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Doll owned by a Care Leaver whilst in a Children’s Home 2017.085

Doll owned by a Care Leaver whilst in a Children’s Home 2017.085

(Source: Significance Assessment of the collection of Care Leavers Australasia Network Australia’s Orphanage Museum, 2019)

Plastic moulded doll commonly found in homes across Australia during the 1940s and 50s. Hair is moulded and painted brown. Brown painted eye brows, blue coloured moving and blinking eyes, red painted lips, rose painted cheeks, painted nail polish on fingers, bare legs. Legs and arms move in sockets on the body. A little dirty. Small crack 3mm in the neck, observable when bonnet is removed.

Makers mark on the back of the doll reads “Cherub/Made in Australia: within the outline of a diamond.

Doll wears a suite of clothing with no labels, that appears to have been home made for her. Petticoat and knee length white woven nylon pantaloons with cotton lace trim threaded with soft pink satin weave ribbon. Double layered white woven nylon in a spotted pattern, with two levels of layering. Bodice consists of cotton lace threaded with pink satin weave ribbon. Bonnet of the same white woven nylon fabric, with nylon lace and pink satin ribbon. A pearl is sewn on the brim of two layers of nylon lace. Hand sewing appears on the bonnet.

String of pearls consisting of plastic beading on string around neck. Thread not broken but some beads missing, and the remaining beads have lost their pearl lustre.

This doll, named Betsy by her owner, has been carefully stored on a bed of straw in a red & blue cardboard box, by her owner in more recent years.

Betsy has been lovingly cared for by her owner for over 70 years. Betsy’s owner was placed into the government operated Metropolitan Girls Shelter in 1940 when she was around 7 years of age. This 1860s building was built as the home of architect Edmund Blacket, as his family home. In 1920, it was purchased as a facility for wards of the state. It has also been known as the Depot for State Children, Glebe Girls Home and Bidura Orphanage and was a receiving and remand facility for children. Betsy’s owner had at least one sibling, a brother, but it is not known what became of him.

Betsy’s owner was given Betsy when she was on a two-week holiday with a host family, as respite from her life in care. Arrangements were often made for orphanage or Children’s Home residents to be sent for holidays or weekends with people who expressed an interest in hosting children. These experiences were not always positive for the children.

Whilst in orphanages or Children’s Homes, it could be difficult for children to hold onto their possessions. Items could be easily lost or stolen or removed by the adults in charge. Betsy is one of the few things, her owner managed to hold onto from her time spent as a child in care. And she has held onto Betsy for her whole life. In a letter that accompanies Betsy, her owner has said:

“It has been a loose thread in the fabric of my life – just hanging – not interwoven and secure with the remainder….and every time I ventured to ‘pass it on’ I experienced a depression and melancholy.”

On the 16th November 2009, Australia’s then prime minister Kevin Rudd, delivered the National Apology to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra. An estimated 500,000 children who now refer to themselves as Forgotten Australians, were placed into institutional or out-of-home care up until 1989. After a lengthy inquiry into the experiences of children in out-of-home care, a report was produced, Forgotten Australians: a report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children (2004) and the National Apology was made to over 900 people who had travelled from all over Australia to be present at this significant event in Australia’s history.

After attending the Apology in Canberra, Betsy’s owner felt that she could let go of the doll that represented a loose thread in her life and share her story and Betsy with the wider community. Betsy was donated to Australia’s Orphanage Museum, in the hope that she would help others to understand her experience and those of others.