By Robert Hiini
The “spiritual home” of the Sisters of Mercy in Perth, MercyCare’s present Wembley campus, has been marked with a heritage trail commemorating the site’s rich history and development.
The trail was launched on September 15 when nearly 70 guests gathered to walk the trail and listen to its history as Fr John Hart SJ, a former aged care chaplain at the site, blessed each of the trail’s nine stations.
The stations mark the various residents and functions of the site over the past 160 years; as the original settlement of the Spanish Benedictines Serra and Salvado and as an orphanage for boys and a Mercy run home for girls, not to mention the place where this very paper was first printed.
A revamped version of an earlier trail, the project has been a labour of love for avid historians Rev Lyn Pushong and Mrs Jeanine Hendricks, two volunteers whose travail makes the site’s history an ever-present reality.
Although a heritage trail had been created in 2001 for the centenary of the Mercy’s presence on the site, it fell into disrepair when work on new aged care facilities began and several MercyCare services relocated to their present Doubleview site.
Ms Pushong and Ms Hendricks were given an assurance by MercyCare’s Group CEO, Jeff Simper, that once redevelopments on the site were completed, a trail with permanent signs would be erected.
The two who make up MercyCare’s Heritage Information Services Team came to work together when a range of historical photographs were donated to MercyCare in 2003.
It was then that archivist, Ms Pushong, a Deacon in the Anglican Church and former supervisor at MercyCare’s Family Services, gratefully accepted the help of Ms Hendricks, a retired librarian.
Ms Hendricks and her family have a long association with the Sisters of Mercy. Back in the days when nuns didn’t drive, she remembers her father, as a volunteer, driving Mercy nuns around Perth.
Having also been educated by Mercy nuns, she says that her own 15 years of voluntary service have been very enjoyable ones.
The launch of the heritage trail included the publishing and distribution of a revised and extended trail guide compiled by Ms Pushong as well as a display tracking the history of the site that gave aged residents and staff historical insight into their own surrounds.
The heritage trail guide details the site’s development back to the very first years of mission in Western Australia.
The site was purchased by the first Bishop of Perth, John Brady, having arrived in 1846 with a missionary party including the Mercy Prioress, Ursula Frayne, six Irish Mercy nuns and the Spanish Benedictine monks Serra and Salvado.
The two Benedictines were the first to occupy the site, developing it into their “New Subiaco”.
They cultivated the land and built a monastery that was later to become St Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys under the care of the St Vincent de Paul Society when the Benedictines relocated to their other site at New Norcia.
It was in this Orphanage that the first Record was printed in 1874.It became an orphanage for girls under the care of the Sisters of Mercy when the boys were moved to Clontarf in 1901.
Under the leadership of Ursula Frayne, girls were moved from the Mercy’s Victoria Square site to Wembley.
Stations 2 – 7 mark buildings that were either established or used during this period to 1971 where Mercy nuns educated and cared for children as well as unmarried mothers and their babies.
With the deinstitutionalisation of care that occurred under the leadership of Sr M Martin Kelly from 1971 – when orphaned siblings were for the first time kept together and lived in residential cottages – the orphanage was demolished in 1979.
In a sign of continuity, the heritage trail launch was attended by the CEO of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, Ms Carmel Ross and the Chairperson of the MercyCare Board, Dr Maria Harries amongst other members of MercyCare’s executive and frontline staff.
In the preface to the heritage trail guide, Group CEO Jeff Simper invites the people of Perth to get involved in the present and future mission of the site.
“I sincerely hope you enjoy walking through our past and that you will consider accompanying us on the next stage of our MercyCare journey.”
More information about MercyCare can be found at www.mercycare.com.au