The National School of Arts and Humanities has a strong reputation when it comes to spearheading deep, insightful and original research into past welfare practices in Australia, and the legacy of these practices for the many thousands of Australians that have fallen within their ambit. Researchers in the program have used their work to inform critical areas of social inquiry, most notably the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

Our immediate focus is on the areas of child welfare, adoption and surrogacy, family law and women's policies.

The program brings together established scholars and higher degree research students, each working on projects that contribute to ongoing debates about past welfare practices and their implications for present social policies.

Historians in the program include Professor Shurlee Swain, Dr Nell Musgrove, Dr Ellen Warne and Dr Fiona Davis.

Find & Connect Web Resource

Professor Shurlee Swain

Funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, this project, a collaboration with the e-Scholarship Centre at the University of Melbourne, involves the further development of a web resource for former child migrants and Forgotten Australians, documenting the history of child welfare is Australia. Associated scholarly outputs address the issues raised by the apology and reparation process in relation to abusive practices in welfare institutions in the past and current debates around institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

History of Adoption in Australia

Professor Shurlee Swain

Following from an ARC project conducted in collaboration with Monash University, this research uses a database of more than 20,000 adoption advertisements that appeared in Australian newspapers between 1850 and 1954 to explore the notion of adoption as an expression of a market in children that waxed and waned over time.

A Long History of Foster Care in Australia: Hidden Stories of Growing up in Foster Care in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Dr Nell Musgrove, and Dr Dee Michell (University of Adelaide)
(Australian Research Council Discovery Grant funded project 2013-2015)

Foster care has been the most widely used means to provide for vulnerable children in Australia and yet little is known about the practice. This project will make a significant contribution toward shaping the future of out-of-home care in Australia, and involve both archival and oral history research into past policies and practices which have had a significant impact on the lives of many thousands of Australians. 

The project continues Dr Musgrove's association with the Federal Government's Find and Connect Web Resource, a website which brings together histories of out-of-home 'care' and archival holdings to help support Former Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians, their families, and all people with an interest in this part of Australia's history.

A Survey of Child Labour in Australian Social Welfare History

Dr Nell Musgrove
(ACU Research Funded Project 2014-2015)

This pilot study aims to extend understandings of the ways in which Australian laws and policies relating to child labour, education and child welfare have intersected. It will provide the basis of a larger future social history of child labour within government-sanctioned child welfare systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Transnational Women's Movements and Social Policy Debate

Dr Ellen Warne

This project examines the leading role that transnational women's organisations played by initiating campaigns to introduce drug and alcohol control (temperance); prevent venereal disease through public education; regulate new technologies and introduce censorship; find ways to engage and channel adolescent girls; and develop leadership among women both at a local, national and transnational level. The project will explore the tensions inherent in working transnationally as the political atmosphere became increasingly tense in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, World War II.

Grounds for Justice: Accounting for Australia's Social Welfare Past

Dr Fiona Davis
(ACU Research Funded Project 2014-2016)

The project explores the question of evidence in social welfare inquiries, past and present, with a focus on delivering greater social justice to the victims of past practices.



  • Swain, Shurlee, Quartly, Marian and Cuthbert, Denise, The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption, Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2013
  • Musgrove, Nell, The Scars Remain: A Long History of Forgotten Australians and Children's Institutions, Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013
  • Davis, Fiona, Australian Settler Colonialism and the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Station: Redrawing Boundaries, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2014


  • Shurlee Swain, 'Narratives of Innocence and Seduction: Historical Understandings of Child Sexual Abuse in Australia' in Yorick Smaal, Andy Kaladelfos and Mark Finnane (eds) The Sexual Abuse of Children: Recognition and Redress, Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 2016, 35-44.
  • Shurlee Swain, 'Locating the Child within the History of Childhood' in Joanne Faulkner and Magdalena Zolkos (eds) Critical Childhood Studies and the Practice of Interdisciplinarity: Disciplining the Child, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016, 3-14.
  • Shurlee Swain, 'A Motherly Concern for Children: Invocations of Queen Victoria in Imperial Child Rescue Literature' in Shirleene Robinson and Simon Sleight (eds) Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, 27.
  • Shurlee Swain, ‘Beyond Child Migration: Inquiries, Apologies and the Implications for the Writing of a Transnational Child Welfare History, History Australia, 13:1 (2016), 139-52.
  • Shurlee Swain, ‘Enshrined in Law: Legislative Justifications for the Removal of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Children in Colonial and Post-Colonial Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, 47:2 (2016), 191-208.
  • Fiona Davis, 'Whitlam's forgotten legacy: a voice for the poor', The Conversation, 23 October 2014.
  • Nell Musgrove, 'The Role And Importance Of History' in Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in 'Care', eds Johanna Skolld and Shurlee Swain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • Nell Musgrove, 'Locating Foster Care: Place And Space In Care Leavers' Childhood Memories', Journal Of The History Of Childhood And Youth 8:2 (2015): 106-122.
  • Johanna Skold and Shurlee Swain (eds), Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in 'Care' (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • Shurlee Swain, 'Why Sexual Abuse? Why Now?' in Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in 'Care', eds Johanna Skold and Shurlee Swain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • Shurlee Swain, 'Transitional Justice Workers and Vicarious Trauma' in Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in 'Care', eds Johanna Skold and Shurlee Swain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • Shurlee Swain, 'Institutionalized Childhood: the orphanage remembered', Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 8:1 (2015): 17-33
  • Shurlee Swain, ed, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 8:1 (2015)
  • Smart, Judith and Swain, Shurlee (eds), Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth Century Australia, Australian Women's Archive Project, 2014: Available here
  • Swain, Shurlee, 'From Philanthropy to Social Entrepreneurship', in Joy Damousi, Kim Rubinstein and Mary Tomsic (eds), Diversity in Leadership: Australian Women, Past and Present, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2014, 189-206.
  • Swain, Shurlee and Musgrove, Nell, 'Contained and Confined: Female Incarceration in Nineteenth-Century Australia', in Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z. Wilson (eds), Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children, Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014, 3-15.
  • Swain, Shurlee, 'Stakeholders as Subjects: the role of historians in the development of Australia's Find & Connect web resource', The Public Historian, 36 (4), 2014, 38-50.
  • Swain, Shurlee, 'Florence and Rosamond Davenport Hill and the Development of Boarding Out in England and Australia: a study in cultural transmission', Women's History Review, 23 (5), 2014, 744-59.
  • Swain, Shurlee, History of Child Protection Legislation, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney, 2014
  • Swain, Shurlee, History of Institutions Providing Out-of-home Care to Children, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney, 2014
  • Musgrove, Nell, 'Imagining Foster Families', Journal of Australian Studies 38 (2), 2014, 175-189
  • Warne, Ellen, 'The Forces are in our Midst': YWCA 'Girls' and the Challenges of Transnationalism Between the War', Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies, 18(1), 2013, 66-83.
  • Warne, Ellen, 'Learning from the League: Supra-National Women's Groups and the League of Nations', Lilith: Feminist History Journal, 17 & 18, 2012, 54-67


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