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HomeIssue 35Bungalow days matter

Bungalow days matter


Serious concerns for the destitute Aboriginal children of mixed descent who existed on the fringe of stations, mining camps and various isolated regions in the Northern Territory was first addressed by Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer (pictured)

They received little or no education, had scant access to medical treatment and survived on poor diets.

For a few weeks in 1911 Baldwin Spencer was appointed “Special Commissioner and Chief Protector of Aborigines” by the Commonwealth Government who in that year had assumed control of the Northern Territory.

One of his many recommendations was that the children should be taken from their isolated environments and placed in government institutions. 

This proposal was embodied in the 1911 ordinance, which directed that these children were to be forcibly taken without due process and placed in government institutions in Darwin and Alice Springs. 

In later years the Rev Dr John Flynn supported the policy of forcibly taking Aboriginal children from their families.

It is surprising that what turned out to be an extremely harsh and traumatic solution to this problem should have been proposed by such an eminent person as Baldwin Spencer. 

His experience with Aboriginal people was quite extensive. 

He was a scientific consultant on the 1894 Horn Scientific Expedition which traversed Central Australia.

Then on a second visit to Alice Springs, Baldwin Spencer teamed up with Frank Gillen to produce an anthropological work on Aboriginal people in 1899 titled Native Tribes of Central Australia.

In fact, this was one of the first anthropological works about Aboriginal people to be published.

After about 1915 The Bungalow in Alice Springs came into existence. 

Aboriginal children were brought in by police officers and left in the care of Mrs Ida Standley.  The Bungalow was originally an iron building behind the Stuart Arms Hotel where the first school teacher, Mrs Standley, began caring for destitute Aboriginal children with the assistance of Aboriginal woman Topsy Smith. 

Washing day at The Bungalow. 1934.

In 1929 The Bungalow was moved to Jay Creek with Mrs Standley and Topsy Smith going with the children. 

It was a confusing and difficult situation to manage.  These two intrepid women had to manage multiple trauma.

Eventually in 1932 ‘The Bungalow’ was transferred from Jay Creek to the site of the Old Telegraph Station. 

Mothers would try and keep contact with their children.  Alice “Nanna” Costello would ride her camel from Orange Creek, Stuart Well and Doctors Stones to visit her girls at Jay Creek. 

Topsy Glynn found work at The Bungalow so that she could be with her daughters Rona and Freda. 

When Margaret and Sylvia Gorey were taken near Darwin and placed at The Bungalow their mother Dolly followed them to Alice Springs where she gained work in the town.  She could not visit her daughters.

When Father Percy Smith arrived in Alice Springs in 1933 to be the first resident Anglican priest there were about 100 children at The Bungalow of whom about 80 were Anglicans. 

Being a closed institution The Bungalow was not easily accessible.  Police, service personnel, doctors, teachers and representatives of the Christian denominations were the only outsiders allowed access. 

Father Smith would visit The Bungalow on Wednesdays and Sundays. 

The scene that greeted Father Smith was disturbing. 

One Aboriginal woman cooked for this big family and was supposed to be paid six shillings a week.  She was never paid. Father Smith was disturbed by the behaviour of the superintendent.

There was an air of repression and gloom about the place and the children were silent and sullen. 

They would hang their heads when spoken to. Happiness was a hard commodity to find.

The treatment of the children was of a poor standard and not in keeping with what had been laid down by government regulation. 

Girls of all ages from babies to adolescents slept in the same dormitory, which was poorly ventilated. 

The boys slept in a separate dormitory.  Both dormitories were stifling in summer.

Substantially the school was closed and there was no trained teacher on the staff. 

Children were only put in the school by the superintendent, Gordon Freeman, when a “tip off” came from the town that a government official was in the vicinity.

It came to Father Smith’s attention that some adolescent girls were being abused by the superintendent. 

Freeman would go into the girls’ dormitory after dark.  If they knew he was coming some girls would get out of the dormitory and literally “head for the hills”. They would hide in the hillocks behind the dormitory.

