Originally we believed that Tardun was only a school but we have been informed that a townsite was also established here. The townsite was laid out near a railway siding on the
Mullewa to Wongan Hills line. The original name for the town was Undatarra and it was gazetted in 1913. In 1925 the name changed to
Tardun and two years later town lots were surveyed.
The town once contained a general store, post office, telephone exchange, bakery, church, town hall and a garage. Most buildings were removed over the years but
the town hall is still there.
The school (some kilometres north east of the townsite) was a farm school with the purpose of teaching disadvantaged (mostly orphaned) Catholic boys about farming and then
helping to get them established as farmers in their own right.
Tardun was started by a Catholic organisation called the Knights of the Southern Cross and during its formation years quickly became associated and controlled by the Christian Brothers and the
orphanage at Clontarf.
Boys aged 14 or over were sent to Tardun to learn farming for a period not supposed to be more than 2 years. In practise some often stayed longer.
The grand vision of Tardun was often somewhat tarnished by fights for control of the land and of Tardun itself.
Tardun school dates back to 1926 when the project was first initiated. 20,000 acres of crown land was granted for the formation of an agricultural college but disagreements between the Perth and
Geraldton Catholic communities meant that 3,000 acres was allocated for use by the Geraldton community and 17,000 acres was for use by Tardun and the controlling body in Perth.
Fights of over who controlled the land were not the only problems to assail Tardun in its early years. A farm Manager by the name of Charles J. Murphy was appointed and it wasn't long before it
was discovered that Murphy was selling off fertiliser and seed to line his own pockets. When he was finally dismissed he even tried to take much of the farm's machinery with him but he was
caught and stopped just in time. Murphy was to plague Tardun for some time after his sacking.
The Clontarf Brothers took over the running of Tardun in 1928 and 7 boys were sent up to work on the harvest before returning to Clontarf for Christmas.
The initial site had only tents and rough shelters with the only major structure being the machinery shed. The Brothers had no farming experience and the learning curve was a very steep one. A site for the
homestead was selected up on a hill on land that was not owned by the Brothers at the time. There was also no water source near the homestead site, it was on the other side of the property furthest away
from the railway and the timing of the start-up of the establishment couldn't have been worse. To top things off a willy-willy picked up ashes from a kitchen fire and burned down the original huts.
In 1929 the Great Depression struck and wheat and sheep prices plummeted. In 1930 a 10,000 pound loan from the bank of Ireland saved Tardun from closure but by 1932 Tardun was viewed as a failure
and there were calls for its closure.
By 1933 just about everyone except Br. P.A. Conlon agreed that Tardun should be closed. Br. Conlon fought hard to keep the place open and an extension was granted for a 'trial period'.
Tardun was in debt to the tune of $58,000 and even though the situation had not improved after a further 6 years, another trial period was granted. M. John Hawes designed the first brick building at
Tardun; the east wing in 1935.
Tardun (St. Mary's) was the Christian Brothers first agricultural school and it was also the first secondary school in W.A. for wards of the state.
There were not enough children available in W.A. to fill the available places at Tardun so child migrants were sought from Britain and in 1938 35 boys arrived. At this point there were 8 Brothers, 3
Sisters and 67 residents at the site. When the source of boys from Britain began to dry up boys from Malta were brought in but language problems and cultural differences made this a much more
By 1939 debts had soared to $74,000 but just 2 years later (through some rather devious accounting methods) this amount had been halved.
In 1942 there was the threat of attack on coastal towns from Japanese planes so children were evacuated from coastal areas to safer inland locations. Tardun received a contingent of 46 boys from
Geraldton and quite apart from the difficulty of accommodating and feeding the extra arrivals there was an immediate animosity between the two groups of boys that continued until 1945 when the group
from Geraldton went home again.
In 1946 some better sources of water were located and as a result a swimming pool was constructed. The additional use of water soon dried up the new sources and the search for more good quality water
continued. (There were just 12 wells on the property in 1940 but 4 years later there were 29 - well digging was a most unpopular though vital chore.)
Farm income increased during the 1940s and 50s but a capital works program quickly soaked up the extra funds. By 1950 Tardun's debts reached $76,600 and were to rise to $82,000 before things began
The farm gradually became more mechanised and as a result profits increased. By 1968 Tardun was no longer a child welfare institution and the agricultural training had all but ceased.
At its height Tardun's lands amounted to 70,000 acres but this was gradually reduced to around 28,000.
By 1970 the scheme was again under threat of closure but it was again decided to keep the school going on a 'trial basis'. The trial once again managed to exceed the planned period, but during the mid to
late 1970s there were a succession of very dry seasons. It was not until 1980 the good rains finally fell and broke the drought.
The role of the Brothers in the day to day operations of Tardun gradually diminished and more and more lay staff were employed. The emphasis was now on Tardun being operated as a boarding school.
Even though the school was academically successful the number of enrolments during the 80s and early 90s fluctuated and again there was agitation to close the school.
