Resources located at CQFHA Library

  • Meteor Park admission registers 1885-1909

  • Rockhampton Orphanage (Birralee) admission registers

  • History of the Rockhampton Orphanage (Birralee) 1866-1985 compiled by Marion Hall

  • St George’s Home for Children compiled by Cheryl Myors

  • Barefoot and Pregnant?: Irish famine orphans in Australia by Trevor McClaughlin

  • Fiche: Orphans - Townsville (Q’ld) Index (1878-1943)

  • Orphans - Vic - Index

Rockhampton Orphanage (State)


To meet a situation that called loudly for attention, the Rockhampton Benevolent Society rented a house in 1867, six years after it was formed, to accommodate orphans and destitute children. In 1869 a temporary orphanage was established. Because it was impractical to continue the orphanage after the admission of a number of children to the Brisbane Orphanage, the temporary orphanage was closed in 1870.

Mr. and Mrs. F. Hopkins then started a Children’s Home and orphans were accommodated there at a cost of 6/- (60c) each per week. Mrs Cable was in charge. This place did not fully meet the needs of the children and correspondence was opened with the government. This resulted in a grant of 10 acres (4 hectares) of land in 1870 and £1,000 ($2,000) for an orphanage on one of the spurs of the Athelstane Range (now 124 Quarry Street). It was opened in 1871 with 30 children. In 1874-5 a new wing was added and as many as 53 children were maintained. The greater number of orphans were children of parents unable to support them.

The first lady superintendent was Mrs. E. Barker who had varied and extensive experience, having sailed 10 times between England and Australia in charge of immigrants and been connected with the Ambulance Department of the Crimea, when operating before Sebastopol. Dr Harricks was the first visiting medical officer.

Children old enough were sent to school and the younger ones were instructed by Miss Hindebrandt. Boys and girls were sent out to situations from as young an age as 10. By 1886 this age had been increased to 12.

The Benevolent Society supported a Rockhampton Nursery for a short time in 1882/3 with Mrs Geraldine Stuart running the facility starting off in Alma Street and then in Bolsover Street at the Rockhampton Lyceum building.

A boarding out system was commenced in 1888. It was first tried on a limited scale and hired out children were placed in good homes.

The State Orphanage Act of 1911 repealed the Orphanage Act of 1879, under which the orphanages, including the Rockhampton Orphanage, became a receiving depot for Protestant children. In 1894 the orphanage was renamed the Rockhampton Receiving Depot.

The first matron of the receiving home was Miss Holmes, who had 10 years’ experience at the Diamantina Orphanage. Matron E. Walsh occupied the position for over 19 years. Matron Newman who was on the staff for 25 years, including some years as matron, preceded her.

A new building was erected in 1912. The age of discharge from control of orphan children was raised from 16 to 17. That age was eventually increased to 18.

From 1964-1967 the orphanage was called Birralee Children’s Home. From 1967-1981 it was named the Birralee Receiving and Assessment Centre and from 1981-1982 it was the Birralee Hostel.

Sources: https://findandconnect.gov.au -

  • The Development of Rockhampton and District, by A.E. Hermann

  • “Good and Wise Work”: The Rockhampton Benevolent Society, 1866-1916: The First 50 Years by Helen Griffin Trove

St Georges Home Parkhurst

St Georges Parkhurst

In 1917 when St Mary's Home for unmarried mothers in Dawson Road, Rockhampton, closed its doors, the six babies who remained there were moved to a home in Berserker Street that was rented from a Mr Fred Ward. these babies along with 15 other little ones were under the care of a Mrs Young from Longreach, who in turn was succeeded by Mrs Chisholm. the call for accommodation for homeless children was so great that Canon A Lee Kenny, Vicar of St Barnabas Parish, North Rockhampton, was authorised to procure 174 acres at Parkhurst as the site for a new orphanage. Parkhurst is approximately six miles north of Rockhampton.

The first home accommodating girls and small children was opened in November 1922 with Miss L.F. Holmes as Matron. The second home accommodating boys was opened in June 1925 with Miss 'Tot' Davision as Matron. the third home, known as the Mothers' memorial home, for little ones, was opened in 1929 with Mrs J. Lane as Matron.

With his great love for children, Canon Kenny was appointed full time Chaplain Superintendent and Organiser. He worked extremely hard for the Homes and encouraged the children to do the same. He retired in 1930 and Rev. Percy Demuth took over for six months until Canon Arthur Fellows was appointed to the Homes in March 1931. At that time there were 68 boys and 42 girls in the orphanage. As there was no residence at the orphanage for the Canon and his family he was forced to reside in Wandal and ride a push bile to and from Parkhurst, sometimes three trips in one day. After twelve months of this, a car was loaned to him which enabled him to drive to town every weekend for fresh vegetables and a visit to Mr Bertram, a local baker, who kindly gave all left over cakes, buns, tarts etc from his business. It was the time of the great depression so this was a treat that the children really looked forward to. the boys were taught all kinds of farming skills and were well known in the district as willing and capable workers.

