A great learning experience

Joeys is at the forefront of contemporary education, but what was it like in the 1960s and ’70s – a turbulent period in Australia’s history? Brother Michael Green studied at Joeys from 1967 to 1972 and was a member of the College staff between 1979 and 1986. He has since been a teacher and headmaster in Marist schools across Australia, and served as the first National Director of Marist Schools Australia. Here he remembers his life as a Joe Boy and the valuable lessons he learnt at College during a time of great upheaval.

Of my first visits to Joeys I have no memory. I was in a pram and a nappy, and probably more interested in my next feed than anything else that was going on. I am told, nonetheless, that I gurgled with delight when the First XV took out the GPS premiership in 1956, the year that every cup and trophy contested by the AAAGPS found itself in the SJC trophy cabinet. I do know for sure that I was at the College earlier the same year at the blessing and opening of the new swimming pool because we have the family home movie to prove it. It has been lifelong for me, the College family.

Above: Coach Br Michael Green with the 13As in 1984.

There are two things, it is claimed, that a Joeys boy never forgets: his laundry number, and the boy who was in the next bed on the first night. My number was 554; and Terry O’Hanlon was adjacent to me in Dorm 7. And next to him was Trevor Knapman from Gunnedah. I had known Terry for several years; we both attended Marist Brothers Mosman and we had been regulars catching the ferry and bus together to the match of the round on Saturdays at the SCG. Trevor also became a good friend. As did so many others. More than half a century later, they are friendships that endure. Whenever we gather, even if it has been some years between drinks, conversation picks up as if we had seen each other just yesterday. Most readers of these pages would know exactly what I mean.

Two years before commencing in First Form, as it was then called, I have a clear recollection of my enrolment interview with Brother Elias (Charles Howard). He had spread out on the floor of his Headmaster’s office plans for a new teaching wing, and new senior accommodation block. The building projects were to cost over a million pounds, he told us, which he said in such a way that suggested that this was more than the entire national debt. Two years later, in 1967, we were the first students to move into those classrooms. Perhaps the debt was proving a challenge to pay off, because external cleaners for the rooms couldn’t be afforded and we were all rostered for cleaning duty.

At cadets, we wondered naïvely why our precision-drilled Passing Out Parade attracted long-haired, flower-powered, Moratorium protesters on the streets outside The Park. 

Above: The new teaching wing, and new senior accommodation block in was opened 1967.

Recalling the images and activities of five decades ago, there is much that seems quaintly anachronistic: boaters and scarves; attending chapel most weekday mornings; days ordered by the sound of a hand-tolled bell (the bell-ringer open to bribes); tab-collars and hair as long as we could get away with; clandestine excursions to the HHH; cadets and spit-polishing of army boots. Cadets! Battledress and jungle greens; teenagers with loaded 303 rifles; woollen great-coats; fighting a proxy Vietnam war at the annual Singleton camp; wondering naïvely why our precision-drilled Passing Out Parade attracted long-haired, flower-powered, Moratorium protesters on the streets outside ‘The Park’. Another time.

Some of the teaching of our College years – almost entirely done by Brothers, over 30 of them – was outstanding, perhaps most of it. Engaging, creative and rigorous, or at least I found it so. Some, it must be said, was less so, and some just missed the mark. It was also a confused time more generally both in church and society, a liminal time. But we did well. Extraordinarily well, as the records attest. We also learnt values that do not belong to any time, ones on which any decent society always depends – integrity, loyalty, hope, imagination, service and compassion.

Above from left: NSW Governor Sir Roden Cutler VC AK KCMG KCVO CBE, at the opening of the new senior accommodation block, Former Governor General Sir William Deane AC KBE (1947) and Lady Helen Deane with son Patrick (1986) and daughter.

It has been my privilege to have known so many of Joeys family – as friends, as colleagues, as confreres, as students and as parents of students – who have personified such traits. They have enriched my life. One of our giants, and a family friend, is Sir William Deane. I had the delight of teaching Bill’s son, Patrick while I was on the College staff. At a College dinner in the Emilian Hall – I think in the year of the canonisation of St Marcellin Champagnat – the Governor General was guest of honour and invited to deliver the occasional address. Champion of a more just and equitable Australia, he dared to open the potentially thorny question of how to justify the extraordinary resources that a school such as St Joseph’s enjoys. He presented this as an opportunity and even a responsibility, challenging his listeners to draw on the wealth of their education and experience to make a difference in their world. Perhaps this has always been the contribution to which Joeys has been called – that towns and regions, industry and commerce, the professions and the church, can all be fairer and kinder, more knowledgeable and skilful, more inclusive and enlightened, more principled and transparent, because active in their midst will be some SJC Old Boys working in small ways and great to make them so.

A key insight of Marcellin Champagnat, the founder of Marist education, was that the heart of education is the relationship between teacher and student. It is about the educator’s affecting young people through who he or she is for them, as a human being. Amidst all that is different about Joeys in this digital age, it seems to my observation that such an approach remains at the core of its culture. People such as Brother Elias – someone who never seemed to forget a name, nor the person who carried that name – would be applauding.

Above from left: Headmaster Br Elias (Charles Howard 1962-67), crowds on the sidelines at the Park in 1956.