Place and Memory at Kinchela Boys Home, Australia

Survivors recount the trauma they endured at the Home—and talk about their effort to reclaim it as an institution of healing and national truth telling

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should know that the following material includes images and voices of deceased persons. This exhibit also contains material that may trigger traumatic memories for viewers, particularly survivors of past abuse, violence, or childhood trauma.

Between 1924 and 1970, hundreds of Aboriginal children, mostly boys, passed through the gates of Kinchela Boys Home (KBH), one of a network of institutions established by the Australian state that sought to instill white culture into Indigenous children. Held against their will, the boys at KBH were routinely subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by staff. The trauma that resulted has had an enormous impact on the lives of the children—popularly known as the “Stolen Generations”—and their families.

View towards the Kinchela dormitories from the southeast (2021) by Alan CrokerWorld Monuments Fund

Since 2002, a group of Kinchela Survivors has been trying to purchase the site of the Home to convert it into a museum and healing center.

Their accounts are important records of the wrongs committed by the government towards Indigenous Australians—and testify to the role of space in both memory and healing.

KBHAC logo, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund Logo, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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World Monuments Fund (WMF) partnered with the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) in 2022 to bring attention to the Survivors’ stories and their ongoing mission.

Boundary of Kinchela Boys Home by Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal CorporationWorld Monuments Fund

Richard Campbell on outsiders' impression of KBH

"What they don't see is what happened after dark inside the gates. They only see what they want to see."


Group of children standing on porch at Kinchela (1924) by UnknownWorld Monuments Fund

Between 400 and 600 children are estimated to have been interned at Kinchela. Children as young as five were taken from their parents by police, often without the chance to say goodbye. Many Survivors report being told that their families no longer wanted them.

Entrance to Kinchela (Late 1940s to early 1950s) by Aboriginal Protection BoardWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Robert Paul Young (#24) recounts how he and his siblings were kidnapped

"We got transferred from Quirindi down to Platform 1, Central Station...that's where everything started from."

Some survivors, like KBHAC board member Roger Jarrett (#12), remember the police promising their parents that their children would soon be returned. In reality, once at Kinchela, the boys might be interned there for years unless they either escaped or were transferred elsewhere.

Group photo of Kinchela boys without shoes. by UnknownWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Roger Jarrett (#12) recounts how he was taken from his mother

"They said to my mum, 'If you sign this piece of paper, your children will be returned within 12 months.'"

Brothers and sisters were broken up without regard for family bonds, with boys and girls being sent to separate institutions. For many, Sydney’s Central Station was the last place they saw each other—some for the last time.

Concourse of Sydney's Central Station (1958) by photographer unknownWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Robert Paul Young (#24) on the day he was taken from his parents

"I was told by a blue uniform at Central Station...'Your mum and dad's dead.'"

Lester Maher

Biripi people, taken from Sydney
Assigned #11 at KBH

Today, a plaque in Sydney's Central Station acknowledges the role that railroads played in the forcible removal of Indigenous children, part of a network of such memorials at train stations across New South Wales through which children of the Stolen Generations passed.

Main Gates

Once boys arrived at Kinchela, management took away one of the most fundamental ties to their previous life: their names.

Group photo of Kinchela boys by Aboriginal Protection BoardWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Roger Jarrett (#12) on the use of numbers instead of names at KBH

"It's something embedded in the brain."

“There was a lot of boys had nicknames to get away from the numbers, but the number was still stuck in their head for years.… It's like a scar that's been forced in your head and you never, ever get away from it. That's what all the numbers all about. Just forced upon you, and you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life.”

Willy Nixon
Gamilaroi people, taken from Gulargambone
Assigned #24 at KBH

Entrance to Kinchela, Aboriginal Protection Board, Late 1940s to early 1950s, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
Main entry to Kinchela Boys Home as seen from the road, Alan Croker, 2021, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Entrance to Kinchela then and now. The site has become overgrown in recent years.


The original showers, now covered over, were the site of an important element of new boys’ induction: having their heads shaved and their bodies doused with insecticide, experiences of dehumanization that set the tone for how KBH’s management treated the children in its custody.

Deck installed at Kinchela in the 1980s, which covers the original bathroom blocks (2021) by Jakeb LoveWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Robert Paul Young (#24) on how boys at KBH were expected to clean

"We had to clean out the toilet...clean out the swimming pool...with a brush and soap, and at the end just wash our bodies with them."

Robert Paul Young

Gamilaroi people, taken from Oyster Bay
Assigned #24 at KBH


Kinchela had two dormitories, separated by age. Brothers were not kept together, something that was particularly painful for those used to sleeping in the same bed at home and looking after each other.

Recording Kinchela survivors sharing stories in the former dormitory (2021) by Alan CrokerWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Willy Nixon (#24) on how siblings were separated in the dormitories

"You could hear other little kids crying for their mum and dad each night."

Managers and staff also sexually abused boys in the dormitories. Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children at government-run institutions, including Kinchela, was the subject of a royal commission in 2013.

