A very special school closes

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Tardun3 Wcps-Logo 200sOver the years, hundreds of underprivileged Aboriginal children attended the Wandalgu Catholic Primary Catholic Primary School. Aboriginal children, who otherwise would not have had a chance of making a success of their lives, have flourished and developed their full potential, empowering them to make a contribution in the wider community.

The whole history of the school unfolds in three periods:

  • Pallottine Mission School
  • Tardun Government Primary School
  • Wandalgu Catholic Primary School

Pallottine Mission School

(Tardun News 87)

The initial moves

Fr Albert Scherzinger, as Pastor of the Tardun Parish from 1930 to 1937, travelled the surrounding district intensely and, of course, saw with his own eyes the plight of the Aboriginal people who lived in abject poverty and could not obtain an education for their children. However, Fr Raible rejected the idea of opening a Mission outside the Kimberley.

Already in 1929, Fr Raible, then visiting Tardun, had purchased a new farm from the Edmund Brothers, known as the Estate, which some considered suitable for establishing a Catholic School. But it would not have included a boarding facility for Aboriginal children. In 1933 this Estate was sold to pay for debts incurred.

In 1945 the condition of the Aboriginal people in Mullewa had become very bad, especially for the children living at the Reserve near the town. Their parents worked on the stations and sent the children for their Primary education to Mullewa, where they were to be cared for by relatives. Many were neglected and did not go to school. Health care was a big problem at the school and in the camp near the town. There also was great unrest because the various families were fighting against each other.

That year, Fr George Vill, Bishop Gummer from Geraldton and the Minister of Native Affairs discussed plans to establish a boarding school for Aboriginal children.

The original Pallottine Mission School
Tardun2 Frs Girke  Vill
Fr Girke & Fr Vill in front
of school 1948.

In 1946 the construction of school and boarding facility started. Some old army huts were acquired through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, dismantled at the Geraldton Aerodrome, carted to the site south-west of the Monastery and with meticulous care re-erected there by Brother Hanke. Two huts were always joined together to create the main buildings, the boys’ dormitory, the girls’ dormitory, the dining room and the school. Fr George Vill hoped from the beginning that some more permanent buildings could later replace them. This did not happen until over ten years later.

The aim of the whole undertaking was to provide the children "with all that was enjoyed by their more fortunate white brethren." (Opening speech on 12/09/48).

The facility was to be "conducted on the lines of a normal boarding school", with equal emphasis on "sound religious, academic and vocational training". Residential facility and school were regarded as one whole. Every need of the child was to be addressed; thus "eliminating the inferiority complex" that held them back. (Cathedral Chronicle October 1948).

Tardun2 Girls Dormitory 1948
Girls' Dormitory

The care of the children at school and in the girls' dormitory was first entrusted to the Presentation Sisters, Sister Laurence Ryan and Sister de Lourdes Mazzuchelli took up duties in late January 1948. Both Sisters were experienced in conducting classes and managing boarding schools through their association with St. Peter's, Greenough and Stella Maris College, Geraldton.

The first boarders were children from near Mullewa; then they came from the Murchison stations and areas along the Wongan Hills railway. By May there were 48 children in residence ranging in age from two to sixteen years.

The Sisters lived in the little "Convent", a single army hut erected next to the girls’ ablution block at the western border of the Mission compound. This house still stands and is the only remnant of the old Mission buildings. It is now called the "Cottage" where Melissa Drage and her family live.

The Dominican Sisters replaced the Presentation Sisters on 15 February 1949. One of them was Sr Dominic Galvan who now lives at the St John of God Villa in Subiaco, the Superior was Mother Theresa Mc Quillan. The Sisters taught in the junior classroom at school and looked after the girls in the dormitory. Pallottine Fathers and Brothers cared for the boys in the dormitory and taught in the senior classroom. The two classrooms had been erected along the northern perimeter of the Mission compound. They were still standing there when I arrived in 1969 but not used any more. I gave then a new purpose by using them as an arts & crafts centre till parts of the ceiling came down and it became dangerous to work there. I then took the structure down and used suitable timber from it for constructing some playground equipment and garden fences.

