The making of Wandalgu Hostel

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A courageous new start

Fr Edmund Wehrmaker (Fr Eddy) knew the hardships of living in the primitive barracks of Pallottine Mission. Since October 1960, when he came to Tardun from Victoria, he had lived close to the children and the people who looked after them. They laboured hard to keep up a high standard in hygiene and child care. Their living conditions had to be improved.

Plans for re-building the Mission in brick and tile took shape in 1963. Perth architect Frank Bradley drew up a master plan for the whole establishment, to be built between the old Mission compound and the Monastery, and detailed plans for the first buildings. With these plans in hand, Fr Eddy went looking for money. The Catholic Church in Germany and the Lotteries’ Commission of Western Australia became the main contributors for the first stage of re-building.

Construction of the new buildings started in 1965 with the erection of the new Kitchen. Right through the re-building process, the Pallottine Brothers did the lion’s share of the work.

Brother Ludwig Günther and (from 1967) Brother John Phillis carted all materials from Perth: bricks, timbers and furniture. Brother John Scammel did the carpentry work on all buildings, from setting out the foundations to pitching the roofs and installing doors and cupboards. He also poured most of the foundations and floors and did most of the plumbing, with Brother Wally Sharman. The central sewerage line down the middle of the compound had to be cut over 1m deep into the rock to provide the necessary fall.

Lay Missionary Bob Doyle did most of the electrical work. Underground cabling from the Powerhouse to the individual buildings was a big task, considering the rocky ground of that area.

The only part in the building process that was mostly left to outside tradesmen was the brickwork. Lay Missionary John Kuyer laid the bricks for the Laundry, the Working Girls’ house and the Office block (extension of the Kitchen block). He also did the plastering in many buildings and poured the concrete floors.

Dedicated teams

Whilst the building team pressed ahead with construction work, the farm team, consisting of Brother Maurice Whitely, Brother Kevin Clarke, Lay Missionary Bill Meaney and some young Aboriginal men, carried on their work in the fields and in the sheds. Among the Aboriginal men, Max Wheelock and Basil Maher were the most outstanding.

Tardun3 Students-2001The team of carers at that time compares favorably with the team of Religious whose work they had taken over in 1960. These young men and women were totally dedicated to their mission. They came to Tardun for two years (or more, rarely less) during which they did not return home. They spent their holidays on shared vacations in the South-West or in carrying out communal projects. Once a year they made a Retreat.

A set of spiritual exercises gave the Lay Missionaries strength for their daily duties. Daily prayers and spiritual reading were strictly adhered to. Once a month they had a Recollection Day during which the children were cared for by just a few. They gathered for a talk, followed by meditation, and spent the day in quiet until the children returned.

A member of the Mariana Institute shared with the Rector (and Spiritual Director) the care of the carers. Margaret Mary MacLean started this tradition in the years 1960 to 1964. While away for 2 years, Margaret O’Neill lead the team. The first non-Mariana team leader was Margaret Seeber who took over from Margaret Mary about the time Fr Eddy left.

The workload of the Lay Missionaries was big. When the children were at school, there was always cleaning and mending to do. When they were at home, they needed to be supervised in meaningful activities. One day in the week, from 10 am to 10 pm they had a day off and a relief person came in.

Assistant priests

During his rectorship Fr Eddy had various Priests to help him in his work. Fr Henry Kieffer had been here before him and stayed till 1962. Fr Vincent Finnegan came for the school year 1962 to work as boys’ house parent and teacher in the senior classroom. Fr John Evans was boys’ Houseparent from 1962 to 1966 and also did the Station trips. In1967 and 1968 Fr Ray Hevern was the boys’ Houseparent. During that time he also did the Station trips. Then he was appointed Acting Parish Priest of Tardun and went to live with the Christian Brothers at St Mary’s.

I arrived at Tardun towards the end of 1969. The first few months I taught RE at the Primary School and the Ag School and assisted Fr Eddy in other ways. At the beginning of 1970 I became house parent of the boys, a group that ranged from the year one’s to High School boys. I celebrated the children’s liturgies and gave the monthly recollection talks to the Brothers and Lay Missionaries. I tried to keep my group busy with games of all sorts and art and crafts, especially watercolor painting and pottery.

When the group was split in two sections (sharing the bathroom), I moved in with the older group. Our range of activities now also included guitar play, oil painting, jigsaw work (making puzzles), mosaics, work with plastic granulate, wire sculptures, copper work, leather work, and camping.

