Our Centres History
The centre has a fascinating history that makes for great storytelling. It is a tale of determination, passion and caring that dates back almost a century and features some inspiring characters. One of those characters was Kate Cocks - a diminutive figure born in 1875 who was proficient in martial arts and the first female police officer in the British Empire. Her work with women and children is where our story begins and she lends her name to the centre today. It really is a story worth a read ...
The tale begins....
Extracts from 2014 AGM
Imagine 1950s and 60s Adelaide – on this piece of land and extending beyond the chapel past the retirement villages to the East, past the Oxford Nursing Home to the West and extending all the waythrough to Wattle St to the South. All of this home to a complex of buildings providing care and a home to many of the most vulnerable in society. This, along with a network of community houses in neighbouring suburbs was the Kate Cocks Babies Home in its hey day.
Today the KCCCC is what remains of that complex. Tonight we are celebrating the rich history of our beloved Centre. We are celebrating the history of the buildings, we are celebrating the history of a long running service to the community. But most of all we are celebrating the history of a remarkable woman– Fanny Kate Boadicea Cocks – known as Kate Cocks, or to her friends and family Kit or Kitty.
This is, in many ways a story celebrating feminism’s core values – the strength and determination of women to achieve their goals and dreams and to make remarkable contributions to society. Kate Cocks was born in 1875 in Moonta. Her father named her after two of the women he admired most in the world – his mother Fanny Tabb Cocks and Queen Boadicea the Celtic warrior queen. After falling on some financial hard times, in 1900, Kate Cocks, then aged 25 and her family moved to Adelaide. After starting her working life following in her mother’s footsteps as a teacher, she quickly moved into what was to become her life’s work – helping those in extreme poverty and those most vulnerable in society.
After working for some time as a teacher, Kate Cocks became known for her work with juvenile offenders and as a parole officer. She was credited with helping many young people avoid gaol time. On this basis, at age 40 Kate Cocks was invited to apply for the position as the State’s first female police officer. In fact she was the first female police officer in the British Empire, and only the second worldwide. She nominated her friend Annie Ross to be her off-sider and the two of them formed the first Women’s Police Service.
The women’s police service was charged with protecting the morality of young women and children. She worked long hours in plain clothes patrolling the brothels and slums of Adelaide. Now, Kate Cocks was a small, slight woman by build, but she was known to combine stern efficiency with warmth, compassion and empathy. She was known for her belief in the equality of the sexes as well as the sacredness of children and of child-rearing.
She was proficient in ju-jitsu and one legend has it that she helped a woman whose husband was beating her by training her in ju-jitsu. Can you imagine a small, slight woman in her mid 40s in 1920s dress performing martial arts – what a woman!
She patrolled the parklands and sand dunes of Adelaide on the watch for couples acting ‘amorously’ and was known for her catch cry “3 feet apart, 3 feet apart”
On her retirement in 1935, age 60, the police superintendent at the time spoke of her as “a mother to the motherless, a sister to the sisterless and a counsellor and guide to all in trouble” She received an MBE for her pioneering work in the police force, but l wonder if she had any inkling at the time, that her major life achievements were yet to come.
Only a few months after her retirement, a distressed young girl, unmarried and with a newborn baby was sent to Kate Cocks’ home in Parkside. If a movie was ever to be made of Kate Cocks’ life – and it should be – this would be the scene of a dark, stormy night when a frightened and distressed girl in rags, hugging a newborn to her chest desperately seeks shelter……the reality was probably less dramatic, but the essence of the story the same.
Kate Cocks took this young girl into her own home and gave her shelter and support. Within weeks more young women in trouble sought her out and she had to rent a cottage to the back of her own home to house them. Within months, Kate Cocks gave an impassioned speech to the Methodist Church Womens Association which led to the establishment of the Women’s Welfare Department for which she became the first superintendent.
In her speech, Kate Cocks convinced the power brokers of the time, that rather than shun those that had broken the social norms of the time to become pregnant out of wedlock, that the church should instead provide ‘shelter, compassionate care, training and rehabilitation to those young women whose moral weakness have led them into difficulties for which they were unable to extricate themselves without some competent spiritual and material assistance’
Later in 1936 the Methodist Church bought Old Oxford House and transformed it into a home for unwed mothers and babies. The official opening of what was then known as the Brighton Babies Home occurred on Saturday 9th October 1937 in front of one of the largest crowds a church event had ever seen. The Babies Home provided both long term and short term care for young women and their babies. It also operated as an adoption agency – but it was well known for providing mothers with vocational training and the support necessary to make the right decision for their lives at the time. For some women this was adoption, but for others this was marriage and therefore keeping their babies. It also provided care for orphans and for children who were abused or neglected, or for whatever reason required temporary or permanent care.
