Marist Brothers Darlinghurst OBUMore Memories of Darlo Dayze 1958-1967
By a Defrocked Altar Boy
As this year marks 50 years since the Class of ’67 left the sheltered environment of Darlo and ventured into the real world clutching the first ever HSC, vague memories of those long ago dayze between 1958 and 1967 come seeping back through the shattered remnants of those super charged brain cells the Brothers equipped us so well with.
Darlo to me was a bit like Disneyland combining Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland all set in Sydney’s “Golden Square Mile” home of the Texas Tavern, the Bourbon and Beef Steak, the Stadium, Tabu, Les Girls, and the Pink Pussy Cat with locals such as Perce Galea, Abe Saffron, Bea Miles, Tilly Devine, Carlotta, Rosaline Norton, Bumper Farrell and visitors to Kings Cross, including the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. Cardinal “Bluey” Gilroy occasionally visited Darlo with his beaming smile and welcome declaration of a half day off to mark the occasion.
We all grew up in Retro Sydney, a city of red rattler trains, toast rack trams and double decker Albion buses, where Police raced around in Triumph motorbikes with sidecars, Black Mariahs and later Mini Coopers. Most intersections had no traffic lights and were manned by coppers with white pith helmets and big white gloves, directing traffic like an orchestra conductor. Taylor Square had an underground toilet where occasionally strange men in overcoats offered you ten bob to go into a cubicle with them. Shops around Taylor Square and Darlo included a bat winged door wine bar, the Sip and Bite café with the big Neon sign, affectionally known as the Sip and Spew, Sargent’s pie shop, the big news stand outside the Flinders Hotel, Zink’s tailors, still there with the same black glass and chrome Art Deco front, Kinsela’s Funerals, now a hotel, Nicholas fish shop and Waltham Dan’s disposal shop which was an Aladdin’s cave of ex Army bayonets, uniforms, radios, Spitfire dash boards, helmets etc stacked to the ceiling. Also rumoured to be in the nearby lanes and in Palmer Street were “knock” shops where presumably you could buy door knockers which everyone needed in those days.
Other local landmarks included the Supreme Court and opposite, the Court House Hotel where, at 15 I had by first beer and a double rum chaser, nearly knocked me unconscious. Fraser and Hughes menswear (still there) where as a hopeful apprentice cutter, and fitter of Levi jeans for ladies, I was made redundant at 15 by an electric knife. Technology strikes again. Back to school I went to upgrade my Intermediate to an LC. Devastated by the news we had to do an extra year at school as the LC was scrapped and the HSC introduced by some fiend called Dr Wyndam, obviously a fellow traveller of Dr Gobbells. An extra year at school…..like being given an extra year in jail after a long sentence when parole was in sight.
Our mothers and fathers had grown up during the Depression. They had lived through and in many cases, served in World War 2, a midget Jap sub had torpedoed HMAS Kuttabul at Garden Island, 15 minutes’ walk from Darlo and killed 22 Royal Australian Navy sailors. Some parents were survivors of war torn Europe including Italy, Austria, Poland, Russia, Ireland, as well as Hong Kong and other remote and distant lands who came to Australia for a new life. Joe Pruscino was born on the boat on the way to Australia from Italy. Maybe he is the original “boat person.”
We came from Paddington, Kings Cross, Bondi, Maroubra, Turramurra, Botany, Kirrawee and other suburbs all over Sydney. In 1958 Sydney’s tallest building was the AWA tower where the velvet voiced and debonair Howard Craven wooed the housewives with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin songs. Any ladies not feeling well were advised to have “a cup of tea, a BEX and a good lie down,” and Dr MacKenzie’s Menthoids could fix anything. Radio serials such as “When a Girl Marries” chapter 2,643, for all those in love and all those who can remember were all the go before John Laws and Alan Jones.
We used Brylcream (a little dab’ll do ya) or Californian Poppy to keep our hair looking good and you could bet “London to a brick” our Dads listened to Ken Howard and Frank Hyde on 2KY on Saturday afternoons calling the races and the Rugby League while smoking Craven “A” cigarettes and drinking Reschs DA also known as “Dirty Annie”.
