A late winter storm did not deter an enthusiastic crowd from gathering in the St Andrews Presbyterian Hall in Pier St, Perth in August 1910. The occasion was the first anniversary of the Dulhi Gunyah Orphanage and the minister, Rev Adolphus Summer Cloud James, was among the speakers.
The Dulhi Gunyah Orphanage had been established in East Perth in 1909 by the Australian Aborigines’ Mission (AAM), a non-denominational faith mission based in New South Wales.
Mary Fox Angelo was the first secretary of the local committee. Mary was the widow of Colonel Edward Fox Angelo, one of the first trustees of the Presbyterian Church in Western Australia. Perhaps it was her Presbyterian connection that led to the St Andrews Church Hall being the location for every Dulhi Gunyah anniversary service.
The Australian Aborigines’ Mission initially planned to work in the north of Western Australia. The committee altered its plans at the suggestion of Chief Protector Gale and agreed to provide accommodation for Aboriginal children of mixed descent. In 1911, a property of approximately 12 acres, with a weatherboard cottage, was purchased in Victoria Park and Dulhi Gunyah relocated to the more suitable site.
Like other institutions engaged in caring for Aboriginal children removed from their families, the history of Dulhi Gunyah is mixed with stories of good intentions and tragic outcomes that continue to impact Aboriginal families.
During the anniversary meeting in July 1918, Chief Protector Neville revealed that due to war-time restraints the meagre government support was reduced and several children had been sent to the Carrolup Native Settlement in the Great Southern region of the state.
As it happened, this was the final anniversary, for in March 1919 all the children were transferred to Carrolup and Dulhi Gunyah was closed. A letter from Neville defended the government decision even though he admitted that the conditions at Carrolup were not ideal. The closure of the Dulhi Gunyah Orphanage meant the St Andrews Hall was no longer needed for anniversary meetings.
The Methodist Church bought the former Dulhi Gunyah site in 1921 for a Methodist Children’s Home and the Australian Aborigines’ Mission focused their activities in other locations.
In June 2009 St Andrew’s was deemed unsafe and closed. With reluctance and after careful prayer and consideration, the Uniting Church Synod agreed St Andrew’s, Westminster House and McNess Hall should be sold. In taking this decision the Synod was aware it would impact, not only on St Andrew’s congregation, but also on the wider Uniting Church, and the people of Perth. For almost 110 years, St Andrew’s had played a role in the lives of generations of Perth people. It was a sacred space for quiet prayer and communal worship, and a place for commemorating important life milestones and community events. To read more of the history of St Andrew’s Uniting Church visit https://revivemagazine.org.au/2015/12/07/memories-wrapped-in-bricks-and-mortar/