Mrs Dorrie Black Licensed Children’s Home

Mrs Dorrie Black Licensed Children’s Home

Synott Street




Provider: Child Welfare Department – Victorian Government

Year Opened: 1950’s

Year Closed: 1970’s


Mrs Dorreie Black aka Dorothy Black ran a state-registered babies’ home.  In 1969, Dorrie Black received a MBE (Member of the British Empire).

In 1997, Gerald Ryle and Gary Hughes of The Age (20th April) wrote an article about the abuse and cruelty that occurred in the Home:

Children Pinned To Beds To Stop Them Getting Up

The Age

Sunday April 20, 1997


Children in Victorian babies’ homes in the 1950s and ’60s, including state wards, were sometimes pinned to their beds at night and kept in cots enclosed in wire mesh during the day.

The Age has obtained a photograph of six children and their minders in a state-registered babies’ home about 1964. It shows the toddlers wearing their pyjama tops backwards so the children could be pinned to their mattresses to stop them getting up during the night. They would stay fastened by three large safety pins from about 5.30pm until about 7am. If they wet or soiled the bed, they would have to lie in their own faeces or urine-soaked sheets until morning.

Last week, The Age revealed that thousands of children had been unnecessarily made wards of the state in the 1950s and ’60s and exposed to physical and psychological abuse.  Former state wards who say they were victims are calling for Government help, including counselling for continuing emotional problems.  The photograph obtained by The Age, and published on Page 2 today, was taken at a state-registered babies’ home run by Ms Dorrie Black in Synnot Street, Werribee.

Toilet training at the home consisted of three upright poles set in concrete in a laundry.  The children – all between 12 months and five years and including some state wards – would be tied to the poles and sat on potties. They stayed there until they went to the toilet.

The former inspector of institutions at the Children’s Welfare Department during the 1960s, Ms Donella Jaggs, said pinning children to their beds was the “standard thing” in small babies’ homes that could not afford to pay night staff.  Ms Jaggs, who is now retired, said toddlers were often also kept during the day in “meat safe cots” – cots enclosed in fly wire mesh, including the top.  The make-shift cages protected the children from flying insects while stopping them from climbing out of their cots.

A former worker at the Dorrie Black home said the children were well fed and never hit. “But the pinning to the bed and the toilet training – that was cruel,” she said.  “It was to have control of them, so that they wouldn’t be running around all night. We had lots that wet the bed – or did the other. They would lie there until morning.”

The former worker, who declined to be named but worked at the home for six years in the 1960s, said it was her job to help pin the children to their beds every night.  “Three kilt pins were used. One in front and one on each shoulder,” she said.

The children, some of whom are now in their 30s, were placed there by mothers having difficulty looking after them.  But if their mothers failed to make support payments for four weeks in a row, the children were automatically made state wards.

The home was closed about 1970, the former worker said. Ms Black, who is believed to have since died, cared for up to 11 children at a time.  Ms Jaggs said the Dorrie Black home was typical of “backyard baby farms” in Victoria during the 1950s and ’60s. They were the “black holes” of Victoria’s child-care system.

She said the baby farms were state-registered, but the Government did not set minimum standards of care and the methods used to control children could be crude.  It was not until the mid 1960s that the Children’s Welfare Department began pressuring babies’ homes into hiring enough staff.

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