Farm schools were originally developed to teach children skills intended to assist them into employment. Children tended animals and crops, learnt blacksmithing and sewing, and grew vegetables to support the Home where they lived.

The Fairbridge Farm Schools are the most commonly known of these, however there were were a number of similar institutions all over Australia. Institutions such as reformatories also incorporated farm work and food production into the labour required from the children who lived there.

Working in the garden at the Fairbridge Farm School, Molong, NSW, 1949

Children in city-based institutions were also sent to stay on local farms for holidays – in some cases this offered an opportunity at a more normal life. Others were used for their labour and the lack of any regulated welfare standards made them very vulnerable to abuse.

Gardening at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Perth

Many institutions incorporated vegetable gardens, which were the children’s responsibility to maintain. These gardens supplemented the children’s diet without the cost of purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables. For some, gardening was arduous work they never saw the results of – they were always hungry and would be punished for eating anything from their patch. Some institutions sold the produce to assist with the costs of running the institution, or provided it to their associated religious orders.

Bethany Boy’ Home Vegetable Patch, Tas. 1965

For others children who lived in care, the gardens provided a welcome relief from life inside the institution and an opportunity to socialise outside together, away from the strict rules that governed every other aspect of their day.  

Boys making hay at the Northcote Training Farm, Glenmore, near Bacchus Marsh, Vic. 1937 is committed to centring the voices of children who experienced the welfare system in the information we provide about the history of care in Australia. If you you have knowledge or experience of life in care that would be suitable for the website, please let us know so we can research further.

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