Bindoon was established by the Christian Brothers in 1936 near Bindoon, north of Perth. It began as a 'farm and trade school' for boys aged 12 to 16 years from various backgrounds, including Australian-born boys who were wards of the State and those who had been admitted privately, and (from 1947 to 1966) child migrants from Britain and Malta. Boys' labour built most of the buildings at Bindoon. Since 1967, Bindoon has been a Catholic agricultural high school.
Bindoon, as it became known, was established by the Christian Brothers in 1936. In its early years, it became known as St Joseph's Farm and Trade School. It was located on the 'Mount Pleasant' property, around 10 kilometres north of Bindoon, donated by Mrs Catherine Musk in 1936. On 4 September 1936, one Christian Brother and two older boys from Clontarf were the first residents of the existing homestead. By August 1938, there were seven boys and two Christian Brothers at Bindoon and by that time there was a dairy to look after as well as the farming property to establish as a going concern. Coldrey (The Scheme 1993, p.267) said the conditions at that time were described in official reports as 'primitive', with a shortage of food and heavy work being undertaken.
In 1938, according to Coldrey (p.268) child welfare authorities began to send a few boys ('five to tend at any one time'), aged 14-16 years, to Bindoon. Boys were also sent from Clontarf (p.273) to labour on buildings that were being constructed at Bindoon. In October 1941 (p.271), Bindoon was gazetted as a subsidised instution that would admit boys who were wards of the State. At that time, the boys who were already at Bindoon were transferred back to Clontarf. Coldrey (pp.268-276) categorises Bindoon as an 'industrial school' and writes (p.276) that Bindoon after October 1941 was 'for the delinquent, the intellectually handicapped, the difficult and the most deprived Catholic boys in care'. This description overlooks the complexity of issues faced by children who might have been referred through the Children's Court or directly from child welfare authorities. In any case, Bindoon accommodated a broad range of boys during its period as a subsidised institution, with no more 'delinquent' boys sent exclusively to Bindoon after 1944 according to Coldrey (p.289).
From 1942, (Signposts 2004, pp.452-453) government admission and discharge figures are available, though may not be reliable. Boys who were placed out at 'service' (working-age boys placed with employers) are also included. Reports in some years show 'abscondings' or the number of children who ran away. These figures show that Bindoon was relatively small, with between 7 and 16 boys resident at year end in the period up to 1946. This does not include the forty 'working boys' that Coldrey (pp.275-276) reports were transferred to Bindoon when the defence forces took over Clontarf in 1942. Nor does it seem to include other boys who were transferred from Tardun (p.276) during the war years.
Any history of Bindoon must make mention of Br Keaney, whose tenure in leadership there has left a lasting legacy on the boys for whom he was responsible. Coldrey (pp.39-41, 45, 462-463) writes that Br Francis Paul Keaney, better known as Paul Keaney, was appointed as 'Superior' of Bindoon in 1942. Previously, he had been at Clontarf (1919-1929; 1936-1942), at the Christian Brothers College, Fremantle (1930-1936) and at Tardun (1929-1930). Keaney had a background in the Irish Constabulary and the Queensland Police Force before joining the Christian Brothers in 1915. He had worked at St Vincent's Boys' Home in South Melbourne in 1918 and came to Clontarf in 1919. In 1929, Keaney moved to the wheatbelt parish of Mullewa to help establish the Tardun Farm School. In 1930 (p.95), Keaney was transferred from Tardun to the Christian Brother College, Fremantle (a day-school). By 1936, Keaney was again the 'Superior' at Clontarf and Coldrey (p.49) says that during the 1939-1941 period 'Keaney's relations with the Child Welfare soured because of his casual attitude to rules and regulations (other than those of his own making) and his excessive punishment of certain inmates which resulted in a long-running dispute with the department'. In 1941, Keaney apparently had what Coldrey (p.50) describes as the 'first of his nervous breakdowns'. Bindoon, which in 1942 was meant to accommodate a maximum of 'twenty to thirty' boys, according to Coldrey (p.275) was seen as a 'relatively light assignment for a man recovering from a nervous breakdown' where the 'pleasant rural atmosphere and glorious weather' would help restore Keaney to 'full strength and vigour'.
