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Life in Magill Youth Training Centre

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
I enjoy writing about Adelaide and its many attractions. If you think Adelaide is boring, the problem is not with Adelaide. adelaideunearthed.blogspot.com.au/
Published April 18th 2014
About youth prisons in South Australia
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A Barbed Wire Fence at the Magill Training Centre Site

The recently demolished Magill Youth Training Centre is the last of a series of youth prisons at Magill. While the Magill Training Centre site is now to be redeveloped as a new housing estate, memories of its role as a juvenile detention centre will be around for a long time. Conditions in youth prisons continue to improve, but this place had a hundred year history.

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Magill Reformatory South Australia 1900 (Courtesy State Library of SA)


Magill Reformatory
A reformatory for boys was established at Magill in 1869, but in 1880 boys were transferred to a hulk moored at Largs Bay before returning to Magill in 1891. From 1898 the Reformatory became a home for Protestant boys only. Catholic boys were sent to St John the Baptist Home for Boys in Brooklyn Park.

Even back in the 1930's there was a feeling that the reformatory was not effective in improving boys' behaviour, and it was referred to as an institution for bad boys to make others bad. The buildings were said to be outdated, there was "undesirable mixing" between older and younger boys, staff were untrained and supervision was "more like that of a prison".

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Conditions in Youth Prisons Can Lead to Changed Perspectives

The Mullighan Inquiry report revealed that in 1945 the Reformatory Superintendent's biggest worry is keeping track of the boys who are inclined to sexual perversion, which for some reason seems to be more in evidence now. In the 1950's boys continued to be transferred from the Magill Industrial School to the Magill Reformatory for subnormal sexual misconduct.

After operating for nearly 100 years the Magill Reformatory was demolished in 1967, and the McNally Training Centre built to replace it.

St John's Boys Town

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Boys Town - Later Salesian College


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The Boys Town Chapel and Hall

While never a part of the Magill Youth Training Centre, parts of the Catholic Church ran a Boys' Home at Brooklyn Park where Catholic boys were sent rather than to the Magill Reformatory.

Originally a Catholic Reformatory called St John the Baptist Home in 1898, it later became the St John's Boys Town orphanage until 1953. After becoming the boarding section of Salesian School, the school finally closed in 1996 as Salesian College. It operated for a while as a youth hostel, then the former Boys Town was sold earlier this year.

A more detailed history of Boys Town can be found here.

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Punishment For Transgression at Magill - Wearing the Wrong Socks


McNally Training Centre Onwards
The McNally Training Centre was built in 1967 to house 164 boys aged from 15-18 who had either committed offences, were on remand, or required assessment. It was divided into six units, each with up to 16 residents. Three units provided shorter term accommodation for residents on remand and in short term secure care, while the other three housed boys committed for a period of treatment. There was also a maximum security unit for disturbed boys.

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Prison Cells at the Juvenile Detention Centre

While punishment was not as harsh as at the earlier reformatory, conditions were still extremely strict. Daily routine was highly regimented and absconders received particularly savage punishment, which you can read about here.

The Mullighan Inquiry report detailed allegations from nine people that they were sexually abused at McNally Training Centre by either staff or other detainees.

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Foremer Hostel Building at Lake Woorabinda

In 1960 youths from McNally helped to re-model the Lake Woorabinda hostel and campsite at Stirling for the Department for Community Welfare.

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Outdoor Recreation Area Surrounded by Barbed Wire Fence

SA Youth Training Centre
In 1979 the McNally Training Centre was renamed SA Youth Training Centre, continuing as a secure care centre for up to 90 youths in five units. By 1983 corporal punishment was prohibited again at the centre, although children over 15 could be strip searched and placed in detention for up to eight hours.

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Some Residents at Magill Youth Training Centre Retain a Sense of Humour

In 1986 some renovations were made to the interior of the SA Youth Training Centre buildings to provide more privacy for residents, and by 1990 an outside pergola and outdoor living area had been provided. Despite this improvement in comfort reports have surfaced that residents were sexually abused here.

Magill Youth Training Centre

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A Caged Area Between Wings at Magill Training Centre Site

From 1993 the facility was renamed the Magill Training Centre, but increasingly concern was voiced about its suitability. The lack of privacy when taking a shower, and the use of "cages" to access the recreation area were significant complaints.

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Shower Cubicles Allow Little Privacy

After an appeal to Australia's youth representative to the United Nations about poor conditions, the centre was closed in 2012.

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Shuttered main Entrance to Magill Youth Training Centre

A new Adelaide Youth Training Centre at Cavan was opened the same year, and is still in use today for juvenile detention. .

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Prison Surveillance With CCTV is Increasing at Juvenile Detention Centres
Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  91
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Why? Get inside the wire
Where: Magill, SA
Your Comment
i was on remand there (magill) there in 1959
by cassz (score: 1|11) 1335 days ago
Thank you for this article, I too appreciated learning about this institution and for the human face you have given to such a soul-less campus.
by lisah (score: 1|11) 1331 days ago
I got sent there with others from St Johns for a time as punishment in the 1980's.Did NOTHING WRONG.Total hell, suffered more of the same as "new meat".No-one cared...they still don't... Demolished by Govt to hide the facts and to stop us remembering evidence...
by demmi (score: 0|6) 46 days ago
I clicked that I liked this article but I didn't: I appreciated it. The things that can be done in the name of righteousness - not only in the 'bad old days' but not much time ago than yesterday - is saddening.
Given the high proportion of adult prisoners who are barely literate, perhaps the following quote is worthy of consideration in this context.
He who opens a school door, closes a prison. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)
by kmtay (score: 1|63) 1338 days ago
My oldest son spent a very short time at a detention facility at magil. I am not sure if it was this place I think I have had a mental block of this period in my sons life . I remember visiting him but I can't remember where I went . He was put under suicide watch and then the judge said he was not going to keep him locked up because he feared for his welfare . I am happy to say he has his life in order now and is married with 4 kiddies . Not a time I want to remember .
by sylvi (score: 2|295) 1335 days ago
I worked at MTC from 2006 to its last day in 2012 the staff were highly professional and supportive and we all held a great repoir with many young people that came through the centre.
It was great to see pictures of the centre as we were unable to take cameras in for our own photos/memories of the place.
The pic above that states it is the entrance to Magill is not actually part of the training centre it is a different building.
We did some great youth work in old MTC as some ex residents will remember !!! we lost residents and we lost staff and we grieved as one, considering how grim the surroundings looked we had a great team that cared, challenged and worked with all the young people that came through its doors. RIP MTC you will be missed by many !
by Kylie (score: 1|10) 1323 days ago
I had two cousins sentenced to the Industrial School in 1894, they were six and nine years old respectively. The youngest was fostered out until he was sixteen, the oldest was also but was returned to Magill in 1898 for the remaining two years of his sentence. It was upsetting to read the documentation. Were either of the boys abused, I'd like to think not, but I'm being optimistic. Despite all the Inquiries has our treatment of children improved. NO.
by suean (score: 0|5) 1204 days ago
Dear Dave. Thanks for sharing the images of the interior of Magill Training Centre. As historians for the Find & Connect project for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants www.findandconnect.gov.au) we repeatedly requested permission from the department to take photographs of the Training Centre before it was demolished but unfortunately permission was never granted. In your research did you happen to come across a photograph of the large Eagle Mural that was painted on the wall of one of the interior courtyards? We only managed to obtain a partial image of it through the wire before the Centre was demolished. Additionally, would you be happy for us to link to some of your images in this article - with proper citation of course - so that former residents of Magill TC can find them? Many thanks, Gary George.
by georg (score: 0|4) 1221 days ago
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