Name: Margaret English, pictured below at 91 years old wearing her St Mary's badge
School Enrolled at: St Mary’s College
Year Attended: 1947 - 1948
HAPPY REUNION ST MARY’S COLLEGE!
These are my cherished memories of St Marys from 75 years ago!
In the Atherton Tablelands, Nth Qld, where I was raised on a Dairy farm, my Dad drove to the post office in town one day in the 1940’s to collect the mail, and THE letter had arrived! I read it leaning over my Dad’s shoulder excitedly.. “Mother Superior would like to gladly welcome Miss Margaret English to St Mary’s College, Charters Towers”. My parents needed to send me to boarding school as there were no high schools in my area at the time until later years.
I was excited, scared and “homesick” before I left home! I didn’t even know where Charters Towers was! Mum travelled with me by train to Townsville and out to Charters Towers where we were met by a Sister of the Good Samaritans, who warmly welcomed us and showed us around the school and where my dormitory room was…and Mum and I soon waved a very tearful goodbye - I didn’t see my parents again for six months - on school holidays.
St Marys and Charters Towers was truly a WHOLE NEW WORLD to me! SUCH A CROWD OF PEOPLE, and ALL STRANGERS! I felt lost and lonely, but was soon surrounded by many new friends. Those friendships grew and we all quickly learnt the “ropes''! I remember some advice from the day students to us boarders - that we should “back answer” the nuns, and “don’t take whatever they dish out to you, you have to answer them back!” I’m glad to say we didn’t usually take their advice!” There were lots of new rules …some strict….but all for our own good! Like if we wrote a letter and gave it to a Day student to post and we were found out we would be instantly expelled from the school.
Our days would start at 5 am when the bell would ring. We all used to hate that morning bell! The Sister who would sleep in her own little room, who kept watch on the dormitory, (80+ beds) would wake us by ringing the bell! As we woke she would soon lead us in morning prayer, then we dressed and made our beds and shuffled off to breakfast for Uncle Tobys oats! I remember Francis and Mary (kitchen staff) made our breakfast!
Each day we would attend mass at the Chapel and also visit the beautiful Grotto surrounded by ferns whenever we wished to visit there. Many of us had corns on our knees from kneeling to pray on the hardwood planks (no padding for kneeling in those days) but we offered it up for God and He always heard our prayers! The Mass was said in Latin and we had turns who would serve the mass (Offertory), there were no altar boys that I remember as St Marys was an All Girls School! We didn’t know what we were saying in Latin and I only remember a few words or sentences now, but Mass was a special and sacred time and I remember us singing a lot.
I was in the choir and I also learnt to play the violin with a small group of friends at school. I particularly remember my friends, Kathleen and Josie Funnel’s beautiful singing voices (they would later in life sing at weddings!) Once a week there would be a short Benediction service too, at night time. I still remember the musty incense smell through the air!
May was dedicated “Month of Mary.” We would decorate the Altar at the Chapel with beautiful flowers that the Groundsman, Fitzy (as we knew him) had tendered to all year and also flowers were bought in by day students - Roses, Zinnia flowers, Gerberas, maidenhair ferns…looked beautiful! Usually each night after dinner we studied until 9 pm and then evening prayers and then bed! The nuns would come through and check us and sneak up on us sometimes! They learnt to hold their Rosary beads out from their pockets so we couldn’t hear the Beads jingling on their hips as they walked. So we couldn’t always hear them coming and if we were caught doing anything we shouldn’t have been doing, we’d be told off - told we were “BOLD DAMES!”
A few Sisters I remember were Sr Pierre, Sr Anthony and Sr Hermangilde. They were dressed in the usual Nun’s Habit /Veil and looking back now I don’t know how they survived the INTENSIVE HEAT of Charters Towers dressed in all that! Big petticoats too. No fans in the rooms in those days, no air conditioning and no pool!
I remember my friends and I were hungry sometimes at St Marys but not because of the lack of food offered - we just missed our mother’s home cooking!! There was enough food served but sometimes, we thought it was HORRIBLE! So we ate bread and butter and jam a lot! One Sister had the job of slicing all the bread by hand (no sliced bread in those days.) We all sat along bench tables together to eat and sometimes if we didn’t like the food served we would pass our plates to the girl next to us, and then they would pass it along…until it got to the last girl at the end of the table - so that they could throw it OUT THE WINDOW next to them! We hoped a dog would eat it! But word got out….one day a Head Sister came in to talk to us about how we were throwing food away! She said, “Stand up anyone who has been throwing food away”… and we all looked at one another and we ALL stood up…NOT ONE sat down! Now that’s loyal friends sticking together!
I still remember our joy and delight in eating our delicacy - bush lemons! A day student Joyce Hart visited her Uncle who lived nearby and sometimes a few of us were given (written) permission to go with her! Her Uncle had carrots growing…I remember we’d pull them up and eat them right there and then in front of him! And he had a lemon tree…we used to take a salt shaker with us whenever we visited and salt and eat the lemons - pith, peel, everything! We loved them! The Mt Carmel boys would sometimes throw lemons over the school fence too as they walked by, and Cincee apples and tamarinds. They were great treats! Once,my friend Monica McDonough climbed up a tree in the grounds to “pinch” the fruit, and a Sister came walking and talking nearby, so Monica had to stay up in the tree waiting for her to leave so that she wouldn’t be seen …and it was VERY HOT!
We had big inter-school sports competitions with the surrounding boarding schools - there were 9 schools I think. We walked a LONG way in the hot sun I remember! We used to watch the boys playing football at Mt Carmel sometimes too. We all had to choose a sport to play at St Marys. I liked basketball and tennis. I remember Sister Hermenegilde, accompanied by a boarder, had the job of going around at night painting the Tennis Court lines white again, ready for the next day’s use!
On Saturday mornings we had chores including “painting” our sandshoes (joggers) we wore for tennis, with water-based white paint with a little foam brush. Saturday mornings was our weekly hair wash day also! I mostly disliked the school work just like most teenagers! I studied “Commercial Studies” - shorthand and typing. I liked learning typing and later my first job was as a typist in Brisbane! One of the biggest highlights of the year was meeting up with the Mt Carmel BOYS …we had one or two social dances a year….and we couldn’t wait! We had little to no make-up or cosmetics to use, but we would literally PINCH our cheeks to make them look blushed and if someone was fortunate enough to have lipstick we would share it with about 20 friends! Out of our uniforms and into pretty dresses our mothers had bought for us. We were all so SHY of the boys but soon thawed out, and had GREAT fun dancing! Wonderful times and memories of St Marys.
Just as the song goes, “Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end…” When I returned home to my hometown after St Marys I felt lonely and lost again, without my school friends around! We made friendships to last our lifetimes. My close friends, twins Iris & Mavis Mills from Townsville, Mary Goddard, Kathleen and Josie Funnel, and Doreen Shultz who was from a cattle station out west, and day student Margaret Horan. Trusted friends…for over 70 years! Many have passed now but I will always remember and treasure them and where our friendships began! They were tough days sometimes but also some of the HAPPIEST DAYS of my life and I am grateful for my time at St Marys and especially the Spiritual guidance by the Sisters of the Good Samaritans!
HAPPY MEMORIES at the Reunion, meeting up with friends again!
Thinking of you all there and I am celebrating with you!
God bless you all!
Margaret is second front from the top, second from the right. This image is from 1947.