The outcome of Keaney's restoration: an immense building program undertaken in large part by boys who should have been receiving schooling; his enthusiastic encouragement of child migration; his widespread public acclaim; and the support of child welfare authorities for the building program at Bindoon are described by Coldrey (pp.277-288). Coldrey (p.277) has described Keaney, probably accurately, as having a profile in Perth akin to American actor Spencer Tracy's 'Father Flanagan' character in the 1938 movie, 'Boys' Town', which was shown regularly at Bindoon during the 1940s. Coldrey reports (pp.283-284) that Keaney 'actively and shrewdly cultivated visitors' and potential donors. It is possible that Keaney 'groomed' community perceptions and thus averted criticism of the experiences that were actually harming many of the boys at Bindoon.
In 1944 (Coldrey, p.290), Keaney was not reappointed as Superior and requested to be moved rather than remain at Bindoon in a non-leadership role. He was sent to Tasmania and Victoria and returned to Bindoon in 1948. A former resident of Bindoon at this time, Laurie Humphreys (2007, p.21) wrote about Keaney's return: 'We were warned that Brother Keaney was tough and we expected things would change. We weren't wrong! We were called together and told that we would be taught a trade and work would begin on a two-storey technical school. We were to be the labourers, to be trained in building skills.' This involved dangerous and difficult work for the boys. Humphreys continued (p.22): 'When rocks were required up to ten boys would pile onto the truck to enable the heavier rocks to be heaved up as best we could onto the truck…No matter how late it was', Br Keaney would 'send us out for a decent load and sometimes even come with us, to point with his walking stick at the ones he wanted loaded'. Humphreys (pp.24-25) also remembers being given more than one 'thrashing' as well as fun times in the bush, and swimming at Moore River where the boys went for holidays.
The era described by Humphreys began on 22 September 1947, when as Coldrey (p.307) reports, 20 boys arrived as unaccompanied child migrants from Britain with another 67 boys being placed at Bindoon by the end of that year. By 1953, the Child Welfare Department (Signposts p.453) reported that 220 boys who were unaccompanied child migrants could be accommodated at Bindoon and in 1954, the presence of child migrant boys from Malta were also placed at Bindoon. By 1957, there were 87 boys at Bindoon, with 13 boys classed as 'private admissions' (boys placed by family or others, who were neither child migrants nor boys who were Australian-born wards of the State). By 1964, there were four boys who were child migrants, and 32 boys who were admitted privately.
At the end of 1966, Bindoon's role in out of home 'care' ceased and the facility became an agricultural boarding school. It was called 'Keaney College' at that time, but was later renamed. In 2014, the boarding school continued as the Catholic Agricultural College, Bindoon.
The Christian Brothers' institutions Bindoon, Clontarf, Castledare and Tardun first received widespread publicity about child abuse in the early 1990s. In 1993, the Christian Brothers in Western Australia issued an apology and from 1995 have funded independent services to help with family tracing, counselling and remedial education for men who had suffered in their institutions. Many former residents of these institutions have shared their experiences and memories (bad and good) at government inquiries, in books and in oral histories.
Sources used to compile this entry: Coldrey, Barry M., The Scheme: the Christian Brothers and Childcare in Western Australia, Argyle-Pacific Pub., O'Connor, W.A., 1993. pp.39-43, 45, 49, 50, 73, 262, 265, 267-268, 271, 273, 276-277, 283-284, pp.289-290, 462-463.; Humphreys, Laurie, A Chip off What Block?, Laurie Humphreys, Samson, Western Australia, 2007. pp.21-22, 24-25.; Information Services, Department for Community Development, 'pp.452-454, Table 40: Boys at Bindoon, Certain Years between 1942 and 1967', Signposts: A Guide for Children and Young People in Care in WA from 1920, Government of Western Australia, 2004, http://signposts.cpfs.wa.gov.au/pdf/pdf.aspx; Parliament of Australia Senate, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, Senate Community Affairs References Committee, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/index.htm.
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 15 March 2011, Last modified: 25 October 2017