Cooma-Goulburn NSW 1958-62

Setting up in Cooma NSW

At the beginning of 1958, we had a blue Ford Custom. car

Dad, mum and a lot of siblings drove from Sydney to Cooma.

We travelled at night because it was hot.

The car broke down at Michaelago - half way between Canberra and Cooma.

Dad had to wait until dawn to get help from the local farmer.

Sometime later we ensconced ourselves in our new home at 108 Bombala Street. It was a rented 3 bedroom home, fibro built with a cast iron wood fuelled stove and a small lawn at the front. The household was less two:

  • Maureen had been working for some years now and stayed behind in Sydney.

  • John was off to St Patrick's College Goulburn as a Fourth Year border.


The home was on the outskirts of the town. The surrounding district was treeless. Yet Sam, Greg and I occupied our time wandering the hillsides and riding our bikes into the distance. We played war games, cowboys and Indians and frolicked in the creek bed several hundred yards away.

Locals warned us not to swim in the creek. They did not say why. Probably it had to do with the inadequate sewerage system in the town burgeoning with migrants and northerners attracted by the prospect of work with the Snowy Mountains Scheme.


Cooma was a very multicultural society. I remember reading a newspaper article about the local public high school rugby league team. It commented that it consisted of over 75% of the team being born overseas and went on to demonstrate how the game was part of the assimilation process.

My friend next door was Jackie - he was an Italian. He was the go between for me meeting a Ukrainian girl for whom I was keen.

Our other neighbour was an English lass - Pauline. She was wild. She threw a handful of 0.22 bullets into a camp fire we had going down the creek - talk about how to break up a party.


Nuns - not so Nice

Being catholic, I was enrolled in the local convent co-educational school.

I was pleased - girls!

But I got off to a bad start with the Nuns. We were playing softball. A Nun was batting - she Struck Out! "Like General MacArthur, I will be back" she said as she relinquished the bat.

"Oh yeh! let’s hope it is the Philippines" I said.

I was on retention and on the slippery slope to castigation.

Boarding School – Goulburn NSW

Mum and dad independently realised that being taught by Nuns had its limitations.

Mid term, Mum & Dad suggested to me that I join John at St Patrick’s College, Goulburn.

St Patricks College Goulburn Original building. My bed was next to large window - top floor

Well it was not a suggestion it was couched in the terms of "would you like to go ... but you are going"

Induction

Saint Patrick's gave me a "Social Compass" in the five years I was there.

I was aged 11 going on 12.

Because I came in the middle of the term I was at a disadvantage in terms of the social pecking order. I had to make do. There were some benefits. I had my own bed and an ample supply of blankets. It was nice to go to sleep in a dormitory environment. I do not know why but it was pleasant.

One night I went sleep walking. I woke up downstairs in the assembly hall. Sheepishly I scuttled but up the stairs and to my bed.

To be out of you bed after lights out was a "No" "No".

Unlike the De La Salle Order at Kingsgrove, contact with the Christian Brothers Order was 24/7.

Mass every morning; religious Instruction at lunchtime and Rosary in the evening as well as night study.

It was brainwashing - indoctrination.

Sam had nothing like this back home. I wished I was there - a big fish in my family pond.


Bashings & Sadists

The Brothers were like a box of chocolates - "Ya neva know what ya gonna geeeet!" (Forrest Gump).

One brother was nicknamed "Simba" - named after a character in a Saturday Night movie.

Simba was about the Mau Mau movement in colonial Kenya where the local terrorists attacked the settlers with knives and hatchets.

In First Year, now aged 12, I was brutalised by Simba.

It was the end of one period-beginning of the next. So there is some time for movement stretching and chatter before the next Christian Brother walked into the class room.

My "offence" was that I was smiling.

My seat was at the back diagonally opposite the door. I was furtherest away from him.

Simba rushed across the podium and down the aisle, grabbed me by the throat/collar (popping a pearl co;oured shirt button) and manhandled me to the front of the class and then started flaying into me.

When he finished I somehow got back to my seat and spend the whole period with my head bowed trembling in shock.

Simba went on with the lesson not missing a beat. The whole class was in no position to remember the stupid lesson - they also were in shook.

John Mackay (from Sydney) who sat next to me said he thought Simba had knocked out my tooth.

John went on to become a priest. I would like to meet up with him.

Perhaps John knows where Simba now resides.

I would not want financial restitution or bash him. A simple apology would do.


The funniest situation did unfortunately involve a bashing.

Each morning immediately after Mass, the boarders would file into the dining room for breakfast.

