(Fr Gerhard drawing from the Mission Chronicle and Br Wim van Veen’s notes)
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 camp near the town. The parents worked on the stations and sent the children for their primary education to Mullewa, to be cared for by relatives. Many did not go to school. Health care was a big problem at the school and in the camp near the town. Families were fighting against each other.
That year, Fr George Vill, Bishop Gummer from Geraldton and the Minister of Native Affairs discussed Plans for a boarding school for Aboriginal children.
Pallottine Mission School
In 1946 the construction of the facilities started. Some buildings, acquired through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission from the Geraldton Aerodrome, were re-erected on the Mission site, but Fr George Vill hoped from the start, that more permanent buildings could later replace them.
The aim of the whole undertaking was to provide these 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)
The care of the children at school and in the girls' dormitory was first entrusted to the Presentation Sisters, good organisers, who arrived here from the Christian Brothers in March 1948. The Dominican Sisters replaced them in February 1949. Pallottine Fathers and Brothers looked after the boys.
In 1951 there was another change of teaching and caring staff. The Schönstatt Sisters took over from the Dominican Sisters. They remained at the Mission for nine years, to 1960. During this time one of the Sisters taught the Infant classes to grade two, and a Pallottine priest 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. In1957 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.
Crisis and change
Around1960 the Pallottine Mission School entered a severe crisis in more than one respect.
The Marian Sisters withdrew their support at Easter 1960 and forced the Administration to look around for alternative staff. The answer was to call in Lay Missionaries.
Fr Walter Silvester, the new Regional Rector 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 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. For many years one of the Institute members assisted the Rector in caring for the carers and workers.
The staff crisis also affected the school. The mandate of the Lay Missionaries did not include staffing the school. Instead, the Pallottines asked the West Australian Government to take over the administration and staffing of the school. The Government obliged and established the Government Primary School, with Ian Markey as its first Headmaster. In this way the era of the Pallottine Mission School effectively came to an end, although the name was officially carried on much longer.
The Pallottine Mission was also in crisis in regard to its whole infrastructure. The old ex-army huts, primitive even at the start, were now in bad disrepair. The sewerage system was totally inadequate. The drains blocked up every day. Health Inspectors threatened to condemn the place altogether. A decision had to be made to either close the Mission or rebuild it at considerable cost. Fr Edmund Wehrmaker, who succeeded Fr Anton Omasmeier as Rector in 1961, decided to rebuild. In 1965, this practical man, a trained carpenter, started a re-building program that put the Mission on the path to become the modern Wandalgu Hostel it is today.