each day therefore, he is brought into contact with varying influences, depending on his location, which have a decided impact on his attitude, behaviour, and character.
Boys who did not comply with this regime, or committed offences within Mount Penang, were sent to an annexe, Tamworth Institution for Boys, which was opened in 1948. In 1976 that institution was renamed Endeavour House. Both have been described by former inmates as a 'school for killers', as the boys sent there often headed into lives of violent crime. Although Mount Penang was not quite as brutal as Tamworth, it too has a reputation for creating, rather than reforming, criminals.
Those who tried to escape from Mount Penang were known by the boys as 'dingoes', and escaping was 'going dingo'. Punishment for acts as simple as speaking out of turn or looking sideways at another person was known as a 'bounce', and could be anything from losing privileges or meals for a period of time, to more violent punishments (McInnes, p.50). One former resident spoke in 2014 about the violent physical and sexual assaults he received from officers at Mount Penang, and said that the institution 'was more like a jail than a home, the boys who lived there referred to it as "the Pound"' (Statement to Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 11 March 2014).
A report from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody about the death of a former inmate of Mount Penang included a description of the institution around 1970:
It was based on very strict discipline and requirement of hard work. It brought serious and repeat criminal offenders together with first offenders … and did not distinguish between them. The atmosphere was one of absolute regimentation with very strict practices and procedures that applied throughout the centre. The focus was on security and the maintenance of discipline and there was limited opportunity for other than very organised activity under very close control and very closely supervised. There were four dormitory houses, each containing up to 80 boys, with one staff member to supervise them during each eight hour shift. They had no privacy of any kind. The staff relied upon the implementation of a very strict code of rules and had a script written for them to cover the various routine situations of each day. There was only a limited period each day during which the boys were allowed to talk.
Young people who had been committed to a juvenile justice institution in the Australian Capital Territory could be sent to Mount Penang, in NSW, particularly before the establishment of Quamby Youth Detention Centre in Canberra in 1962.
In 1960, the NSW government established a new institution called Daruk, described as an annexe of Mount Penang. Daruk's first residents were transferred there from Mount Penang. The Child Welfare Department regarded Daruk as an institution halfway between the Mittagong Training School and Mount Penang, which was a more serious facility for 'delinquents' (Annual report, 1960).
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-2017) heard many accounts of sexual assaults on children at Daruk and consequently the New South Wales Police established Strike Force Eckersley in 2016 to investigate. In 2021, 9 people had been charged as a result of this investigation, including former superintendent of Mount Penang, Laurie Maher (ABC News, 21 April 2020).
The site of Mount Penang Training School for Boys is, in 2021, part of the Mount Penang Parklands precinct, 'a Central Coast destination for tourism, events, business and education'. Two juvenile justice facilities are located in the precinct.
1894 - c. 1908 Carpentarian Reformatory for Boys
1908 - 1912 Brush Farm Reformatory
1911 - 1923 Gosford Farm Home for Boys
1923 - 1945 Gosford Training School
1946 - 1987 Mount Penang Training School for Boys
1988 - 1991 Mount Penang Detention Centre
1991 - 1999 Mt Penang Juvenile Justice Centre
Sources used to compile this entry: Report of the Minister of Public Instruction on the work of the Child Welfare Department, Department of Education, Sydney, 1921-1931; 1935/36-1954/55; Report of the Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare for the year ended 30 June, Government Printer, Sydney, 1970/71-1972-73. Also available at https://www.opengov.nsw.gov.au/main; Statement STAT.0204.001.0001_M_R, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 11 March 2014; Former Gosford mayor Laurie Maher charged with child sexual abuse offences, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 21 April 2020. Also available at https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-21/gosford-ex-mayor-laurie-maher-historical-sexual-abuse-charges/12169822; Child Welfare Department, Annual Report: Child Welfare Department of New South Wales, New South Wales government, 1923-1970. Also available at https://www.opengov.nsw.gov.au/main; History of Mt Penang Parklands, Central Coast Regional Development Corporation (NSW Government), https://web.archive.org/web/20151027022741/http://www.ccrdc.nsw.gov.au:80/MtPenangParklands/History.aspx; McLean, Donald, Children In Need: An account of the administration and functions of the Child Welfare Department, New South Wales, Australia: with an examination of the principles involved in helping deprived and wayward children, Government Printer, Sydney, 1955, 173 pp; 'Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre', 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/486; Mount Penang Parklands, Hunter & Central Coast Development Corporation, https://www.hccdc.nsw.gov.au/mt-penang; Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Malcolm Charles Smith, Australasian Legal Information Institute, 1989, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/individual/brm_mcs/; Rubie, Valerie, Sent to the Mountain: A History of Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre, Closure Committee of Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre, Gosford, 2003, 236 pp; 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; Thompson, Geoff, 'School for Killers', ABC Investigations Unit, 14 December 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/school-for-killers/?WT.svl=news0; "In honor of those who endured Mt Penang Boys Training School Forgotten Australians Institution", YouTube, March 2013, https://youtu.be/s-7VHkVMP0I.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry and Liam Hogan
Created: 23 March 2011, Last modified: 28 October 2021