The emergence of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross lay in the discrimination, prejudice and sectarianism confronting Catholics in Australia, in the early years of the 20th century. Religious bigotry was so strong that young Catholic men and women were finding it impossible to gain employment. Newspaper advertisements openly stated "No Catholic need apply". Application forms for many jobs contained the question, "Where were you educated?"
By the early 1920s, Catholic men in the Perth and Fremantle areas believed the time had come to put in place strategies to combat the sectarianism that had come to dominate the wider community. At the same time, an association of Catholic men, established in Sydney in March 1919, was exploring the opportunity of expanding in the West. Its aim was to tackle the overt religious bigotry and the disadvantages facing Catholic youth wishing to enter the workforce. In January 1922, P. J. Minihan visited His Grace, Archbishop Clune to seek approval for the establishment of a State branch of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross. Minihan successfully secured approval and support from His Grace.
On 12 February 1922, 53 men attended a meeting in the Parochial Hall of St Mary's Cathedral. Those present supported the formation of a branch in Western Australia of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross. During the meeting, the first State Council was elected:
Grand Knight James P. Maxwell
Senior Deputy Grand Knight Daniel Mulcahy
Junior Deputy Grand Knight Thomas Ahern
Secretary John F. Walsh
Treasurer Patrick Quinlan
Neville J. Heenan
Gilbert D. Henderson
John P. Walsh
John J. White
Grand Chaplain Reverend Father Moss
The Order used different venues to hold State Council meetings and other General meetings of the membership. These venues included: the Parochial Hall, the Hibernian Hall, the CYMS, a room in the Vetters Building on Murray Street, and a room at St Joseph's Catholic School. By April 1923, the Order began searching for a suitable building to establish its headquarters. A property in Pier Street, Perth was identified and later purchased on 5 May 1924 for £6 800. In February 1925, the Order had moved into their new home at 36 Pier Street, Perth.
During the 1920s and 1930s, branches of the Order were rapidly established throughout Western Australia. Fremantle and Kalgoorlie were among the first to be formed. Other branches subsequently followed from Albany and Esperance in the south to Carnarvon in the north.
Through its various activities, the Order in Western Australia contributed enormously to the wider community during the ensuing decades. Some of the more well-known projects included:
The Bushies Scheme
The project was established in 1925 where children living in the outback were brought to larger country centres during the summer holidays to participate in religious education. Volunteer nuns and laymen and women staffed the schools. These continued annually for more than 20 years until teaching Orders could be established in smaller country towns.
The Tardun Farm School
The School, later known as the Christian Brothers Agricultural College, was established in 1928. It began as a Crown grant of approximately 50 000 acres, 90 miles east of Geraldton. The vision was to provide the opportunity for male students to gain first-hand experience of farming, and to assist those who showed the aptitude to develop their own farm.
Parents and Friends Association
The Order worked with the various parent groups operating to support their local Catholic schools in order to establish a Federation. This overarching group would then represent all parents/caregivers in their negotiations with the State and Commonwealth governments. The Federation was established on 18 March 1954 with 13 independent parent groups. By the end of the year, this increased to 28 parent groups. The Federation has remained an important voice for parents/caregivers in the Western Australian Catholic school system.
Southern Cross Care (WA)
Southern Cross Care (WA) Inc. was established in 1966 as Southern Cross Homes (WA) by the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross. The initiative reflected the Order's desire to provide quality services to all members of the community according to need and based on the principals of charity, compassion and respect for the dignity of the individual.
The Order in Western Australia led the way with its first aged care facility being built in North Perth in 1967. The Order in other States soon followed.
St Mary's Cathedral, Perth
The Order provided very generous financial support ($1 million) to restore the Cathedral's Grand Dodd organ. The 100 year old Dodd organ was transported to the workshop of the South Island Organ Company in New Zealand, where it was refurbished and enlarged before being reinstalled in the completed Cathedral.
The organ was relocated back to where it was originally installed by J.E. Dodd & Sons of Adelaide in 1910, but in an enlarged and strengthened choir loft at the Murray Street end of the Cathedral.
St Patrick's Cathedral, Bunbury
The Order provided $125 000 to assist in the rebuilding of the Bunbury Cathedral. In 2005, a tornado struck Bunbury and wrecked havoc in a narrow, though extremely damaging path of destruction across the suburbs of Bunbury.
St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Geraldton
In 2013, the Order provided $125 000 to restore, conserve and enhance the iconic, heritage listed St Francis Xavier Cathedral and its precinct.
The Churack Chair of Chronic Pain Education and Research
In 2014, the Order donated $300 000 to support the Chair. Through its work, the initiative will collaboratively work with the University's Institute for Health Research, School of Physiotherapy, School of Nursing and Midwifery, School of Health Sciences and School of Arts & Sciences' Counseling program to address the issue of chronic pain in the wider community.