Book of Me: Prompt 9 -Halloween/Hallowian

Book of mePrompt 9 for the Book of Me is all about Halloween, which is appropriate given that it occurs in week 9 of our project. This will be a traditional event for many of my fellow bloggers, however Down Under it’s been a non-event until quite recent years: another commercial opportunity or just fun for the kids? I’m so cynical.

Julie’s questions were: Have you ever participated in a Halloween event? When was it? Where was it? What did you dress as? Trick or treat? My answer to each of these is “no”.

So my first thought was to pass on this week’s prompt but wait, there’s a lateral solution.

The Story Bridge is part of the school's geography and student memories.
The Story Bridge is part of the school’s geography and student memories.

Our good friend Wikipedia has an answer to what Halloween is all about. It celebrates the eve of All Hallows or All Saints, the day when the Christian churches remember their saints.  It also records that the celebration  initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.

The front altar of the All Hallows' Chapel

The front altar of the All Hallows’ Chapel

This is much more familiar to me for a number of reasons. It was always traditional in our house to go to Mass on All Saints’ Day (1 November) and also on All Souls’ Day (2 November) to remember all our family members who had died and gone before us. Actually this makes All Souls’ Day a pretty good feast day for family historians to celebrate. No particular year stands out because going to Mass was just one of those things you did on a weekly (or more regular) basis.

All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day is also important in my family history because I went to a school called All Hallows’ in Brisbane, now in its 153rd year. In fact three generations of women in my family have attended the school over many decades and given its name 1 November was of course an important day in the school’s calendar. To be honest I can’t recall that we did anything exceptional on the day (it was after all shortly before our annual state-wide exams) but we certainly went to Mass in the school chapel. By the time our daughters attended the school it had become traditional for the whole school to have the day out having fun at one of the water parks in town.  I guess they probably also went to Mass in the chapel as well (must see if any of them remember)

The school chapel has an amazing atmosphere and without being spooky evokes generations of women who have worshipped there.

When I was at All Hallows’ the school’s quarterly newspaper was called The Hallowian and it was a more light-hearted reporting of what was happening in the school than the formal end-of-year school magazine.

I’ve been looking at old copies from when I was at the school and have been intrigued by the diversity of the stories from totally frivolous (and fallacious!) stories about the new prefects, in-depth social commentary, welcomes to the New Guinea students who had arrived to study there, and the usual mix of charity, drama, cultural and sporting activities. I was particularly taken with the stories about the school’s buildings and grounds, so now I’m scanning them for posterity (perhaps something for my time capsule?)

Interesting to see the ideas for holidays in the day. I used to skate at Mowbray Park ice rink.

Back to the more temporal celebration of Halloween, we were in New England one year in mid-November, and traces of Halloween celebrations in garden decorations or florist’s windows. That’s probably my closest direct connection to Halloween.

Happy Halloween to all my mates and Happy All Hallows’ Day to my fellow AHS students.

Pumpkins on a Boston doorstep 1992.
Pumpkins on a Boston doorstep 1992.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 45: High School: I’m a proud All Hallows’ girl

The topic for Week 45 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: High School. Describe your middle and/or high school. Was it a large or small student body? Is the school still in existence today? How has it changed since you went there?

The old, new and not-so-new: buildings at All Hallows' including the heritage building on the right edge and the red-brick building which had state-of-the art facilities in my day, and the concert hall, new in my daughters' days there.

Earlier this year I wrote about my high school, All Hallows’ School, because in 2011 the school has been celebrating its 150th anniversary. At the time I spoke about its critical role in my life and the importance of the teachers who taught me there. Equally important to attending this school, was my mother’s determination in ensuring I was accepted to the school even though my primary school was run by a different order of nuns. At a time when many working class parents either did not believe in educating their daughters to university level, or could not afford it, my father and mother committed themselves to making this possible….without this opportunity I truly believe my life would have been very different.

All Hallows’ is a reasonably large school with a student population of around 1000, which may have changed somewhat in recent years with a significant building program to utilise what is a restricted inner-city location. Inventive building strategies have been required to maximise the opportunities.

The Brisbane city skyline as I finished school: you can see the start of the high-rise construction..

What’s changed since I went there? In my day the teaching staff were almost exclusively nuns and when we passed them we would have to curtsy and say, ever so politely “good morning sister”. These days the teaching staff are mainly lay teachers but I imagine that the students still have to be as courteous.

Our dress code was much more rigid than it is today. In some ways the school has had a more “modern” dress style than many other private schools of the day (aka public schools in the British system). However in my day, wearing stockings, gloves and hat was non-negotiable and failure to do so would generate a severe reprimand. It certainly kept the prefects busy ensuring everyone was dressed to code. And in case any wayward girl shed her gloves or hat on the way home, there’d be bound to be an “old girl” who would happily report the misdemeanour to the Principal! There are even occasions when I’ve felt like doing the same (before overcoming the urge) when their bags etc are scattered around the Brisbane mall on a Friday evening.  They even have scarves to wear these days…how trendy ;-). Eating in public was a major no-no as people would apparently think our parents hadn’t fed us….not so today.

