What's On

Current Exhibitions

Without Consent: Australia's past adoption paractices

On the fifth day I was called into a back office to sign papers. When I refused to sign, I was told that if I signed I would be able to see my son and hold him. After I signed, that offer was taken off the table. I was then told that I was too young, there was no help and that I would be a bad mother and my baby would never forgive me.

 Linda (as told to the Senate Inquiry)

Without Consent is much more than an exhibition. It is a significant contribution to the narrative of our national history, giving voice to an estimated 250,000 Australians affected by forced adoption policies and practices, largely occurring between 1950 and 1975.

This touring exhibition from the National Archives of Australia provides an opportunity for these mothers, fathers, siblings, families and adopted persons to share their experiences in their own words, photographs and voice – many for the first time.

Their stories describe a dark period of Australian history, and begin to fill the silence created by the very few records kept by state and private institutions. Many of the accounts shared are those of unmarried mothers, whose babies were taken from them because of social stigma, and who subsequently were forced to live a lie for decades. Tragically, for some, their experience of forced adoption was a secret they took to their graves.

The exhibition and a website were developed following former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's national apology to those affected and in response to a specific recommendation by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report entitled Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices. The exhibition challenges long-held assumptions and reveals the greater truth – that these forced adoptions were illegal and that the babies taken for adoption were dearly loved and wanted by their parents.

Without Consent is a tribute to the courage and generosity of those who volunteered to share their experiences. The Whitlam Institute is privileged to be hosting the exhibition and invites you to share their remarkable - often moving - stories.

7 July - 22 September 2017

Thursday and Friday 10:00am - 4:00pm

Saturday 8 July 11:00am - 4:00pm

Saturday 12 August 11:00am - 4:00pm

Sunday 27 August 10:00am - 3:00pm

Saturday 9 September 11:00am - 4:00pm

A crèche at a large maternity hospital, 1954

A crèche at a large maternity hospital, 1954.

Matron and babies at Ngal-a Mothercraft and Training Home, Perth, 1966

Matron and babies at Ngal-a Mothercraft and Training Home, Perth, 1966.

Incomplete jumper, 1974

Incomplete jumper knitted by Kim McIlveen, 1974.

Photographer: Angus Kendon.

Former Prime MInistr Julia Gillard delivers the National Apology

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivers the National Apology.

Without Consent Logos

Without Consent: Australia's past adoption practices is a national touring exhibition developed and presented by the National Archives of Australia, assisted by the Australian Government's Visions of Australia program.

This exhibition is presented in the Margaret Whitlam Galleries, in the historic Female Orphan School. Please click here for details on how to get to the Female Orphan School.

A Changing Australia: The time of Gough Whitlam

A Changing Australia exhibition images

The Whitlam Institute's exhibition, A Changing Australia: The time of Gough Whitlam explores the remarkable life and enduring legacy of one of Australia's most significant Prime Ministers – Gough Whitlam. Step back in time to explore the dynamic, influential and tumultuous years of the Whitlam Government through some of the key objects from the Whitlam Prime Ministerial collection.

  • Free admission
  • Our regular opening hours are Thursday and Friday, 10.00am - 4.00pm, and the second Saturday of each month, 11:00am – 4:00pm (Excluding long weekends and public holidays).
  • East wing, Female Orphan School

Image: National Archives of Australia

A Changing Australia exhibition room 1

A Changing Australia exhibition room 2

Upcoming Exhibition


Missing is an exhibition by award winning Chinese –Australian multimedia artist, Tianli Zu.

It is an intriguing exploration of shadow matters, reflecting memory, time and space within the Margaret Whitlam Galleries, Female Orphan School, Western Sydney University, Parramatta Campus.

Notably this building has a history of housing “hidden” members of society, such as “orphans” and the “mentally ill”, who were conveniently “lost” or “missing” from society and kept out of public sight.

The exhibition consists of large scale paper-cuts, paintings, site-specific installations, sculptures and cinematic projection to depict absence, power and transcendence.

Zu invites viewers to experience all aspects of the concept of “missing”: physical, psychological and metaphorical.

This project was assisted by a grant from Create NSW, an agency of the New South Wales Government and supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments. The program is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

Curated by Western Sydney University Art Curator, Monica McMahon.

Friday 13 October 2017 until Friday 19 January 2018

Previous Events

National Trust Heritage Festival 2015

Talk: Compassionate interventions: entering and leaving the Female Orphan School

As part of the National Trust Heritage Festival, historian Associate Professor Carol Liston from the University of Western Sydney explored some of the stories of those who ended up either in or out of the orphanage because of compassionate intervention.

The talk Compassionate Interventions: entering and leaving the Female Orphan School will be available for viewing shortly.

Lecture: Happy Birthday Triple J! 40 years of big sound and big impact

The Centre for Media History at Macquarie University and the Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney, with the support of Triple J co-presented  a public forum on Monday 19 January 2015, with media and popular music historian Dr Liz Giuffre from the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University, to mark the 40th birthday of 2JJ. The talk is now available to watch below:

National Trust Heritage Festival 2014

The Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney presented several events as part of the 2014 National Trust Heritage Festival. We filmed our two talks, which are now available to watch below:

Arrivals and Departures: The Journeys of the Female Orphan School Children

Historian Associate Professor Carol Liston from the University of Western Sydney tells the stories of how some children came to be at the Female Orphan School, and what became of them after they left.

The Journey to Restoration and Adaptive Reuse: The historic Female Orphan School

Heritage architect Megan Jones, Practice Director of Tanner Kibble Denton Architects discusses her experiences from stage one to completion of the Female Orphan School's progressive restoration.