Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anniversaries Jubilees and Memories

One of the realities of living through middle age is the regularity of anniversaries and jubilee celebrations. Some of these include family jubilees of weddings, anniversaries of deceased relatives and the diminishing experience of long service with the same employer.

In recent years I have celebrated  the 50th anniversaries of my Baptism (1953) and  First Communion (1960)  More recent jubilees include the  40th anniversary of my Confirmation (1963) and Year 12 graduation (1970) . I can also add to that list the 40th anniversary of my first interstate plane flight (1964) and I can probably lay claim to the 45th anniversary (1964) of my first visit to a pub as a young newspaper boy at the now demolished Oriental Hotel in North Geelong

This weekend there have been celebrations for the foundation  at my old primary school, St Patrick's in Geelong West 100 years ago. My brothers,my sister and I were the second generation from both our parents families to ago to primary school at "St Pat's". If I count in the various cousins, the name Robertson is well and truly etched into the history of this parochial school.

My memories and images of those formative years are grounded in the joys and hopes the grief and anguish of the human experience. Now with hindsight I look back at those days with mixed emotions.

My primary school days were spent in the last years of Pope Pius X11 prior to the impact of the Second Vatican Council. When I began my primary education the names of Bolte and Menzies dominated the Victorian political scene. Local and world events of the era have been etched  in my memory. In 1960 I shared the communal anxiety of the news of  the kidnapping of Graeme Thorne. I can still remember the Melbourne Herald headlines in 1963 when the deaths of Kennedy, Mannix and Roncalli joined the lexicon of history. In 1963 my tribal connections to Geelong were celebrated with the VFL Premiership win and in my Grade Six year (1964) the Beatles Tour captured my imagination.

In the midst of social, political and religious upheaval my primary education was  formed in the sectarian world view in which we were not encouraged to form friendships with the local kids at Ashby Primary School. which was the Protestants school. I cannot remember any of the major world events being discussed or raised apart from the death of the Pope and of course the legendary Daniel Mannix.

St Pat's was founded by the Sisters of Mercy The women, lay and religious, who taught me provided me with the basic three Rs and for good measure threw in the "catholic R of religion" with its mix of rituals, doctrine and tribal loyalty.

As part of the jubilee activities the school invited past students to submit answers to a questionnaire  which proved to be a great tool for reflection on my time as a primary student. As I gathered the memories and responses to the questions I discovered a few key insights:

I remembered the love of music and singing that I gained from days when every teacher played the piano. The school was part of a vibrant Catholic parish in Geelong West where we were introduced to great contemporary choral singing with a young organist, Roger Heagney.

 I also recall my first introduction to ABC radio through its school service broadcast via the old speakers which hung over the class altars.

I can  reflect back now on the racism that permeated the school culture of the time. As I look over the names of families we mixed with there was no-one from the migrant group of WW11 European refugees..We had no introduction to the Indigenous history of Geelong..

As a young Catholic lad I never questioned the fact that  girls could not get time out of school to make pocket money as altar servers by serving at funerals at the parish church.

I wondered why our recreational times at school were segregated with the boys having access to the back paddock with a cricket pitch and the girls given a nice asphalt covered yard with basketball rings

In Grade Six we knew something "big" was happening when we were kept behind after class to practice the texts for a new English Mass which would change the way we worshiped.

I look back at my First Communion  group photo and realised that the sisters who spent hours preparing us for this event were  left out of the picture when the big day came around.

The names of many of the kids in this photo are forgotten in the decades of lost connections. Among them is a young Lexie Brooks who would join the Sisters of Mercy in their mission in Pakistan.

There are 53 kids in that photo and most of us spent our primary days in the same room year after year until the boys left after grade six and  girls had an option to stay on for grade seven.The women who taught us were gutsy to take on such a task. One of those  women, Miss Carroll was one of those legendary single women who taught two generations in a lifetime commitment to St Pat's.

The Centenary celebrations  are a moment of nostalgia which reminds me of where I have come from and  how my current choices have been informed by values good and bad which were part of my time and culture. May the spirit of wild Patrick stir the hearts of past and present students to be adventurous, and  seek the divine in life.
Post a Comment