THE RAILWAY JOURNEYS OF A BOARDING SCHOOL STUDENT - Contributor Michael Casey (was Clarke) (ex-Student and Old Boy)
Clairvaux and St Bernard’s 1955-1959
I remember arriving at Central Station with my mother on my very first day. It was like that scene out of the first Harry Potter movie. All the kids and their parents and the Brothers. I’m sure one of them was Bro Eric. I don’t remember any more of that day except putting our suitcases away in a special room they had for them at Clairvaux.
There was always quite a lot of excitement going back to St Bernard’s on the train. Sharing comics, (which were often confiscated by the Duty Brother) telling your mates what you had been up to and what movies you had seen etc.
There was a lot more excitement on the build up to the school holidays, at least when I was at Clairvaux and because we were younger I suppose. There was this one time, the bus taking us to the station was going through the gate and there was Bro Eric and Bro Jerome waving us goodbye. I am 100% sure that Bro Jerome was crying, or close to it. Anyone who had any experience with him would know he was one tough man!
One holiday, I don’t remember which one it was, night time walking down the platform towards the engine you could smell roasting meat?? All was soon revealed as there, on the front of the engine, were the remains of a cow. It did get quite a few comments!
The Biggest Train Adventure
My biggest adventure was at the end of the third term in 1956. I had received a pogo stick for my 13th birthday which had caused quite a stir at school when I returned from the previous holidays with this pogo stick. They did take a bit to get used to them!
I remember there were a few of us students had to wait in the Ladies’ Lounge at Central as a few trains did not depart until quite late.
My instructions were to get off the train at Maitland to see if my mother was there and then get back on the train with her. Plan ‘B’ was if Mum wasn’t at Maitland I was to continue on to Greta, where I’d be met by Mum. The train I boarded was The Northern Tablelands Mail which back then went all the way to Glen Innes. We left Central at 9pm on the dot. It was hard to stay awake until 1.30am when I arrived at Maitland. As instructed, I detrained to see if I could see my Mother, but I took too long looking and the train left…without me!
There were no buses or any other way to get to Greta so the only choice I had was to walk…it was only 11 miles after all! So, off I went with my little Samsonite case and my pogo stick over my right shoulder. I wasn’t concerned or anything like that. I’d walked about 4 miles and only seen a few cars at that time of night. Then about 2.30am, along comes one of Greta’s 2 taxis with Mum and my Grandmother. They were very relieved to see me. They were worried sick when I did not get off the train at Greta and realised I must have gotten off at Maitland.
The taxi driver, Austin I think his name was, thought it was hilarious! He said it looked like I had got a bleedin’ 303 over my shoulder. I finally got to bed at 3am.
When I arrived back at school my adventure was good for a few laughs. Mine wasn’t the only adventure that time. Another student, Robert Priest who was a year behind me and a good mate of mine lived at Cootamundra and he was woken up at Condoblin by the train’s Conductor!
A Mob of Emus and a Mystery
On one trip going back to school, interestingly enough at Emu Plains, we saw a mob of Emus running through the bush quite near the train. It was the first time I had seen them in the wild.
On another trip home for the holidays we arrived at Katoomba Station to catch an early train to Sydney which was a first for me. We were all surprised to see a shiny new stainless steel single decker train pull up. It was a vast improvement on the old steam trains and their carriages and it was a much faster trip to Sydney. From Central to Newcastle we were on the midday Newcastle Flyer. Another first for me.
We were about 15 minutes from Newcastle when the conductor came up to me and say those two mates of yours are going to be in trouble. Bernard Proudlock and Dennis Lehman were in the carriage next to mine. I don’t know what it was all about but I asked Bernard about it some years ago and he had no memory of the incident.
THE LITHGOW TRAIN RIDE BY DAY BOYS 1943-1944 - Contributor Dick Austen (ex-student and Old Boy)
The Brown Joey’s ran St Pat’s (and very well too) at Lithgow. Their program seemed to peter out at the end of second year but sometimes they carried a handful of students through to the ‘Inter’ at the end of third year. This resulted in a significant leakage of boys to the local High School.
When St Bernard’s opened in 1941 it provided the first opportunity for Lithgow district boys to stay within the Catholic system through to the Leaving Certificate. I believe Michael Stollery enrolled as a boarder that year and the next year 1942 was joined as a boarder by Bill Baaner and as day boys by Ray Vought and Vince O’Brien.
By 1943 the group had grown considerably. Ray and Vince were joined by James Hickey, Kevin Clement, brothers Brian Woodhouse and Colin Woodhouse, Ray? Bestic, Pat Quealy, Jimmy McCready and yours truly.
Train No 18 departed Lithgow at 7.55 am each day and took about an hour to reach Katoomba.
The thrill of that journey remains with me. Although the loose foot heaters sliding around on the floor offered little comfort in winter time it was to me a most enjoyable experience. The Beyer & Peacock 32 Class locomotives (we knew all about these things) used for this service were fitted with a most tuneful chime whistle – it would sound precisely at 7.55 am – concurrently there would be a great rush of steam as the driver purged accumulated condensation from the cylinders and the train would begin to glide out of the station. But the best was to come.
