By Amanda Murthy
The school motto of Our Lady Help of Christians Presentation Convent School “May all feel the power of your help” best describes the devotion and support gained by the Wyalkatchem or ‘Wylie’ community in the 18 years of their existence.
Historians Paul de Pierres and Joseph Poprzeczny collaborate as they look back and name the efforts of the hands and hearts that help build the institute from the ground up from 1951 to 1968.
Dedicated to the Presentation sisters based at Wylie, who were acknowledged as the “pillars of the school, for their dedication and teaching in the days when life was much simpler, and people had to work twice as hard.”
The author begins by exploring the demographics of the the Wylie community, noting that a significant number of migrants had chosen the agricultural region, 192 kilometres east-north-east of Perth, as their home, following Wold War Two that had concluded ten years prior.
The Convent school that was referred to as “Pigs, Cows and Wallabies” by its’ neighbouring schools upheld strong Christian values, and awarded some 200 students with a formative Catholic education.
The history of the convent is told in a captivating manner, accompanied by images from then to now, giving readers a wholesome idea of what it could have been like back in the day.
The authors must have had to go to wide lengths to gain photo evidence accompanied by a narrative, including photos of the convent buildings, the classrooms and the founding religious fathers and sisters’.
It is also nice to see historical and current photographs provided by the former students of various events like their Holy Communion, sports events and mug shots from then to now – Some of the memories expressed are first-hand accounts by the students, making it a more stimulating and personalised read.
The first few chapters narrates the setbacks encountered by construction process Wyalkatchem’s first parish priest Father James Cameron and the founding Presentation Sisters, namely Dolores Meathrel, Alphonsus Hetherington and Anne Eastcott during the construction of the first school in Johnston Street. The school officially opened its doors on 13 December 1951.
The authors explains that it was through the hard work from the religious that the initial number of students grew from 15 to 38 in the first year.
And it was through the generosity of the parishioners of Wyalkatchem Catholic Church, and the hardworking staff that after much negotiation, construction of a new school was approved. On 8 March 1953, 58 students relocated to their new school in Railway Terrace.
A majority of the former students spoke very highly of the Presentation Sisters.
Some said it was their nurturing patience and love that made school-life fulfilling.
Author Paul De Pierres, who was also a student at the convent, credits the religious sisters for always keeping to their principals, and steering him toward the right path.
He added that the occasional corrections he received, helped build and shape his character, motivating him to work harder to gain the respect of people – something he is immensely grateful for.
Another memory highlighted in the book was one that made Australian headlines back in 1959. Reverend Mother Finbarr, a teacher at the convent in 1952, tragically died near Mandurah when her boat capsized, drowning her, two other sisters and a priest.
It is also interesting to find that some of the former students served in the Vietnam War (1964-1972) as regulars or National Servicemen.
Special mention went out to Stephane de Pierres, representing the French Army, who was killed in action at the Vosges Mountains during a fight against the Germans.
Assuming this was a relative of Mr De Pierres, it is explained that his rosary which was lost by the ‘De Pierres children’ in the convents school compound was found 60 years later, and returned to the family!
All in all, a personalised and nostalgic read for those who grew up in Wyalkatchem to reminisce and reflect.
For the rest of the world, a great lesson of how important faith and good values are in building a society that consists of successful citizens, who are proud of what they have become.
The gratitude expressed towards the Sisters and priests is truly heart-warming to read.
For all their sacrifices, love and devotion to helping young people, this piece of history is something worth documenting.