BRUCE CAMPBELL’S TIME AT ST JOHN’S ORPHANAGE
I was eight years old when I went to the Orphanage. It was in September 1938 when my mother was forced to send me and my two brothers Don and Colin there. We were too much for her, the final straw was breaking windows in the Parish Hall using catapults. We stayed at the Orphanage until war ceased in 1945.
Mother Superior at St Johns was Sister Ligouri. A very nice lady. Other teachers were Sister Genevieve who taught the infants, she also taught drama and music to all the pupils. Sister Madeleine taught me for two years. I had to repeat sixth grade as I was too young to go to High School. I remember doing Algebra during the second year which gave me a good start at High School. Other teachers were Sister Colomba who told stories after tea. She would hold us spellbound.
We were cared for as well as could be expected during war time. For breakfast we had bread and milk or porridge. We were never really hungry. We had plenty of milk to drink as the Orphanage had a dairy.
During winter it was very cold as we didn’t have any heating and we wore “flannels” which were very itchy when new but cozy after a wash. We also had gloves and lumber jackets which were cut down from Army great coats. Most of us had chilblains as in winter it was very cold
Our beds were OK although they had to be sprayed for lice or bed bugs every now and then.
We had a gymnasium which was equipped with parallel bars, vaulting horse, punching bags etc. We would spend hours in the Gym, skipping and playing. Every Friday night we had boxing. You had to fight whether you wanted to or not. Other sports included Rugby, Cricket, Hockey, athletics and also marching’
On St Patrick’s Day all Catholic schools would march through the main street of Goulburn to Victoria Park where interschool sports were held. A highlight was the forming of a Giant Shamrock in the middle of the oval where all the children had either a green or gold pom pom which they waved, it was spectacular.
Most weekends we would go for a walk either up to the War Memorial or out towards Soolie Dam and we would come back exhausted. A regular walk was to the “Dam Paddock” that was owned by the Catholic Church and was situated about half a mile from the school.
I was about eleven years old and still at the Orphanage when I first started on the milk run. We were awakened around five each morning and helped in the dairy. They had a horse and milk cart which was shaped like a chariot where you could stand on the back. The old horse knew the run and would stop where you had to deliver milk. Before you graduated to the cart you had to deliver milk on foot. We would go in pairs and carry one two gallon and two one gallon cans of milk and a one pint measure. I can’t remember how many customers we served.
People were good to us. They would leave out something to eat, especially on Fridays. At several places cooked fish was left out. We would also give milk to any cat we saw. The cost of milk at that time was four pence for one pint. When we arrived back at the dairy we had to wash the cans.
Every year Sister Genevieve would prepare us for our end of year concert. She put so much work into it, every song had to be enacted. We would sing, tap dance, play mouth organs, swing dumbbells and act out a play. She had to organize the making of uniforms etc by local women then set up St Patricks Hall for the big night. We sold tickets while doing the milk run for two shillings each. (20 cents). The Hall was packed, total takings must have been around thirty pounds. ($60).
We made our beds each morning and each dormitory tried to outdo the others. We would stretch the sheets and blankets very tight then put on the quilt and pillow shams making sure there were no wrinkles. For a while I slept out on the veranda. It was beautiful. I could read Biggles by moonlight. Every Saturday morning Sister Genevieve would hand out soap, bees wax etc. so we could clean the floors. First we would scrub the floor then put on the bees wax to polish them. We had fun polishing as we would pull each other along on the old rags.
Father Favier, a parish priest from Goulburn, would drive his old ford car to country towns for people who were unable to attend Mass at St Peter’s & Paul Cathedral at Goulburn. He would take three or four of us and we served Mass as Altar boys with him.
On the 24 May was Empire Day and it was a big night for us. We all helped to build a bonfire that took us weeks having to collect wood from around the area. At that time it was legal to buy crackers. We had Tom Thumbs, Billy fingers, Bungers and rockets and more. We would get a big piece of fungus from a tree root, soak it in kerosene for a couple of days then light it and kick it around that night. Great fun!!!!!!
Sometime in 1941 Sister Ligouri told Don, Colin and me to go down to the Army Headquarters in Auburn Street where we would see our father. He was stationed there for a very short time.
The Orphanage had a Chapel where we learnt to become Altar boys. The Mass was said in Latin by the Priest and we had to respond in Latin so we had to study and we were taught by Sister Genevieve. When we became proficient we were able to serve as Altar boys at St Peter’s & Paul Cathedral. Even for the Bishop. As I said before we accompanied Priests to outlying areas around Goulburn. We also rang the enormous bells, we would dangle up and down on the rope. We had great fun.
We went for picnics out at Joppa which was situated about six miles out of Goulburn and we could run wild for hours. We had sandwiches etc. and tea was brewed in a 4 gallon kerosene tin over a log fire. Then home again by bus – absolutely exhausted.
On reflection, I now realize how very fortunate we were to be looked after by these dedicated Nuns at the Orphanage..
WRITTEN BY BRUCE CAMPBELL