You are in site section: Collections

Kinchela Boys Home gate

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

At a glance

  • Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, Kempsey 
  • Stolen Generations
  • Children's Homes

A symbol of the Stolen Generations

A gate symbolic of the systematic removal of Indigenous children from their families is now part of the National Museum of Australia's collection.

The remaining half of the old Kinchela Boys Home gate represents one of the most well-known Aboriginal Children's Homes of New South Wales, at Kempsey on the north coast. 'This is what kept us in, kept us from our culture. Going through that gate, it was going into hell,' said former resident Manuel Ebsworth.

A metal gate with segments of wire attached to the sides and centre. Metal letters welded to the top read 'BOYS HOME'.
One of the original front gates from the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home. Photo: Katie Shanahan.

Retrieved from the riverside

This gate was one of a pair that originally formed the front gates of Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home when it was established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1924.

The gates were discarded and replaced about 1950. In the late 1990s a community member found this gate by the Macleay River in Kempsey and passed it on to Dunghutti Elder, Uncle Harold 'Bluey' Smith, for custodianship. In 2012 in a suburban street in Kempsey a small crowd of friends and brothers gathered to see the gate and officially hand it over to the National Museum.

A group of two women and seven men standing in a street. Several of the men lean on a metal gate. A house and two small buses are in the background.
Handing the Kinchela gate over to National Museum curators Jay Arthur (left) and Barbara Paulson are (from left) Ian 'Crow' Lowe, Harold ‘Bluey’ Smith, Richard Campbell, William Lesley, Vincent Wenberg, Manuel Ebsworth and Cecil Bowden.

Museum handover part of the healing

The handover was a moment of high emotions as Kinchela 'boys', now senior men, saw for the first time in more than 48 years, the gate they walked through as children. As part of the Museum's collection the gate will represent the stories of the Kinchela boys' experiences, as individuals and a group. 'This is a part of the healing – knowing their stories are believed and knowing this history will be remembered,' said Pastor Ray Minnecon.

The Kinchela men at the handover were keen to ensure their story was known and heard. 'If this old gate could talk, you'd hear some horror stories,' said Ian 'Crow' Lowe, another former Kinchela resident.

The donation to the National Museum means the gate will be stored safely and accessible for those with connections to Kinchela. 'For us this is an old story, a hard story, but it's our story,' said Uncle Cecil Bowden. 'Our lives were impacted negatively by being there [at Kinchela] and those experiences there, it negatively affected our life and how we live our life'.

William Lesley (left) and Manuel Ebsworth with Manuel's grandson at the handover in 2012. Photo: Barbara Paulson.

Stolen Generations

One of the most powerful stories of the 20th century for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is the state-sanctioned removal of their children.

The children who were in Kinchela are acknowledged as part of the Stolen Generations.

'We were only little when we went there [Kinchela],' William Lesley said.

'We were taken from our family, but we became family for each other. We're brothers, we stick together'.

Kinchela's changing history

More than 400 boys were held at Kinchela until it closed in 1970. During its operation, Kinchela and its residents were the subject of positive national and local news stories about the resident's lives and experiences. The reality, however, was quite different. Several reports from private researchers and government officials describe the brutal treatment and teaching practices and terrible living situation of residents over five decades. The men at the handover of the gate were part of the human face of that history.

Uncle Bluey Smith, who was the gate's custodian for more than 13 years did not attend Kinchela but knew many 'boys' who had, and he recognised the cultural importance of the gate. He was happy to hear that the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation had decided to donate it to the National Museum, and was part of the handover ceremony. 'It was easy to see what was going on in there to those boys,' he said. 'It was hard not knowing what we, as a community [in Kempsey], could do about it. I hope this story helps people become educated enough to know why we don't do this to children. Children become adults'.

Black and white photo showing young Aboriginal boys in a classroom. One boy stands at the front, reading from a book, with the teacher standing beside him. A map of Australia hangs to the left of a blackboard. A boomerang sits above the blackboard.
A classroom at the Aboriginal settlement in Kinchela, New South Wales, 1959. This image was probably captured during a visit by an official government photographer. Many historical images show an official, sanitised view which did not reflect reality. Photo: W Pedersen. Courtesy National Archives of Australia.

Stolen Generations and Children's Homes

The Kinchela gate joins the National Museum's growing collection of objects linked to the Stolen Generations and Children's Homes and institutions. The passing of time and the nature of growing up in an institution means that the survival of objects is relatively rare. Some of these important objects feature in the Museum's exhibition, Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions. The Museum also holds a collection of artwork by Cecil Bowden. The Kinchela gate is due to go on show in the Museum's First Australians gallery in May 2013.

More

Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions

First Australians: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation

Kinchela Boys Home on the Find & Connect website

Vincent Wenberg's 'Bringing them home' oral history interview