THE BEGINNING OF THE SCHOOL AND STORIES FROM THE EARLIEST STUDENTS
The first item has been transcribed from a photocopy of an old hand-written ledger at Oakhill College. There is no author noted. The following items from the students themselves have the name of the author shown.
IN THE BEGINNING
There was no Catholic Secondary School between Parramatta and Bathurst. The Archbishop then wrote to the Visitor, Br Benignus inviting him to open a Boarding College at Katoomba and pointed out that in making this request he was carrying out the wishes of Archbishop Kelly who was now renewing his previous request of 1929.
The Visitor accepted the invitation subject to the approval of the Higher Superiors which was subsequently obtained. The question of a loan form the Banks sufficient to cover the expenses of the venture caused some delay. By October 1940 the loan was obtained and the grounds consisting of the three properties known as the “Briars”. “Driffield” and “Woodlands”, this latter being the largest, were acquired after much negotiation.
On Boxing Day 1940 Brothers Benignus; Alban; Philbert; Austin; Virgil and Adrian arrived and took up residence at the “Briars” a large cottage made up of two self-contained flats. Alterations were immediately made to accommodate the Brothers and Boarders conveniently while awaiting the erection of the New College. The kitchen of the front flat was converted into a first-class office, the large front room with bay windows became the Brothers’ dining-room, oratory and common room. The other large room, later the Chaplain’s room, and the weather-board room at the back, were fixed up to accommodate five boarders in each. The room near the kitchen later turned into a laundry, was the Boarders’ dining-room.
On February 3rd Brothers Michael and Patrick arrived. Together with Brothers Virgil and Austin they were given sleeping quarters at “Airley” a furnished cottage at the lower end of Waratah Street. Brothers Adrian and Philbert were accommodated in the upper part of the two-storey shanty on the Driffield property. This is situated at present between the handball courts and the tennis courts and was commonly referred to as “Alban’s Folly”. The lower part of it was used for the First Term by the Brothers as a study hall at night.
The Community was comprised as follows:
Br Benignus, Provincial (Director)
Br Virgil (Pro-Director)
Br Alban: Prefect and Sportsmaster
Br Adrian: Clerk of Works
Br Philbert: St Canice’s Primary School
Br Austin: St Canice’s
The domestic staff consisted of Mary and Maggie Chalker, [Nola ?], Sister Pike and Dr Robinson.
School started on Tuesday February 10 with nine boarders and forty three day boys.
Classes were held in four rooms of the lower part of St Canice’s school kindly lent by Fr Galvin P.P. The first boarder to arrive was David Crossin from Dunedoo. The first break was at Easter when the boarders went home on the Wednesday afternoon and returned the on the following Monday evening.
MY YEAR AT ST BERNARDS - CONTRIBUTOR - MARK FORMBY - (ex-student and Old Boy)
The War (WWII) was on and the Family were living at Burwood with Grandma. Dad had read stories in the paper of squatters moving into empty houses (mostly holiday Lets) on the Blue Mountains. He became alarmed that such a thing could happen so to prevent it he decided that he would take his youngest son (me), leave Burwood, and live in the Family House at Katoomba.
School would be no problem as they had just finished St Bernard’s. So off I went. It was only a short walk from Darley Street to School.
Rev Bro Mark was the teacher among a few others.
We were housed in a little brick building called the Science Block. I was a poor student and I lasted about one year before Man Power at the time made noises about my future and, sadly, I had to leave to find work.
IN THE BEGINNING - CONTRIBUTOR - SYL NOONAN (ex-student, Old Boy, Committee Member and Patron)
Towards the end of 1940, during school holidays, a few mates and I were kicking a football in the paddock at the back of our home in Wentworth Falls, when Fred Casey booted over my head. There was a short steepish hill on the Western end, running towards Railway Parade. I turned to retrieve the ball, which was bouncing down the hill. To my surprise I saw a black-garbed figure collect the ball and dropkick away up over all our heads towards the other end of the paddock.
We stood looking in amazement towards the approaching man. He was short in stature, very rotund, florid in complexion, wearing steel rimmed glasses and sporting a clerical collar. Perspiration was running down his face, which broke into a huge smile as he mopped his brow. He removed his hat to disclose a very wet bald head, which also received the mopping treatment. He then replaced his hat, extended his hand and said “I am Br Alban of the De La Salle Brothers. Who are you young fellows?” We introduced ourselves – Syl Noonan, Fred Casey, Ted Sullivan and Geoff Medcalf. Br Alban then asked me if my parents were at home as he would like to talk to them. I took him home and introduced him by saying to them “By jingoes he can kick a football!”
