Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Education


School of Education


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Dr Anthea Taylor

Third Advisor

Barbara Harris


In this qualitative study I investigated the institutional experiences of former female child migrants who were placed in the care of the Sisters of Mercy in St Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage, Subiaco, Western Australia. My study was guided by the theoretical orientations of Symbolic Interaction and Constructivism. Data were gathered through a series of individual and group interviews with the Female Child Migrants, who are now in their seventies and had spent at least three years in the orphanage between the years 1947 and 1955. Documents were also obtained from the archives of the Catholic Church, the Sisters of Mercy and the National Archives. Documents, photos and artefacts were also accessed from private collections. Significant issues to arise from the study were those of identity, opportunity and social control. These issues were broadly examined in relation to the primary and reference groups in the children’s lives with a particular focus on the role the Sisters of Mercy had in the children’s welfare. A limitation of the research is that some records pertaining to the orphanage during this period have been lost or destroyed and the passing of sixty years since the Female Child Migrants lived at the orphanage has meant that some events and practices may have been forgotten, overlooked or reframed by respondents. One of the most important findings was that the Orphanage’s institutional practices with its underpinning of religious teachings, ensured a lack of suitable social experiences and interactions. This shaped the way the participants viewed the world; which in turn impacted upon their life choices. The findings suggest that access to a wide variety of social situations is a necessary feature in a child’s socialisation and the accumulation of necessary social skills. The impact of socialisation on educational outcomes of the children in institutions such as orphanages was evident in the data. This investigation goes some way to filling the gap in the knowledge of the experiences of female child migrants who were sent here under the British Child Migration Scheme and it shines a light on a very small part of Western Australia’s social history.

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