Former Kinchela Boys Home dormitories with 1980s modifications (2021) by Alan CrokerWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle James Michael "Widdy" Welsh (#36) on the sexual abuse committed by KBH staff

"They did whatever they wanted to us as children—again, as children."

“If they piddled the bed, my older brother used to get up and do their washing, wash their sheets and that out for him. We'd be stripped off naked and we'd be washing sheets out and we'll be copping all the blame ’cause of our baby brothers who did wet their beds, and it was going on like that for years. And you couldn't even jump in a bed there with your baby brothers to keep them in comfort.”

Willy Nixon
Gamilaroi people, taken from Gulargambone
Assigned #24 at KBH


Kinchela boys were not permitted to attend the public primary school in Kempsey until in 1963. Prior to that point, they received what education they got on the grounds of KBH, where teachers often subjected pupils to severe corporal punishment.

Kinchela Boys Home school buildingWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Robert Paul Young (#24) on the beatings he received at school

"They weren't much of teachers, anyway, some of them—they were rather punishers."

Following school integration, the Aboriginal pupils faced discrimination from white peers and teachers who thought them incapable of doing anything other than manual labor.

Former Kinchela school room showing accumulated rubbish and overgrowth (2021) by Alan CrokerWorld Monuments Fund

Richard Campbell on the racism KBH boys faced at school

"They never asked what we wanted...they just didn't look into it because we were Black."

“In my files it says that I will never amount to anything. I got news for them. I'm talking to the world here right now. So I'm ‘amounting to nothing’—but this 'nothing' is something that's beautiful.”

James Michael "Widdy" Welsh
Wongaibon people, taken from Coonamble
Assigned #36 at KBH

Kinchela ledger, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
Kinchela ledger, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Kinchela school ledger pages.

Staged photo of Kinchela boys in a swimming pool (2021) by Dawn magazineWorld Monuments Fund

Pool & Gym

Several survivors report trying to signal to passing cars from the pool that they needed help, only for the drivers to mistake their gesturing for a friendly wave.

Athletic activities allowed management and staff, many of whom were former soldiers, to exercise discipline and encourage aggressive behavior through sports like boxing.

Dawn cover showing the Kinchela life guard squad (1958) by Aboriginal Protection BoardWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Robert Paul Young (#24) tells the story of how he was "taught" to swim

"The only way they used to teach you how to swim was to throw you in the swimming pool, clothes and all."

But athletic competitions and beach activities also presented a rare opportunity to leave the grounds of KBH and interact with people on the outside, for which reason some boys embraced sports as a means of escape and emotional release.

Dawn article about Kinchela boys' performance in a swimming competition (1966) by Sky StudiosWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Willy Nixon (#24) talks about the importance of sports to KBH boys

"We're the oldest little kids walking around Australia."

“Beyond the boys’ dormitory was a recreation hall where they had a boxing ring…. They used to have a tall boy and a young boy going pound to pound, hitting each other, didn’t care if it was your brother or cousin or friend, and then just for their satisfaction, too, after they, they’d had enough of you, they would tap you on the head and get another couple boys and do the same thing.”

Robert Paul Young
Gamilaroi people, taken from Oyster Bay
Assigned #24 at KBH

Kinchela boys among plantsWorld Monuments Fund

Vegetable Patch

Kinchela boys were made to do farm work without pay.

Kinchela boy among rows of plants. The boys were not remunerated for farmwork they did, the fruits of which were sold at a profit.World Monuments Fund

Meanwhile, the KBH managers sold the fruits of the boys' labor for a profit.

Boys harvesting pumpkins at Kinchela by Aboriginal Protection BoardWorld Monuments Fund

Boys were made to do yard work without shoes.

Boys doing yard work without shoes at Kinchela Boys Home, Unknown, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
Kinchela farm site, Jakeb Love, 2021, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Kinchela Today

For several KBHAC board members interviewed by WMF, the buildings contain not only past memories but spirits in the present—traces of the kidnapped children on whose behalf the Survivors now work.

Uncles talking on a verandah at Kinchela Boys Home by Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal CorporationWorld Monuments Fund

Richard Campbell on going back to Kinchela

"You can just feel the spirits still hanging there...I believe there's a lot of boys whose spirits want to be released."

Taking ownership of the site and using it to commemorate and heal from the past would soothe these spirits, says board secretary Richard Campbell. Since 2022, WMF has partnered with the survivors of Kinchela to support their effort to buy the property.

If successful, their museum would be the first of its kind in Australia and a model of survivor-led efforts to reclaim sites of painful heritage—and bear witness for the future.

Kinchela survivors with KBH gateWorld Monuments Fund

Uncle Lester Maher (#11) talks about the need to preserve Kinchela

"I think we need to be a reminder to the rest of Australia and the world...[Kinchela] needs to be restored and put in place as a museum."

Gate from the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Home (Used from 1924 to about 1956)National Museum of Australia

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