Brisbane's river view from near the school c2001. The area beyond the right of the image is dense with tall office buildings and high rises. The old Customs House stands proud in the shadow of the new Brisbane thanks in large part to the support of The University of Queensland.

We were equally restricted in our social interaction on the way to or from school. It didn’t matter whether the boy on the bus was your brother or the gorgeous creature (usually from Churchie) that you’d had your eye on for ages….there was to be no communication…not even meaningful glances. By the time my daughters went to the same school they had a repertoire of male friends whom they met on public transport to/from school. When they were at All Hallows’ there was a visiting group of Italian students on exchange at the school…the “interpersonal interaction” on the Terrace was enough to make the deceased nuns spin in their graves!

The Story Bridge: part of the school's borrowed landscape as the saying goes. The bridge has always been something of a character in the school's events and dramas including this year's celebrations. Where there was wharves and working areas are now high rise apartments and a hotel.

Another significant difference, too, is that in my time we had both boarders and a primary school stream. There was always a division of sorts between the boarders and day students as we had an independence that their restricted lives precluded. I believe that the primary school has recently been reopened. The primary school strand was closed first and some time after I left it ceased to be a boarding school.

Another major difference is the view from the school up and down the river as you can see in the photos here. Taken from slightly different places near the school you can see how Brisbane has mushroomed.

The school retains its emphasis on academic, sporting and cultural achievement as well as its focus on Mercy ideals and faith-based activities such as retreats or charity and support for the less-advantaged. On Bow Tie Day this year, one class of students collected $15,800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society from Brisbane’s CBD workers and visitors…that’s a pretty impressive contribution! I admit that when did something similar I was really pathetic at doing the collecting…left to my teenaged self they’d probably only have raised $15.80!

Brisbane, the River City c2001 from near the school.

The style of the activities may have changed but I imagine in many ways, it would be perfectly possible for any “old girl” to slot right in. What remains for many are the bonds formed between these teenage girls as they progress through high school and into the wider world, and the knowledge that women can be independent and successful…however each young woman chooses to define it.  I doubt, too, that there’d be many of us who have forgotten the spiritual presence of generations of women that you feel in the school chapel. No wonder it’s been such a success since they opened it as a wedding venue.

If you missed my earlier post , I’d love you to read it in conjunction with this story.

Happy 150th Birthday, All Hallows’ School

All Hallows' School badge and crest

This weekend my Alma Mater, All Hallows’ School (AHS), has celebrated its 150th anniversary. This may not seem much to those in the northern hemisphere but it remains one of Queensland’s oldest schools. The school was established by the Sisters of Mercy, led by Mother Vincent Whitty and five young nuns, who arrived on the Donald McKay with Bishop Quinn in 1861, having had only FOUR days to prepare for this amazing journey around the world. I read, to my surprise, that one of the nuns on this voyage was Sister Mary Benedict, the name of my own excellent science teacher in the final years of high school. The Sisters of Mercy hold as one of their precepts, service to the less advantaged, and in fact the school has always had a diversity of pupils. The example of the nuns has always included one of role modelling strong women’s leadership.

While the school is often thought of locally as a school for the wealthy or in the vernacular, a “snob” school, this is definitely not the case. My family is/was definitely not wealthy yet three generations have benefitted from the wonderful educational opportunities provided by All Hallows’.

The facilities have always been avant garde though perhaps they would not choose to describe them this way. Cutting edge language and science laboratories and a reference library were among the resources we had at our disposal. Of course there was always a strong emphasis on culture, music and theatre ie the art of being a young lady. I wonder how many schools produce their own classical music vinyl record? Unfortunately I was never talented at music though I notice a photo on the school’s pages of our senior year play includes one of the Shakespeare play we did. Of course there were also all sorts of strictures on appropriate behaviour which could generate an enormous kerfuffle when they were breached eg eating in public, not wearing hat and gloves etc.

View over All Hallows' from nearby rental accommodation.

However I can honestly say that my four years at All Hallows’ were a critical and wonderful part of my education as well as a pivotal part of my life’s experiences. Retrospectively I’d like to thank all those nuns, and they were pretty much all nuns, for the superb education they gave all of us. In particular Sr Mary Benedict for her excellent teaching in science and Sr Mary Borgia for German, even though science took precedence. Not to mention Sr Mary Marguerite, the school’s Principal during my era, who could bring you into line just by looking at you and not even raising her voice, but who was always incredibly fair.

I haven’t mentioned the religious elements of our education but for me that’s encapsulated in one thing. The atmosphere in the school chapel can send goosebumps up an “old girl’s” arms: the place is redolent with the spirits of generations of nuns and pupils past and present and is a truly special place.

The front altar of the All Hallows' Chapel

So many memories: friends’ birthday morning teas, cousins, parades, charity work, sports days, theatre outings, ecumenical events, oh yes, and learning. Of relevance to no one who hasn’t “lived” there yet with its position above the bridge and the river it has been part of Brisbane’s history for nearly 150 years (the first school was near the present cathedral). My own AHS-related memories include two of my earliest family history colleagues with whom I shared and learned research strategies and discoveries.

