Children in the Adelaide citybackstreets that remained poor and unhealthy during the 19th Century and going into the 20th.

chapter in history of striving for child protection


SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S FIRST COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE was appointed in 2017 by the state government. Having a commissioner was one of 260 recommendations by Justice Margaret Nyland after a Child Protection Systems Royal Commission in 2015-16.

The two-year commission was prompted by the abuse of vulnerable children in state care by former Families SA (the government agency) carer and paedophile Shannon McCoole. The Nyland Royal Commission revealed a deep challenge where one in four children was the subject of a notification to authorities.

Protecting children has been a constant theme of South Australian history from the start of the colony.

Caroline Emily Clark in 1866 had led South Australia into being the first Australian colony to take children out of government institutions to break their poverty cycle. Clark suggested that neglected children should be placed in “respectable poor families, under proper inspection”.  Fostering families would be paid a government subsidy for the child’s support.

But vulnerability of children stemmed from problems such as poverty, prostitution and the abuse of domestic staff. In 1883, the rate of infant mortality among Adelaide’s illegitimate children was 40%. Domestic servants made up 88% of single pregnant women admitted to the lying-in home.

Laura Corbin, who set up the South Adelaide Day Nursery in 1887, to look after the children of poor working mothers, joined with other concerned women, such as Mary Colton, to promote the start of the Adelaide children’s hospital.

The concerns for children fed into the wider women’s movement that resulted in them gaining the vote in 1895.

Lucy Morice, niece of one of the suffrage movement’s key figures, Catherine Helen Spence, in 1905 helped to found the Kindergarten Union of South Australia in Palmer Place. But children’s welfare had remained a problem behind these progressive efforts.

South Australia's kindy and pre-school centres rated the best quality in Australia in 2018

South Australian early childhood education and care services were found to be leading the nation in 2018, exceeding the expected standards set by the National Quality Standard (NQS) for providing high quality care and education to children. Almost 80% of preschool services managed under the education department were officially rated as exceeding the NQS, compared to 59% nationally. Bertram Hawker Kindergarten at Glen Osmond, Alberton Preschool, Darlington Children’s Centre and Mount Gambier Children’s Centre all received the highest possible tick as excellent. The Kindergarten Union of South Australia was founded in 1905 and the first kindergarten opened in 1906 in Franklin Street, Adelaide, for the poorest children. A kindergarten training college opened in 1907. In 1985, the state government took over the kindergarten union. This changed the emphasis to childcare rather than Montessori learning methods used by the kindergarten pioneers. Bertram Hawker Kindergarten at Glen Osmond is named after one of those pioneers.

Peter Combe becomes king of the kids' music with his songs and TV/radio broadcasts

Adelaide’s Peter Combe became the “loony tunes” pied piper of revitalised children’s music through his recordings and television shows in Britain and Australia. As a music teacher at Prince Alfred College junior school in the 1970s, he started writing songs and his first operetta – Bows Against the Barons (based on Robin Hood) – for his students. In 1977, he landed a job in London as presenter on Music Times, a BBC TV educational program. Back to Australia, he presented Let's Have Music, an ABC radio primary school music education program. From 1989-91, Combe created Ticklepot on ABC Radio National, voted best children's radio program in the world in New York in 1991. A video with his album Toffee Apple, and played during ABC TV children's programming, turned Combe into Australia's first kids' pop star. Toffee Apple won the 1988 ARIA inaugural award for best children’s album, equalled by Newspaper Mama (1989) and The Absolutely Very Best of Peter Combe (So Far) Recorded in Concert (1992). In 1993, Combe's version of May Gibbs' Snugglepot & Cuddlepie was part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. 

Patch brings world of children's literature to theatre for children aged four to eight

Adelaide’s Patch Theatre, founded in 1972 by Morna Jones, a pioneer in Australian children’s television and theatre, is aimed at children aged four to eight. After Jones’ death in 1982, the-then Little Patch Theatre found its feet again under Des James, founder member of Troupe and actor with Magpie Theatre in Education for four years; and administrator Margaret Bennett. Later artistic director Christine Anketell developed a relationship with the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust for adaptions of children’s literature. Under artistic director Dave Brown, the company evolved into a highly regarded national and international touring company with a world-class repertoire. Brown adapted eight stories by children's author Paela Allan, producing Who sank the boat? Naomi Edwards, who took over in 2015, has strengthened the company’s links to the classroom and home by collaborating with scientists and educators in creating new works. Patch has performed 105 new works to more than 1.8 million children since 1972. touring across Australia and presenting more than 30 international seasons. Patch Theatre has accumulated  accolades including two Helpmann awards and a Ruby. In 1994, Patch moved from Somerton Park to be part of the Pasadena Hgh School campus.

