Transcript of part of an interview with Dilys Budd, talking about her experiences at St Joseph’s Girls’ Orphanage, Subiaco, Western Australia, in the 1940s. The interview was recorded in 2010 by the National Library of Australia.
NARRATOR: Dilys Budd was sent as a child migrant from England to St Joseph’s Girls’ Orphanage in Perth, Western Australia. Here she speaks about working the night shift in the babies’ home at St Joseph’s as punishment. She was then 13 years old.
DILYS BUDD: As a punishment you were taken out of school and from 7 o’clock at night until 7 o’clock in the morning you worked all night at the foundling home. That entailed going over, and the children had already had their tea, and you would get them ready for bed. What you’d have to do is make sure that every one of them had gone to the toilet.
There’s quite a few, about two or three nurseries ‑ a lot of children. They had the tiny little ones over here. They were only two to three. And the ones over here, once they turned five or six ‑ I think it was five ‑ the boys went away and the girls went to the home.
But we went over and we used to have to make sure they’d all been to the toilet, put them into bed, make sure they said their prayers ‑ poor little things ‑ and put them into bed. We used to have to put away all the toys. We used to have to clean the kitchen. Then we were allowed to sleep until about 3 o’clock in the morning.
And then we’d get them all up again, have to put every one of them, one row at a time, to go to the toilet. They had all the potties lined up and they weren’t allowed to get off that pot until they’d done something. We used to have to a look, haven’t done anything, so you’d sit them down again. And some of them couldn’t because they were asleep, the poor little things. If any of them wet the bed I used to try to hide the sheets sometimes from this sister that looked after the place, because I knew that poor little thing was going to get into so much trouble. You have your favourites and you know the little boys and little girls crying ‑ you don’t want them to cry because they’d get into trouble if they cried.
We comfort them. I never ever saw the nuns comforting them or the one ‑ it was only one nun. But they usually started, ‘What’s this nonsense?’ I learnt how to do this, the side of their temples, to put them to sleep. There was a couple of little girls, they were ones that were so pathetic. They were so frightened all the time. They used to sort of hide and cringe. They used to cringe. I don’t remember all their names because there was too many of them. I knew them at the time but I wouldn’t remember them now.
I was on duty for about six months until the child welfare come up and everybody who was on duty had to go back to their classrooms because the welfare were coming around. Once I can remember the welfare talking to me, she said, ‘How are you getting on at school?’ I still remember, she was here, the nun was behind her, and the nun was looking at me and saying, ‘You dare.’ She knew I was going to say something. I said, ‘I am not at school, I am on night duty.’ She turned around and she said, ‘What’s that, sister?’ She said, ‘Well, Dilys has been very naughty so we had to take her out of school for a while.’ Six months.
So I was taken off night duty. So the welfare must have said, ‘She’s got to go back to school,’ so I went back to school. But if that hadn’t have happened, I would have been night duty today, I suppose. It sort of made me a little bit more bitter, I suppose, in a way, because I thought there’s absolutely no hope for me. If they can treat tiny little children like that, and I used to hope that somebody came and adopted them or took them out so that they wouldn’t have to then go to the orphanage and then spend another ten years or so in the orphanage, a continuation of this. It was an awful life, an awful life.