Castledare Boys’ Home (Or: Shoveling Asbestos)


Image: The Castledare Boys’ Home is now a retirement home for priests

The Castledare Boys’ Home was one of the notorious facilities operated by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia. Like the others (Bindoon,Tradum and Clontarf), it is worthy of renewed attention by the Royal Commission.

It was a destination for “child migrants” (see previous posting) from the U.K. and Malta. The Northern Ireland government is currently trying to contact Irish “child migrants” to these institutions (see previous posting). In 1994, the Parliament of Western Australia was presented a petition with 30,000 signatures calling for an enquiry into the Christian Brothers’ institutions.

Castledare was opened in 1929 to house what the Brothers then called “sub-normal boys”). Later it changed to a facility for boys who were state wards, orphans and child migrants. The abuses which occurred there were typical of the other Christian Brothers’ Homes in Western Australia. A very full account is given in the “Voices” organization’s submissions to the U.K. government and the 2004 Australian Senate’s enquiry (see references below).

U.K. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, have both apologized to the “child migrants” sent to these Christian Brothers’ Homes. The Maltese Prime Minister, Mr.Gonzi, unveiled a memorial to Maltese “child migrants” to Australia. It is located in GrandHarbour, and notes that there were 310 such children.

Various reports over the years (see references below for details) indicated that both government and church authorities were well aware of  the terrible conditions, and abuses, at Castledare. Some offenders have been prosecuted, but others have escaped justice because of age or ill-health. This is one of the reasons that the Royal Commission should revisit the Castledare scandals.

There is also one further matter which distinguishes the Castledare case from other Homes of that era.

Since 1963, there has been a small scale railway open to the public for children’s rides, at Castledare.

In Australia, the asbestos building materials producer, James Hardie, has been prosecuted for its product causing the lung cancer, mesothelioma and forced to establish a compensation fund for the many victims, both present and future.

In 2011, Simon Lowes successfully sued James Hardie for mesothelioma he contracted as a result of visiting the model railway as a child in the 1970s. The pay-out was $2,068,396.93, a record at the time. The asbestos dust came from base materials for the rail track.(see photo below), which had been placed there between 1968 and 1970.


Image: The Castledare Model Railway

Given that Mr. Lowes had only visited the facility on 4-6 occasions for periods of about 2 hours at a time, then what was the exposure for the boys at Castledare who had to place the material there, and maintained it with raking, shoveling etc., for several years.

No former residents have been compensated. No asbestos-related health checks have been conducted by the government health authorities.

During the Lowes court hearings, Norman Holmes recalled how he and other boys at Castledare used to shift up to nine tonnes of dumped asbestos from piles to swamp areas and spread it with rakes and compact it into solid foundations for the railway. He was often “knee deep in mud and water” working on building the railway, which took between 12 and 18 months to complete stage one and longer to finish stage two.

They also carted ‘blue rock’ that was used to form a base for the railway track and dumped material was placed on top of the blue rock,” the court decision read. He and the other boys would be covered in dust from working on the railway; the water would turn grey when they subsequently showered. He typically worked on the railway during the week in the afternoon until 5pm and all day Saturday from the age of six to eight.

Another Castledare boy, Christopher Wagland, recalled the Brothers making him smooth out 3-4 cubic metres of asbestos dust. “Dust would be blown onto the oval and into the dormitories and classrooms so that the boys were always coughing,” he told the court.

Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia WA President Robert Vojakovich said children were forced to carry asbestos up to 60m with no protective clothing and in little more than T-shirts and spread it around on the ground.

A doctor who visited the site in 1972, reported that “The situation at the model railway is intolerable and some means must be found urgently to prevent the exposure of the boys at the home and visitors from the general public being exposed to dust in this way.”

The asbestos exposure is, of course, not within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, but it does serve the purpose of giving a background picture of the disregard for the welfare of the Castledare boys by the Christian Brothers.

One boy, whose name was suppressed out of consideration for the family, had experienced every type of abuse the malevolent minds of his “carers” could think of, also contracted early onset asbestosis. At the time, the issue was not well known to the public, so he had no chance of compensation. He took his own life, in despair.

Mesothelioma takes a very long time to develop – sometimes over 40 years. The connection with asbestos has only recently been established. How many Home Boys have died of it, undiagnosed?

The main building has been extensively renovated by the Catholic Church. It is described by its architects as being “restored to its former glory”. It now has self-contained units which are used for retired priests. Most of the land has been sold for a housing estate in what is now sub-urban Perth. The model railway continued to make money.

The value of the old Castledare Home and land should be donated to a compensation fund for the former boys of the Home.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: The Maltese Connection

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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1 Response to Castledare Boys’ Home (Or: Shoveling Asbestos)

  1. karyn watterston says:

    My partner was in castledare boys home shoveling asbestos for the railway and today has alot of complications because of that and has never been compensated nor checked i want to proceed with compensation can you put us on the right track much appreciated

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