The train was moving quite well as it passed through Eskbank the original station five hundred metres up the track and continued to gather speed as it faced up to the climb ahead. That came soon enough. In less than a mile the sounds changed. Instead of the clipped one two three four the puffs began to lengthen and we knew that the driver was gradually turning his big wheel to lengthen the valve stroke to admit more steam to the cylinders. We were on the Zig Zag deviation and needed to climb to the top of the Blue Mountains plateau a vertical lift of about 250 metres in about six kilometres.
As we passed the last few houses in Oakey Park and the earthworks and bridges of the original Great Zig Zag reached high above us the valley closed in like a giant roofless cathedral. The smoke and steam went shooting hundreds of feet into the sky as the sound reverberated back and forth across the narrow valley in the frosty air.
Yet there was still more excitement to come.
In the winter months outside the train the temperature would be below freezing and soon the train would enter the most westerly of the ten tunnels. The tunnels are of varying length but it was the space between them together with the deep cuttings leading on to Clarence that became our principal interest. It is here that the pure magic occurs. In winter there are places that the sun never reaches. This is the land of giant icicles – where the water seeping out of the rocks freezes – where large sheets of ice form – and where giant elephant tusks of ice hang from the ledges and overhangs. It is pure magic.
As the train made-up at Lithgow we needed to leave home about half an hour after daylight in June, July and August to ensure that we had plenty of time to secure our chosen seats. Home work had to be checked and sometimes completed – sometimes a game of euchre had to be finished as well.
In the main we were an orderly lot but that’s not to say that on occasion we didn’t get up to mischief. Our favourite practical joke was to distract a victim while an accomplice would turn his bag upside down on the rack and undo the catches. This was very effective if the victim could be distracted until the train was pulling into Lithgow station at the end of the journey.
Jimmy McCready was the exception to all that. He was a man of great courage – we were all convinced that he would be a famous fighter pilot, a world ranking stunt man or even a winner of the Victoria Cross. We had an unspoken agreement to try to look after him, to try to head-off his extremes…but it was very difficult.
Going to school on the morning train was to ride in some form of splendour – that train was one of the better carriage sets on the NSW system. Coming home was a game of chance. Sometimes a good set or on occasion an old set of dog boxes would appear but mostly the afternoon train was made up of plain suburban type carriages with no frills at all and having roll over seats. Jimmy discovered that some of them were so arranged that it was easy to begin the process of rolling the seat but to stop the operation mid-way and produce in effect a table of sorts. He further discovered that a window in line with this table could be opened and provided an operator had reasonable balance the said operator/stuntman could lie on the table and slide part of his body in and out of the window.
The first time he attempted this trick reduced all of us to stuttering wrecks – we had no appetite for this kind of entertainment. As he practised his movements and became more daring he realised that we were in his power. I recall that on one occasion we decamped to another carriage because we could not stand the pressure.
All in all going to St Bernard’s was a wonderful experience for me and I treasure the two years spent there and going up and down in the train each day.
THAT RARE BREED (The Train Boy) - Contributor Richard Merchant (ex-Student and Old Boy)
St. Bernard’s was a cosmopolitan school drawing students from an international base as well as serving as the local Catholic Boys High School but a small group of travellers struggled to reach the school each and every day. From the east we came from as far away as Glenbrook and from the west, Blackheath and even Lithgow. In my case, in the first 18 months or so, “Stumpy” (the school train) left around 7.15am to arrive at Katoomba around 9.00am. Then followed a 15 min walk (full uniform, including hat) and slip into classes, which had already started. I remember doing homework on the train, so we must have been well behaved!
The afternoon train was a horse of a different colour. I must explain something here: the contingent of train boys was about a dozen (give or take) and while the morning train was semi-open compartments the train home came from Orange and the accommodation for St. Bernard’s was two adjacent closed compartments, the juniors and the seniors. Every (most? some?) one of the seniors would grab a junior and hold a court in their compartment. I can’t remember anyone ever being hurt in these episodes, but I do remember a payback episode when the senior’s area held one lone soul and 4 juniors held court behind closed doors. When the ticket inspector (a “snapper“) flung the doors open & turned the lights on, the rumble evaporated and the rest of the trip was shared (and quiet).
One unspoken advantage that the train boys enjoyed was their exclusion from detention. Trains were not as frequent then so even if the whole class had to stay, we had to catch our normal train. I remember two occasions when the train boys were singled out for special attention. The first was spontaneous while the second showed precision planning on the part of a recently departed much loved, acting headmaster.
To the first - picture a despondent group arriving at the station to find the winning school bus held at the railway gates and rocking from the victory chants and school songs. It was too much – someone pulled down balloons and streamers and it was on! The driver refused to open the door, fearing a riot so we all helped denude the bus, only stopping when someone remembered the hold up was probably our train. Gee it was a great trip home (all for free & free for all).
The second was this - over night it had snowed and Katoomba copped a bucketing. The train boys fought every inch of the way down Lurline Street around past the Clarendon turned into the driveway leading into the back of the school (at whatever time) to be met with a well constructed barrier manned by well armed boarders and organised by a ruthless commandant. We were obliterated but it was a measure of Bro Leo’s character and his love for the students.
I share these incidents in the hope it might jog others and help us all remember what it meant to be a part of the College above the snow line in the beautiful Blue Mountains.
DOGS AND KITTENS - Syl Noonan (ex-Patron, ex-Student, Ex-Committee and Old Boy)
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!