I’m proud to be an All Hallows’ girl  as the boarders’ song goes, though for me the school anthem, Angeli Archangeli is more emotional:  it’s bizarre how quickly the Latin words come back to you.

Oh, and for those who know Brisbane, no, the school walls weren’t built by convicts.

A true story of the Irish in Australia aka Not Just Ned

The foyer of The National Museum of Australia.

This week I have been lucky enough to have two visits to the Not Just Ned exhibition in the National Museum of Australia, one on my own and one with Shamrock in the Bush.

The supplementary title of the exhibition is A true story of the Irish in Australia and it is a reasonable claim: a wide diversity of objects and images are included which represent much about Irish life and culture in Australia as well as the influence of the Irish on Australia’s development and culture across all the states and territories.

While each of us will have our own favourites, the items which form my Top 10 (no, my Top 11) were varied:

  1. The sea chest belonging to orphan girl Mary Hurley who arrived on the Thomas Arbuthnot from Gort Workhouse in Galway in 1849.
  2. The chest plate given to the Yandruwandha people “for the humanity shown to the explorers Burke, Wills and King in 1861”. Lost in the desert (rather like the explorers), this wonderful cross-cultural item was only found by chance as recently as 2001. Quite an amazing story!
  3. The St Vincent de Paul Poor Registers for St Patrick’s parish in The Rocks with its sad reference that owing to her destitute circumstances “3/- (was) to go Mrs Whalan so she could go to the Newington Asylum”. Or that the members could not (would not?) visit Mrs Little at 95 Gloucester St “as it (the street or area?) appears to be of bad repute”.
  4. The tragedy of Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross winner, Martin O’Meara, who was awarded the medal for his valour in the battle of Mouquet Farm, only to return to Australia in 1918 and spend the rest of his life in a mental asylum.
  5. Listening to extracts of letters read from the wonderful book Oceans of Consolation in the sound chairs on iPads in the story circle. This is one of my favourite books so I thought this was wonderful: technology combined with research literature to bring the immigrants’ experience to life.
  6. The amazing depth of knowledge, skill and commitment shown by the different orders of nuns who contributed to the education, health and welfare of many Australians, not only those of Irish descent or those of the Catholic faith.
  7. The South Australian “equal voting rights” petition with 11,600 signatures instituted by Mary Lee from County Monaghan.
  8. The beautiful “Currachs” art work by Kiera O’Toole.
  9. The astonishing survival of the jaunting car which escaped the Victorian bushfires.
  10. The laundry table found on Murndal station: a mundane household object but on closer inspection the underside of the boards retained the address for Pratt Winter, care of Portland Bay. It had been made from his shipping containers/packing boxes.
  11. How, oh how, did I forget the wonderful Rajah quilt done by the women on the voyage to Australia in 1841…so much more interesting and inspiring than those annoying Kellys!

An example of an Hibernian sash.

At a personal level there were a number of items with direct relevance to my own life experience and personal history:

  1. The mannequin with the Children of Mary cloak and veil reminded me of my teenage years when I was a member of this society and would go up to the church in full regalia. What the non-Catholics in the neighbourhood thought of our strange customs remains a mystery. It also brought back memories of Corpus Christi processions at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds when the Catholics of Brisbane would fill the oval in an overt and semi-defiant declaration of their faith.
  2. At the Corpus Christi processions there were also large contingents of men from the Hibernian Australianasian Catholic Benefit Society (HACBS) wearing their sashes and my grandfather was always among them, as he had held many positions within the North Qld regional executive. A similar sash, for the society’s National President, is presented in the exhibition alongside the leadlight doors from the Queensland Irish Association.
  3. In the same area of the exhibition is a display on Archbishop Duhig with a focus on the proposed Holy Name Cathedral in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane, an ultimately doomed plan with the site now taken over by inner city apartments. Duhig’s centenary ring is on display and my husband and I reminisced on how, after the Archbishop’s death, we both went with our respective schools to pay our respects during his public lying-in-state in the Cathedral prior to the funeral. We had to process past the open coffin and kiss his ring, a rather freaky experience I must say but perhaps not as much as for me as for my husband whose school went in the evening with all the candles flickering. The photo of the Archbishop visiting my high school in 1959 also brought back memories of his regular visits during my time there.

At Shamrock in the Bush. Dr Val Noone challenged us to reflect on the exhibition, its significance to an understanding of the Irish impact on Australia and what might be included in future displays of this sort.  As with regular family history research, those of us with working class Irish ancestors need to seek the traces of their history in the objects and stories but their contribution lies overtly or covertly in so many of the stories. The National Museum is to be commended for its contribution to our social history through this exhibition which has been of such great interest to so many of us. Richard Reid, senior curator, the team of other curators and conservators, and many other collaborating researchers, are to be congratulated and thanked for their assiduous work in tracking down the diverse array of objects and presenting them so effectively for our enjoyment and learning.