Beyond the gates: an arts-based investigation into the ‘Forgotten Australians’ (c.1940-1970)

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

11th Annual Limina Conference Beyond Boundaries: Recognition, Tolerance, Change


University of Western Australia

Place of Publication

Perth, Western Australia


School of Arts and Humanities


Horner, A.E. (2016). Beyond the Gates: An Arts-based Investigation into the ‘Forgotten Australians’ 1940- 1970. Paper presented at the 11th Annual Limina Conference Beyond Boundaries: Recognition, Tolerance, Change. Perth, Western Australia: University of Western Australia. Abstract Available here


By engaging in arts-based research, this PhD project asserts primacy of creative practice as a key method of enquiry. Therefore, it combines a collection of short fiction with an exegesis positioning the artefact contextually and theoretically.

This paper will explore how fictional stories re-imagined from recent historical events may function as legitimate and significant cultural texts by persuading percipients of the creative work to revisit the world from a new direction: to listen for voices within the gaps and silences, both from the past and in the present.

Much of the primary source material draws from testimonies recounting survivors’ traumatic experiences as children in institutional care. Many care-leavers, now known as the ‘forgotten Australians’, have finally broken a lifetime of silence in order to tell their ‘unofficial’ stories. Overwhelming evidence reveals a culture of endemic abuse within Australian child welfare organisations whereby harm was done to children in the context of policies and programmes that were designed to provide care and protection. During this era, ideologies underpinning community beliefs were patriarchal, conservative and insular. It was purported that children were housed in imposing, regimentally run institutions ‘for their own good’.

Secondary sources cross the boundaries of history, psychology, sociology, philosophy and literary studies. The paper investigates the blurred boundaries which exist between fiction and non-fiction; personal and social memory; official and unofficial narrative; knowing and not-knowing the past. In doing so, it acknowledges that there is no single narrative of history.

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