Possible secret graves detected at NSW Aboriginal boys 'training home'
Calls for excavation efforts at the site come in response to the detection of a minimum of nine suspicious anomalies through ground-penetrating radar scans.
A chilling revelation by The Guardian unmasked that multiple potential secret or hidden burial sites have been located at the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home, one of the most notorious and abusive institutions during the Stolen Generations era in New South Wales.
Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) experts have identified at least nine suspicious sites that may be graves. The New South Wales government was made aware of this discovery six months ago through a report that pointed out "high-priority anomalies" in the ground, resembling patterns associated with human burials and unexplained by other data sources. The report even suggested the potential use of cadaver dogs to locate buried human remains.
The report also mentioned the potential existence of graves in areas that haven't been investigated yet and recommended conducting comprehensive physical searches across the entire property near Kempsey. If human remains are discovered in these areas, the report suggests that they would likely be clandestine burials rather than conventional Christian burials.
The authors of the report advise caution in interpreting the findings, as some of the anomalies could have both archaeological and forensic significance. In cases where the remains are determined to be forensic (less than 100 years old), it would necessitate involving the police. However, the authors emphasize that the only definitive way to ascertain the presence of buried bodies on the site is through excavation.
'I’m hoping that there’s nothing there'
The Kinchela Boys' Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC), a group representing survivors, is urging both the New South Wales (NSW) and federal governments to promptly allocate funding for comprehensive searches across the entire property. They are also requesting excavation at the areas deemed high-priority to ascertain whether some of them could potentially contain the remains of children who died at Kinchela and were secretly buried.
"I’m hoping that there’s nothing there. Just as simple as that. But with the way that those people were and the way that they flogged us, it wouldn’t surprise me at all," the KBHAC chairman, Uncle James Michael "Widdy" Welsh, said as quoted by The Guardian.
Punishment and abuse
Archaeologists working on behalf of the New South Wales (NSW) government prepared the report in response to a request from Kinchela survivors. These survivors have long asserted that Aboriginal boys at the institution may have died due to severe physical abuse, neglect, or even potentially under suspicious circumstances.
Kinchela Boys' Home was administered by the Aborigines Protection Board, later known as the Aborigines Welfare Board, on behalf of the NSW government. It operated from 1924 until its closure in 1970. During this period, an estimated 400 to 600 Aboriginal boys, aged between five and 15, were forcibly separated from their families and detained at the institution, in accordance with the policies and laws of the Stolen Generations.
Survivors have vivid memories of being identified by numbers rather than their given names during their time at Kinchela Boys' Home. They endured brutal punishments such as flogging or being tethered to trees overnight as a consequence of bedwetting. Additionally, they were repeatedly told that they were not of Aboriginal descent, that their families had abandoned them, or that their parents were no longer alive.
Uncle Roger Jarrett, among those who endured these hardships, recollected being subjected to the punitive practice of being chained to a tree overnight as a form of discipline.
"Over the back, there’s the fig tree. It had a six-foot chain on it. If a boy said something trivial, they’d cut sleeves out of an old sugar bag, put it on, and wet it. Take him out there, they chain him up, padlock them, and leave them there," he said as quoted by The Guardian.
Uncle Vince Wenberg recalled a manager during the 1950s who was described as "sadistic" and employed cat-o’-nine-tails as a form of punishment. Another manager was reported to engage in disturbing behavior, including indecent acts in front of the boys or taking them into his office.
Survivors expressed their frustration with the fact that the NSW government has possessed the report for half a year and has yet to provide an official response to their requests for additional investigative work on the site.
The report was delivered to Aboriginal Affairs NSW (AANSW) in March 2023, and at that time, Kinchela survivors, local Dunghutti families, and traditional owners were briefed about its contents. However, since then, the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys' Training Home survivors asserted that there has been no further progress.
In late June, the board of KBHAC wrote to the NSW government, informing it of its unanimous preference for immediate excavation and other archaeological investigations to commence at the site. According to the letter, which was reviewed by The Guardian, the KBHAC board expressed the desire for excavations to cover all high-priority areas and requested the necessary approvals from the Heritage Council of NSW to proceed with this work.
Additionally, the letter asked AANSW to facilitate a presentation during the KBHAC board's meeting on July 20, where Kinchela survivors (referred to as the Uncles) could engage in discussions regarding this sensitive matter with the Heritage Council of NSW and the archaeological consultants.