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Western Australia - Organisation

St Mary's Mission, New Norcia (1848 - 1974)

Catholic, Home, Mission and School
Alternative Names
  • St Mary's College (also known as)

St Mary's Mission was a boarding school managed by the Benedictine Community of New Norcia for Aboriginal boys. From at least from the early 1960s state wards were placed at St Mary's. A report from 1971 stated that the school catered for "160-170 primary and secondary school children". St Mary's Mission was closed in 1974.


Departmental records show that Wards of the state were placed at St Mary's Mission by the Department from at least the early 1960's but the Department of Native Welfare Department may have had some earlier connection with the facility.

Wilson and Robinson noted in 1971 that St Mary's was "one of the first mission stations established in Western Australia and [is] governed by the Benedictine Order, which also controls Kalumburu in the Northern Division [of the Department of Native Welfare]. It caters for 160-170 primary and secondary school children." (Wilson and Robinson (1971) Aboriginal Hostels in Perth: A Comparative Survey, cited in Signposts, 2004).

The Annual Report of the Department of Community Services in 1974 notes that St Mary's received a Mission Grant in Aid for camping equipment. A limited chronology of admissions and discharges is included in Table 43.

Changing Names

In terms of trying to trace family origins now, the institutionalization of children made this even more difficult because of the practice of 'renaming' or not being able to correctly record the Aboriginal name. Tilbrook comments that Aboriginal children's names were 'Latinized' at New Norcia:

When Salvado first brought an orphaned Aboriginal girl to Perth to be cared for by the Sisters of Mercy, he retained her Aboriginal name, Kookina, as a surname and gave her the personal names of Mary Christian…
The monks of New Norcia made a conscious effort to retain some semblance of the Aboriginal name, and the same may have happened in other places…one girl brought up at New Norcia Mission and called Rosie, was nicknamed 'Rossi'. The names Indich and Narrier were recorded at New Norcia as 'Yndich' and 'Narrea', although it is possible to establish that they are the same names by tracing their descendants. Moreover, Narrier was originally recorded as Tagliol, but was later changed to Narrier. To add confusion, the spellings Wallo and Wally seem to be the same name, but both spellings occur on the same New Norcia lists. Moreover, Wally was originally recorded as Wale, the same as that of an English colonist. (p.77)

Voluntary placement of children at New Norcia

Tilbrook says that:

In traditional Aboriginal society it was customary for young boys in their early or mid-teens to be sent away to neighbouring groups to be instructed in religious matters, and to develop their sense of independence, before returning to their own group to take on adult responsibilities. Hence, at times boys were permitted to live with missionaries or settlers, but the older men and women always expected that they would return to their own group at the appropriate times. (p.225)


1848 - 1974
Location - St Mary's Mission was located on the Great Norhtern Highway at New Norcia. Location: New Norcia

Related Concepts

Related Glossary Terms

Related Organisations


Book Sections

  • Barry, David, 'New Norcia', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009. Details


  • Western Australia. Department of Native Welfare, Annual Report: Department of Native Welfare, Dept. Of Native Welfare,, Perth [W.A.], 1955-1972. Details
  • Wilson, Katrin and Michael V. Robinson., Aboriginal Hostels in Perth : A Comparative Survey, Department of Native Welfare, [Perth, W.A.], 1971. Details

Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Report of a commission appointed by His Excellency the Governor to inquire into the treatment of Aboriginal native prisoners of the crown in this colony: and also in certain other matters relative to Aboriginal natives, 1884,$FILE/report+of+a+commission+1884.pdf; Barry, David, 'New Norcia', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009; Information Services, Department for Community Development, Signposts: A Guide for Children and Young People in Care in WA from 1920, Government of Western Australia, 2004,; Tilbrook, Lois, Nyungar Tradition : glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914, Online version published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 2007, University of Western Australia Press, 1983,

Prepared by: Debra Rosser