Children of the Black Skirt


A gothic fairytale for young people. Three lost children discover an abandoned orphanage in the bush and learn a history of Australia through the spirits of children who have lived there, from convict times, through to World War Two, the Stolen Generations and beyond.

An evocative play which explores history, reconciliation and the power of storytelling, Children of the Black Skirt has toured widely through schools and is a classroom favourite with teachers and students alike.

Children of the Black Skirt was first developed by Real TV and produced by Queensland Arts Council. it first toured throughout Queensland into regional and metropolitan high schools

Children of the Black Skirt has toured widely into schools and theatres across Australia. The play received a Drama Victoria Award for Best Production by a theatre company and featured on the 2005 VCE play list.

ISBN 9780868197609
Length full length
Cast 14M, 12F (cast of 3 possible with doubling)
Audience age teen
Publisher Currency Press



Video Scenes

The Black Skirt glides through the orphanage corridors

The performer creates the appearance of floating with a controlled stylised walk. Her legs are moving very slowly but her upper body is completely still. The performer requires considerable physical training to perfect this walk. The slow, stylised movement of the Black Skirt suggests a powerful and solemn figure. In early drafts of the play, the Black Skirt used language, however, we realised her full authoritative power was communicated far more effectively through silent gesture.

Harold Horrock’s Morning Tea

Inspections were carried out by Government authorities on an annual basis to ensure orphanages adhered to standards of care. However, our research revealed that these inspections were often superficial. The Government Inspectors were either not exposed to the true living conditions of the children or they chose to look the other way. Often Government Inspectors were bribed with food from the orphanage farms.

The absurd, oppressive relationship between the orphans and the Inspector in this scene, highlights the system’s complete disregard for their welfare. This is perhaps the most humorous sequence of the play. Audiences enjoy the buffoonery of Harold Horrocks as he consumes the morning tea. The performance style signals to the audience that they can take pleasure in laughing at his greedy stupidity. In doing so, the audience shares solidarity with the orphans.


This sequence was based on true accounts of the practice of humiliating children who wet their beds. Bed-wetters were forced to parade for hours wearing their soiled sheets and chanting pee-the-beds.

Rosie at the Washing Line

Rosie, the laundry woman sings a traditional Indigenous lullaby to sooth the spirits who haunt the orphanage.

Rosie functions as the guide or mentor for the new arrival and she reveals the importance of storytelling as a means of releasing the restless spirits.

The Black Skirt Nurses the Baby

Every night the sound of a crying newborn baby is heard through the corridors of the orphanage. This is the Black Skirt’s own child who died at birth. The baby’s spirit is symbolic not only of the Black Skirt’s lost child but that of all lost children in Australian history.

When the orphans finally discover the remains of the baby, they tell its story and release its spirit. The spell of the orphanage is finally broken.

The Black Skirt Inspects the Dormitories

Our research revealed that inspections of the dormitories would occur on a regular basis. Language was kept to a bare minimum and the authorities would communicate with the children through a series of claps and gestures. The children were expected to be silent unless spoken to and were referred to by their number, not their name.

The Black Skirt Transforms into Harold Horrocks

The Black Skirt is transformed into the grotesque Government Inspector of Orphanages through a grooming ritual carried out by the characters, New One and Old One. This ritual is underscored by a monotonous recitation of letters to home. These letters reveal the silenced inner voices of the children.

The transformation of the Black Skirt (who represents the Church) to Harold Horrocks (who represents the Government) suggests the symbiosis of Government and Church and their complicity in the process of institutionalising the black, poor and female in Australia.


Independent Theatre Awards – Gordon The Optom

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