During World War 11 the American Army occupied the Homes as an Officers' Club, forcing the Homes to find temporary residence for the children. they were taken to St Faith's in Yeppoon but as the Government considered the entire east coast as unsafe, the children had to be relocated to the old school buildings in Barcaldine. It was a big upheaval at the time but well worth it in the long run as the Americans had installed a septic system, showers and other plumbing as well as cementing in under the Boys home.

After Rev Fellowes retired Mr Horace Tarlington replaced him. then in 1956 Mr C Simmonds took over for a short while, to be followed by Mr A.F. Jeffrey for three years, then Rev John Holle arrived in 1960 and Mr Max Meaker in 1964.

When Miss Holmes retired in 1928, she was replaced by Mrs F Whyte. Other Matrons who took on the challenge on the early days were, mrs V.B. Scott, Mrs M.B. Handley, Mrs G, Bussey, Matron Green, Miss Davison, Miss Cynthia Haylock, Miss M. Barker, Miss Gwen Richardson, Mrs A.E. Massey, Miss Ida Kent and Miss Amy Hinz.

Dr Paul Voss and Mr Herbert Church were doctor and dentist to the orphans for many years. They both gave their services free of charge for the sake of the children. Dr Voss would go out to the Home any time of the day or night if the child could not be taken into his surgery. At his own expense, Mr Church set up a special dental room at the home and regularly attended to the children's teeth.

The orphan primary children whose school results deemed them worthy, went on to St Faith's in Yeppoon for the girls and All Souls in Charters Towers for the boys. Most became worthy citizens, thanks to the loving care of the staff of St George's Orphanage.


By Margaret Slatter Wooler

In September 1992 a reunion was held on the site of where the old orphanage once stood. We greeted many long lost friends then ambled down to where the Girls Home used to be and proceeded to rebuild the place with our memories. Looking back at those years we decided they were OK, even if we didn't think so at the time. We had a roof over our heads, wholesome food, education, clean clothes and we were taught that there were people much worse off than we were.

In 1951 I was just eight years old, when my mother was killed and the decision was made that my two brothers, Eddie aged seven, Desmond aged three and I were to be placed in an orphanage.

"Orphanage" - we didn't even know what the word meant, let alone how our lives were about to change. We were taken first to "The Depot" now known as Biralee, while we waited to be sent to St George's homes at Parkhurst just outside Rockhampton. The sight of those four houses on the hill, filled is with sorrow and tears but Mr Patterson, who was the Head of the State Children's Department here in Rockhampton, was a very nice grandfatherly type and calmed us down a lot.

The first home was the Girls Home, second was the Boys Home, the third was vacant and the fourth was the home of the Superintendent. The school we attended was the Parkhurst State School.

We had to adjust to a whole new world. Our bedtime was between 7 and 7.30 and we greeted the new day every morning at 6am Summer and Winter. We all had jobs allotted to us such as scrubbing and polishing floors. Bathroom duties (including bathing the younger kids) and Kitchen duties. the pine floors in the dormitories were so clean you could eat off them and the polished floor in the dining room shone like glass. We all worked hard but in good company. Our mattresses were of fibre and when they went flat it was the job of the older girls to "tease" them back up again.

When it was your turn to get a newly "teased" mattress you thought you were "King Pin" being so high up above the rest of the girls. We also had our own version of today's Doona but we called them woggas. They were made by the older girls who sewed together old army coats and other heavy material that had been donated to the Home. We turned out some strange looking, but very warm, bed covers.

Our meals consisted if Breakfast - bran, Pollard and Salt ( we called it Chook food); School Lunch - 4 slabs (slices) of Bread, usually jam, Beetroot, Vegemite or Fat; Tea - Meat, Veges and a pudding of Sago, Tapioca or bread and butter. I can remember friends of our Matron, Mr & Mrs Heaslip, sometimes brought us peanuts and pineapples. Then the big day came, excitement rung throughout the halls - "Sugar coated cornflakes for breakfast", we had never tasted anything so scrumptious. Over the years things changed, the Girls kitchen closed down and we had our meals in the Boys home. We had our milk ration increased, butter on our bread instead of fat and toast instead of bread for breakfast.

On weekends we had to have an afternoon nap and when we were out and about, the front and boys side of the Girls Home was out of bounds. this rule was dropped when Rotary presented us with Playground Equipment, although the boys and girls didn't use the equipment together except for one day a week. We girls made ourselves up a Basket Ball Court using hoes and lime for the lines.

