It’s February 5, 1907, and a short, dark haired man in his late thirties named Corporal O’Halloran is on the doorstep of a house on Edward Street in the city of Perth. He has been called there by the owner, a woman named Alice Mitchell.
Alice Mitchell is known to care for babies. Specifically, babies belonging to single parents, who have no choice but to return to work and earn a living. She has cared for dozens over the last six or so years. But she’s called Corporal O’Halloran there because she’s caring for a baby whose mother has disappeared. She is no longer sending her money.
“I’ve been keeping her baby for months,” she tells the man. “And I’ve received nothing from her. I keep them for a living,” she continues, referring to the babies. “I don’t keep them for the love of the thing. Her child wants nourishment and I’m unable to give it to her unless she pays me.”
Corporal O’Halloran asks to see the child.
He watches Alice walk down her lino-covered hallway and collect a baby from one of the bedrooms. The infant is wrapped in a thin blanket, wearing a soiled cloth nappy. He notices the baby is pale, with her eyes inflamed. She is seriously underweight, emaciated, and limp, and the policeman notices a sickly smell coming from her. He grows concerned.
Alice says the baby is suffering from teething. And marasmus, a form of malnutrition.
O’Halloran is aware of the rumours. They’ve been following Alice for some time. But there’s never been a formal complaint, perhaps because of the shame so many single mothers feel.
What happened that day will start an investigation, as authorities look more closely at the home of Alice.
Where are so many of the babies she was meant to be caring for?
Host: Jessie Stephens
Audio Producer: Leah Porges
Producer: Gia Moylan
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Mamamia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land we have recorded this podcast on, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.