Welcome to the Female Orphan School

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The Female Orphan School building is a key witness to some of the most significant social changes in Australian history. The building has shaped thousands of lives over the two centuries it has stood on the banks of the Parramatta River.  

Whilst something of a hidden treasure, the building is of immense significance to Australia’s social history. It is one of the very few surviving public buildings of its size dating from the early colonial period. Predating even Hyde Park Barracks, the Female Orphan School is the oldest three-storey building in the country.

The building stands on the traditional lands of the Darug people, who occupied the western Sydney area and were intimately connected to it.

For most of its life, the building accommodated those who, for whatever reason, were left on the periphery of society. Its first function was to accommodate, educate and train Sydney’s ‘orphaned’ children. After its life as an orphanage, it served as a psychiatric hospital and its changing use over the subsequent 100 years reflected society’s evolving understanding of mental illness. By the mid 1980s, the philosophies the building embodied had become obsolete, and the building became disused and fell into disrepair.

Recognising its heritage significance, the University of Western Sydney saw to the building’s restoration in a series of projects beginning in 2000. The Female Orphan School has now been revivified as the centrepiece of the university’s Parramatta campus.

The University of Western Sydney is honoured to be the custodian of this valuable fragment of Australia’s past. The university’s Whitlam Institute which now occupies the building is committed to ensuring that the building will be accessible as a truly open, public and democratic space for future generations to appreciate and enjoy