HAPPY MEMORIES: Former Rathgar residents Norma Freebody and Lynn Booth are looking forward to catching up with school mates.
HAPPY MEMORIES: Former Rathgar residents Norma Freebody and Lynn Booth are looking forward to catching up with school mates.

Old friends reach out



OVER 50 years ago two small girls forged a friendship while residents at South Grafton's Rathgar home for girls.

By chance Norma Freebody and Lynn Booth have reconnected and are reaching out to others who also lived at the home.

"We are searching for former Rathgar girls and organising a reunion," Norma said.

"Lynn and I were best friends at Rathgar in the early to mid 1950s but lost contact as each grew into adulthood."

She lived at Rathgar from 1954-1958 and Lynn went to Rathgar in 1952.

Norma and her older sister Bonnie (known as Vonnie) who has passed away, were placed in Rathgar after their mother died.

Sadly their father abandoned them and their elderly grandma who cared for them for four years sought help from her local church after struggling to cope on a small remote farm near Oberon with only a pension as support.

"I remember life at Rathgar as pleasant and although I was very shy, I made some good friends, especially Lynn, I have quite often gone back there to reminisce," she said.

"I was fortunate that I had my older sister with me and I had plenty of girls to be friends with but it wasn't the same as being home, but you just accepted things in those days."

While at Rathgar, Norma attended South Grafton Public School and during the Summer holidays would return to her grandma's farm.

When Norma made one of her recent visits to Rathgar she left her phone number with the hope of finding former residents.

And within 12 months Lynn also visited and contacted her.

The reunion will be held on October 7 at Rathgar Lodge.

"We would really like to contact as many Rathgar girls as we can ... it is not going to be easy after all this time because the girls came from all over the state and probably most of them would have changed their names."

So far, Lynn and Norma have been able to find 15 of the girls and are enthusiastically seeking more.

Lynn said there were unpleasant times at Rathgar but that the reunion would help in healing.

"A lot of unresolved issues remain with many girls today and this reunion is also about offering healing for some of the 'Forgotten Australians' with friendship and support," she said.

Rathgar was established in 1941 by the United Protestant Association (UPA) to care for children and was home to many girls and, for a short period boys as well, over many years.

"Some stayed for a few days, others stayed for years," Norma said.

"Today, the now privately-owned property remains as a haven for others in need."

The average Australian didn't understand why children were put into homes such as Rathgar. Many often believed that these were sub-standard people whose families were disgraceful failures in some way, whilst the truth was usually that they were ordinary folk who had had some sad misfortune or sickness come upon them, a spokesperson for the UPA said.

Details of the reunion can be obtained from Norma at PO Box 152 Medowie or 02-4982 8160, and from Lynn at lynnd@gotalk.net.au.



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