Starting at Darlo in 1958 at the age of 8, I caught the tram from Botany, along Botany Rd, past Mascot Airport where the Super Constellations flew in and out, to Taylor Square. Walking past the old Darlo Jail, where life drawing classes could be glimpsed through the large, top storey windows facing the northern sun above the high stone walls. I decided I would become an artist. Arriving at school I met Robert Woog, Dennis Coleman, Dennis Casey, Peter Clark, Bernie Walford, Pat O’Carroll, Des Quinn, David Hare, Ron Gojdycz, Laurie Portelli and many other third class mates, all wearing our grey suits, long sox and Blue and Blue ties. Our teacher was a kindly Brother Ronan who was also an excellent artist and during the year, drew every boy in the class and gave him the drawing. I still have mine. Not sure if Brother Ronan (as in Ronan Keating) did the life drawing classes at the old jail. A few years later I met him when visiting a mate’s place. He had become Ned Kelly (as in the bushranger). He was still a nice man but no longer a Marist Brother.
After school with not much homework, we listened to the radio serials, PK O’Malley and Tarzan. If we were lucky enough to have a black and white TV, we watched Popeye cartoons, Superman, the Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and Zorro as well as the 77th Bengal Lancers, perhaps sewing the seeds of my military career. For the first few years of TV we watched a silent TV through the window of an electrical shop in Botany dressed in our pyjamas and sitting on boxes from my Dad’s grocery store a few doors away.
Every class had a Marist Brother teacher in those days with the kindly Brother Demetrius as Headmaster. He reminded me of Pat O’Brien (or maybe Spencer Tracey), the priest in charge of Boys Town, with scoundrels like a young James Cagney to look after. Perhaps this film was based on Darlo, with the school, jail, court house, police station, hospital, numerous pubs, knock shops and Kings Cross all in close proximity.
In 1959 our 4th Class teacher was Mr Steve ”Patience” Gould, an imposing elderly lay teacher who said he could wait all day for an answer but usually applied the cane to encourage our memories if we didn’t answer within 3 seconds. Mr Gould was a World War One veteran with one arm and one leg, both lost on the Western Front when he was full of rum during a “hop over” attack against the German trenches. He was at one time NSW Champion One Arm Golfer, who I occasionally saw hopping into the surf at Bondi on his one leg. Steve had the quaint habit of getting us to recite our tables with our hands clasped on top of our heads. He stood behind us with the ever present cane which he carried under his arm like an RSM’s swagger stick. Miss a table and the cane came crashing down on your knuckles.
As a gesture of kindness, Steve didn’t mind if you pulled your hands away when you heard the descending swish of the cane which of course landed on top of your head and you saw stars unless you moved your head to the side and then the cane nearly too your ear off. Steve probably learned this technique when interrogating German POWs. We all became very good at our times tables. Steve was father of Bob Gould of Gould’s Bookshop and one-time seller of Mao’s Little Red Book.
Speaking of stars, Bernie Walford became our first class member to achieve fame when pictured on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald sitting on his idol Danny Kaye’s knee. Danny was visiting Sydney for the first time. Both Danny and Bernie had grins from ear to ear.
Our 5th Class teacher was a kindly old white haired teacher named Brother Cuthbert who occasionally was ran across the desk tops, cane flaying like Errol Flynn’s sword in the movie Robin Hood, chasing down some wrong doer to administer justice the Darlo way. Brother Cuthbert called me aside at the end of the year and said I had done very well in the exams. I asked how well and he said I had scored 499 out of 500. I asked did I come first, he said no, second, Robert Woog scored 500 out of 500, again. This result convinced me the academic world was not for me so I decided on joining the Army when I finished school. I would join the cadets in 1st Year and learn all the tricks so I had a flying start in the Army. Unfortunately, when the time came to join the cadets in 1962 and each year thereafter, I, along with one other boy in the class, was deemed unsuitable for the cadets.
