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Nambawam samting, em long mekim gut kain kain yumi save mekim long wan wan de. There is nothing of greater importance than the perfect discharge of our ordinary duties - Mother M. Catherine McAuley The lives of the Sisters of Mercy involved a great deal more than service to the community and their religious duties. They also managed every part of their convents and properties – from administration to cooking, making and mending clothes, building furniture, cleaning and gardening. Most religious sought to live their vow of poverty in this way so as to devote the bulk of their resources to mission and ministry.

Above: Cleaning at the novitiate in Goulburn, New South Wales


The cornerstone to fitting so much into each day was a careful watch of the time. This included an early start and a day followed by specific allocations of time for the day’s tasks and duties.

The above silver pocket watch was given to Sister Mary de Paul of

Bathurst by her family on her 21st birthday in 1934. She wore it until the 1960s when sisters began wearing wrist watches.

Left: Horarium, Gunnedah Convent Each Convent had its own horarium, which guided the daily duties of sisters. The Rule stipulated the horarium, approved by the Reverend Mother, should be hung in the community room of each convent so all sisters could easily access it.


The above clock-holder was made from recycled wood at Singleton in New South Wales. Each week one of the sisters was appointed the caller. She would put the alarm clock inside this holder to make sure she heard it in the morning. She would then ring the bell to wake the sisters and knock on each door to check that they were awake. At each door she would say 'Lord Jesus, preserve us in peace' to which the other sister would reply 'Amen'.


Above: Novices hanging out washing at Herberton in Queensland in 1956

The item on the left is a milk separator, which was used to separate cream from milk. It was used during the 1950s by Sister Mary Aquin in the kitchen of Saint Joseph’s Mount in Bathurst, New South Wales. She used milk from cows on the property and and, having separated the cream, she moved onto the next task of turning it into butter.


Up until the 1950s the Sisters of Mercy at Singleton in New South Wales made their own soap – both for washing clothes and for personal use. The cakes of soap on the right are two that were never put to use. The methods used to make the soap have been lost to time. However, it is known that the ingredients included fat and caustic soda.

Left: This butter cooler from the Convent of Mercy Goulburn, New South Wales, is engraved with the date 1892 and was most likely a gift.


Above: Novices gardening at Herberton in Queensland in 1956


The diverse operations of convents meant they traded heavily with local businesses. This is one of two large leather-bound volumes from the Range Convent in

Rockhampton, Queensland.

Each is filled with invoices and receipts from 1904 to 1921. They are issued by grocers, importers, cool drink manufacturers, tradesman and horse-shoers.


Before the advent of ballpoint pens, ink for the convents around Australia was kept in inkwells. Sisters at the convent at Singleton in New South Wales used the inkwell on the right. They used a pen with a nib which they would dip in the well to obtain sufficient ink to write a few words. This process was repeated.

Sr M. Philomena. Taken in Western Australia in 1953


An essential task undertaken each week was to starch and iron the headwear that was worn by the sisters. Sisters also ironed the alter linen that was used for Mass and other ceremonies in chapels and churches. The heavy metal iron on the left was heated on a stovetop with a burning fire underneath.


With advances in technology the sisters at Singleton in New South Wales used the petrol iron pictured above. A similar iron is shown on the left in use in Papua New Guinea in 1964. Sister Mary Elizabeth captioned the photo: ‘Petrol iron, does the job well’.

A towel from the Convent of Mercy in Perth, Western Australia


The cotton reel on the right belonged to a sister whose assigned number was 103. Over the years a huge quantity of black cotton was used by sisters making and mending their own clothes.

The above Singer sewing machine is believed to have been used on the verandah of the original convent at Ingham in Queensland. Sisters used the machine to make and mend their religious habits and items such as bed sheets, pillow slips, clothing of student boarders as well as vestments and linens used at Mass.


Above: Leather workshop box which belonged to Sr. M. Vianney, Grafton Congregation, New South Wales. She was responsible for repairing items such as furniture or the toys belonging to the children in care. As she explained, she had to learn how to do small jobs like mending kitchen utensils or fixing a leaking tap. 'Those things had to be done on the spur of the moment'. The tasks undertaken by sisters extended to the construction of furniture! The cupboard below was made in the 1920s in Bathurst, New South Wales for one of the bedrooms and was designed to hold a washbasin and pitcher on top.


Bells were often used to summon a sister, whose location may have been unknown. Each sister had a number. If the bell was rung a specific number of times the sister would know she was wanted.


This large cast iron press was used to imprint a seal onto mail and correspondence. It was used at Albury in New South Wales with an imprint of: Convent of Our Lady of Mercy St. Brigid’s Albury.


Sister Mary Colman at the Victoria Square Convent in Perth, Western Australia


Often the work of the sisters took them further into the community and away from their convents. The above large metal travelling trunk was given to Sister Paula in Bathurst, New South Wales. She was told it had previously been owned by an ‘old Irish Sister’.

Mekim gut wanpela samting pastaim, bihain narapela – bilong wanem – yu gat taim – 6 kilok moning inap 9 kilok nait. ‘ Attend to one thing at a time – you’ve got 15 hours from 6 to 9 ‘ Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1831

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