Inside the Parramatta Women's Factory: A glimpse into convict life
They did not choose to be here. They were sent ten thousand miles away from family and friends because of alleged crimes committed. Many of their crimes by today's standards were trivial. It is hard to imagine just how scared these women would have been, having no control over their lives or the fate that awaited them in this new land.
One can't even begin to image just how harsh the reality of life as a convict woman would have been. After 1821, many of these women convicts were sent to the Parramatta Women's Factory, just outside Sydney. I have visited what remains of the Parramatta Women's Factory. In one sense, the setting feels calm and peaceful, being built next to the Parramatta River. However, history tells us, for the convict women the harsh reality of life within this factory would have been anything but. Women who were catergorised as being of 'first class' were in the best position, they were eligible to marry and be assigned to work on outlying properties.
Those who fell into the category of 'second class' were usually returning to the factory pregnant or charged with committing minor crimes while on assignment.
After a period of good behaviour they were able to earn the right to be promoted up a class. Women who fell into the final class, the 'crime class' suffered the harsh realities of prison life and were expected to perform the same hard labour as convict men. These women are a testament to ones ability to overcome diversity and insurmountable obstacles, and make the best out of their lives once they had served their sentences.
A settler or a freed convict was able to obtain a written permit to marry a convict women from the factory.
So, although many of the women arrived as so called convicts, they were able to overcome, what can only be described as incredibly hardships and challenges to be become founding mothers of Australia. The factory has been recognised by UNESCO, as a world heritage site. It should also be recognised as the site for women of courage and strength of spirit, a place where friendships were made, skills were learned, dreams of a better future began and a place where the Aussie battler spirit was born. Now, as the Parramatta Women's Factory is commemorated, we can see how their contributions and sacrifices has helped shape Australia, into the country that it is today.