Sixth Class saw us under Brother Samuel, a very tall, broad and lean man who cast a big shadow and was very capable with the cane when needed. First year saw us ascend the hallowed spiral stair case to the first floor under, I think, Brother Walter who in actual fact was a recruiter for Bondi Surf Club. Many of our class joined the club but unfortunately, by that time I had moved to Mount Colah, just south of the Queensland border, so travelling to Bondi was a bit of a marathon. Until recently I had an occasional beer with Brother Walter at the Beach Road hotel where he lived in retirement nearby. He had mellowed a little with age.
Brothers Bonaventure, Damien, Peter, Patrick, Redmond, Ian, Cloman and Mr Wylie, Mr Moyce, Mr Gawne and Mr Hovanessian all feature in my hazy memories of secondary school. Maybe it was the increasing levels of testosterone which affected my memory. I remember Des Qiunn, perhaps in 2nd year, receiving 12 cuts of the cane (a severe and rarely awarded punishment) for some major but long forgotten offence. He didn’t flinch once during this administration of summary justice. Whilst returning the cane to the classroom next door the wind caught the door, slamming it and breaking some of the coloured glass panels. Told to go back and get the cane again, Des walked out of the classroom and never returned. I heard he later joined the Navy. I hope he did well in life, he was a good Darlo friend.
Class Retreats at Kensington Monastry were an occasional event at Darlo designed to see if you had the “call” for the religious life. As I regularly got 100% for my Religion exam, largely due to knowledge gained in my long years as an Altar Boy at St Anne’s at Bondi, (before being defrocked due to some discrepancy in the Poor Box takings which I was responsible to collect and count), I was selected to attend a special retreat at around 15 designed to confirm the “call” and possibly head off to a noviciate at Springwood to complete my education there. Memory of this Retreat is a little hazy and possibly I am confused with my study of military retreats such as Napoleon’s and Hitler’s retreats from Moscow. Perhaps Paul Chandler or Sam Vassallo could assist my recall. However we were again teamed with the St Vincent’s girls segregated on opposite sides of the chapel and received instruction from an imposing Monsignor, who I understand was a very senior priest, who looked not unlike a recruiting sergeant in the Army.
Having taken the vow of silence for the week we were at the Monastry we were released into the lovely gardens for solo prayer and contemplation and to listen for the “call.” Selecting a quiet spot behind a large grotto with views over trackwork at Randwick Racecourse I was just lighting up a Salem cigarette when a St Vincent’s girl’s voice asked, “have you got a spare smoke?” There goes the vow of silence. We were smoking and chatting about what makes the world go around when the Monsignor discovered our secluded spot and bellowed “the devils work here, begone ye disciples of Satan”. That was the end of the Retreat for us and the end of my potential religious career.
The kaleidoscope of memories from those helter skelter school dayze include the kindly ladies of the tuck shop who would give you a corned beef and salad roll for lunch if you had no money because your Dad was out of work during the “Credit Squeeze” of 1961. Col and the ladies also ran the Neilson Park kiosk where we had our School Picnics.
Sport on Thursday afternoons at Moore Park, Waverley Oval or Rushcutters Bay Park. Rugby League, Cricket, Swimming and Athletics. Swimming Carnivals at Coogee Aquarium where years before a captured shark had spewed up a human arm. Our good sportsmen included Frank Jackson, Dennis Casey, Dennis Coleman, Fred Spano and Frank Cahill. The Eastern Suburbs Knockout Comp was on our calendar and one of our coaches was Jimmy O’Brien, father of Jimmy and Terry, who I think was a Tail Gunner in Bomber Command during World War 2. They lived in a terrace house at 166 Boundary Street Paddington. We had a memorable trip by overnight train to Lismore to play the Marist School there. The ref called us City and Country. We weren’t at our best as someone had a bottle of rum on the train to fortify us against the cold of the train journey. Perhaps this was Steve Gould’s influence when he told us of ANZACs having rum before going into battle against the Hun had achieved glorious victories. The rum didn’t work for us and we were beated in a close fought match by the “Country” side who had the Ref on side. I guess it was a bit like Gallipoli, where, despite the powers of rum, victory eluded us and the most successful part of the campaign was the evacuation and the train ride home sans rum. I am told having detailed memories from our childhood is a sign of Old Timers ’disease or a wet brain contracted during the monsoon season in East Timor whilst stuck in a bar for long periods waiting for the rain to stop.