A number of different proposals were discussed but finally the decision was made to close Tardun at the end of 1993. There was immediate public outcry and Tardun was saved yet again. A school board was formed in 1993 and a series of television adverts were aired to try and get enrolments up to 65 which was regarded as a minimum operating level.
In 1998 enrolments did finally reach this figure but fell away again in the following years.
Despite all the odds Tardun survived into the new millennium.
Building program at Tardun:
1937 East wing
1942 Central section
1959 West wing
1972 New swimming pool
M. John Hawes and the original plan for Tardun.
From the book "Tardun - Golden Jubilee 1928-1978" by Brother Mel Couch
The school closed its doors for the last time in 2009. As far as we know at the time of writing this the farmland associated with the school has been sold but the fate of the school buildings is
unknown but we believe it may have been sold as well.
We were contacted by a former student who was at Tardun in the late 1970s and early 80s, who kindly gave us permission to quote the following experiences:
"- it was virtually a small town in its own right, with the Brothers as the administrators and the students as the general population. The school had its own powerhouse supplying electricity to the
entire complex until the hook-up to the state grid in 1978 (lights out at 10pm when they turned the genny off for the night and back early in the morning). The bakery produced enough bread and rolls every Saturday morning to meet the school's need for the rest of the week, lush orchards and gardens were maintained until the late 70's supplying oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins and all sorts of vegetables for the staff and students, sheep were slaughtered in the schools abattoir (better known as the killing shed) every Saturday, the chookery with its hundred or so chooks produced enough eggs for daily requirements, the kitchen was equipped to feed an army, an industrial laundry complex operated each Saturday morning dealing with the washing for dormitories, students, brothers and staff, a herd of milking cows were run until the late 60's / early 70's to provide daily milk for the school and just next to the school buildings was a major farming complex with fully equipped workshops and machinery storage sheds. We had a fully equipped 35mm film projection set-up where we would show 2 feature films each weekend, projected onto a large drive-in type screen, you could sit under the stars if it was warm enough or else under the purpose built shelter, the local farmers would drive over and park their cars and enjoy the show in much the same way as suburban drive-in movies. Toss in a squash court, cricket nets, 25 metre swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, a full size football oval and a chapel bigger than most rural churches and you have most of the facilities of a small town!
The key thing about all of this stuff is that the students were involved in every part of the whole process. I got very good at being a projectionist on full size 35mm cinema equipment when I was 13
years old! Under supervision, the students ran the films, baked the bread, slaughtered and processed the sheep, tended the orchard, drove the tractors and harvesters, looked after the horses etc
etc. While there were always moans and groans (what else would you expect from a 14 year old on a Saturday morning) everybody performed their allotted task and the place ran like clockwork.
Then on Sunday afternoons Brother Kelly would hook up his venerable old Ferguson tractor to 3 makeshift trailers (an arrangement referred to as "the cart"), load the kids and enough water and
food for afternoon tea on board and head off to some far flung part of the farm for yet another adventure. Keep in mind that even after large parts of the original farm were sold off through the years
it was still a very large property - the shearing shed was 8km away! Picture an old tractor pulling 3 4-wheeled trailers all covered in teenage boys, legs dangling off the sides, with a couple of kangaroo
dogs thrown in for good measure, 5 or 6 horses being ridden by kids trotting along behind, heading through a narrow bush track in the Murchison scrub to stop at a remote clearing or alongside a salt
lake, light a fire, boil the billy, climb trees, play footy, go exploring. That was us, and it was fantastic.
Remembering that we were all country kids who were familiar with the bush and it's dangers and also used to being around machinery, and we managed to do this week after week without injury or
death. Imagine what a modern day risk assessment would say about that!
Much of this disappeared in the mid to late 80's as better transport options for food supply came along and the cost of producing internally began to climb, the ramifications of insurance liability began
to hit home and caused major adjustments to Tardun institutions such as "the cart", and the use of students in tasks such as food preparation, domestic chores and general site upkeep began to be
Tardun lost some of its uniqueness then and that couldn't be helped, but the students from that time still loved the place and had great experiences.
The greatest legacy of CBAS Tardun, one that is now starting to be forgotten, was that it provided generations of students with a unique and wonderful place to grow up out in the bush with plenty
of room to move and have adventures."
This has to be counter-balanced by the fact that in December 2014 a royal commission found that
"Christian Brothers leaders knew of allegations of sexual abuse of children at four WA orphanages, including Tardun, and failed to manage the homes to prevent the systemic ill-treatment for decades."
The commission also stated that the institution was concerned by the cost of legal proceedings, and that "there was no sentiment of recognising the suffering of the survivors."
TALL TALES AND TRUE
No information for this section yet. If you know of something we can add here please contact us and let us know.
PROBLEM PLAYING THESE ON FIREFOX?
Turn off Enhanced Tracking Protection
Click the shield icon left of the URL near the top left
Slide Advanced Tracking Protection to OFF
Click on a thumbnail to see full sized picture.
Please note that using the https url will cause the photos not to show. To show photos use the standard http url.