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Survivors' plan to turn place of trauma into house of healing gains global backing

Tom Zaunmayr -

An abandoned boys home which for 50 years enabled mass cultural genocide of Stolen Generations children in New South Wales has been recognised as a globally significant precinct to preserve.

Between 1924 and 1970 Kempsey's notorious Kinchela Boys Home routinely stripped as many as 600 Aboriginal children's names, subjected them to forced labour and ran "reprogramming" courses to wipe out Aboriginality.

Survivors from KBH are among thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly taken from their families and communities as part of official government and church programs to assimilate First Nations children into non-Indigenous society.

The home was on Wednesday announced at the 2022 World Monuments Watch as one of 25 heritage sites of worldwide significance whose preservation is urgent and vital to the communities surrounding them.

Uncle Widdy, a survivor of Kinchela. Picture: Kylie Kluger

Survivors from the site have put forward plans to turn the now-vacant home into a place where historic cruelty and abuse can be recognised.

Kinchela Boys Home survivor uncle Roger Jarrett, referred to as #12 while in the institution, said handing the site back to survivors would complete their healing journey.

"My love in my heart, as a kid, is still in that bloody home. It's a fact," he said.

"And returning the ownership to KBH survivors is going to allow me to return the love that I lost in that place.

"Just the thought of going there makes you feel a little bit better than you were before â€" giving you a feeling that you achieved something â€" I achieved my last little bit of pain easing, you know?".

Fellow survivor uncle James Michael "Widdy" Welsh, #36 at the home, said he still carried trauma from his experience at the home.

"Our silence allowed a lot of evil pain to be given to us to pass onto our children," he said.

"That's as simple as you'll get, and as truthful as you'll get.

"I still hurt from it, and the only way that it will go away is for a museum and healing centre to be built on this site."

"My love in my heart, as a kid, is still in that bloody home. It's a fact" - uncle Roger Jarrett

The precinct vision has been advocated for by the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation, which hopes to turn a history of physical hardship, punishment, alienation, and abuse into a place for reflection.

In 2012 the site was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, and in 2013 it was listed as an Aboriginal Place under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

KBHAC is pushing for an agreement to manage the grounds and implement its plans to address the legacy of violence against Stolen Generations survivors and communities,

Today, the remaining buildings and landscape of the former KBH offer evidence of a dark period in history that continue to affect generations of people still living in Australia," KBHAC said.

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