In 1951 there was another change of teaching and caring staff. The Schönstatt Sisters took over from the Dominican Sisters on 11 February 1951 and remained at the Mission till 27 April 1960, that is for nine years. During this time one of the Sisters taught the Infant classroom for the grades one and two, whilst a Pallottine priest taught in the other classroom for the grades three to six. This was to be the pattern for teaching during the time that Religious Sisters were at the Mission.

Up to seven other Sisters looked after the Girls’ Dormitory, the Kitchen and the Laundry. Pallottine priests continued to care for the boys.

The Rector of the Pallottine Community was also the Administrator of the boarding facility and the Principal of the School, which entered into competitions with other schools in the district. In 1957 Miss Pauline Parnell became the first lay teacher in the Mission School.

In 1957, Bishop Gummer Blessed and opened the new convent (Orana) for the Sisters, which had taken five years to build. It was somehow a counterpart to the Monastery of the Pallottine priests and Brothers and gave the Sisters a base away from the children.

Tardun Government Primary School

Around1960 the Pallottine Mission School entered a severe crisis in more than one respect which led to big changes in its structure.

The Marian Sisters withdrew their support at Easter 1960 and forced the Rector to look around for alternative staff. One answer was to call in Lay Missionaries to care for the children.

Fr Walter Silvester, the new Regional Leader of the Pallottines, and the new Bishop of Broome, John Jobst, (both ordained together in Germany in 1951) had studied the situation of the Church in the Kimberley Missions. They were convinced that much of the work, done by Religious, could and should be carried out by Lay people. In a meeting at Kew in 1959 they decided that this was the way to go.

When Bishop John Jobst went to the Kimberley after the meeting, he took the first three Lay Missionaries with him. Fr Walter Silvester, together with the Ver Sacrum Lay Institute, which he had founded in 1957, established the Lay Missionary Scheme in Melbourne. The people who offered their service for the missions received a lengthy training at Millgrove and then were sent to help the priests and Brothers in the various Mission Stations.

In 1960 Tardun started to draw from this source. On 22 and 23 April, Ver Sacrum member Margaret Mary MacLean arrived with six of these Lay Missionaries to take over the work from the Schönstatt Sisters.

A second answer was to relinquish the administration and staffing of the school. The Pallottine Fathers decided to split boarding facility and school into two separate entities and ask the Education Department to take over the school as a state education facility. The first Principal, appointed to this school in 1961, was Mr Ian Markey, with Miss M. Haddleton as second teacher. They had 53 boys and 48 girls in their classrooms.

In 1985 an area north-east of the Mission compound was excised from the property and on it two demountable classrooms were erected which are now used as Youth Centre and Homework Tuition Room. In 1979, when the Tardun Government Primary School had closed down, its two demountable classrooms were carted to the Primary School site and erected behind the original classrooms, enabling the school to develop a good library and also practicing arts in school. The Education Department always respected the special needs of our student population and as a rule appointed personnel of a high standard to this very special school. Among them, I especially remember in 1965, Mr. P. Toohey, Miss R. McDonald and Miss P. Ward taught 53 boys and 48 girls

When I arrived in 1969, Mr. Don Milner was Principal and his wife Barbara one of two other teachers. …..

Although, as a Government school, the teachers had to observe the separation between School and Church, there always has been a very good relationship between the School and the Mission . I always was welcome to teach R E and we regularly celebrated well-prepared school masses. I also regularly accompanied the school on their yearly camping tours and celebrated camp masses during these wonderful times.

One very remarkable period of cooperation was the Murchison Tour in1989. Under Mrs Guazzelli, the school gave performances to the people of the Murchison towns, Mount Magnet, Cue, and Meekatharra. The performance consisted of two parts. The first part was a Christian element, in which the children sang some of our favourite hymns and presented a Bible Play written by Mission staff. The second part was a cultural element in which the children danced to the music George Boddington provided and presented a dramatic play which we had developed around one of his Dreamtime stories.

