The Story of the Family Centre


Mary Elliott and May Street are both trained Social Workers, having trained at Josephine Butler Memorial College in Liverpool, England; holding the Certificate of the Board of Women’s Church Work in Theology and Moral Welfare Work.

As Moral Welfare Workers, both of us had about fifteen years experience in both Indoor and Outdoor work for the Church of England.

Mary Elliott was in correspondence with a childhood friend in W.A. This friend asked when I was coming to W.A. I replied that I could not come unless a similar job was available.  The reply came that my friend knew the daughter of the Reverend E.C. King and believed he was at that time very involved in work for the mixed blood people of W.A.  Mr. King wrote to us and sent a tape and film strip of the work in which the South West Mobile Native Mission was engaged.  He said they were looking for staff and could employ both of us if we were interested.  We felt this was a challenge and accepted the offer.  We were sponsored as immigrants by the S.W. Mission expecting to live in a caravan near one of the native reserves.

However, on arrival Mr. King informed us that Archbishop Appleton wished us to work in the Metropolitan area, as we were both trained workers, and there was nothing being done for the increasing numbers of Aboriginals drifting into Perth and living in squalid conditions in the run-down areas of the city.

The Public Works Dept., eventually offered the Mission the use of No.2, Norbert Street, East Perth.  The two storey house had been used as two flats and was in a dreadful state of repair.  One of the Missioners repaired the doors and locks, put in new window panes and did many other small repair jobs.  We had a donation of paint and distemper, a friend attended to ceilings and the high walls of the stairs and the two of us washed the calsomine from every wall in the house then set to and dis-tempered the walls and painted the woodwork of doors, windows, skirting boards etc.  A youth club painted the outside of the front of the house.

The Opportunity Shop in Fremantle closed down and the stock was transferred to us so our Opportunity Shop came into being.

Sister Connie McDonald of the Church Army was the third member of our staff with a special task of Pastoral Work and Scripture classes in school.

We were given no instructions but told to find out what the need was.  The shop was our first point of contact and from talking with the aboriginals who came we began to see the picture.

The first problem seemed to be the lack of bathrooms and showers, so we started giving the children baths.  They came along straight from school about 3.15p.m. and we had between twenty and thirty each day – playing with the toys and bathing.  The mothers then began to enjoy a bath and eventually the men came too and we supplied a razor for their use.  At first there were problems over towels and then Bruce Rock M.U. sent us a whole lot of new ones and repeated the gift a year later, so we are well provided with good towels.  The girls Friendly Society wanted to help and decided they would keep us supplied with toilet soap – they continue to do this.

We found the small children were undernourished and their mothers did not seem to know how to care for them.  After discussion with the Sister in Charge of the Infant Welfare Clinic we offered the use of one of our rooms for a Clinic.  We encouraged the mothers to bring along all their pre-school children.  It was discovered that none of the children had been immunised so Sister arranged a mass immunisation programme and eventually every child in East Perth had been “done” at the Centre.  After this effort we took newcomers to Council House for their immunisation routine.

The next need we found was for Kindergarten training.  Great discussion took place with the Little Citizen’s Kindergarten Staff and the Native Welfare Dept. And it was arranged that Miss Elliott should take the five year olds to kindergarten for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon sessions. This continued to the end of the year when most of the group were eligible for school.  The project had proved so popular that the service was extended and we began to take remaining five year olds to the morning sessions four days a week and the younger ones 3 1/2 to 5 years old were taken for afternoon sessions. This is still the pattern.

Miss Elliott did all the collecting of clothing etc., that had to be called for, also the transporting of Mothers and sick children to Princess Margaret Hospital and expectant mothers to clinics at King Edward Memorial Hospital.  Speaking at Mothers’ Union meetings was another part of her work – and still is.  Miss Street was in charge of all the goings on at the centre, with the help of Voluntary workers.

Various other jobs we have done along the line are: having groups of students from the Technical Institute and University Social Work Depts., for visits of observation and a talk on our special tasks.  There have been students from Native Welfare Dept., for similar reasons.

We have an arrangement with the Headmaster of the local school whereby he sends along dirty children for a bath and clean up in school hours.  He also sends along children with infected heads for treatment and minor injuries or boils for first-aid treatment.  Day to day problems of the people are dealt with and general help and friendship given.

The same pattern continues today, but there are not so many children requiring baths as previously, for most of the families have been re-housed in the suburbs.

There are still two or three Aboriginal families in East Perth, but the main callers are now adult men and women who have been sleeping rough or are on their way to a new job, an outpatient clinic at hospital or just because they want to clean up.

Many Aboriginals coming to Perth for hospital appointments and other reasons, call at the Centre and take back big parcels of clothing.  They say they are unable to get things so cheaply in the country.

There are many people of many nationalities in East Perth now and many of them use the shop, but only the Aboriginals use the bathroom and the garden and tea-room where we serve tea, coffee, cordial and biscuits only.  About 75% of all callers are Aboriginal.

We were very cramped for storage space and when we started the Infant Health Clinic we needed somewhere for the Mothers to await their turn to see the Sister. All we had was the back verandah which was most inadequate.  The barn was eventually purchased for this purpose, but we had to wait so long for it that the original need had passed.  Two years ago we acquired the use of no.4. so we could spread a little and moved the Clinic, sewing room and storeroom. Capt. Norman Polgen lived there until he was sent to Geraldton early this year.

We still need a room in no.4. as a Sewing room for most of the ladies who come to sew for us are elderly and cannot manage the stairs to the upper rooms in No.2.

An evening play centre was tried for a time but lack of space and supervisors brought t to an end.

“Clubs” for girls and boys under 12 were tried for a time, but again came to an end through lack of support.

The Y.W.C.A. conducted a “Holiday at Home” week in the Barn and garden one summer holiday.

We still rely very much on voluntary help and have a faithful band of most reliable ladies.

There are approximately 100 callers a week and of these about 75 are Aboriginal.


    • This document is from the personal papers of Mary Elliott – the language is that of the author Mary Elliott
Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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