Pallottine Mission student records - Tardun, WA

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Post date: 
Wednesday, 5 June 2019

In July 2017, the Pallottines donated a collection of material to AIATSIS relating to the Mission, hostel and school that had been operating in Tardun, WA, from 1948 to 2004.  A portion of this collection included the student files that had been kept and maintained in relation to Aboriginal children who had been staying in the hostel and attending the school.

Background

The Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines) was formed in 1846 by St Vincent Pallotti. In late 1900, while Bishop William Kelly was in Rome, he requested missionaries be sent to Beagle Bay, in the Kimberley, to take over from the French Trappist monks who were leaving that area. The church authorities supported this request and the Mission was committed on 12 Jan 1901. 

Photograph of Tardun, taken by Martin Coopman, 1965-1970.  AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-000175588
Photograph of Tardun, taken by Martin Coopman, 1965-1970.  AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-0001755588

In 1945 discussions took place between Fr George Vill, Bishop Gummer [Bishop of Geraldton 1942-1962], and the Minister of Native Affairs [Western Australia], about establishing a boarding school for Aboriginal children at Tardun WA.

Construction of the residential mission school started on the Mission site in 1946 and it was opened in 1948.  The facility was to be “conducted on the lines of a normal boarding school”. The care of the children at the school and in the girls’ dormitory was entrusted to the Presentation Sisters, Dominican Sisters and the Schönstatt Sisters. The Pallottine Fathers and Brothers looked after the boys. In the 1960’s lay missionaries began to take over the work of the Sisters.

From 1968 to 1980 the Pallottine Mission carried out a joint project with the Western Australian Government to run an Agricultural school on the Pallottine property, as part of which the Mission accommodated and looked after the students in out-of-school time.

Photograph of Staff and machinery at the Agricultural School Tardun, taken by Father Ray Hevern, 1968-1970. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-000175707
Photograph of Staff and machinery at the Agricultural School Tardun, taken by Father Ray Hevern, 1968-1970. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-000175707

The Native Welfare Department took over recruitment for the Agricultural school and placed great numbers of children who were Wards of the State there. The original purpose for which the school was established was lost and at the request of the Mission, the Education Department closed the school in 1980.

Father Ray Hevern, the Wandalgu Hostel Administrator in 1987, thought the primary school should again come under the Catholic Education system. This was achieved in 1990 and the Tardun Government Primary School became the Tardun Catholic Primary School. The school and hostel underwent numerous name changes and the Wandalgu Hostel closed in 2004.

Process

Records transfer and consultation

Photograph of Tardun, taken by Martin Coopman, 1965. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-000175584
Photograph of Tardun, taken by Martin Coopman, 1965. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS-000175584

Negotiations for the transfer of a portion of the Pallottine’s archive began in 2015. In 2016 the Regional Leader of the Pallottines contacted AIATSIS indicating that they wished to transfer a collection of material relating to the Pallottines Mission and Hostel at Tardun in Western Australia, to AIATSIS. AIATSIS archivists, Ewan Maidment and Fiona Blackburn, visited the Pallottine archives in Rossmoyne, WA in July 2017 to assess, list and pack the material for transfer. While the packing was under way, the Pallottine’s archivist identified part of the collection as the ‘Tardun School records’

After the records were received by AIATSIS, we became aware that they may be relevant to past students in relation to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child sexual abuse 2018, and prepared a finding aid as a matter of urgency.

Pallottines archivist Roberta Cowen and AIATSIS archivist Fiona Blackburn documenting and packing at the Pallottines archive, Rossmoyne. July 2017
Pallottines archivist Roberta Cowen and AIATSIS archivist Fiona Blackburn documenting and packing at the Pallottines archive, Rossmoyne. July 2017

The Tardun school records brought with them challenges that required us to consult with other experts, and research policy and legislation, in order to provide a meaningful list while respecting and maintaining the privacy of the students and their records.

We included the AIATSIS Family History Unit, Rights team and Access unit in these discussions and enthusiastically began creating the finding aid. Consultations were organised with McKillop Family Services Melbourne, Department of Human Services and Qld State Archives, who all provided useful context and insight into the treatment and description of these sensitive records.

