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Peterkin, Angus Roy (1906–1991)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

Angus Roy Peterkin (1906-1991), children’s home administrator, was born on 8 March 1906 at Maylands, Western Australia, only surviving son of Scottish-born John Peterkin, engine-driver, and his South Australian-born wife Alice, née MacDonald. Roy was educated at Maylands primary school, Perth Boys’ School, and Perth Modern School. He joined the Education Department as a monitor in 1923 and by 1924 had been posted as teacher and librarian to the Fairbridge Farm School, where he developed a keen interest in child welfare. That year he was awarded a teaching certificate by the Claremont Teachers College, and then taught at a succession of schools in the Perth metropolitan area. He studied part time at the University of Western Australia (BA, 1936). On 29 December 1932 at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, he had married Mary Alice Louise Paterson, also a teacher.

By 1938 Peterkin had returned to the teachers college as a lecturer in geography. In 1942 he wrote a textbook, The Industrial Development of Western Australia: A Handbook of Information on the Primary and Secondary Industries of the State. An aspiration to work in the field of child welfare was achieved when, in April, the ‘elusive vacancy . . . for which I had waited so long’ (Peterkin 1988, 69) led to his appointment as resident manager of the Swan Boys’ Orphanage at Middle Swan. Staff and boys, who had resented the dismissal of his predecessor, opposed him at first but he won them over with skilled management.

Soon after taking up his position, he successfully handled the problem of finding accommodation for children evacuated from the Perth Girls’ Orphanage as a wartime precaution. In 1943 the orphanages were amalgamated into the Anglican Homes for Children (known as Swan Homes), with Peterkin as manager. With the assistance of Mary, who took an important role in the activities of the institution, he established a school and a recreational program on the premises, and implemented a cottage system in which small groups of children lived in a family environment. Not content that the children should be trained only for farm work or domestic service, he encouraged their enrolment at local high schools. Buildings were improved and extended, and recreational facilities such as tennis courts were provided. Budget restraints were tight, but he was adroit at making ends meet and gradually built up an endowment fund.

After World War II Peterkin’s belief that ‘the child was the best migrant’ (Peterkin 1988, 105) led him in 1947 to welcome a scheme sponsored by the Church of England Council of Empire Settlement. During the next twelve years, over two hundred British children, unaccompanied by their parents, were placed at the Swan Homes. Two years later, the Parkerville Children’s Home came under Peterkin’s control after the Anglican Community of the Sisters of the Church withdrew. In 1955, at the request of the State government, the board of the Anglican Homes for Children accepted responsibility for accommodating young offenders, and opened the Anglican Farm School (later ‘Hillston’), at Stoneville in the hills east of Perth.

By the late 1950s support for British child migration was dwindling, and official policy was shifting to favour the fostering of necessitous children rather than institutional care. The Swan Homes were renamed Swanleigh in 1960 and adapted to provide accommodation for rural high school students studying in Perth; they made up half of the residents in 1961 and over three-quarters in 1966. Peterkin’s job title was changed to director of Anglican institutions.

In 1966 Peterkin was awarded the British Empire Medal. After retiring in 1971, he and Mary (d. 1989) moved first to Albany and then to an aged-care village at the Perth suburb of Bull Creek. There he wrote a history of Swanleigh, while indulging his passion for travel, fishing, gardening, and community service. Survived by two daughters and a son, he died at Como on 11 August 1991 and was cremated. Roy and Mary Peterkin had been caring guardians of the children entrusted to them, and devoted members of the Anglican Church. Described by his daughter as ‘conscientious, resourceful, and reflective’ (Peterkin, pers. comm.), Peterkin could be a hard taskmaster, and felt the weight of responsibility in caring for the children of others.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Anglican Messenger. October 1991, 5
  • Peterkin, Angus Roy. Interview by Chris Jeffery, 1985. Transcript. State Library of Western Australia
  • Peterkin, A. Roy. The Noisy Mansions: The Story of Swanleigh 1868-1971. Midland, WA: Swanleigh Council, 1988
  • Peterkin, Judith. Personal communication
  • State Records Office of Western Australia. Education Department Teacher’s Records

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Peterkin, Angus Roy (1906–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/peterkin-angus-roy-18997/text30600, published online 2017, accessed online 24 September 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

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