The Tardun Agricultural School

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Partnership in a great project

For 12 years, Pallottine Mission carried out a joint project with the Government of Western Australia to give boys, who had completed Primary school but perhaps would not do so well in High school, the opportunity to learn some skills that would be useful in later life. From 1968 to 1980 the Government ran an Agricultural School on the Pallottine property whilst the Mission accommodated and looked after the students in out-of-school time and the Brothers on the Farm provided work experience for them.

Tardun4 BrWim
Brother Wim talks with Gordon 
Merritt and Timothy Simpson 
after Sunday Mass. 1970

In the year prior to the opening of the Ag School, Pallottine Mission built the living quarters for the 24 boys to be enrolled. It had 6 bedrooms for 4 boys each. Fr Tiernan went on a recruiting tour though the district and met with a good response. Brother Willem H van Veen (Brother Wim) was appointed as Prefect for the boys and held this position for as long as the school existed.

The first Principal appointed to the School by the Government was Mr lan Markey. He had been a teacher at the Primary School in 1962 and was a keen gardener and a strict disciplinarian. In 1970 Mr Rudi Rybarczyk succeeded him and directed the School for 5 years with a clear vision and strong principles.

A short-lived undertaking

Many of the 214 boys who in those 12 years attended the school are still grateful for the training they have received at Tardun, but the change on the educational scene of that time was against such a school. After an initial enthusiasm in the local Aboriginal community, eligible boys preferred to attend the mainstream High Schools. There were years when boys from the Kimberley were in the majority, but they too were attracted away to schools opened in the North. The Native Welfare Department took over the recruiting for the school and placed great numbers of Wards of the State here. The school started to get the image of a “Reform School”. The purpose for which the school was established in 1968 was lost. In 1980, therefore, at the request of the Mission, the Education Department closed the school.

A two-year course

Tardun4 garry m
Garry Morrison learns to drive the
Mercedes 320 tip-truck.
Mr Markey gives instructions. 1968

The Ag School curriculum was planned as a two-year course, which had to be gone through from start to finish for a student to receive the Graduation Certificate. Only in very few exceptional cases were boys enrolled halfway through the first year or for second year only. A drop in numbers during the year was made up by an increase of enrolments of first-year students in the following year. At the start of each year the total number of students was about 24, never more.

The School developed its curriculum in consultation with an Advisory Committee, which met regularly and supported the Principal in his efforts to give the boys the training they needed. The School aimed at the total development of the person. A good amount of classroom work was done every day to help the boys improve their skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. The material they worked on was based on real life. The school cooperated with the Farm in its fencing, cropping and wool production programs. The boys learned to use tractors and other farm machinery and received licenses after appropriate training and tests.

Tardun4 Mr R
Mr Rybarczyk and Timothy Simpson 
show the Primary students
and Mrs Rybarczyk some piglets.

The School also had its own farming projects like working with pigs, chooks and horses and involved the students in the buying and selling of stock. The students were given the opportunity to work on farms in the district for periods of time and visit the various industries where they might find employment at the end of their two-year course. By the time they graduated, many students had a job to go to.

The boys learnt building skills through the construction of various sheds. Brother Wim, a fitter and turner by trade, acted as welding instructor in the School Workshop.

Strong emphasis was laid on good social conduct. For classroom activities the boys were required to wear full school uniform. For outside work they had appropriate gear. The boys themselves designed their gala uniform with black blazers and blue ties.

The Ag School Boys had their own dining room and learnt the right dining room manners. Teachers supervised them at lunchtime and Brother Wim ate with them at teatime and on weekends. Washing up and table setting was part of the boys’ roster.

Service to the community

Brother Wim brought his own style of leadership and his own idea of education to the job of looking after the boys. Theory should always go together with practical training and responsibility and self-reliance should be learned in a group setting. He would keep the Ag School boys as much as possible away from Primary School children and High School students to maximise the impact of his and the Ag School’s educational work.

