The Elizabeth Fry Retreat, South Yarra, was established by Quakers in 1884 as a home for female ex-prisoners. In 1943, Melbourne City Mission took over the Retreat, who offered a home for ‘friendless and wayward women and girls’. In 1957 the Retreat was renamed Swinborn Lodge.
The Elizabeth Fry Retreat in South Yarra was a Home for ‘fallen women’ established by the Quaker, Sarah Swinborn, who served as its honorary secretary, superintendent and treasurer. It was named after Elizabeth Fry, an early Quaker migrant to the colonies.
Money to run the Retreat was partly raised by an on-site laundry operated by the women. The residents ranged in age from under 20 to 50 years plus, usually aged 30 years and over.
The Elizabeth Fry Retreat announced its affiliation with Melbourne City Mission in 1944. It described itself during this period as offering a home for ‘friendless and wayward women and girls’. By this time, the residents coming to the Retreat were generally younger and, over time, the older residents moved to aged care facilities.
Under the management of the Mission, the Retreat was maintained as a ‘home for wayward girls’, retaining its commercial laundry operations to provide employment for the young women and funds for the facility. This work was unpopular and not many of the young women saw their future in domestic work. Many were wards of the State referred by the Children’s Welfare Department.
One submission from a former resident to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ inquiry painted a bleak picture of life at Elizabeth Fry:
Everyone was tightly locked up with a very high brick wall all around with broken glass imbedded in the top … I was always hungry and permanently cold from only wearing short sleeve cotton uniforms.
During the late 1950s, the Children’s Welfare Department reduced referrals to Elizabeth Fry Retreat, using instead its own new facility, Winlaton, for girls who had offended or were seen to be ‘at risk’. The Retreat was then often used by police as a refuge for girls not yet part of the Child Protection system.
Some records relating to the Elizabeth Fry Retreat are held by the University of Melbourne Archives (Accession numbers 89/90; 97/129 and single item accession 95/129).
In 2014, there is a children’s playground (Argo Reserve) on the Elizabeth Fry Retreat/ Swinborn Lodge site in South Yarra. The bricks from the main building were reused as part of the playground, retaining walls, boundary walls and a fountain. The ‘stables’ building at the rear of the site which was used as a morgue is still standing.