The Australian Orphanage Museum (AOM) is a unique museum dedicated to documenting and exhibiting authentic social histories about the experience of growing up in orphanages, children’s Homes, Missions and other institutions, including foster care, in Australia. The diverse exhibits and narratives in the AOM are presented in ways that respect the rights of Care Leavers to present their own forthright accounts in the way that they want them told. The AOM is accessible to all—especially to Care Leavers and their families—but including people who need to know about past practices, such as policy makers, educators and young people.
The Australian Orphanage Museum dates back to the establishment of the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) in 2001. CLAN has always maintained a collection of historic items relating to the history of institutions in Australia, because making our history visible is an important part of CLAN’s advocacy.
The collection has grown exponentially since the beginning in 2001. It comprises a range of articles collected by Leonie Sheedy and others, as well as donations of objects and memorabilia made to the Museum by Care Leavers as well as by some Past Provider organisations and members of the public.
The Museum was located in CLAN’s Sydney offices until 2019 when it moved to a temporary location in the regional city of Geelong, Victoria. In December 2020, the Federal Government donated $2 million that made it possible to purchase the building in Ryrie Street, Geelong and give the AOM a permanent home.
Geelong is an important site in the history of ‘care’ in Australia, having had the most number of children’s institutions outside any capital city. It has had 13 institutions, dating back to 1854 when the Geelong Orphan Asylum opened in McCurdy Road, Herne Hill (this building survives today).
The AOM is currently undertaking a digitisation program to make our collection as accessible as possible to the public, wherever they are located. We are progressively uploading digital copies of objects to an online archive.
In 2019, after the huge task of relocating the AOM collection and library from Bankstown to Geelong, Leonie Sheedy spoke about the purpose of the museum.
“This is about making our history visible. We should never forget the deliberate neglect and the painful legacy of that neglect so often visited on these poor kids. All are adults now, many of them quite old, many have died. Most never had anyone at all to relate their terrible experiences before CLAN existed or the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Many have yet to be compensated, even nominally, under the Redress scheme. Many will never be compensated for the fear, abuse, work, prejudice and work they were forced to endure while little children.
They were meant to be cared for but they were subjected to horrific lives instead and even in their eighties and nineties they still bear the scars.
Joanna Penglase, CLAN co-founder, echoed Ms Sheedy’s sentiments, saying: “We had to grow up without our parents and pretend it didn’t matter.”
In this video, CLAN CEO Leonie Sheedy talks about the AOM.