The site is on Arrernte land. There is a women’s birthing place sacred site in the top northwest corner.

It has been called:

  • Mount Blatherskite Hostel, 1946-7
  • St Mary’s Hostel, Alice Springs 1947-72
  • St Mary’s Children’s Village, 1972-1980s

There is a chapel on the site with a large mural painted by Robert Czako in 1958.

The mural became heritage-listed in 2014 but the chapel itself is not.

The history of the chapel and the mural has been documented in “The Robert Czako Mural, St Mary’s Family Services and Beyond’ (now in its 9th Revision)” Compiled by Jose Petrick

A Conservation Management Program for the Mural was established in 2021 with support from the Anglican Diocese of the NT, National Trust Australia, Northern Territory Government and the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, and the involvement of a large number of local volunteers.

Since 2013 the property has been leased from the Diocese by Community Housing Central Australia (CHCA) to provide affordable housing and some commercial tenancies. For further technical information on the property see the Information Memorandum issued by the Real Estate Agent.

In 1943 the site was granted as a lease to the Chief Medical Officer of Alice Springs and was established as the Lady Gowrie Rest Home, a convalescent home for Army nursing sisters and service women, run by the Australian Comforts Fund.

After the war the Australian Comforts Fund agreed that their assets should be valued and disposed of to charitable organisations, the Lady Gowrie Rest Home was valued at 5,000 pounds.

The Rector of Alice Springs, contacted the Bishop of Carpenteria, to suggest acquiring it for aboriginal school children and some part-aboriginal girls who had started work in the town.

A bid was lodged through the Anglican Board of Mission. There is conflicting information available on the sale price (700 pounds, 750 pounds, 1500 pounds) but it was well below 5000 pounds.[1]

The church took possession of the building and contents on February 11, 1946.

Sister Eileen Heath, a Deaconess and funded by the Anglican Board of Mission, was appointed as the first Superintendent.

Sister Eileen said it ‘was established and…operated as a hostel for part aboriginal children attending local school in Alice Springs’.[2]

She was licensed to work at the St Mary’s Church of England Hostel by both the Bishop of Carpentaria and the Administrator of the NT, Mr Michael Driver, acting on behalf of the Minister for the Interior, Canberra (who was responsible for the Northern Territory).[3]

Shortly afterwards the local priest was appointed Superintendent and the Anglican Board of Mission, the Anglican Diocese of Carpentaria, the Government exerted various forms of power and supervision over the next decades. (See Cubillo & Gunner v The Commonwealth for a detailed discussion of responsibilities of various parties).

The first 4 children arrived on 2 March, 1946.

On 19 December 1946, the Administrator of the Northern Territory granted St Mary’s Church of England Hostel a licence under s13 of the Aboriginals Ordinance to be “an Aboriginal Institution for the maintenance, custody and care of aboriginals and half-castes’.[4]

There were 71 resident children when Sister Eileen left in 1955 and it continued to operate as a children’s home under various staff throughout the 1960s.

In the years after she left some children were sexually abused and there were serious concerns raised about the conditions.[5]

Those who grew up there had a variety of experiences of their time there.

In the 1970s the direction and purpose of the institution changed. The name was changed to the St Mary’s Children Village and it began to provide disability care and services to ‘at risk’ children in families, and to manage some programs off site. In the 1990s it became Anglicare Central Australia, part of Anglicare NT, and provided supported accommodation services. NT Anglicare ceased management of the site in 2010 when it was transferred back to the Diocese of the NT.

In 2013 the site was leased to the Central Australian Affordable Housing Company.

Members of the Stolen Generation Group were baptised and confirmed in the chapel. Some were married there. Many have their funerals there.

They have kept returning to St Mary’s. They have taken their children there. They have had reunions and meetings there.

The chapel and its lawns have also been used over the past decade by various Anglican and ecumenical groups for services and funerals, for heritage talks and to host visitors to see the mural, and as part of musical and community events.


Cubillo & Gunner v The Commonwealth - the famous ‘Stolen Generations’ court case - included a claimant from St Mary’s.

Peter Gunner was placed in St Mary’s in 1956.