A famous letter written by teenage girl Tilly Tilmouth in February, 1934 and addressed to the Deputy Administrator of the Northern Territory, Mr V Carrington was smuggled out of The Bungalow by the butcher boy and handed to Carrington by the NT police. 

Carrington lived at The Residency in Alice Springs. When Father Smith became aware of this letter, he met with Carrington assuring him that whatever Tilly Tilmouth had said in the letter would be true. 

Tilly’s letter was believed by the authorities, which is amazing in itself. 

Other girls were interviewed with statements being taken. Their statements were believed.  Action was taken with Freeman being imprisoned and removed as superintendent. 

It is to the credit of the legal authorities in Alice Springs that they acted in the way they did and saw to it that justice was done.

A new superintendent was appointed and things greatly improved. 

Two trained teachers from the South Australian Education Department were appointed to “The Half-Caste School, Alice Springs” which was the official title.

It was still eighteen months before Father Smith could induce the children to talk to him, and then they would only speak in whispers. 

However, Father Smith acknowledged that the children weren’t only withdrawn because of the conditions at The Bungalow, but also many were traumatised because they had been taken from their mothers, their family ties were broken and no further family association was allowed. 

A number of these children later in life used the word “stolen” to describe their circumstances as a way of telling the outside world the severity of their suffering.  Many suffered deep psychological and sociological trauma for the rest of their lives.

Father Smith would get a loan of Gordon Lines’s truck and take the children on picnic outings.  Some of the children would come down to Middle Park to meet him and pile onto the back of the truck for an extra ride.

The Community of the Holy Name (CHN) in Melbourne is an Anglican religious order for women. 

They took an interest in the children at The Bungalow and would send parcels of clothes and toys. 

In 1939 Sister Kathleen CHN visited The Bungalow and got to know the children.  Her visit inspired both the children and the Aboriginal women.

For entertainment the boys would ride wild donkeys or spin along curled up inside old tyres while the girls would play makeshift hockey using a tennis ball which they hit with mulga sticks.

The girls also made dolls from sticks and string. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Mrs Geraldine Kennett and Mr Neil Hargraves organised proper competition hockey for Aboriginal girls in Alice Springs.

“Mrs Standley, Bob Laver, Pastor Kramer, Alf McGowan, children and half-caste people and children. Topsy Smith is up the back, seventh from the right.” Caption by the State Library of South Australia.

Living in such an institution made these children seem even more apart from white Australia, and the white people in general had scant regard for them. 

Some said that they were not worth educating, while others said the government was wasting its money and others said that they should be sent back to the bush.

Father Smith resisted all this and became the trusted friend of the Bungalow people. 

He helped some adults get pensions and child endowment, and would speak on their behalf whenever he could. 

He arranged for Joe Croft to go to All Souls School, Charters Towers.

A number of these Aboriginal children went on to be high achievers becoming an example to their own people as well as showing white society that many of their attitudes about Aboriginal people were misconceived. 

Such high achievers from The Bungalow were Joe Croft, Rona Glynn and Freda Glynn.

When World War Two broke out children from the Northern Territory were evacuated south including the children from The Bungalow. 

Most of the Anglican children went to Mulgoa, a Church Missionary Society (Anglican) home at the foot of the Blue Mountains in NSW. 

After the war the placement of these children, who were all wards of the state, was managed by Mr Frank Moy, Director of Native Welfare in the Northern Territory. 

A number of the boys including John Moriarty went to St Francis’ House in Adelaide while most of the girls went to St Mary’s Hostel, Alice Springs.

By the 1950s when it became necessary to remove Aboriginal children from their families the procedure now followed due process of law, which requires that all children in difficult family circumstances have to be charged as being neglected.

The Bungalow closed in about 1963.

The taking of Aboriginal children from their families without due process is a deeply sad, traumatic and alarming chapter in the history of Australia’s dealings with its original inhabitants.

The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families of 1995-96 is tantamount to that. 

This episode in Australia’s history must not be allowed to be forgotten or put aside.

The story is here again. A professional and extensive account needs to written about The Bungalow and its impact. 

John P McD Smith is the chair of the St Francis’ House Project.

