In all areas of our school, we value student agency. We see our students as agents of positive change both within the school community and outside of it in the larger society. We are grateful to Minna Merkel who has chosen to focus her personal project as part of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) on an extremely important topic that supports Preshil‘s reconciliation efforts. Students get to focus on an issue that concerns them with the support of a faculty advisor.
Minna shares the details of her project here:
This year I have chosen to look at the history of government and institutional abuse of children (mostly girls) in the Blackhall and Kalimna buildings before these buildings and grounds became the Preshil School. The Preshil grounds and buildings on the Senior School were previously known as the Catherine Booth Memorial Home from its opening in 1915 to its closing in 1976.
The Catherine Booth Memorial Home was a Salvation Army home for girls where between 90 and 100 children from ages 4 to 16 were housed; this included young Indigenous girls who were taken from their families and placed into the home as part of the Victorian Half-Caste Act. Unfortunately, much abuse and trauma were stricken in this institution, and since its closing, many girls have come forward to allege physical and sexual abuse from the staff of the house. I have researched the abuse suffered by all girls, but I have been most interested in reading letters and reports on the abuse of Indigenous girls on our school site. Since the allegations, the Salvation Army has issued an application for a perpetual stay of the legal action in this case because the alleged abusers have now passed away and cannot deny or confirm anything in a court of law; there are no detailed records as the Salvation Army had poor record-keeping procedures at the time; A former staff member who still lives swore that they never witnessed any abuse or signs of abuse at the Catherine Booth Memorial Home.
As part of my project, I have organised for Sue-Anne Hunter (Yoorrook Justice Commissioner and Wurundjeri Traditional Owner) to lead a cultural cleansing of the land and buildings to erase any trauma that may linger. In Term 2, I plan to organise a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, again with Sue-Anne, at the Secondary School so that all students, staff, and the Preshil community can be welcomed to this newly cleansed land.
The date of this Welcome to Country ceremony is still to be determined, but once the date is confirmed, students and staff are welcome to pay their respects to all vulnerable children who were stolen or displaced in institutional care on our grounds.
It is my hope that we can then put up a plaque to remember these girls (and some boys) and to let anyone who enters the site know that we have culturally cleansed the buildings and site on the lands of and with the Wurundjeri Traditional Owners.