School was pretty good. Tuesdays we went into Rocky to the Swimming Baths, where Scotia Place is now, and our Head Teacher, Mr Roy Childs, taught us to swim. On Fridays the Grade 8 boys and girls attended the Technical College in Bolsover Street where the boys learned woodwork and the girls did domestic Science. Failure to pass your Scholarship in grade 8 meant the boys were put out to work on farms and the girls placed with families as domestics. After Scholarship at age 14, I got a job in the Laundry of the Home. It took two of us to run the laundry and I will never forget the thrill of my first pay-packet, I had never had money of my very own before.

Church was held every Thursday morning at the Chapel in the Boys Home with a minister from St Barnabus Church, North Rocky conducting the service. We were all confirmed as soon as we were of a certain age. A church was later built in the grounds but by that time I had left.

I must admit the girls had it a lot easier than the boys did. Our Matron, Miss Elfreda Cooke saw to it that we were never bored. she let us 'get away' with a fair bit - within reason of course and she would change our duties every week so we all learned to do different types of work. One of the relief Matrons taught us to knit, something that came in handy when I had my own children.

We had special days through the year when we would attend the Inter-school Sports Day, the lakes Creek Picnic, Military Picnic, Masonic Hall Xmas Party and an occasional trip to the Picture Theatre. and of course we had our own Xmas Play at the orphanage and received a few little Xmas presents. Once a year St George's Homes celebrated a "Birthday Tea" when relatives and friends would visit the orphanage. there was much excitement and we all delighted in showing how neat and clean we kept our lockers and our dormitories.

Forty years later standing there my childhood friends, the emotions were running deep. Our lives had brought good times as well as bad and we all agreed that things could have been a lot tougher on us if we hadn't had St George's Homes to turn to.

Neerkol St Joseph's Home

St Joseph's Home, Neerkol (21 km from Rockhampton) was run by the Sisters of Mercy on a 4,0000acre property. It was built in 1885. The Home was commonly referred to as 'Neerkol' or 'Meteor Park' Orphanage. On 11 May 1885, the official register of Meteor Park Orphanage shows that eleven children were transferred from the State Orphanage, Rockhampton to Meteor Park, 'with the sanction of the authorities'. On 22nd December 1885, it is recorded that fifty-seven children were brought from the Mackay Orphanage and then on 1st January 1886, seven children came from the Townsville Orphanage. Records indicate that by this date, ninety-two children were in residence. Over 4,000 boys and girls lived at Neerkol throughout its years of operation, including child migrants from Britain. It closed in 1978 when the children were transferred to Family Group homes.

The four thousand acre property included a dairy, cattle yards, pigs, fowls and an area for growing crops and mixed vegetables. A dam was constructed to ensure an adequate water supply. At first, the buildings included a convent, kitchen, nursery, three other dormitory buildings, a dining room, bakery, laundry and a school.

A small chapel was built beside the convent and when Fr Cassar resided at Neerkol in 1916, a presbytery was built on the grounds near the cemetery. In 1922, Neerkol became a separate parish and in 1927, the presbytery was relocated to a site near the chapel.

Young girls assisted in the kitchen preparing meals for the children, the Sisters, the house-keeping staff and the farm workers.

Over the years the Home flourished. Numerous buildings were erected and children were educated and attended to in an environment of farming and grazing activities. In time the property of 4,000 acres ran 1,000 head of cattle, a dairy herd, poultry, and raised food crops. The home was self-sufficient, with the baking of all bread done there.

Children were presented for the State scholarship examination. Boys were taught woodwork, sheet metal work and leather craftsmanship, while girls were taught home science. A projector provided pictures and the children were often entertained in the city as well as at the Home. In addition every child was given a holiday at the institution's seaside home at Emu Park during the summer holidays.

In October 1950, a total of 200 children (including 35 British boys and girls brought to Australia by Bishop Andrew Tynan under the child migration scheme), were residing at the Home.

All sports were encouraged and usually boys and girls were maintained until they were 14 years of age, except children preparing for secondary school. A number of past residents of St Joseph's Home did their share in the defence of the Empire during two world wars.

Throughout the years, secondary school age teenagers had the opportunity to continue their education - the boys at St Brendan's College (Yeppoon) and the girls at The Range College (Rockhampton). By the 1970s, many children travelled into Rockhampton for their education at the various Catholic and Education Queensland primary and secondary school facilities.

In 1974 changes in child care practices and policies led to the Sisters of Mercy placing children in alternate accommodation. Children were re-united with their own families, others were fostered and by 1978, the remaining children were settled in either of the two specially-purchased Family Group Homes in Rockhampton.

The original orphanage was licensed under the Orphanages Act 1879. It was then licensed under the State Children Act 1911 and under the Children's Services Act 1965 on 4 August 1966.

The original orphanage was licensed under the Orphanages Act 1879. It was then licensed under the State Children Act 1911 and under the Children's Services Act 1965 on 4 August 1966.