Sometimes I do get annoyed with the Armidale Express! The Express of Friday 10 December carried a rather good story by Janene Carey that has been excluded from the on-line edition. Fortunately I found an on-line copy, Close to home, posted by Janene to the National Museum of Australia web site.
Nicola Woolmington is an Australian documentary film maker and the adopted daughter of Jo and Eric Woolmington. I spoke of her parents back In January 2008 in More UNE Passings - death of Jo Woolmington.
It is many years since I last saw Nicola. Then I remember her mother talking about Nicola's desire to be an actress.
From Armidale Demonstration School she went to Armidale High and then studied drama at the University of New England. After completing her Dip. Ed in Melbourne, she tried out for the stage but found that it did not pay the rent. She then enrolled at Swinburne Film and Television and began a long career as a director.
Her first documentary, Searching (1992), in part tells the story of her search for her own natural mother after she was given up for adoption in the 1950s. Since then, she has produced a number of films including Where Angels Fear To Tread (1997), Paying for the past (2000) and Einstein's Wife (2003).
Nicola's latest documentary, The Forgotten Australians, screened on SBS Television in November. Nicola began working on it in 2004 when hundreds of stories of people from people brought up in institutionalised care came to light during a Senate inquiry.
Armidale had two, perhaps three, orphanages. I say perhaps three because I am not sure whether the third was an orphanage or a residential hostel. The biggest one, St Patrick's, occupied a large gothic style building occupying a prominent hill to the south of Armidale. There four to five nuns looked after up to one hundred children. The Woolmingtons used to take out children from St Patrick's, while Nicola's discarded toys went there.
Nicola feels that she acquired her social conscience from her mother. If you look at my post on her mother, you can see why that might well be.
I haven't seen Nicola's film. However, it aroused a degree of controversy in Armidale with some former residents feeling that St Patrick's had been unfairly treated. I can't comment, beyond noting that my own research into the NSW child welfare system makes me well aware of the type of injustices that can occur in any form of institutional care. If you look at Drummond's life chapter 1 - A troubled child: family life 1890-1907 and then again at Drummond's life 8 - Return to Education: the Minister 1932-1936 you will get a feel for what I mean.
Armidale's orphanages have long gone. Nicola attributes this to Gough Whitlam's decision to pay pensions to un-married mothers, meaning that they could now keep their children. I am sure that's partially true, but I also think that the pill, as well as changing attitudes to pregnancy out of wedlock, also played a role. By 1972, the social pressures that used to be placed on un-married women to give up their babies had greatly diminished.
In all, it's another example of the type of social changes that I have been talking about over the second half of the twentieth century.