THE ORIGINAL ST BERNARD'S OLD BOYS' ASSOCIATION|
Contributor Geoff Woolfall (ex-Student, Old Boy and Original Original Committee Member)
When I was first asked to pen a few words about the early days of St. Bernardís Old Boys' I thought it would be easy as I had virtually been associated with it from 1946 until the end of 1962. However, I forgot how oneís memory fades when looking back more than fifty years. In the early years until 1951 I was only a member as I was travelling from Katoomba to Sydney University each day while studying Engineering. From 1951 to 1962 I was on the committee occupying the positions of secretary, treasurer and finally secretary/treasurer at various times. Enough of my background, let's talk about the Association.
The first mention of an Old Boys' Union for St. Bernardís was made on the occasion of the Annual Sports Day in 1944. It was hoped that steps to form a Union would be taken in 1945 and that all old Boys' would be advised of the inaugural meeting.
Twenty Old Boys met at the Elizabeth Hotel, Elizabeth Street Sydney, the residence of Tom Maher, on Saturday, 22nd September, 1945, to discuss forming a union. It was considered that 20 members representing the 46 Old Boys at the time were adequate to form a union. A committee was formed as follows:- President: Ken Mitchell, Secretary: Don Foy, Treasurer: Tom Maher, Committee: Brian Vanny, Roger Jones , Bill McConnell. Others present at the meeting were John Madigan, Tom Porter, Dick Watson, John Walker, Fred Egan, Brian Higgs, Harry Green, Geoff Lees, Paul Lippman, Phil Jones, John White, Brian McAteer and Syl Noonan. Thus the Old Boys' Union was formed in the fifth year of the College.
The Association was formed to assist in fostering a bond of friendship between successive generations of past students by encouraging active participation in both religious and social activities, and to assist the College whenever possible. Brother Michael, in the annual report of 1945, made the following statement on the Old Boys' Union:
Another stone was laid this year in the forming of the Old Boys' Union. At a meeting at which twenty were present, Mr. K. Mitchell was unanimously elected President. I take this opportunity of endorsing the decision and congratulating him on his appointment. Among the many advantages attaching to such a Union it may be pointed out that such an organization keeps the Old Boys in touch with one another and with their old school. I hope the Old Boys will not take too hard their defeat in football against the present Boys. May I add that we expect that as our Boys leave College they will join the Union without delay. I may mention that in spite of the fact that our College is in its infancy, several of the Old Boys were members of the fighting forces in the war now happily ended.
The Union had a name change, to St Bernardís Old Boys' Association. When this occurred or why I donít know but it was early in the life of the Union. The principal activities of the Association were:
1. The Annual Reunion. The reunion was held at the College and consisted of a Mass which was celebrated by an ex-Student if possible, this was followed by the Annual General Meeting, and in the afternoon a football match between the present and Old Boys on the College oval at Clairvaux.
2 The Annual Ball. This event was initially held at the Hotel Australia Ballroom that catered for a maximum of 150 guests and required a guarantee of 100. It was a convenient location in Martin Place, but being a small Association at the time we had great difficulty in meeting the minimum number. However we always succeeded and even made a slight profit from the obligatory raffle. In 1955 we were approached by Mt. Saint Maryís Convent Ex-Students with the view to holding combined functions. This was prompted by many of the girls wanting to make their debut but their Association was not in a position to stage a Ball. Subsequent to 1956 the Ball was a combined function with debutantes. Initially we invited His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy to be Guest of Honour and receive the debutantes.
One year we decided to invite the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Alderman Pat Hills, to receive the debs. No sooner had we sent the invitation than we realized that the Ball was on Empire Day when anyone of importance would have a lot of functions to attend. We went into panic mode wondering whom we could ask in case of a refusal, but we neednít have worried as the Lord Mayor accepted but apologized that he would only be able to stay for half an hour.
Well he arrived, received the debs and stayed for the rest of the evening. He remarked that after a day of formal functions it was nice to join a group of young folks and relax. This comment was much appreciated after all our initial worries.
When the Hotel Australia closed we moved our Ball to the Chevron Hotel in McLeay Street, Potts Point and had the last few functions I was involved with there.
So much for the regular events we held. I was invited to represent SBCOBA at a Civic Reception at Sydney Town Hall in honour of the Secretary General of the De La Salle Brothers when he visited Australia. This function was attended by hundreds and one was lucky to see the Guest of Honour.
In the late fifties, the Marrickville College Old Collegians thought it would be a good idea to have an Ex-Studentsí Association covering all De La Salle Colleges in NSW. They called a meeting of all the existing Associations to discuss the matter and it was decided to proceed with the idea. This was followed by a reunion for members of all Associations at De La Salle College, Oakhill, one weekend during the school holidays to enable accommodation to be provided. The Combined Association was formally established and the President of Marrickville was elected president and I was elected Vice President. Whether this Association continued and flourished I cannot say as the following year I had to resign my positions in both SBCOBA and the combined Association, as I had been transferred to Melbourne. I did not keep in touch with the Old Boys until the present group re-formed the Association.
COMMENT FROM THE THEN PATRON (2010) JOHN WALCH
As an Association Patron I feel we all need to pass on a vote of thanks to Geoff Woolfall for his clear and thoughtful presentation of the history of the St Bernard's Old Boys' Association.
From his memories quite a lot of social organisation went into the various functions held, especially the ballroom dances of the time with debutantes and important guests.
Inevitably family commitments of past students claim a lot of the available spare time they have and I know for a fact that except for Geoff's astonishing work from 1951 to 1962 the Association would have been on rather shaky ground given distance and other factors. Almost single-handedly he kept things going in that period, taking every job that required zeal and commitment and much of its present enthusiastic functioning is owed to him.
The decision to re-form the Association was taken on the basis that it would have been a shame to let so much good work just cease to exist, and that it would be good to keep the same spirit alive. Thank you, Geoff, for your memories and more especially for your work and dedication to the memory of St Bernard's College.