The St Joseph's Girls' Orphanage was run by the Sisters of Mercy from 21 November 1901 on the site of the old boys' orphanage in Subiaco. The Sisters and children from the Roman Catholic Girls' Orphanage in Victoria Square moved to Subiaco a few months after the boys moved out to Clontarf. Although St Joseph's was called an orphanage, both children who were wards and those who were 'privately placed' lived there.
A letter of appreciation of the The Daily News Orphans' Christmas Cheer Fund in 1915 gives an insight into life at St Joseph's. The letter shows that donations enabled the children to occasionally have extras that were not part of their daily experience:
'The Sisters and children of the orphanage are extremely grateful for the donation [of £24]. Each child was provided with a portion of the money to spend as she wished, and nothing could exceed the pleasure thereby given, particularly as this year nothing was expected, owing to the heavy demands on our kind friends. A picnic was provided with the remainder which, as usual, delighted the children. Letter, 12 January 1916 published in The Daily News 2 December 1916, p.10'
Government reports (Signposts 2004, pp.454-455) show that there were 129 girls resident in 1920, with 114 girls in 1921. In subsequent years before World War II, the number of girls at St Joseph's ranged from 91 (in 1922) to 37 (in 1943). Reports from the 1920s and 1940s also report on the number of girls who were 'at service'. That is, working-age girls who were placed with employers (under a formal agreement) or who worked within the institution. Occasionally, reports show 'abscondings' or the number of children who ran away.
From 1947, child migrants from Britain and Malta were sent to St Joseph's. The government reports (Signposts pp.457-458) probably underestimate the number of girls in the Home during the period 1947 to 1956. From 1957, 'private admissions' (girls who were placed at St Joseph's by families or others) exceeded the number of girls placed by child welfare authorities. It is possible that girls admittedly privately were not counted in government reports in previous years.
In evidence to the Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care, later known as the 'Forgotten Australians' inquiry, a woman described (Forgotten Australians 2004, p.88), deprivations at St Joseph's that left a deep impression on her: 'We were never allowed to keep the presents as the nuns used to take them off us when we got back to the orphanage and would sell them at their fetes.'
Published, official, reports generally present a brighter picture.
In 1971, St Joseph's Girls' Orphanage closed and became the Catherine McAuley Centre.
07 April 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00191
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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