Sometime later my father came out to the paddock with Br Alban to tell us that he had been visiting the parents of boys in the area informing them that the De Las Salle Brothers were going to build a new college in Katoomba catering for boys who would eventually board within the college and boys who would attend each day from the mountain area. Initially the new St Canice’s Parish School, Katoomba, located behind the church in Katoomba Street, would be made available to the brothers until the proposed college became available. Most of the local lads had attended the old St Canice’s which was located in the huge grounds of Mt St Mary’s College on the Great Western Highway, Katoomba where we were taught by the Sisters of Charity.
In January 1941 we presented ourselves for enrolment in the new environment to be taught by De La Salle Brothers for the first time. The new college was to be named St Bernard’s after the Bishop of Clairvaux. From memory I think Br Benignus was the Provincial and he looked after the operations during the first year and supervised the building of the college. I can remember Br Patrick, Br Virgil, Br Philbert, Br Michael and Br Alban in that first year.
School uniforms were navy herringbone, with SBC crest in red, green and gold on the breast pocket, blue shirt, green tie with red and gold stripes. Think the gear came from Anthony Horderns. We also wore a green skull cap, with a red button on top and the crest on the front. Later it was a straw boater, and later still a grey felt hat. These two had hat bands which were green with red and gold stripe around top and bottom – circumference wise – and the crest at the front. A school blazer appeared soon after. Initially it was optional.
Many boys travelled by train to and from school together with State School students. We were known as the “Dogs College” and they were known as the “Kittens”. We made many friends, but sometimes situations developed among those less agreeable that led to “altercations”. We held our own!
December 7, 1941 witnessed the blessing and opening of St Bernard’s College, Merriwa Street, Katoomba, by His Grace Archbishop Norman Thomas Gilroy of Sydney. It was quite a day for us little fellers. Cadets from Ashfield and Marrickville marched from the station to the college led by the Katoomba Boys Band. We had the privilege of being in the Guard of Honour. The size of the building, the facilities that had been completed, the beautiful chapel, the quadrangle with the huge pine tree in the lawn area made a great impression on us. We looked forward to next year.
February 1942 duly arrived and we fronted to find lots of new students from all over, both boarders and day boys. Students from Valley Heights and Lithgow travelled by train to Katoomba and walked down to St Bernard’s. The winter weather with the weeks of heavy fog day after day were something to remember. Some days it was so thick we would walk down Lurline Street with hands on shoulders to keep in touch. If we were not careful, people coming in the opposite direction could bump into us. There were many such close calls. This type of weather was a fact of life, therefore it was accepted. When playing sport in similar conditions and the ball went high, it was pure guesswork as to where it might land. However, we had plenty of fun.
Br Patrick was the new Principal. I found him to be hard and tough, but very fair. I received a share of his “leather slapper” which he carried in his hip pocket. It was always deserved!! “Paddy” taught us Latin, Maths and Geometry. He was a serious person, a gifted teacher endowed with a fine sense of humour. I remember on one occasion in Geometry class he was seeking a definition of a “polygon”. He nominated me for an answer saying “And don’t tell me it is a DEAD PARROT Noonan”. That brought a laugh. I had the utmost respect for this Brother whilst at school. During the fifty plus years since leaving school, that respect ever increased. God rest him!
Br Michael, “Mick the Pom”, or “Little Fellar”, as he was affectionately known, taught us French. He had great battles with a boy named Brian, and he had to stand up on the dais to deal with him.
Br Mark McCarthy taught us English. He was very read on Shakespeare and made sure that everyone in the class could recite the “Quality of mercy not being strained”. He produced HMS Pinafore which was performed in the old Embassy Theatre in Katoomba Street. It was an outstanding performance and brought out lots of hidden talents. The late Maurie Fields of national fame, was one of the participants. It those days he was known as Maurie Sheil. If memory serves me, John Swadling, Tom Porter, Barry Ford, Peter Westoff, Don Foy and a fellow named Buchman performed along with others whose names I’ve forgotten. [Website Editor’s note: See CONCERTS page for full details of this performance.]
Who could forget Br Virgil who taught us Science? “The Prof” as he was dubbed, really had us in, because of his teaching methods, unusual experiments and more to the point his “TICKLER”. He used to carry it in his pocket and would produce it on occasions and give us a demonstration of its use – always on himself. The tickler consisted of a number of long leather bootlaces that were knotted at intervals along each strip and tied together at one end. Similar to a cat’o’nine tails without a handle. To my knowledge it was never used on any student, but we were all aware of it. We had panic stations one day when a Bunsen Burner suddenly shot out a huge flame. We all abandoned ship until the problem was fixed.