PHOTO at top: Bungalow girls playing hockey with mulga sticks and a tennis ball. 1934.


  1. Many congratulations to the editor of the Alice Springs News, Erwin Chlanda for publishing this extremely important story.
    The Bungalow encounter is one that must never be forgotten.
    I agree entirely with the author that a very detailed and properly researched account of The Bungalow story needs to be written up.
    It is a project that should be taken up by the Federal Government who should spare no amount of money to bring this to fruition.
    I can envisage such people as Stuart Traynor, Ted Egan, Brenda Croft and archivist Dr Matthew Stephen as suitable professionals to be involved in such an enterprise.

  2. Having just completed extensive research on Rev. John Flynn concerning accusations of racism and found nothing but opinion, can I make the request that the author of this article supply a reference for his allegation?
    It is easy to make generalisations concerning “taking the children away” and Stolen Generation, but research also suggests that it was not black and white, to coin a phrase.
    Some Aboriginal people voluntarily admitted their children, while other cases were more complex.

  3. Such a sad history for some of the people from this era.
    This should never be forgotten. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Russell Guy hits the nail on the head.
    The false narrative currently being peddled is no different to what was called the Black Armband of History.
    Not all decisions were done out of cruelty, in many cases the decisions were made through concern.
    Injustices that were identified were acted soon in more circumstances than the modern day history writers would have us believe, because it does not favour the current BLM narrative.
    The truth sometimes comes out, as it is now with the largely discredited Dark Emu.

  5. “The taking of Aboriginal children from their families without due process is a deeply sad, traumatic and alarming chapter in the history of Australia’s dealings with its original inhabitants.”
    Yes, indeed, but “The taking of Aboriginal children from their families with due process…” is equally deeply sad.
    I agree with Russell Guy that it is easy to generalise. There is something inherently unfair in judging historical events by current mores and standards, just as it is inherently unfair to history’s victims to pretend these historical events never happened. So thank you Erwin for bringing us this story.
    Fast forward to Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Apology: “…that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again…”
    Now we use due-process. If due process is flawed, due process will not necessarily always be just and I fear that the injustices of the past are happening again.

  6. @ Local1: Largely discredited Dark Emu?
    I found it very interesting and credible and so have many others.
    I’ve seen some of the discrediting criticisms and found these to often be pedantic nitpicking and nasty.
    When it comes to it I’d rather believe Bruce Pascoe than Andrew Bolt.

  7. When I was a child and misbehaving, we were often threatened with “if you don’t behave, the child welfare people will come and take you away”.
    If these children were neglected and taken away from the parents with the honest intentions of giving them a better life, is this such a bad thing?
    The abuse and other cruel things that happened whilst they were in care, is a very different matter and those things should be dealt with in accordance with the law and any penalties should be applied using the full force of the law.
    We live in a society where too many parents have little or no care for their own children let alone respect for others.
    The children of those parents, usually grow up and inflict themselves on the rest of society, by committing anti-social acts (by anyone’s standards).
    They too have no respect for their fellow humans.
    How can this be fair on the rest of society?

  8. Thanks Erwin for printing this story.
    My father and his siblings were removed from their parents because of the removal policies and placed in the Bungalow.
    During the enquiry into the removal of SG children and part of the Bringing Them Home and Ways Forward report, I learnt a few things about how my father.
    He was abused physically, emotional and mentally, starved etc while he was in care of the Chief Protector and other staff who were responsible to care for him and other children.
    These cases, including my own father’s, were submitted to the Commissioner Sir Ronald Wilson and Mick Dobson and the Australian Human Rights Commissioner in 1995/96.
    The findings of the National Inquiry into Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait children from their Families and the BTH report was finally tabled in Parliament in 1997. One of the key recommendations in the report was: Government to make reparation to all those people affected by policies of forced removal.
    It should also include an acknowledgement of responsibility and apology from all Australian Parliaments and other agencies which implemented the forced removal and a monetary compensation be given.
    It took a change of Government in 2007 to apologise to those SG children in February 2008 which SG and their families accepted.