Indexing the records

We decided to retain the student names in the alphabetical order in which they arrived, and to leave the original manilla folders intact. We did not re-house them into archival quality folders at this time, as speed was paramount due to the possibility of the files being accessed in relation to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

Photograph of Tardun School records taken by AIATSIS archive officer, Cathy Zdanowicz, 2019
Photograph of Tardun School records taken by AIATSIS archive officer, Cathy Zdanowicz, 2019

As indexing began, we realised that creating an accurate list would not be as straightforward as we had first thought. We discovered that the hostel and school underwent name changes, as did the Morawa District High School, where some students attended while staying at the Wandalgu hostel.  Research revealed that the Christian Brothers also ran a school at Tardun, therefore it was important that students be able to accurately identify which school they attended. Some files did not identify a school or teacher even though they included school reports. Not every file included the names of the child’s parents, or address, while some also included the names of foster parents, grandparents, siblings or other relatives. Some files included a small photograph of the child.

We learned that some children had been Wards of the State (WA) at the time they were at the school and that some children stayed with non-family members during holidays. Some children attended the school intermittently while others continued at the school for an uninterrupted period of time. Some files contained information of a potentially sensitive nature and we considered the possibility of students or families being re-traumatised, a decision was made to enclose this information within the file and note that the material may be sensitive. We were also conscious of our own emotional health as frequently information was of a very distressing nature.

In some cases, additional information about a student had been added to the files, such as newspaper articles and achievement awards. Occasionally an adult would write to the Mission asking for their file or information about their school years. Even if a file contained the information described previously, and some files only contained a name and date of attendance at the mission, it was distressing to realise that this may be the only record an individual has of their time at the Mission and school. 

Awareness of the type of information contained in the files and how valuable this could be for individuals or their families grew as the indexing progressed.  As a consequence, we added to the information we were recording about each student. As well as their name, we included alternative names, birth date, arrival and departure dates at the school or mission, parents and siblings’ names, and names of the schools attended. Not all this information was available for every student. We also began a separate list of teachers, priests, brothers and nuns, schools, departments and organisations with information in the files, and the type of information that may be found in the files. This list was added as an appendix to the list of students.

Photograph of Tardun taken by Martin Coopman, 1965. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS.000175585
Photograph of Tardun taken by Martin Coopman, 1965. AIATSIS collection: PALLOTTINES.001.CS.000175585

We scrutinised the records in order to check and double check that the information we were recording was accurate. We identified some files that had information in them relating to another student, sometimes a sibling, and some students had the same first name and surname.  Accuracy was essential to ensure that people may only get access to their own record and that the privacy of other students, their siblings and extended families were respected.

Discoverability

We prepared two finding aids, one of which was for public access from the AIATSIS website and included a collection summary, background information about the Pallottines, a timeline of school name changes and information about how to make an enquiry about accessing the files. The second one included the index of names and additional information which selected AIATSIS staff could use to locate a person’s file accurately.

  • In total there are 1599 student files in 26 archive boxes.
  • AIATSIS also holds photographs, taken by some of the religious and lay staff, of activities and students at the Tardun Mission.
  • See the Mura ® catalogue for photographs and other material relating to the Pallottines or the Tardun Mission.

Our aims

The Pallottine Mission at Tardun Student records are an important addition to the AIATSIS collection. Describing and housing the records to archival standards has allowed us to provide appropriate access and to share these files with students or their families.

We also created additional lists of the Fathers, Sisters, lay teachers and schools, as well as Government Departments with documents in some of the files, and the types of information that could possibly be found. The aim of these lists, was to provide as much relevant information as possible so people wanting to find their file or make a claim under the National Redress Scheme could do so.

Care leavers often experience a loss of identity through the loss of connection to family and the lack of documents that mark important life events, such as birth certificates, baptism or confirmation records, medical history, academic achievements and photographs.

We hope to enable former students to have an opportunity to find additional information or documents about their childhood.

More Information

For enquiries related to these files, please contact collectionenquiry@aiatsis.gov.au

References

Last reviewed: 9 Aug 2019