Tardun4 Killing
Daryl Jackson dresses a 
carcass. 1972 

In conference with the boys, Brother Wim established clear rules for their House and then made sure that these rules were strictly adhered to. All knew where they stood. There were daily and weekly rosters for cleaning and community jobs and all learnt to take care of their rooms and their personal things.

On Saturday mornings the boys were divided into small groups for practical work. Some worked with the Brothers on the farm others did some other community work like butchering sheep for the Mission’s meat supply, cutting lawns, carting rubbish, planting trees and shrubs and caring for animals.

The boys built their own Manual Training Centre behind their house. They welded the trusses and did all the concreting jobs. Only the brickwork was left to contractors. The boys also constructed the “Rotunda” behind their house where they could gather in the evening by an open fire and the basketball court. They built wheelbarrows and trailers for their own work and restored old cart wheels to adorn the grounds.

Tardun4 tablecloth
A set of table and stools 
made for the Junior 
Primary Boys. 1972 

With their welding skills the Ag School boys did a great service to the community. Besides equipping their own Recreation Room with steel frame furniture they also constructed shelves, tables, stools and benches for the Kitchen, the Office, and the various group houses. The necessary timber came from the old church benches.

Brother Wim encouraged the various artistic talents in his group. One year the boys formed a guitar band, which kept the community entertained at the Graduation Ceremony. The boys’ own house was decorated with numerous paintings and tile mosaics the boys had created in their free time.

Tardun4 band
Silvester Mangolamara and
William Skuthorpe make music
during the Graduation Ceremony. 1976



The “PALLOTTINES” in 1978
Elvis Simpson, Dominic Waina, 
Hugo Bullen,  Wilson Mandyalu, 
Darryl Dhu, Brendon Paddy, 
Andrew Sampi, Randall Bullen, 
and Albert Murray.

During the first few years, some of the boys enrolled in the Mullewa Football Club and played in the Mullewa under 18 team. Later they formed their own team but because of fluctuating numbers it was hard to maintain.

The situation in basketball was better. In 1977, the boys won the B grade premiership in the Mullewa Amateur Basketball Association defeating Tridents 50 – 49. The driving force in the team was Randall Bullen (Coach) who had come with his family from LaGrange and later also his brother Hugo who joined him for a while.

Four times in a row the boys won the trophy in the Cross Country Running Competition between the Aboriginal Agricultural Schools in WA. Sport was a great thing for the boys.


It is only natural that in the twelve years of the Ag School’s existence, some problems were experienced.

On the level of leadership, the co-operation between the various parties involved in the project was at its best during the years when Rudi Rybarczyk was the School Principal. All parties then knew each other well and always came to some agreement. With his departure, a period of uncertainty began in which problems were not always satisfactorily resolved.

On the practical level, the design of the boys’ house caused supervision problems. The bedrooms opened out to the courtyard and Bro Wim had no direct access to that area. He needed to do a lot of checking to know what was happening there.

Lasting reminders

When the Ag School closed down, the two classrooms were moved to the Tardun Primary School and the workshop was dismantled and transported to another Ag School. Some trees and a small shed are the only reminders at the school site. But in Wandalgu Hostel many items remind us of this great period of Pallottine history.

Since 1982 the High School boys occupy the house in which the Ag School boys had lived. To prepare it for its new purpose a passage was constructed that connects the boys’ rooms with their bathroom, recreation room and library, a kitchen was created in what had been the locker room and the House Parent was given better access to the boys’ living area.

Staff now live in what had been the Manual Training Centre. Three self-contained flats have been created there in 2001.

Furniture build by the boys is still used in the Kitchen and in several group houses and the boys’ landscape paintings and tile mosaics can be admired in a number of places. Only recently some items have been brough0t together in the Youth Centre.

We look back on the Tardun Agricultural School as a great experiment in the service to the Aboriginal community. Although it was in operation for only 12 years we believe that it has improved the lives of many young men and we are grateful to Brother Wim for putting his whole heart and his many talents into the care of the boys entrusted to him.


Fr Gerhard Christoph (from School and Hostel records)