Our Place in History
Each year a few days in October are set aside to celebrate the heritage of the City of Perth. This year’s theme for the event was ‘Perth at the Outbreak of War’ and there are several events throughout Western Australia commemorating the 100th Anniversary of World War I and the 75th Anniversary of World War II. To mark this, on Sunday 19 October, there was a procession through parts of the city of horses and riders representing the 10th Light Horse Brigade of World War I fame.
Many groups join in the Heritage Days by opening their heritage buildings to the public. The Sisters of Mercy Convent at Victoria Square has been listed as one of the open buildings and exhibitions since 2011 and it has been a popular destination for a variety of interested people. A group of Sisters worked very hard to get all the rooms and displays prepared for that initial Opening under the directorship of Sr Joan Smith. She also trained a group of friends of the Mercy Heritage Centre to act as guides for the two days. It was a very exciting time for all the Sisters of Mercy in Western Australia to have our heritage preserved and presented to so many people in our community.
A WELCOME sign was put up outside the front gate and Sisters were waiting there to welcome the visitors as they arrived. Inside, the two front parlours were set up with antiquities from the past: fine furniture, magnificent paintings by masters, intricately moulded vases and receptacles and delicate china, all giving an impression of elegance and good taste. The guides drew attention to the magnificent staircase built by Fenian convicts prior to the 1871 opening of the Convent. It was on this staircase that Bill Mangini, a Warden during WWII, had the Sisters running up and down practising their safety skills in case of a bomb attack. One activity that usually led to the Sisters collapsed with laughter while carrying a stretcher down from the upper floor to the safety of a bomb shelter.
The William III clock in the hall, the display cabinets in one large room and the Convent bells were of special interest, not only to the adults but also to the children who came. Some people remembered the bells ringing out at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm for the Angelus and a cacophony of tinkles (one tinkle represented a decade) and single strikes which gave a number for each Sister and called her from any place in the Convent grounds to attend to something back at base.
After a visit in the original Chapel the guests were led to the Music Room opposite. Throughout each day students from Mercedes College presented musical items and recitals on flutes, violins and the grand piano. On display were two rare musical instruments. One is a harp brought to Perth by Mother Brigid McDonald from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910. Innovatively designed it was made by Sebastien Erhard (1752-1831) and it is one of only three of these harps in the world. Erhard was held in high regard and given a special appointment to the English Royal family. Sisters played and taught the harp till the 1930’s. The second instrument of note is a guitar which came to Australia in 1938. The guitar was given to Sr Colman by Katy O’Mara in Ireland. It is thought to have been manufactured about 1830 and is a beautiful and valuable instrument.
After seeing the treasures, reading the information provided on panels depicting the many stories surrounding the events in the lives of the Sisters and their ministries and given specially prepared pamphlets, the visitors signed the Visitors Book and enjoyed a comfortable cup of tea. The excitement and interest in the Convent as a Heritage place was very evident and many grateful and encouraging remarks were made.
Our participation in the annual Perth Heritage Days event was appreciated by the City of Perth. It is a very positive and meaningful way of sharing what to many people, is an unknown and mysterious way of life, which has existed in Perth since the first Sisters of Mercy in Australia arrived in January 1846. We are proud to have opened our doors once again in a spirit of Mercy and hospitality to showcase the wonderful work of the Sisters throughout the past 165 years. And we give thanks for God’s guidance in the continuing mission brought to these shores by Ursula Frayne and her companions.
Messages to: Pauline Masters rsm
1. Srs Molly and Perpetua ready to greet visitors.
2. Staircase built by Fenians
3. William III clock
Messages to: Pauline Masters rsm