An even more remarkable act of cooperation was the Alice Springs Tour in 1986. School and Mission planned and carried out together a great excursion to the red heart of Australia in order to be part of the big gathering of Aboriginal people that welcomed the Pope in Alice Springs. Mr Phil Harvey and Mrs Leonie Micke from the school teaching staff and Mr Ike Simpson and myself from the Mission travelled with 37 children on the big coach over 15000 km, singing and praying. Fr Ray Hevern, at that time Parish Priest of Mullewa, followed us in his car. This "Pilgrimage" was an unforgettable experience for all.

Wandalgu Catholic Primary School

The transfer of the Primary School to the Catholic school system occurred shortly after Fr Ray had become Rector of Pallottine Mission. in 1990. He came from a Catholic School background and had initiated a transfer to the Catholic system in Balgo. At the Tardun Primary School he missed a positively Catholic ethos which would determine every detail of the school’s policies and programs. He was going to fix that problem. In Tardun News 41 I reported on 26 March 1990:

With the start of this school year, what was the Tardun Government Primary School has become the Tardun Catholic Primary School. We are happy with the change. Mission and school have become more closely united. The same Christian spirit is alive in both. Prayer and talk about our faith takes place right in the classroom, and the children are taught how to live as Christians.

Mr Drew Jago, formerly a teacher at John XXIII College in Perth, is the new Principal, and Sisters Margaret Scharf and Eileen Leahy OP are the full - time teachers.

They're having a wonderful influence on the children. We feel that happiness radiates from the school and the children seem very settled.

Opening Ceremony

Tardun5 Opening cer - tn96In Tardun News 42, on 19 June, I continue:

The Tardun Primary School was officially re-opened as a Catholic School on Tuesday, 29 May. In 1948 it had first been established as a Catholic School, but for funding and staffing reasons it was then handed over to the Education Department. Now we have come full circle, and the cross is back in the classrooms. However, it was not exactly a return to the old system. Pallottine Mission School had been a boarding school where the Pallottines were in charge of school and boarding facility. The new Catholic School is a separate entity directed by the Catholic Education Office through the Principal who is not employed by the Hostel.

Bishop Barry James Hickey and the Director of Catholic Education officiated at the ceremony to which all Hostel staff and many visitors had come. As a permanent symbol, a big wooden cross was erected in the front of the school.

Mr Drew Jago & Lay Missionary Danny Wieman lifted the cross up. All senior students helped pulling it straight. The Bishop rammed the soil around it whilst Mr Tannock looked on.. Crosses were then blessed and taken to every classroom.

The new School Buildings

The Education Department had for years resisted our request to provide the school with a new building and even fell behind in the regular maintenance program. When the school came into the Catholic system we had more success.

The Catholic Education Office approved the construction of the first stage of new school buildings for 1992.

The master plan, drawn up by architect John Fitzhardinge, provided 3 buildings, namely a central Library, a West Wing (with one Classroom and an Office/Staff area), and an East Wing (with two Classrooms and the Toilet facilities).

Only the Library and the West Wing were approved for construction in 1992 The East Wing was to follow in 1994.

The modules were constructed on concrete rafts in Perth and then carted in (with some difficulty). When they arrived on site, they had to be positioned correctly and joined up with great precision, to a tolerance of 2 mm. Most of the cupboards, doors etc were fitted already, so that the finishing of buildings was very quick work.

The provision of essential services like water and electricity, the on-site construction of the West Wing’s verandas and the concrete paths , of course, took more time, but for the official Opening Day, which was 13 November 1992, the first stage of the school was complete and operational. Until the completion of the second stage, the Old School was still used in conjunction with the New School.

The School’s identity

When the new school opened on 13 November, it also was officially given the new name "WANDALGU CATHOLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL". With this, a long process of consultation and discussion came to an end.

The hostel community had for a long time searched for a new name. Since no Aboriginal place name could be found for this property, George Boddington had suggested to use a verb that would describe our activities, namely "wandalgu", meaning "tracking or "following the footsteps". The school community took up this idea and gave this name to the new school before the Hostel was ready to do it.