Laura Corbin starts day nursery in city's poor south with a stress on health and hygiene

Laura Corbin, wife of Dr Thomas Corbin who practised in Adelaide city’s poorest southern area, in 1876 had joined Mary Colton and others on Dr Allan Campbell's committee planning what became Adelaide's children's hospital. Corbin became deeply concerned at the plight of poor mothers, often widows, forced to leave children at home alone, while they worked at charring, laundering or office cleaning. In 1887, she founded the South Adelaide Day Nursery to help working mothers and their children. Health and hygiene were paramount concerns. Corbin devoted herself to every aspect of the creche whose pioneering rules were adopted in other colonies. The crèche became a South Australia-wide cause.


Children's hospital born out of concerns over appalling lives/early deaths in poor areas

Adelaide Children's Hospital was a response to the appalling quality of life for young poor South Australians and the highest infant mortality rate — about 180 deaths per 1,000 live births – in the Australian colonies. Health campaigner Dr Allan Campbell in 1876 met with the wives of prominent citizens, including Mary Colton, to get funding started for what the new Health Board agreed was a desperately needed hospital. With support from the medical profession and luminaries such as Robert Barr Smith, land for the hospital was secured in North Adelaide for £2,500. The hospital also later ran the Queen Victoria Convalescent Home for Children at Mount Lofty, Mareeba Babies Hospital and Estcourt House at Tennyson.


Helen Mayo lowers infant mortality with Mothers and Babies Health Association

Helen Mayo pioneered maternal and infant health and welfare in South Australia and Australia. After matriculating at the Advanced School for Girls (later Adelaide High School) on Grote Street in 1895, she became the University of Adelaide’s second graduate in medicine in 1902. She topped her class and won the Davis Thomas scholarship and Everard scholarships. Mayo spent two years working in infant health in England, Ireland and India. Returning to Adelaide in 1906, she starting a private practice and worked in honorary roles at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital and Adelaide Hospital. In 1909, Mayo addressed an interstate conference on South Australia’s high infant mortality rate and argued the need to educate women for motherhood. Later that year, she and Harriet Stirling (the daughter of professor Edward Stirling) founded the School for Mothers in a small clinic in Franklin Street, Adelaide. Despite criticism that spinsters couldn’t teach mothers, the organisation flourished from a cottage in Wright Street, Adelaide. The school became the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association (MBHA). By 1927, it had branches throughout South Australia and a training school for maternal nurses. The MBHA eventually became part of the state health system. Because Adelaide Children’s Hospital wouldn't admit infants aged under two, Mayo and her group in 1914 rented a two-storey St Peters house as a hospital for infants. Mayo set up strict anti-infection protocols for what later became the 70-bed Mareeba Hospital, run by the state government at Woodville.


Gertrude Halley brings mass health checks to South Australian public education system

Gertrude Halley was chosen in 1913 to set up the medical branch of the government education department in South Australia. Accompanied initially by one nurse, Halley began examining 50,000 children at the rate of 100 a day. Like colleague Lydia Longmore, inspector of infant schools, Halley believed educating mothers and fathers was one of the best ways to improve children’s health. Longmore and Halley  pioneered intelligence tests in schools. Halley also promoted model playgrounds for children. In 1920, Halley became a founding member of the South Australian branch of the National Council of Women and was convener of its standing committee on public health 1927-29.

Harsher penalties on parents, with school attendance at 90%; behaviour confronted

The South Australian government gained extra powers in 2018 to deal with chronic absenteeism in schools. Since 2011, the trend in attendance was from 89.9% to 90.7% in 2016. The maximum fine for parents who allow their children to be chronically absent has risen to $5000. New changes to legislation protect staff from abuse and deal with violence in schools. A new intensive support team responds to children with complex and challenging behaviours. A psychiatrist, doctor and mental health nurse work with schools, preschools and parents. These are part of the response to the 2014 Nyland royal commission into childhood protection systems.

Lydia Longmore starts revolutionising infant schools with joy and Montessori method

Lydia Longmore headed South Australia’s first infant school at Norwood in 1910. In 1915-16, she went to Sydney to study Maria Montessori's method and later began a Montessori class at Norwood. In 1917, she became Australia’s first inspector of schools with a special interest in infant classes. Backed by director of education William McCoy, Longmore went on to organise the flowering of infant education in South Australia.


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