Alterations and additions

The about 100 children at first lived in only two groups. In 1968 a process started in which the groups were subdivided until they averaged not more than 12 children. Now it was easier to satisfy the needs of the individual and keep all active and happy.

This started the second phase in the development of the new Mission. Some new buildings were erected: Ag School Boys’, Little Girls’ and Little Boys’ houses. Other buildings were altered. Some groups, though managed by different house parents, still shared the same amenities.

The Ag School Boys, cared for by Brother Wim van Veen, had their own house, their own Dining Room, their own workshops and their own activities.

The carrying out of this program and the building of Church, Canteen, Recreation Hall and Swimming Pool completed Fr Eddy’s work at Tardun. When he resigned in 1978, he left a well-functioning facility behind.

A new standard

Tardun3 BuilderThe change of leadership took place on 10 September 1978. At a meeting of the Pallottines’ South West Area Community at Tardun on 15 May, it was decided that I should be the new Rector, with Brother Eddie Wishart looking after the finance and the day-to-day running of the Hostel. The same meeting also recommended that the Agricultural School should be closed down. It obliged the Rector-to-be to put this plan into action. This was carried out in 1980.

Under my rectorship the Hostel undertook only four building projects.

In 1979, we renovated the Monastery and enlarged its recreation room. In 1982, we built a large extension to the Senior High School Girls’ house, providing single bedrooms, new toilets and showers and a big lounge room with a small kitchen. This ended their sharing of amenities with the next group and set a new standard for the third phase of development.

We also modified the building that had been the house of the Ag School boys and prepared it for its use by High School boys. We built a hallway along all the rooms that opened to the lawn, binding all parts of the building together.

In 1984, we renovated the Junior High School Girls’ house. We subdivided the big bedroom into smaller rooms and installed a small kitchen (the third one over all).

Aboriginal involvement

In the 1980s we put a strong emphasis on the involvement of the parents in the running of the Hostel.

20 October 1978 we sent out the first issue of Tardun News. In this issue we appealed to anyone who had skills in traditional art and music to come and teach the children those skills.

In 1983 we employed Ken and Nola Councillor to work at the Mission and advise us in matters of the children’s welfare and their background. Nola became the team leader, working, as the Mariana Institute members had done, from the Main Office. When Ken and Nola left us in 1985, Rose Narkle took on this position. Her husband Preston drove the school bus.

In their first year with us, we sent Ken and Nola on a Parents’ Survey trip to the parents of our children. Questions were asked about: (1) The Purpose of Tardun; (2) Aboriginal Culture and Values; (3) Parent Involvement; (4) Staffing; (5) The Education System; and (6) Discipline. The answers served as a guide for future planning.

Tardun3 Renovations-3In 1983 we opened the "Parents’ House". In over 1200 working hours Lay Missionaries and visiting friends had renovated the small wooden house behind the Monastery (carted from Geraldton and erected here in 1965) and made it ready for parents who wanted to stay at Tardun for a few days.

On 25 April 1984 the Parents’ Council met for the first time. Ken and Nola had collected nominations for it during the Parents’ Survey, and the people who had put their hand up were invited to come. Alan and Elsie Egan, John and Margaret Simpson, Wayne Simpson and Yvonne Lawson, Olive Boddington, Pearl Egan, Ken Councillor, Marjorie Little, Colleen Egan, Beverley Egan, Charmaine Simpson, and Ronnie Crow came for the meeting and elected Alan Egan as their Chairperson. Meetings were to be held three times a year.

1984 also saw the first instructions in Wajarri. George Boddington, Uncle and Mentor of Ross Boddington, became our teacher, He came with a wealth of old stories and dances, which he taught our children. The start was made of a cultural revival for which the Hostel became known in the district. Brother Wim spent many hours with George, recording his songs. Sue Sauer did the same with groups of Aboriginal people. The children danced to George’s singing and I started to put his stories into the form of dramatic plays.

In 1984, following the recommendations of the parents, we employed an increasing number of Aboriginal people in important positions. The time of "Working Girls" was gone. Here we had young Aboriginal women caring for groups of children (Beverley Egan, Colleen Egan) and looking after the big Children’s Dining Room (Ada Mongoo). Nola Councillor successfully completed a course for Senior Hostel Assistants at the Community Services Training in Perth.