So where does our buildings fit in to this story? The exact details and dates are a bit hazy, but we do know that a fellow called Albert Wyld left money in trust to be used for ‘young women who had erred for the first time, but under no circumstances a second time…’
From this trust, the building that now forms the main building of our Centre was built – probably in the late 1940s as a maternity hospital for the Babies Home. The building operated as a maternity hospital for many years. What is now the Babies’ Room was the birthing suite – in fact our former director, not that many years ago, had the oxygen attachments removed from the wall. The Pre-Kindy Room was the ward for young mothers – you can still see the partitions there and the narrow cupboards that were the bedside lockers. The end room past the Toddlers Room was where staff slept – in fact the original old fireplace is still there which is now our Programming Room. The Directors and Assistant Directors office was the original nurses station.
The Babies Home was a much loved institution in Adelaide for many decades and there are many stories from this time that bring the essence of the place to life.
Not that many years ago a woman turned up at the Centre with her children wanting to show them the place that she had lived for a few years and of which she had fond memories. Her story is that her father and mother came out from Greece with 6 children and settled in Mildura to work. Soon after arriving, her mother died and, without family or a welfare system like we have today, her father could not work and care for all of his children. So she and one other sibling came to the Babies Home to live for a couple of years before her father was able to care for them again. She had very fond memories of the place despite a sad story of arrival at the centre.
She told us a fascinating story, that I think sums up the essence of what the Babies Home must of meant to so many people. Apparently this woman, as a grown woman was browsing in an antique shop with her sister one day and was drawn toward an old antique nurses fob watch. Not really knowing why, she bought it and took it home, feeling that it gave her strong comfort. A few weeks later she was looking through old photos and found one of herself as a child at the Babies Home snuggled up against a nurse with her cheek against her watch.
One of our own staff - the much loved Kathy Reiche - began volunteering at the Babies Home as a teenager in the afternoons and weekends. She remembers the very special, strong bond that existed between staff and the children of the home. She remembers fondly this little aboriginal boy, Lance who was left from time to time at the home while his family went walkabout. This bond that the staff have to the children that comes through our centre is still apparent in recent times.
Through all this time, Kate Cocks gave tirelessly of her time, without pay, her energy and most of her belongings. In fact, it was around 1940 that the other key figure whom we are celebrating tonight (2014), enters the story.
Mrs Charlotte Leal was a close friend of ‘Kitty’. She herself contributed much to society, heading up Thebarton Girl Guides as well as many other philanthropic organisations. Mrs Leal visited Kate Cocks in her home when she was sick one day, to find her in a bed with no sheets. She had given them all to the babies home. This prompted Mrs Leal, or ‘Lottie’ as she was known, to form the independent body known as the “Brighton Babies Home Aid”.
This group of women worked for years fundraising for the home to support its work. They were resourceful and hard working. One story from this time is that after a ship sunk off the SA coast in 1942, the Aid obtained quantities of oil-soaked manchester and washed it to make linen for the home. In 1967, 5 years after she died, Charlotte Leal’s family built the Chapel that we are in today that is known as the Charlotte Leal Memorial Chapel. It was built as a place of solace and prayer for the girls and staff of the Home. There still remains a plaque on the front of the Chapel bearing her name.
By the mid 1970s, as society was changing the Babies Home began organising less adoptions, children were cared for by foster parents in the community and more and more children were coming as ‘daykids’. Gradually the Centre transitioned to a community child care centre. At this stage, the main building was still own by the Wyld Family Trust and the Adelaide Central Mission retained ownership of the Chapel and surrounding land.
In the early 1990s, the trustees of the Wyld Trust suddenly decided that the building was no longer being used for the purpose for which the trust indicated, so it would be put on the open market. The Centre was in no position to buy the property. But the Director and Chairperson of the centre, at the time, were not going to let that be the end and they worked tirelessly to find a way to purchase the property – and the Hon Dr Andrew Southcott played a key role in lobbying the right people which led to them, at quite literally the 11th hour, to obtain a government grant to secure the main building. This was followed by a successful campaign to buy the Chapel building from Uniting Care Wesley. By doing so, we have secured the future operation of the Centre and ensured that Kate Cocks’ legacy will continue.
In 2015 The Chapel was converted to a new learning space which is now utilied for the Kindy 4 children. The Centre also has an Early Childhood Teacher which continues the early education of our most valued possessions, children. In 2016 , the centre was officially renamed - Kate Cocks Community Children's Centre Incorporated.
The Centre will continue to uphold her legacy of Kate Cocks’ belief in ‘the sacredness of childrearing’ by providing childcare of the highest quality. The Centre will also continue to uphold her belief in the equality of the sexes by allowing women to reach their full potential in the workforce and in doing so, to the wider community.
Kate Cocks died in 1954, and it was after her death that the Babies Home was renamed the Kate Cocks Babies Home. Her epitaph reads ‘everybody’s friend’.