Then followed the long process of evaluating this name. The school community, and especially its Teaching Staff and Board, finally agreed that the following statement expressed the school's purpose and aims:

"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." Olive Boddington and I designed the logo that you see at the start of this article. The cross represents Jesus, the lizard stands for Aboriginal culture. The footprints indicate the school community following both the life and teaching of Jesus and the instructions of the Elders.

The Golden Jubilee Celebration

The development of this Catholic education facility through the 3 stages spanning 50 years was the subject of the great Jubilee Year 1998.

Various projects were carried out during the Jubilee Year, like the creation, by Olive Boddington, of the big painting of the "Tree of Life" behind the altar and the Pallotti picture in the Church as well as the printing of greeting cards. The main celebration took place at the stage of Wandalgu Catholic Primary School on 12 September 1998.

This is what we celebrated,as is stated in TN 71:

We celebrate the Aboriginal men and women who, as children, have lived at Tardun for some period of time, to gain education and training.

We celebrate the dedicated men and women, Priests, Brothers, Sisters, Volunteers, and Employees, who have laboured to establish this facility and provided for the needs of the boarders.

We celebrate the many Aboriginal men and women who have given some period of their lives to the welfare of their own people here at Tardun.

We celebrate the Love of God who has given insight and strength to constantly upgrade and modernize the facility and adapt it to the changing needs.

Ambassadors of Aboriginal culture

This small school, which, unfortunately, has to close now, has been a very important part of the Aboriginal community in the Murchison area. It has kept precious items of their heritage alive and presented them to the general public, fostering a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture and true reconciliation.

In 1984, a number of Aboriginal elders accepted our invitation and came to us to record some of their ancient stories and songs and start teaching the children old skills and traditions. The most outstanding teacher among them was George Boddington, Ross Boddington’s uncle. This was the start of an extraordinarily important development that made the school a real Powerhouse of Aboriginal culture.

In TN 18, of 27 March 1984, the Primary School reports: The school has begun a programme to teach the children in the middle and upper grades the Wadjarri dialect.

The program aims to increase the children’s pride in belonging to the Aboriginal people.

George Boddington will be the language instructor, and the children will learn songs and dances, hear stories and be exposed to slides, films and crafts. We look forward with interest.

School and hostel adopted George as principal teacher in Aboriginal matters. Brother Wim recorded his songs and George Boddington sang, with the children dancing, at many concerts and celebrations. He was our "Old Man" Outstanding celebrations were two meetings of our "Old Man" with other "Old Men".

The first such meeting happened at Tardun in 1987. In TN 32 I report:.

Jack Davis and a film crew of 5 came to Tardun late on Friday night, 4 September, to do some filming the next morning. Keith Chasson’s book on Jack was to be made into a film and George Boddington, with the Tardun kids, were to be in it.

On Saturday morning, Jack and George were filmed as they talked to the children about the importance of story telling. They sat in front of the humpy at the Primary School, with the children grouped around them.

We hope that this visit will lead to more contact with Jack who has done so much for the recognition of the Aboriginal English dialect. Jack promised that he would be back soon to talk with the children and present some of his work. He never came back although we invited him several times to be a special guest during our NAIDOC Weeks, The children saw him again in the Queen’s Park Theatre In Geraldton when the school went to one of his performances.

The other meeting happened in Moora in 1987 when the Primary School held a day of cultural exchange with the Moora Catholic School. The Tardun kids with George Boddington met the Moora kids with Ned Mippy. George sang his Wajarri songs and our children danced to them The Moora children presented the Nyungar tradition that Ned had taught them in dance and play.

Both groups also cooked meat in their own way and threw boomerangs.

Both of these two culture celebrations were carried out when the Primary School was still a Government School. The first teacher who engaged himself enthusiastically with Wajarri culture and cared for George Boddington with great devotion was Robin Dudman. Phil Harvey later continued this tradition.

