In October 1902, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd arrived in Perth from Melbourne, setting up a convent and commercial laundry in Adelaide Terrace, Perth. Almost immediately, they took in young women and girls of any religious background who were seeking 'reform' or to 'shun temptation'. They earned their keep by working in the laundry. Women and girls were sent there for a period of detention by the Police Courts, as an alternative to being sent to gaol. Released prisoners were also collected as they left the gaol, taken into the Home and 'given a fictitious name' while they remained there. Most were free to leave the Home at any time, but it was reported that the Home aimed to keep people for a two year period of 'reformation'. In 1904, the new Home of the Good Shepherd was opened in Leederville. It appears from newspaper reports that this operated as a laundry, a home for 'fallen women', and an orphanage school for younger girls. Some of the young women were pregnant. After 1914, they were sent to the St Vincent's Foundling Home (later, St Margaret's Hostel section) to have their babies. An industrial school opened alongside in 1909 but the two sections were kept somewhat separate. The facility closed in the 1970s and now houses the Catholic Education Office.
Homes of the Good Shepherd have been mentioned as places of cruelty and harsh labour in inquiries held in Australia and overseas. These claims are not new - newspapers in Western Australia reported a case of cruetly in France in 1903 that led to a £400 compensation payment for an orphan who had been wrongly detained, overworked and blinded. The West Australian was accused by the Sunday Times of 'eulogising' the work of the Good Shepherd nuns and overlooking the 'fact that no church reclamation society seems to have risen above - that these women are sweated in return for such as they get - that they are compelled to toil to keep the institution going, and toil without wages'. At that time (1903), the Sunday Times advocated that commercial laundries run by churches should be regulated by the Factories Act so that unfair competition with 'general laundresses' and sweating (or exploitation) of labour could be stopped. A woman charged with being 'a person of evil fame' made accusations about her ill-treatment at the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Perth while she was detained there in 1903. Her evidence was not believed by the court, and The West Australian gave a right of reply to the Sisters. This account provided some insight into the conditions at the laundry, where it was apparently common to suffer burns in the course of that work. The issue of keeping girls and women wanting an opportunity to 'reform' away from the influence of those of 'ill repute' was also discussed as a matter of great concern.
After it closed, the buildings were restored for use by the Catholic Education Office. The precinct of buildings is included on the State Heritage Register (Place No. 08880).
13 September 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00901
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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