Silence was mandatory. Everybody had to stand still. The Brother supervising would wait until there was absolute silence and lead the assembled in saying Grace. (Jesus Christ! We just wasted an hour at mass - praying)

The slightest pushing of a chair would reverberate in this chamber made of hard wood flooring and stone walls .

Brother English was in charge this morning. (He died two or three years later of heart failure - he is buried up in the college's cemetery).

This young kid (named Dudley Cook - from Cooma) had a firecracker - it was a huge bunger.

To while away the time he lit a match and started playing brinksmanship with the wick.

He lost - the wick was alight.

Bang!

Given the acoustics of the room the noise was deafening.

The offender was easily singled out. He was the speechless dumb arise with smoke cordite and shredded paper in his hair.

After recovering from his "heart attack" Brother English flayed into this boy - viciously.


Brother Mazorini was nasty. He was the principal and chose to get "involved" on big occasions.

One night after "lights out" and we were just dozing off, the lights went back on again.

He must have got this trick from the Gestapo.

Mazorini stage managed for himself to be standing in the middle of the dormitory with a list in his hand and his army cadet Major's baton under the armpit.

"I have here a list of all the boys who have been smoking.

I want those boys involved to stand in the isle and drop their PJ pants" he demanded.

About 30 boys obeyed - yes me included.

He started at the top and whacked each one of us - once; He then repeated it five times.

The sadistic thing is that each repetitive smack intensifies the pain. The backside has many blood vessels. Being whacked makes you black and blue.

Today it would be a case of criminal assault that this "prick" got away with.

For the next week at shower time we all had fun comparing arses.

The white arse blokes were the wimps!


Thinking back, the list must have been fictitious.

I too have used this ruse to ferret out malevolents.


Simba was fond of the strap - a 12 to 15 inch of leather strip with lead sewn inside.

Thinking back I would say that most kids respected the odd teacher who did not use it.

Another Brother Zoro would stroke my leg/knee when explaining a math question.

I simply thought he was being friendly.


Army Cadets

The school participated in the military cadet program. It was post Korean War and given the surplus of military hardware - mortars, six pounder Howitzers, Lee Enfied rifles, Vickers machine guns, webbing, clothing etc kitting up the school to Battalion Unit strength cost nothing.

Two weeks annual camp at Singleton army facility was fabulous. But a big NO for the discipline of cleaning, polishing and parade ground marching back and forth.

Mazorini, the sadist. enjoyed keeping us to attention in the bitterly cold Goulburn for extentended periods - just to toughen us up.

Being an accolate of B. A. Santamara, an Irish Catholic anti-communist journalist, he organised for the Vietnamese ambassador to inspect the 1962 passing out parade.
One of
Tran Vam Lam's nine children aged about 12 was a border at the school - so he accepted the invitation.
There was a political implication. Tran had just negotiated for the first detachment of Australia's military contribution the
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam AATV which departed that year.

While presenting arms as he passed by, I pondered "where the hell is Vietnam?".
Perhaps a question on the minds of the other 350 hapless souls behind me who soon had to run the gauntlet of selective
Conscription to the armed forces.


Sport

Sport was, however, the best thing about St Pats.

There was competition so you were forever testing and bettering yourself be it gymnastics, swimming, cricket, rugby, athletics, cross country.

I soon realised in comparison to my peers I was not speedy but better in strength and endurance sports.

Fights and the Tiger

I only had three fights - all occurring in Year One.

My first fight was against Gary C (Shell Harbour).

It was about nothing. If we both had our time over again it would never have happened.

Well there we were - behind the handball court - squaring off not backing down.

Each one equally terrified.

On that day I met the" brawler" in me. He said "get in first".


The next altercation was not exactly a fight. It was Saturday Night - Movie Night.

Kids get excited and were in the lockers getting spruced up.

Getting spruced up meant putting on your best social clothes - not uniforms.

It was a form of liberation. Some 50 or 60 boys were in the common locker room getting ready for the movies. It adjoined the shower block where there was a mirror area.

I was taking my time combing my hair in front of the mirror.

Next to me was Michael C.

Michael was part of the push - the "In crowd".

For some unknown reason this cretin walked over and messed up my hair.

...a back wheeling pulverised Michael C. ended up inside an open locker.

The only reason I stopped was because I could not get at him in that position and by this time other boys were holding me back.

I felt ashamed about myself losing my temper. I went for a walk outside in the dark near the open gymnastic area. I was so despondent.

I saw Ray B (from West Wyalong) approaching me.

He was the Leader of the Push. I got ready to defend myself.

"Well done, Paul. That smart arse deserved that", he said.


