26 Jan Celebrating an extraordinary Australian
Moreen Hull might be 89, but she’ll always be a ‘Burnie Kid’ at heart. Moreen lived in Burnside Homes (now Uniting Burnside) at North Parramatta, NSW, from the age of 6 to 15 years, leaving just before the end of World War II. This year, on Australia Day, she received an Order of Australia for the work she has done over the past 70 years since leaving Uniting Burnside to help other children who grew up there.
Burnside Homes was established in 1911 for vulnerable and disadvantaged children who couldn’t live with their birth families – although today the buildings are the offices for a range of Uniting community services. While Uniting strove to provide the best care we could during this era, we acknowledge that some children did not receive the consistent and loving care that they needed and deserved. However, for many others, their time at Uniting Burnside was one where they made friends, received an education they wouldn’t have otherwise accessed and had the adventures of childhood.
Burnside was the only home Moreen ever really knew. It wasn’t until she entered the world outside that she realised how isolated from practical reality her life had been. After leaving Burnside she saw how many things she and children like her didn’t know and had never experienced. She realised how much they had missed of the learning and love that comes with a normal home life.
At 15, on a railway platform as she tried (and failed) to buy a ticket for the first time, Moreen swore she would find a way back to those children like her and give them the experiences she missed. Before long, that’s just what she did. From her early 20s, with two of her own children in tow, she began what was to be a lifetime of service to the children who were still in the care of Uniting Burnside and to the adults they grew up to be.
“I stayed at Burnside until I was 15 years old and then found a job and a room to live in and from then on I was all on my own,” Moreen said. “There was no follow up at all until very late and many children could not make it in the outside world. I did not even know how to buy a rail ticket nor did I know where to get any information that might help me. I had no contact with family as Burnside had given an aunt permission to put me in home service where I stayed for six months with no days off and no pay. So, I ran away, met up with another Burnside girl and together we got a job and room. And then … well it’s a long story!”
Over the next 70 years Moreen persuaded, cajoled and organised people from all walks of life to join her mission to improve the lives and futures of all children in care. She drew on her relentless belief, her endless charm and her career in public relations, radio and early television to draw people to help her with an impressive range of interventions and contributions that would benefit thousands of children.
Her army of enlisted helpers included politicians, TV personalities, business and community leaders, historians, artists and ex-Burnsiders themselves. As the current (and only) President of the ex-Burnsiders Association, Moreen has “kept the family together” and harnessed their knowledge and energy to make change happen. She was a driving force behind the building of a museum at North Parramatta where ex-Burnsiders have told their stories and their history is honoured.
In 1981 Moreen revitalised ‘Ex Burnsider Reunions’ and since then every November hundreds of ex-Burnsiders have gathered at the North Parramatta homes to reconnect and talk about their childhoods. For many, this is a profoundly healing experience and a recognition of the importance of place in their lives. In May 1989 Moreen established the Memories newsletter to assist ex-Burnsiders to keep in contact with one another. Its contents now include a variety of items such as short stories by ex-Burnsiders, snippets of news, photographs, information on ex-Burnsiders’ activities, details of meetings and reunions.
Moreen’s community activism and generosity spanned many organisations and roles. She advised government on children in care through her input into the 2004 Senate Inquiry, and has continued to be a valuable and appreciated voice for Uniting. Today, at 89 years old, Moreen Hull is still a Burnie girl and still actively making a difference. She was involved in the establishment of community radio, and also wrote a biography of Monty Ross, a long-serving Manager of Burnside Homes. She has had long-term involvement in Rotary and Lions Clubs, but her life has been very much focused on helping those who grew up in care.
Today we acknowledge the tremendous service Moreen has provided over the decades as the fibre that has kept these children who were in our care supported and woven together. Her voluntary work mitigated trauma and harm so often experienced by children growing up apart from their birth families.
Burnside Homes continued to operate during the 20th century until they were fully replaced with a foster care program and some community residences for older young people. Many thousands of children were cared for at the Parramatta site, with children numbering over 500 a year in its peak decades. The story of Uniting Burnside reflects a century of changing social attitudes toward children and families.