Br Virgil was a tough – physically – old man. He had a little finger missing from one hand – can’t remember which one. He informed the class that in his schooldays in Ireland the students played a game called “Knuckles” between two boys. One hand placed behind the back, the other formed into a fist. Standing face to face they would strike their fists together until one player gave in. His little finger was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated. He did not tell us whether he had won or lost! One lesson he gave us was a demonstration of his tough knuckles by rapping a clenched fist on a desk top leaving the indentation of the bent knuckles in the desk top. He was a great story teller of his early days.
Br Alban was our first Sports Master. He was a very agile man despite his build. We had never played any organised sport until we went to St Bernard’s. “Albo” had a great ability to impart his knowledge to very raw young lads. I remember him playing me in the centres and telling me “When you get the ball run like blue blazes”. He was great with boys who had problems. No doubt this was one of the reasons he was transferred to Boys’ Town at Engadine.
We also had Br Lewis who was known as “Fog Horn” because of his deep and very loud voice. Br Florence, known as “Flo” followed. He was a big strapping man, who was a gifted sportsman. He was the first person that we ever saw kick a football for goal in the round-the-corner style. He also had a tremendous punt and drop kick. Rumour had it that he would have been picked up to play for Australia had he not joined the Brothers. He was a very good cricket all-rounder too.
We used to walk to Katoomba Oval for Cricket and to Katoomba Showground for football and athletics. Because of the War and few men to fill the cricket teams around the mountains, St Bernard’s fielded a team in the senior competition. Br Patrick and Br Florence were members. “Paddy” was a great opening batsman.
Jack Chegwyn, a former State player, brought a team of International and State players to Katoomba. Several of the College team were selected to play in the local team. Some of the players I remember were Bill O’Reilly, Sid Barnes, and Jack Fingleton. The latter opened the innings and hit my first ball for six. I think he took pity on me later and gave me his wicket. We got thumped!! The pitch at Katoomba Oval was malthoid and not of great assistance to young bowlers. Bill O’Reilly gave a demonstration of accurate spin bowling. He places a coin on the pitch and it did not matter where it was sitting, he dropped the ball on it - truly remarkable. The Visitors gave us lots of encouragement and great advice. Sid Barnes was the other opening batsman, so you can gather that it was a long while before the first wicket fell. It was a tremendous experience from which we all benefited.
Our footie teams were inexperienced in the initial stages. We improved as time went along. Games against Katoomba High School were always a tussle. They had a big winger named Owen Bradford and he was marked by our Kevin Regan, who was a very strong defender. Many the time Owen was bundled into touch. Lithgow High School was a tough team. Springwood Grammar School would come to Katoomba and we played Rugby League. The return games at Springwood were Rugby Union.
Our greatest game of league was against Homebush High School at the Sydney Cricket Ground, as a curtain raiser to the Grand Final between Newtown and North Sydney. It was a record crowd for a Final. Our game finished up a two all draw.
Another game that comes to mind was when we travelled to Surry Hills and played De La Salle College on Redfern Oval. It poured rain all day. I cannot recollect the result of the game. However an incident occurred when we went back to the school for lunch. It continued to rain and we ate our lunch in shelter sheds that ran along the boundary walls of the asphalt playground. One of our team charged across from one side of the shelter shed to the other and he dropped a sandwich which was trodden into the muddy surface by other lads racing back and forth. I happened to look towards the front gate and observed a skinny, bedraggled, very wet boy, five years old, peering around the corner. He spotted the squashed muddy sandwich, and when he though no one was watching, re raced into the yard, grabbed up the morsel and stuffed it into his mouth as he was running out the gate. That made a great impression on me and I vowed I would never waste any food. That promise has remained with me since. The result is obvious!!
There is always a jokester in a school. There was one in our class named George. Somehow he found out that Br Michael used to visit the toilet at a certain time each day. There was some painting going on about the school and George discovered that some paint matched the toilet seat. When the right moment came, George managed to get in and give the seat a coat of paint. It caused some consternation. To the best of my knowledge the culprit was not discovered.
On another occasion, during the May School Holidays, a Retreat for Day Boys was organised. It was a three day episode and the dorms were utilised by the visiting lads. During one night a few smokers slipped out to have a puff. Ager they had gone out one joker filled a dish with very cold water and placed it near the door. Br Lewis was on duty and he was heard approaching. The smokers made a dash – somehow missing the dish – Br Lewis didn’t. His foot hit the edge of the enamel dish, tipping it up and throwing the cold water all over him. That “Fog Horn” voice really sounded. Everyone sat bolt upright in bed, most of us wondering what had happened. The culprit was not discovered but he whole dorm did penance!