The Foundation Principal of Wandalgu Catholic Primary School, Drew Jago, straight away recognized the importance of this cultural activity and continued to practice it with the children. Four Murchison stories that George had told us were retold in dramatic form and acted out as stage plays. This was a continuous progress. The present Principal, Vin Russe,ll and former teacher, Danny Hogg, spent much time polishing the presentation of the plays. Ross Boddington was a frequent guest And kept practicing his dances with the kids. With the student population changing every year (and even more often), this was a never-ending job. Contact with Ross and other elders kept deepening the children’s awareness of being ambassadors of their ancient culture.. It was under the principalship of Sr Margaret Scharff OP that the school held its annual school camp at Wooleen in 1993. In TN 55 we reported about it.

From 22 to 26 August, the whole school stayed at Wooleen Station which is the heartland of the old Wajarri tribe from which most of the children originate. From there they made excursions to important places. Their guides were knowledgeable people like Don Simpson, Ross and Olive Boddington, Charlotte Simpson, Joanne Taylor and Terry George. Each day had its memorable highlights We went to many important places.

When we arrived at Wooleen, we straight away settled into our rooms in the Shearers Quarters. The girls camped on one side and the boys on the other.

At Budara (Priscilla)

On Monday we went to a rocky outcrop called Mount Welcome on the map but which we call Budara, as Uncle Ross taught us. For the Aboriginal people this place is like a Church, it is a holy place.

First we went to the Woman Budara. We climbed to the top of the huge rocks from which we had a good view of the large flat area, which is Lake Wooleen (Bundiarra). It is now dry but every few years it fills up with water, and boats can sail on it.

Between the rocks there is a cave, called Bimurda, with good water in it. Uncle Ross said that for him it is Holy Water. The entrance to the cave is narrow, and Wayne almost got stuck in it.

Rock Paintings (Sandra)

The Aboriginal people lived at Budara, and they made paintings on the rocks. When you go there you can see circles engraved in the rock on the right side of the cave entrance. They are very old.

Guest performers

In the last 10 years, Wandalgu Catholic Primary School was invited very often to present dances and plays during other schools’ NAIDOC Days and at various communities’ celebrations. They danced at the Queens Park Theatre During the Yamaji Festival, the National ATSIC Conference and the launching of the W A Cultural Tourism Policy. They danced and presented plays at the Greenough Heritage Celebration, the Morawa Red Dust Festival and the Dongara Larry the Lobster Festival. I accompanied them often to assist with stage requirements and was always impressed by the seriousness and dedication with which the children carried out their service to other communities. They understood the importance of what they were doing.

In 2003, the declining numbers have impacted on the scope of cultural engagements, Danny Hogg, who was expert in getting the children ready for performances had moved on and I was not there to help with the stage set-up. But Vin and the other teachers still managed to involve the school in a number of celebrations in various places. The school sent me this list:

Sunday 29th July 2003. Children from WCPS performed the "Smoking Ceremony" during Mass at Geraldton Cathedral. The Mass was held to say "Farewell" to Mrs. Therese Temby, Director of Catholic Education.

Tuesday 9th September 2003. WCPS performed the Dooloo Story at Geraldton Primary School for their N.A.I.D.O.C. Day.

Friday 12th September 2003. W C P students performed "The Dooloo Story during our own N.A.I.D.O.C. celebrations.

Thursday 18th September 2003. WCPS students performed the Dingo – Emu dance and the Honey Bee Tree dance during Catholic Education Week at Marine Terrace in Geraldton.

Sunday 21st September 2003. WCPS students performed the "Smoking Ceremony" at Geraldton Cathedral to celebrate the end of Catholic Education Week.

We’re moving on – reaching out
We’re gonna fly up to the stars
The time has come to make a bold new start
We’re moving on – reaching out
Setting sail for new horizons
Bur wherever we go – we’ll always hold
These memories deep in our hearts

(The chorus of the farewell song 'Setting Hearts on Fire' by Michael Mangan, that was sung at the final school Mass with Bishop Justin on Sunday, 7 December.)


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