Screen writer to develop miniseries on notorious Parramatta School riots

Recipient of the Endemol Shine Australia’s initiative ‘Smart for a Girl: ROAR’ Calre Young who plans to create a miniseries 'Unruly Girls' on the Parramatta Girls Home.
Recipient of the Endemol Shine Australia’s initiative ‘Smart for a Girl: ROAR’ Calre Young who plans to create a miniseries 'Unruly Girls' on the Parramatta Girls Home.

The shuffling shadow of the infamous Parramatta Girls Training School was nearly always one step behind Braidwood screen writer Clare Young.

Open from 171 to 1974, the facility bore a bleak and insidious past.

A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014 stitched a story of neglect and inhumane punishment – the victims, hundreds of young women, at the time cautiously clothed for battle which would later erupt in a riot.

Studying creative writing and media at the University of Canberra she went on to take out the Canberra Film Festival and worked as a director at Bear Cage.

A rebellious girl from the Parramatta Girls Training School is hurled into a police van (1962).

A rebellious girl from the Parramatta Girls Training School is hurled into a police van (1962).

A stint at the ABC led to the 30 minute documentary Eyes Down and Welcome to Hay. The story followed Wilma Robb who travelled back to Hay Jail, a reflexive response to the Parramatta Girls Training School Riot in 1961. 

Receiving funding from artsACT to develop the long form idea in 2014, she admits the image of the girls, on top of the Parramatta Home running wild lit by a torchlight from below, rattled her imagination.

Now Ms Young is one of 15 women chosen to work alongside Imogen Banks (Offspring) and screenwriter Alice Bell (Puberty Blues) to develop a miniseries of the 1961 riot titled Unruly Homes as part of the Endemol Shine Australia’s initiative ‘Smart for a Girl: ROAR’ supported by Screen Australia.

“What happened was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “The women took me in and told their stories. These characters had such an original expression and great strength of spirit which really impressed me.” 

Her most recent role as an assistant to Jane Campion, director of Emmy Award winning BBC show Top of the Lake, was the final push.

“At the end of working for Jane, I realised the riots had the potential to be a very strong story,” she said.

“Because of the breadth and the scope of the characters it made sense as a television show. TV is such an exciting arena, there is a lot of risk taking and bold ideas.

“The way the industry is heading at the moment, I knew it would be perfect for my project.” 

Victims of abuse at Parramatta Girls Training School  and the Insititution for Girls in Hay turn up to protest outside the Royal Commission. (L-R) Margaret, Robin Kitson and Dawn. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

Victims of abuse at Parramatta Girls Training School and the Insititution for Girls in Hay turn up to protest outside the Royal Commission. (L-R) Margaret, Robin Kitson and Dawn. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

Over the past few years My Young has spoken to ten women in depth, and hopes many more will reach out and share their story. 

The project is a release of the deafening voice crushed beneath the weight of the facility. 

“It’s an interesting thing, looking at history because how can you define truth?” she said.

“It feels like life synchronicity and events have allowed me to tell this story. I feel a deep commitment to the emotional truth of these women” 

Despite years and countless hours of research, Ms Young will not readily admit to having knowledge of the full story. It is a continuing examination, she explained, an investigation. 

Next month she will participate in a writing workshop in an effort to draft the first episode. She described the funding stream and dedicated support as outstanding and necessary, citing the 935 submissions for the program.

“It proves what a need there is for these initiatives, because the ideas are out there, it’s just finding a away within a structure to get those voices out,” she said.

“Everybody has the right to story.”