I remember having another stupid fight with Gus R (Gunning).

I walloped him - same principles of engagement.

But the next year Gus grew about six inches to my two and put on lots more weight.

Luckily the fight was about nothing and he held no grudges.

In fact we became good mates.


Sometime later I got my nickname "Tiger".Not from fighting but from Rugby.

I think it was Simba who made the remark and it perpetuated even at Northern Suburbs rugby club in Canberra and with early co-workers in Dept. of External Affairs.

The Food

There was never enough food. The more affluent had food parcels sent to them. If the parcels contained Vegemite, honey or peanut butter this would be put on the table and demolished in a day. At each table there were six boys - the head of the table was a final year border. Once "Grace" was said we sat down and fed ourselves on bread and butter until the main meal was served. Each table had a slab of Norco butter. Five of the boys - not the head - each had a daily turn at defining the grid lines for sharing the butter into six. The head always had first pick then selection rotated until the person dividing the butter had the last lot. Extreme care was therefore taken to divide this "gold" as equally as possible.

The bread was always fresh. Because of this it made us fart terribly. We tried to do this at Rosary time - just for a laugh.

The main meal was meat and a white milky mash potato. Dessert was usually a doughy cake lathered in a yellow creamy sauce. It was sweet and filling - for a while.

There was the Tuck Shop. Kids could buy cream cakes, lollies and pies from endowments sent by parents. The endowments were in the form of cheques which would be honoured at the local bank which visited the school once a week to hand out money and take in cheques all within a savings passbook system.

The first cheque I received from Mum bounced.

So even I was one of her many victims. I feigned ignorance with the teller but walked away embarrassed. I never asked for tuck shop money and preferred to be in a permanent state of starvation.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon there was afternoon tea - a cup of black or milk tea together with one biscuit. Two boys were picked at random to supervise the allocation and of course there was always the supervising Brother. Once finished, the boys had to put everything away including the boxes of biscuits. It was a plumb task because you could take biscuits and put them in your pock without the brother seeing.

I got caught by Simba doing this. This time he was not in a rage and proceeded to give me six of the best. Tame stuff to what he had previously dished out.

Home Trips

John Maureen Paul Babe Greg Sam Sue Jen

It was becoming evident that things were not so smooth on the home front.

Dad was not as friendly towards the migrants referring to them as "wogs" and "dagos" who undercut him for haulage tenders.

John refused point blank to go back to Goulburn.

He got a local job with an American company catering to the mining contractors.


In May of 1959 Maureen got married to Terry Miners in Sydney.

I officiated as an Altar Boy together with Terry's brother, Peter.

Afterwards was a hell of a shindig - My favorite Aunty Al leading the group.

Babe went to New Guinea - to a Missionary School - I think???


At Cooma, the lease on 108 Bombala Street was not renewed.

The seven of us were now camped next door in a caravan and building a home on a vacant block. Those kids that could not fit in the caravan slept in the Ford Custom.


Dad had set up a trailer consisting of boggy wheels on which two Rolled Steel Joist "RSJ" H frame girders sat fixed at the end with a turn table for instant connection to a prime mover (truck) - see later description.

Dad, John, Sam and I spaced out lumber along the length of the RSJ; braced them; and then commenced on the sides; top and floor boards.

In a week we had a weatherboard building on wheels ready for transport by road to the Four Miles outside of Cooma on the way to the mountains.

I don't remember when we put in the windows - before or after the trip.

We lowered the building down onto a brick foundation site on a ten acre lot.

It was instant house from the outside, but no trappings such as gyprock and insulation on the inside.

It was hot in summer and freezing in winter.

We were back to the 1900's in terms of water and sewerage.


I went back to boarding school and returned home at term breaks.

Dad was eaking out a living driving a mobile crane a Polo Flat.

Mum seemed to behave herself while he was home.

But the arguments were one sided, intense and alcohol fuelled.

Sam joined me at St Pats in 1962. It was good to have him as a "partner in crime".

There used to be these School Sunday outings by bus to some religious festival or whatever.

Sam would join me in playing truant.

Like commandos we would furtively get lost behind lines of sight and scamper to visual blind spots along the boundary of the school - as if it were a prison break.

We would then stroll around the township only to return at dusk - naturally at dinner time. We were never missed.

Perhaps looking back Dad was sending us to boarding school so in a sense he was protecting us from the troubles at home. I knew they were having trouble financially and there were always letters of demand from the bursar about unpaid school fees.

My concern for Mum together with the knowledge that we were in debt to the school has its effect on me ... I failed the 1962 Leaving Certificate examinations.