In a parallel development, Jenny Mongoo spent her second year as Teachers’ Aide at the Primary School. Noelene Jackamarra joined her as Teaching Aide Trainee. Betty Egan, Donnelle Dingo, Jim Sandy and Jane Battle were also employed in the 1980s.

Tardun Aboriginal people took a step into the international scene in 1985, when they joined the Pilgrimages to Rome during the Pallottine Jubilee celebrations. The Hostel sent a delegation of 5 young people to the Youth pilgrimage in April, namely Rochelle Merry, Theonie Jackamarra, Gail Simpson, Adrian Egan and Lay Missionary Sue Sauer. Later in the year, Ross and Olive Boddington and Lay Missionary Bern Harney joined the International Pilgrimage for Adults. These Pilgrimages were a great experience for them all.

In 1986, a "Mothers’ In-Service" was tried out. Mothers came for 2 weeks to the Hostel to work voluntarily wherever they were needed. Olive Boddington, Barbie Maxwell and Anna May Simpson followed the call of the Parents’ Council to this service.

Our greatest effort to give the children a sense of identity with all Aboriginal people of Australia was the Pilgrimage to Alice Springs in 1986. 27 children from our Primary School plus 4 High School students and some students who had recently left us travelled in a big coach of Amesz Adventure Charters to the Red Centre to meet the Pope, together with thousands of other Aborigines from all over Australia. Ike Simpson came along as Aboriginal Elder. Fr Ray Hevern came to Tardun prior to the trip and helped preparing it. He then accompanied us in his own car.

Difficult times

The administration of the Hostel in those years was shared between 3 people. Brother Eddy (besides looking after the sheep) administered the finance and managed the day-to-day running of the Hostel. Nola, and later Rose, was the co-ordinator of the team. I myself dealt with admissions and discharges, Hostel policies, communication, and staff training (besides being a house parent, RE and Crafts teacher, and Chaplain at the Christian Brothers’ College). We went through some chaotic times with this setup, but on the whole it worked out well. My burden was lightened in 1981, when Fr Kelvin Kenny joined our community as second priest and took over the Chaplaincy at St Mary’s. But when Brother Eddie was transferred to Millgrove in Victoria in April 1986, the whole system collapsed. I found it hard to do all the things I was supposed to do. Towards the end of the year, when the burden of preparing for the Alice Springs trip was added, Fr Ray Hevern joined the community to look after the finances. Fr Kelvin Kenny took his place in Geraldton.

Renewing the infrastructure

When the school year 1986 ended, I went to Germany for my home holidays. My return in 1987 was delayed through sickness. When I eventually came back, I was not well. I had to undergo 3 eye operations and couldn’t work as before. Fr Ray Hevern was then confirmed as Administrator. He also took over the Chaplaincy at St Mary’s.

Fr Ray brought to his appointment a wealth of experience, which he had gained in 16 years at Balgo. He soon tidied up the finances and took all facets of the administration in his hands. His special concern was to provide the Hostel with a sound infrastructure. A good system of supplies was soon established. The changeover of cars was well planned. The laundry was re-arranged to the use of cold water. Bigger items followed.

Tardun3 Digging-KangarooFor a period of time in 1992, every road was dug up. There were over 900 metres of deep trenches around all the buildings. A new water reticulation system was to connect all houses to the new high tank. The same trenches were also used for a new phone system that was installed at the same time. Instead of having to run to the Office to receive a phone call, people from then on were able to answer calls from whichever house they lived in.

In 1996, John Landon and Gerry Duck again dug a deep trench. It went all the way from the Powerhouse, right around the Hostel complex, to the Junior Primary Girls’ house. The old underground electrical cable that supplied the southern half of the Hostel had to be replaced because it was too thin for supplying all the sections. Kevin Crowe put in the new cable section by section, with spurs and new power boards for every house it passed.

Our TV reception was terrible till 1988 when we installed a Satellite Receiver, combined with a broadcasting facility. Now we receive the signals of 3 stations from satellites and, with a special permit, re-transmit them to all TV sets within a 2-km radius. All our houses and also close neighbours benefit from it.

The last step in improving communication with the world was taken a week ago, when the Senior High School girls and boys were connected to the Internet. At the end of last term, Telstra had prepared the phone lines needed for Internet access. In the second week of this term the programs arrived and were put on the computers. Now the senior students can log on to the Internet from their houses. Having Internet access has become an important requirement for high school students these days and our students are now using the Internet often to access information for school assignments. They and their houseparents can also use it for getting in touch with their families.

