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Australian writer, Bill Smith (b. 1919), was in children’s homes and foster care as a child. 

William Smith was born into a large, impoverished family living in a Melbourne suburb. His mother was a widow with four children when she married Bill’s father. Bill was the third of five children born to the couple.  

Bill’s memories of life at home were of poverty and harshness. His father was not around much and was unreliable in sending money home to support his family. His mother was left with nine children and kept the household organised in “military style”. Desperate, she often sent out the older boys to get food. 

[The boys] would adopt a fictitious name and tick up credit [at a food shop]. When she thought that this ruse had lasted as long as possible and the danger of discovery threatened, another of my brothers would use the same tactics (Smith). 

When he was six, Bill’s father took him to Kildonan, a children’s home run by the Presbyterian Church in North Melbourne. In general, the food was better at Kildonan than at home but the children complained about the monotony of it and about the pumpkin, rice, and sago puddings. 

Privately these three items were the subject of various chants and parodies expressing our distaste. We never considered that the nourishment was probably better than we had received at home (Smith). 

Bill longed for visits from his family but rarely received them.  

Mum visited me on two occasions. On one visit she brought Mabel to see me and on the other, Stan. These were the only two visits she made before she died in 1926, shortly after the last time I saw her (Smith). 

At the age of nine Bill was sent to live with the Capstains, who were considering adopting Bill. Bill was sent back to Kildonan after some childish misadventures with the Capstain’s daughter. He believed he was “very bad and was unwanted” (Smith). 

In 1929, Bill was moved to the Kilmany Park Farm Home for Boys in Sale, a city in the Gippsland region of Victoria. Kilmany was set up by the Presbyterian Church and operated as a farm for boys ages ten to sixteen. 

Despite living on a farm, the boys were allocated only one egg a year. They often stole eggs, but were caught and punished. Some staff were particularly brutal with their beatings of the boys. Bill negotiated an arrangement with a teacher to supply him with firewood in exchange for eggs. 

One egg per week! I calculated that, discounting holidays this would amount to over forty eggs a year. I felt like a millionaire. Eagerly I accepted the offer (Smith). 

Decisions were made about the boys’ future when they turned fourteen. 

A few select lads would be allowed to continue their studies at the Sale High or Technical School, and a few would be lucky enough to be taken on an as an apprentice by a tradesman, or as a salesman in Leslies, Jensens or Treloars, the local stories. Such employment was regarded as elite, as something with a bright future (Smith). 

Other boys found work as labourers on the local farms. Thanks to a teacher whose kindness “lifted the quality of our work dramatically”, Bill was spared from farm work and able to complete his education. He left Kilmany in 1936 at age seventeen.  

Bill Smith went on to become a “factory worker, shipping clerk, union organizer, soldier, watchman… and writer” (Smith). His autobiography, Better Off in a Home, was published in 1982. He also published “numerous articles and short stories”.  


Bill Smith (1982) Better off in a home. Albert Park, Victoria: Yvonne Burns. 

“Kilmany Park Farm Home for Boys (1923 – 1978).” Find & Connect, 2019. 

O’Neill, Cate. “Kildonan, North Melbourne (1890 – c. 1937).” Find & Connect, 2014.