From hands wiped clean to clean new start at Ballarat Orphanage

By Erin Williams
Updated November 2 2012 - 11:39am, first published April 10 2009 - 1:29pm
LOOKING BACK: Former ward of the state Jo Frances at her Scarsdale home. Picture: Eugene Hyland
LOOKING BACK: Former ward of the state Jo Frances at her Scarsdale home. Picture: Eugene Hyland

JO FRANCES believes her mother wiped her hands clean of her the moment she entered Ballarat Orphanage.Ms Frances was born illegitimately in 1943 during the war at an unmarried mother's home in Carlton. Her mother deserted her and she was made a ward of the state."I was there until I was five while my mother went back to do her (nurse) training at the Austin and find someone she could marry, or who would marry her, so she and whoever she married could legally adopt me," Ms Frances said."Up until that stage, Mother paid 10 shillings a week for my keep. I have all these records from the child welfare department chasing mother for non-payment of my maintenance. It is most interesting to read."Ms Frances' mother married and legally adopted her daughter when she was five-years-old, but her mother then ran off with another man."Because of his cruelty I kept running away. There was a court case and I was committed to the welfare state and as uncontrollable as you could be in those days ... " Ms Frances said."I used to run away to the neighbours and they used to look after me. At times I went bush and the police were called in to look for me." Ms Frances was admitted to two youth centres near Melbourne.She was apparently suited to neither."And they put me up in the Ballarat Orphanage, the normally-run, free sort of institution. I had a wonderful time, I really did," she said."It was lovely and peaceful ... I enjoyed it. They sent me to Ballarat East High School (now Ballarat Secondary College East Campus)."Despite not remembering friends she made at the orphanage, Ms Frances has many fond memories.She said when she was well behaved, she was allowed to go to a theatre set up in the gymnasium on a Saturday night."There used to be a milk bar opposite (the orphanage) and some of us got pocket money. We used to go across and get a bottle of lemonade. You never took the top off the lemonade, you used a nail to put a hole in the lid and it would last the whole time of the movies," she said.She also remembers the beautiful old building she lived in from 1956 until 1959. It was demolished 43 years ago."I remember the leadlight windows and the old mosaic tiles in the entrance. We used to have to clean it. We had to do a hell of a lot of cleaning. They didn't have cleaners which was fair enough in an orphanage home," she said.Ms Frances vividly remembers walking from the orphanage to Ballarat via a stormwater drain, only to be caught after one of her friends cut her hand on a beer bottle."It was great fun we used to love it. We used to go into town and straight back again," she said.Life near the end of Ms Frances' time at the orphanage took an unexpected turn. While working as a telephonist at the former Ballarat Post Office, she met her step-father who had married her mother."He said `I have been looking for you for years and nobody would tell me where you were'," Ms Frances said.From that chance meeting, Ms Frances learned she had an aunt and uncle who had never had children so they took her out of the orphanage and looked after her until she was old enough to study nursing.Ms Frances' mother died, as a result of a car accident in 1987, without talking to her daughter for 30 years.After her sudden death, Ms Frances had to clean up her mother's house and was shocked to find no indication of her having a daughter."She denied she had any children at all in the back of her passport," Ms Frances said."And when I cleaned up her house there was not a photo or a mention of me at all ... I think apart from a couple of letters, she just wiped her hands of me completely, which was pretty difficult because I tried to talk to her a couple of times in later years."After delving into her history, Ms Frances cannot help but wonder why her mother allowed her defacto to abuse her without her mother sticking up for her."I always wanted to ask her why did you allow that to happen to your own child because she struggled to keep me in the younger years and she would not have me adopted for some reason or other," Ms Frances said."I don't regret it. Life is life. It didn't add up. She didn't want me yet she didn't want to let me go to a normal relationship. I always wanted to ask her why?Ms Frances is now living in Scarsdale and has one daughter and three grandchildren.

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