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Mission Statement

"Wandalgu Catholic Primary School, as a Faith Community, is committed to enabling the children to journey towards God, as they follow Jesus and discover the riches within themselves."



Catholic Education

From the time when he first arrived, Fr Ray was convinced that the Primary School should come under the Catholic Education system and he soon went to work to bring this about. At the start of school year 1990, this aim was achieved. What had been the Tardun Government Primary School became Tardun Catholic Primary School. Hostel and school are now more closely united and the children are taught in the classrooms how to live as Christians.

Mr Drew Jago was the first principal, and Sisters Margaret Scharf and Eileen Leahy OP were the first teachers.

The Catholic Education Office built new classrooms in 1992 (first stage) and 1994 (second stage). At its official Opening the new school was named "WANDALGU Catholic Primary School". With this, a long process of consultation and discussion came to an end.

The Hostel changed its name to "Wandalgu Hostel" in 1995. George Boddington had suggested this name to us years ago.

Building Program

Fr Ray’s building program started with the extension of the Senior Primary girls’ house (the former Working Girls’ place). Architect Frank Bradley had drawn up plans for it when I still was Rector. We revised this plan now and started work in June 1989.

Our builder-on-site was Peter Page, a bricklayer from Melbourne. Kris Quill and Barry Carson helped cutting bricks. Builder Frank Guazzelli, husband of the Primary School Principal, supervised the work.

After first rejecting our request, the Lotteries Commission approved the Parents Council’s application and gave us a grant of $20,000.

From 1993 to 1996, an extension was built every year. Fr Ray chose Bill Fitzharding as architect. He knew him from the North and Bill had also designed the new Primary School. Funds for the first three of these extensions came from the Commonwealth Government under the Capital Grants Program of the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training.

The Junior High School Boys’ house was extended first, in 1993. This house, built in 1972 for the Little Boys, was inadequate for housing High School boys. P.S. Chester & Son, from Geraldton, won the tender and completed the work brilliantly.

The Junior Primary Girls’ House was the second building to be remodelled. The Geraldton Building Company got the house ready for the girls to move in at the start of second term, 1994. It is bright and spacious. Living Room and Kitchen extend right into the outside play area.

The firm Kay & Benning from Kalbarri won the contract for the third DEET-funded project, to extend and refurbish the Junior Primary Boys’ house. 1 March 1996 the boys moved into their refurbished place. It has a large Living Room, a well-equipped Kitchen, cosy Bedrooms for two or three boys, and a new shower and toilet block.

The house of the Senior Primary boys was remodelled last of all. Kay & Benning did the work. The huge old shower room became a living room and a new amenities wing was added on the western end. The boys moved into their much improved home at the start of 1997. There had been no grants to cover the cost. Donations from Germany helped us pay the bills.

Whilst their house was being extended, the children found temporary accommodation in what had been the Manual Arts Centre of the Ag School boys. Our own team, with the help of a local builder, had installed showers and toilets and made it more suitable for groups of children to live in. This work, in turn, was the first phase in a redevelopment of the Manual Arts’ Centre, in which it would be subdivided into 3 flats. The flats were completed in 1999 to house the Brothers when the Monastery was renovated.

Kay & Benning refurbished the Monastery under Heritage architect John Tailor who made sure that the unique character of the building was preserved. The three Brothers are now adequately accommodated, and have a study, bedroom and en suite each.

A house for Aboriginal staff was built in 1999. We wanted to give another Aboriginal couple the opportunity to live and work at Wandalgu and so bring greater stability into the staffing of the Hostel. Funds for this project came entirely from Germany.

A modern facility

The ambitious building programs of the last twelve years and the renewal of its infrastructure have made Wandalgu Hostel a boarding facility that can proudly compare itself with the best Hostels in the State. Beside the big projects there has been a constant effort to maintain existing houses, as exemplified earlier in this newsletter.

There have also been programs every year to train staff for the duties they have taken on and projects to enable the children to develop all their talents and have a good, enjoyable time whilst they board with us.
By accessing various funds and through the support of friends in Germany, I have been able to help Fr Ray in this work.

Efforts have also been made to prepare the Hostel for a take-over by the Aboriginal people. These last years have been a great time of growth that will lead us into the future.


Fr Gerhard Christoph (drawing from the Mission Chronicle and the Tardun News)