(He was the previous Chief Minister of the NT Michael Gunner’s uncle)

The second claimant, Lorna Cubillo, was placed at the Retta Dixon Home for part Aboriginal children in Darwin run by the Aborigines Inland Mission.

The lengthy findings contain a great deal of information about the administration and conditions at St Mary’s Hostel.

The Judge found that sexual misconduct had occurred in relation to a number of boys at St Mary’s and was critical of the conditions at the Hostel in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

There was contradictory evidence how Mr Gunner came to be placed there and the Judge concluded that that Mr Gunner had ‘failed to establish to my satisfaction that he was removed from Utopia Station against the will of his mother’.

The Judge’s conclusions included:

I have great sympathy for Mrs Cubillo, for Mr Gunner and for others who, like them, suffered so severely as a result of the actions of many men and women who thought of themselves as well-meaning and well intentioned but who today would be characterised by many as badly misguided politicians and bureaucrats. Those people thought that they were acting in the best interests of the child. Subsequent events have shown that they were wrong.

The claimants were unsuccessful. This case turned only on the facts around their particular removals and complex arguments about whether the Commonwealth Government could be held liable for those removals, or for their care.

The case is controversial and has received critique for its approach to aboriginal witnesses and how it dealt with the evidence before it.

However despite its limitations and flaws it has had a significant impact on the discussion and perceptions around the Stolen Generations.

This makes the stories and experiences of this Group particularly significant to ensure there is a fuller account of the lives of those who were removed and placed at St Mary’s and the impact this had on them.

Philip Freier, the then Bishop of the NT, issued the following statement [6] in response to the case:

This Synod recognises the pain and suffering endured by Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families and apologises for any of our Church policies and actions that have ever contributed, in any way, to that hurt.

In 2016 Philip Freier, then Primate, said in reference to St Mary’s:

It was appropriated by the post-war Government to help its policy of wrongfully removing children from their families.

There have been no criminal prosecutions for the sexual abuse that occurred.

The Royal Commission did not examine St Mary’s.

There were a large number of children who lived there and they have a very large number of descendants.

There has not been a serious collection or telling of their stories and there has not been a substantial reckoning with what occurred on site.

In 2018 the Anglican Diocese of the NT joined the National Redress Scheme in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and is likely to have received and paid out claims in relation to St Mary’s.

Although there were redress schemes in other parts of Australia, none were established for members of the Northern Territory Stolen Generations. They were becoming elderly and passing away.

In April 2021 Shine Lawyers started a class action in the NSW Supreme Court against the Commonwealth asking for redress.

In August 2021 the Commonwealth announced the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme. It opened on March 1, 2022. This did not cover kinship groups or deceased estates, and the Shine lawsuit continued in relation to them. In August 2022 it was settled, securing compensation to those additional groups.

Thus some individuals may have received a payout for sexual abuse (the average payout in the National Redress Scheme is in the order of $83,000), some individuals may receive an amount for being stolen ($75,000 and an additional $7000 for healing under the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme) and some estates/family members of those who have died may receive an equivalent payment from the Shine lawsuit.

However what is being sought here is much larger; it is collective and ongoing connection to the land for remembering and the telling of stories, both for healing and for the sake of future generations.

What happened in and around St Mary’s is a very significant part of recent Central Australian history. A large number of children spent time there and they now collectively have many descendants.

And time is running out, seven members of the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group have died in 2022.


[1] Jose Petricks’ book says “The Bishop had 700 pounds from the Carpenteria Association. Although higher tenders were received, this tender, lodged through the Anglican Board of Mission, was accepted.” Annette Roberts’ biography of Eileen Heath says “the bid was 750 pounds from the diocese, 750 pounds from ABM” and publicly available archives have 750 pounds listed by ABM for the purchase of the property.

[2] Cubillo & Gunner v The Commonwealth

[3] The Northern Territory did not become self-governing until 1978.

[4] Cubillo & Gunner v The Commonwealth

[5] Cubillo & Gunner v The Commonwealth discusses these concerns in detail.

[6] Media Release, Response of Anglican Church to Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner v the Commonwealth, by Bishop of the NT Dr Philip Freier, 11 August, 1997.