I always felt that the feature of the week was the College Mass in the Chapel. It I concentrate very hard I can still hear the massed students singing. The effect that it had on me was the feeling of friendship between Boarders, Day Boys and the Brothers. We were all geared to the one theme – the Glory of God, and as a young lad I was proud to be part of the celebration. It was the birth of the College Spirit that grew stronger over time.
I remember a lot of students for different reasons.
Mick Stollery from Lithgow was a great all-round sportsman, generous natured and would always assist the younger lads. He taught me to play handball and guided me in athletics and cricket. We spent a lot of time together training for the Blue Mountains Carnival. It paid off because I won the Broad Jump – which was unexpected. A chap named Weldrick was favoured. I think he was from Penrith High School. I also won the 100 yards – only because Mick Stollery, who was a stride in front of me, lost his left running shoe at the 75 yard mark, throwing him out of step. It was the only time he lost such a race.
Guss Sullivan from “Cowga Station”, Bogan River, Gongolgon via Burke introduced us to Country and Western Music with his guitar and singing. He could relate some great stories about Aboriginal Stockmen and their wonderful ability to track man or animals. Many funny incidents that occurred in the outback made good listening and brought laughter to all who heard his telling. Gus was a real country boy who had feeling for the land and its people.
There are lots of names that come to mind but I would be here until Doomsday writing about them. I cannot recollect any differences between students in the classes I was in. It was good to see Dick Austen, who was from Lithgow, at the recent dinner at Katoomba RSL. It was years since we had met. He has achieved much since 1944. It was also good to see Geoff Woolfall and Keith Greig.
I was not a very good student at school, but I have the utmost respect for all those who were and what they have achieved in their lifetime. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the De La Salle Brothers for their dedication, abilities patience and common sense. The education I received was not only academic but also practical, teaching me the value of respect, honour, trust, neighbourliness, participation, thoughts for others and many other aspects of life. The common sense approach has been of value to me during the past fifty six plus years. I thank God and my parents for giving me the opportunity to attend St Bernard’s College Katoomba. The greatest education was the appreciation of the Catholic Faith, the sacrifice of Holy Mass and the power of prayer.
Thinking back, I remember well our first College Chaplin, Fr Troy, a Marist priest. He was interested in all aspects of the College, the Staff and the Students. We often had a yarn when down near the handball courts. His residence was adjacent to the courts, and he always had a story with good advice.
What a great boon was the opening of the Tuckshop. I remember Mrs Manktellow and Mrs Dunk and how they looked after all the boys. Many a cream bun was consumed!
St Bernard’s closed in 1966. It never ceases to amaze me that so many former students still maintain contact and attend the various functions. One can still feel the strength of the College Spirit that was created in those early days school Masses. As the years pass and our numbers are less, that Spirit seems to have grown stronger. Each function I attend I experience that old affinity that exists between the De La Salle Brothers and the former Students. The motto “Sola Nobilitas Virtus” lives on in the halls of memory, and one can almost hear it echoing through the building in Merriwa Street. I thank God for St Bernard’s and the people responsible for its establishment. It must have been a sad day for all concerned when the doors closed for the last time.
Some memories are as fresh today as when the incidents occurred. The time has come to cease forthwith and hold my peace. Cheers and best wishes. Remember that “Virtue Alone Is Noble”.
75 YEARS AGO IN 1941 - CONTRIBUTOR - D J (JOE) TULINSKY (ex-student from 1941 onwards and Old Boy)
How time flies!
Seventy five years since SBC was established. Looking back over the years it was a sterling effort by Br Benignus and his allies to build the college.
Think of all the financing, council approval, purchasing building materials, hiring labour (bricklayers, plumbers, drainers etc.). All the sundry furnishings for the college interior spaces. Times were hard in the early 1940 era, but it was amazing how the building progressed and was completed towards the end of 1941.
I was enrolled in SBC in 1941 by Br Alban who came knocking on my parents door and performed the required paperwork. Br Alban was a tireless recruiter canvassing the Blue Mountains area for students. Students were taught in St Canice’s School while building progressed on the college. Approximately eleven boarders were housed in a cottage at Merriwa Street and were frequently visited by day students to participate in board and card games.
I still vividly remember my teachers— Brothers Patrick, Michael, Virgil, Mark, Alban and the subjects they each taught. Not forgotten is the work done by Br Adrian in supervising the construction of the college project with his crew and Fordson Tabletop Truck. These wonderful men steered me on the right path to manhood and I am indebted to them.
I have met many wonderful people during my school years but will not name them as it may cause embarrassment. I still have fond memories of my 'Alma Mater’ and will plagiarise the words of an eminent Prime Minister and say, “I did but see her passing by, yet I’ll love her till I die”.