  9. Thanks John and Erwin for making history accessible.
    Library and Archives NT recently released a feature on Topsy Smith. A brief extract follows: “Topsy Smith (1874-1960 – pictured second from the left) was an Arabunna woman born in Oodnadatta who spent much of her adult life caring for children of Stolen Generations at a school known as The Bungalow in Alice Springs (then known as Stuart).” Interested readers can chase it up.
    Many people named in this work went on to make great contributions, and I am privileged to have known some of them.

  10. Local1 alleges: “The truth sometimes comes out, as it has now with the largely discredited Dark Emu.”
    Frank Baarda is spot on when he says: “I found it (Dark Emu) very interesting and credible … I’d rather believe Bruce Pascoe than Andrew Bolt.”
    The so-called discrediting was indeed lead by Bolt, who alleged; “They even overlooked the fact that his big hit – Dark Emu – included incredible misquotations of its sources.
    Rick Morton from the Saturday Paper on 30/11/19 asked Bolt three times whether he has read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. Each time, he evaded the question.
    It seems that Bolt’s efforts to “fact-check” Pascoe’s book are based largely around a website called “Dark Emu Exposed”.
    The Saturday Paper spent two days at the National Library of Australia reviewing the original documents and explorer accounts in question. They are – at every instance – quoted verbatim and cited accordingly.
    I have read Dark Emu, and it is thoroughly credible, and bases much of its information on those primary sources.

  11. Frank, I am am not quoting Bolt, I am comparing the research that shows deliberate misquotes, assumptions and mistakes.
    Bill Gammage, whose work a lot of Dark Emu has been based on, even describes his work as a a bit of a stretch.
    Geoffrey Blainey, one of our most respected historian has been the latest to make a public statement about the inaccuracies it contains, and Bitter Harvest by Peter O’Brien does, as I did, delve into the original source material and compares it side by side with Pascoe’s claims, which are incorrect too many times.
    By all means enjoy the read, but please don’t point to it as a source of truth.

  12. And again the historical facts and “tribal law” requirements are overtaken by the do-gooders.
    Re-read the first paragraphs. These children were on the fringes, they were hungry, the were not looked after well.
    Mothers did try but were held back by the rest of their community who would NOT look after these children.
    The children did not belong in either world – one world would have and did regularly – kill these children, to comply with their own laws.
    The other world at least tried to do something.
    Was it perfect? Of course not.
    But most of the “stolen” generation are grateful to be alive, to have been educated, to be given an opportunity.
    But their stories are never highlighted. Heaven forbid you let the truth get in the way of a good story!
    For all of those who now claim to be Aboriginal with 1/32 blood, sitting on welfare and go off on a tirade at the drop of a hat, it’s about time you were grateful to the tax payers of Australia who fund your lifestyle.
    We currently face the same situation where “community” takes little responsibility for their children but heaven forbid anyone who tries to make families accountable for looking after their own children.
    It’s about time the best interest of the children were put first and stop concentrating on the colour of their skin.

  13. To correct one assertion in this article (“The Bungalow closed in about 1963”): The Bungalow ceased operation as an Aboriginal community in July 1960 when the resident population was transferred to the new community of Amoonguna, officially opened by the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, on October 2, 1960 (almost exactly 60 years ago).
    For a long time leading up to this transfer the Bungalow had been operating as an Aboriginal settlement, as opposed to an institution for part-coloured children removed from their families – this distinction isn’t made clear in the article.
    The Welfare Branch retained use of the buildings at the former Telegraph Station / Bungalow for storage purposes after the community had moved to Amoonguna but control of the site was eventually transferred to the Reserves Board of the Northern Territory in perpetuity as a national historical park, in fulfilment of the undertaking given by Paul Hasluck on the occasion of the official opening of Amoonguna.

  14. As usual such articles bring it all out of the woodwork, the half-truths, the prejudice.
    The behaviours and attitudes of the colonial settlers towards the First Nations people is at the core of how people are and what is going on in Central Australia to this day.
    I have been studying the first Bungalow, 1914 – 1929, for the past three years as a PhD and a book is on the way.
    If anyone would like to discuss this or contribute please contact me.


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