These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

Australian foundry worker, Jimmy Butt (1917-2011), was in children’s homes and foster care as child. 

James Butt was born to Margaret Alice Butt in Melbourne. Margaret gave Jimmy to child welfare authorities because she could not care for him. He  was placed in the Royal Park Receiving Centre, in Parkville.  

The Royal Park Depot in Parkville was the sole reception centre for children committed to State care from about 1880 to 1961. The Depot was a ‘clearing house’ for boys and girls, before they were boarded out, sent out to service or committed to a reformatory school. In 1955 it became Turana (Find&Connect). 

Jimmy lived in numerous foster homes in Melbourne and in regional Victoria after leaving Royal Park. He was “moved like a parcel from one place to another (Dargan).

Jimmy’s first foster placement was with Mary Ann Aylward and her two daughters, Stasia and Ann. Mrs Aylward was a widow mourning the death of her son, Mick, who was killed in WWI. 

Mrs Aylward was very good, very kind. She used to take me everywhere (Dargan).

Jimmy was sent to his next foster home when he was nearly seven years old. This was with a bootmaker, Frank Thompson, in Carlton. Frank was strict and it was not long before Jimmy was passed along to the Hodgkins family in Brunswick, and then to “Auntie Kate” in North Melbourne when he was eight. Jimmy credits Auntie Kate with being the “greatest influence” on his life.  

She was pretty firm and I had to work hard but she set me on the right path. I thought I was more wanted there than any other place. If she hadn’t got sick she would have got me into a trade. But she had to put me back in the home and that changed me life to a certain degree (Dargan). 

Jimmy left Auntie Kate’s at the age of nine and returned there when he was eighteen. During those nine years, he lived in seventeen different placements arranged by Royal Park. Many of these were work placements where he boarded with families as a farm labourer.

Jimmy described his childhood as difficult but also a great learning experience. 

My oath it was hard, but that’s just how it was. And I had great experiences you know. I travelled all round and met some great people who were good to me. And I learned all sorts of things, bout farming and the country, you know, all different things (Dargan).  

The Great Depression was in full swing when Jimmy left Royal Park for the last time and moved in with Auntie Kate. He was on unemployment benefits, colloquially called ‘the susso’, until he managed to get a job at Lincoln Woollen Mills in Coburg. He left at the age of twenty-one because the owners refused to pay him full adult wages. 

Jimmy went on to hold several more working-class jobs, including work in a foundry. He went to night school to improve his moulding skills, and then also did first aid classes, influenced by witnessing an accident where a thirteen-year-old girl was knocked off her bike by a car and nobody was able to help her. 

The St John’s Ambulance was right opposite the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Lonsdale Street. I got into a class which didn’t interfere with me moulding class and it lasted three months, every Wednesday night. I got to know the chaps there. They were first class and everything was going fine. Having me first aid certificate meant I could join the Lifesaving Club which cost six bob (Dargan).  

Jimmy became a member of the Albert Park Swimming and Lifesaving Club at South Melbourne. He was the “first aid man” and later became the Social Secretary. 

In February 1943, Jimmy Butt married Maree Bourke. The couple had four children: Margaret in 1944, Anne-Marie in 1946, Lawrie in 1951, and Cathy in 1954. 

At some point, Jimmy went into a partnership with a friend and ran his own foundry. The last job he had was with the Tramways Workshops Foundry, where he stayed until he retired at age sixty-five. 

His Catholic faith and family remained important to Jimmy throughout his adult life.

Married life and family life have been the most important things. I reckon a happy home life is one of the greatest things you can achieve. I’ve always had a simple life. I like going over to the church and talking to em all. And Ree and I go for a walk or to the South Melbourne Market on the tram. I do me gardening and grow me tomatoes (Dargan). 

Jimmy had twelve grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In 2011, he passed away in Melbourne at the age of ninety-three. 


“Butt, James Wallace (death notice).” Herald Sun, 11 February 2011.

Dargan, Felicity. ‘I’ve been bloody lucky’. The story of an orphan named Jimmy Butt. Bachus Marsh, Victoria: Connor Court Publishing, 2006. 

“Royal Park Depot (1880 – 1955).” Find & Connect, 2019. 

Image available here.