Dardanup, a small town in the South West of Western Australia, is a centre for the dairy industry. The first settler came to Dardanup about 1848. The first Catholic priest to visit Dardanup was Fr T. Donovan in 1851. On 19 October 1852 Thomas Little drew up a deed in which he donated 50 acres of his holding at Dardanup Park for the purpose of building a church and a monastery, also with a request that a resident priest be appointed as soon as possible. He added a further donation of 100,000 bricks and 50 bushels of calsomine with an approximate value of One Hundred Pounds. The sole condition was that two Masses be offered annually for his intention. At this time, visits by Catholic priests to the area had been spasmodic. Bishops Brady and Serra from Perth had made occasional visits, as did Bishop Salvado who was the first prelate to pay a pastoral visit to the district on horseback. Bishop Griver also paid periodical visits as did Bishop Gibney.
Bishop Salvado OSB of New Norcia, then acting Bishop of Perth, Bishop Serra of Perth was away in Rome) laid the foundation stone of the church on 25 March 1854, on the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady. Canon Martelli preached on the occasion and described the foundation laying ceremony: “it was int eh midst of the woods under the canopy of heaven that the ceremony was accomplished, not with pomp but with great spiritual joy.” Its title name, however, is its greatest glory. The Immaculate Conception of Mary the Mother of God. Catholic Church, Dardanup (1854-1938). The little church was named in honour of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, a Dogma not proclaimed until 8 December 1854. (Although it was not opened until 1 April 1857). It had the distinction of being the first country parish church of Western Australia outside Perth and Fremantle, but also it supported the title of Church of the Immaculate Conception before Pope Pius IX confirmed that belief of the faithful by decree. Seeing the growing number of children of Irish Catholic settlers in the little hamlet of Dardanup, Mr Little opened his home “Dardanup Park” in 1854 and employed a ticket-of-leave man, Mr Tom Clancy, to teach them. When Fr Aragon was appointed he visited the school to assist Mr Clancey occasionally.
On Bishop Serra’ s return in 1855, Fr Peter Aragon OSB was appointed as resident priest. Fr Aragon’s responsibilities included Australia, Bunbury, Dardanup, Vasse, Busselton and Augusta. He was a permanent guest of Thomas Little during his tenure which ended in April 1856, when he left the Colony to go to Ceylon. The people retained an affectionate remembrance of him, and he once sent the Littles a gift of cinnamon. He died in Ceylon in 1862. Fr Venancio Garrido was appointed in his place. The second Spanish monk to administer to the religious needs of this Irish community was officially appointed Roman Catholic chaplain in the Bunbury district by Governor Kennedy and received a government stipend of One Hundred Pounds per annum from the Colonial Administration. Fr Garrido arranged for a parish meeting to boost the drawn-out construction of the church building. A system of interest free loans was devised at a meeting in October 1857. He completed the church and blessed it on 19 April 1857. When the new church was completed, the school transferred there. The first school examination was held in 1857 and in that year Mr Tom Clancey left Dardanup for Perth, his place being taken by Miss Anne McKinley.
The parish was very extensive, and Fr Garrido traveled often to the Vasse, to Augusta and to the Blackwood River. He states in his returns on 1 January 1858 that the population of Dardanup was 130, of whom 100 usually attended Sunday Mass. Fr Garrido was also responsible for helping established the first school in the district. He introduced a system where each Catholic farmer in the district gave a portion of grain per harvest to support the church and the pastor. This also was made possible by the generosity of Thomas Little, for he donated extra land and a small school was built in front to the east side of the church which opened on 15 September 1857 with 25 children. The parishioners came to have a deep affection for Fr Garrido, which he reciprocated. This idyllic existence came to an end on 16 April 1858, when Bishop Serra abruptly ordered him to leave the Colony. He left on 29 July 1858. From Ceylon he kept in touch with his friends, eventually he returned at the request of Bishop Salvado arriving on 31 December 1859. He spent the rest of his days at New Norcia, where he died in 1870.
The school building also doubled as a dwelling place for the schoolmaster. In 1860 there were 40 pupils enrolled in the school but by 1870, due to lack of numbers, the school was closed for several months. Miss Ellen Costello, who was born of Irish Catholic parents in Bunbury in 1855, having obtained her Teaching Certificate, came to Dardanup to teach in 1871. Another school examination was held in 1877 with a very favourable report being received. Miss Costello remained there until the end of 1877. Later Ellen Costello became Mother Angela, the first Australian born superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Bunbury in 1897. In 1881 the little Catholic school of approximately 15 pupils was taken over by the Government and run as a State school under the guidance of Mr J. Macguire, and later in 1885 by Miss Mary Anne Cleary. By 1891 the classrooms were reported to be in a state of disrepair, poorly equipped and with very little facilities. 1897 saw the withdrawal of the pupils from the Catholic owned building to a more modern structure built opposite the church and run as a State school.
Fr Garrido’s place was taken by the colourful Belgian, Fr Ladolphus Lecaille. He arrived in Dardanup on 17 July 1858. In spite of the attractions of the Little household, he found it more convenient to have a presbytery of his own; he built one in Bunbury about March 1860. Fr Lecaille was of small stature, but of bounding energy. He threw himself body and soul into the work of his priesthood and the life of his people. He had great organizing ability; he was a man of learning and attainments. He left Bunbury early in 1865 to take up his life’s work in the north at Geraldton. He died in 1908, and was buried in Perth. However in 1936 his remains were re-interred in the mortuary of Karrakatta cemetery. A stained glass window in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Geraldton is dedicated to him. Fr Lecaille was succeeded by several other priests who worked in the South West district: Fr Donovan, Canon Raffaele Martelli, Fr Thomas Lynch, Fr Patrick McCabe, Fr Brady, Fr Delaney and Dean Luigi Martelli (nephew of Canon Raffaele Martelli) who came at the turn of the century. Followed by Dean L.J. Smyth who succeeded him in Bunbury.
On 5 November 1877 Mr Thomas Little died at Dardanup in impoverished circumstances. His property sold and he was permitted to live out his last days at Dardanup Park. In 1883 the Sisters of Mercy came to Bunbury and established a convent and school, in their mission visited Dardanup top instruct the children in their catechism and visit the people – no doubt travelling by horse and cart.
Immaculate Conception Parish
The Dardanup-Boyanup Parish patch depicts as the centre piece the original old church of the Immaculate Conception built 1854 and used as the Mass centre until 1938.
The new church was built and opened in 1937 and is the present Parish church at Dardanup.
The old Church is now called The Thomas Little Memorial Hall. The patch also illustrates the Eucharistic Host brilliantly arrayed to commemorate the Boyanup Church built in 1913 and still used for the monthly 24 hour exposition of the Blessed Sacrament by the parishioners.
Grateful acknowledgement to Frances Duce, Leanne Depiazzi, Brenda Della Sale and Marian Della Sale who all contributed to the design and making of the Dardanup-Boyanup patch.