Our introduction to the mysterious female species was via combined school dances with girls from Saint Vincent’s’ College, Potts Point. We had dancing lessons at an upstairs studio in Oxford Street with a couple who were friends of Carlu Carter and Bill McGrath, Australia’s answer to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Our school dance partners were, I think, picked by ballot conducted by the brothers and nuns. To minimise the dangers of too much fraternisation with the female species, for most of our dance lessons we had fellow Darlo boys as partners while we learned how to waltz, do the Pride of Erin, quick step, foxtrot, salsa, rumba and last Tango in Darlo. Marlon would have been proud. I think we were introduced to our selected partners at the final lesson prior to the school dance. Held at the St Vincent’s school hall, I met my selected partner, escorted by her parents and little sister at the door of the school hall and said good night to her in the same location.
This was a little more formal than the meeting we had with girls at Surf City, Stomp City, John Henry’s Suzie Wong’s and Smugglers discos around the same time. I have vague memories of glimpses of Dennis, Ron, Steve Schmidt, Eddie K and other Darlo mates across darkened, crowded, noisy rooms filled with smoke with some featuring spinning mirrored balls like American Speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties. The music of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Elvis, Chubby Checker, the Trogs and the Beach Boys at full volume compliments of the DJ who was always surrounded by girls. Most of the disco dance floors were bordered by large, old Deco style lounges, probably donated by the local St Vinnies shop so you could rest between Twisting and Stomping. Drinks were jugs of highly priced fruit punch which was probably fortified with vodka or barcardi to kill any germs in the glasses.
The years dragged on and eventually we sat the long awaited HSC to then go our separate ways in life, me joining the Army six weeks after leaving Darlo. Unfortunately due to many factors such as the diversity of our chosen paths, pressures of modern living, the demise of the school in 1969, ill health and death, generally our class did not keep in touch regularly or in large numbers. The Old Boys Union did a great job over the years of trying to keep us connected by organising annual dinners at the Catholic Club, Rugby Club and other venues. I attended a few over the years but usually only a handful, if any, of the class of ’67 showed up. The next few years were eventful and at times traumatic for Australia.
The end of 1967 saw the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, disappear at Cheviot beach while swimming with some young ladies after promising Australia would go “All the way with LBJ,” something the St Vincent’s young ladies didn’t do for us. January ’68 saw the Tet offensive in South Vietnam beamed into our lounge rooms and the start of the anti-war protests including pouring red paint on diggers marching past Sydney Town Hall in a welcome home parade. No more welcome home parades after that until 1987. Gough almost won the 1969 election and did so in 1972, finally ending our involvement in Vietnam and National Service. I wonder if any of our class was called up? Careful reading of the large poster at Mount Colah railway station advised all 20 year olds had to register for the National Service ballot. The only exemptions were those in jail, insane or in the Army. I avoided the ballot by joining the Army at 18. Irish logic. To my Army friends, being a red head, I became Blue because there were already nine recruits called John in our platoon. Australian logic.
For those classmates of 1965 and 1967 who have made contact and are attending the Reunion Lunch, wonderful to be in your company once again. For those we have lost contact with, I hope life has been kind to you. For those teachers who educated and guided us in our transformation from boys to men, thank you. For those Old Boys who shared some of our years at Darlo between 1958 and 1967, thank you for your company. For those Old Boys who have passed on, your apology for non-attendance today is accepted. May you rest in peace.
For Kym and his Committee, thank you for keeping the Darlo Old Boys going during times of adversity.
Thank you gentlemen and fellow Old Boys of Darlo.
Servo Fidem and Nil Desperandum.