San Clemente days, 1972-1975
After primary school at St Brigid’s, Raymond Terrace, I couldn’t wait to begin First Form (Year 7) at San Clemente High School, Mayfield, in 1972.
Catching a bus to school was exciting – really! – and on the first morning, the older sister of one of my classmates, Margaret Paul (now McCartney) who lived in the same street, came to escort me to the bus stop. I was wearing a bottle green box pleated tunic with fawn blouse, fawn socks, brown lace-ups and a green hat. In winter there were also brown gloves, until, I think, the end of Second Form when hat and gloves were no longer required.
There were two streams in each year, First to Fourth Form, and each home room was named for a Dominican saint. In First Form, St Dominic’s and St John’s; in Second Form, St Catherine’s and St Martin’s; in Third Form, St Peter’s and St Vincent’s and in Fourth Form, St Thomas’ and St Albert’s. I hope I’ve remembered those names correctly. The motto on the badge was “Veritas”.
The sports uniform was a green check tunic with a white blouse and white socks and sandshoes. The variety of sport was much greater than at St Brigid’s, including tennis, hockey, netball, swimming and athletics. A youthful Sr Elizabeth Hellwig had to move heaven and earth to be allowed to accompany students to the nearby Mayfield Pool.
There was great novelty in having different classrooms and teachers for each subject, and specialist rooms such as the science labs, art room and library. The library was fairly new, and the pride and joy of French teacher, Sr Virgilius O’Brien.
A highlight of each year was preparing for the celebration of St Dominic’s feast day on 8 August. Now St Mary MacKillop has supplanted St Dominic in Australia and the feast’s celebrated on 4 August. Each year there was a “”Miss San Clemente” quest, with a candidate from each home room vying for the titles of “Miss San Clemente” and “Miss Charity Queen”. The latter was won by the candidate whose class raised the most money for the Dominican missions – in the Solomon Islands? There was a sash and a photo on the steps near the ‘fairy dell’ for each title holder.
Swimming and athletics carnivals were breaks in routine and there was spirited competition between houses: Calaroga (now Caleruega) – red (my house); Siena – gold, Aquino – blue and Castile – green. The names of course commemorate places associated with the Dominican story.
It was always clear to me that the Sisters – led by Sr Philippa Jones in my day – were proud of the Dominican story and keen to pass it on to their students. They wore traditional habits: long cream dresses with a black belt and cream scapular (which they swept aside before sitting down) and black veils.
Each year Sr M St John Hewitt – a fearsome character - staged a musical. I remember most clearly “HMS Pinafore” in First Form. As one of many sailors, I had to wear white slacks, white T shirt and a boater made from cardboard adorned with a royal blue ribbon.
My father Lionel took on the responsibility of commissioning tiered stands for choirs to stand and perform. They were made by an engineer mate, Jimmy Griffin of Raymond Terrace. They may still be in service!
An excursion was a rare and exciting thing, even if the destination was relatively close to the school. In 1974 when the “Sygna” foundered off Stockton, there was a bus trip to see the spectacle. It was a fine day and walking over the sand warmed us up. I took off my glasses and put them in my blouse pocket. Unnoticed, they fell out and were never seen again. Mum was not happy.
Each year there was a fundraising fěte held on a Friday evening. One year students were encouraged to participate in the 40 hour famine, raising money for charity. The famine’s end coincided with the fete and the fast was broken by delicious hamburgers from the barbecue! Mum bought fudge cooked by Sr M Vincent Ferrara and still has the recipe.
In third form I had the thrill of winning a prize in an essay competition – something to do with career choice. I was allowed to use the phone in the staff room to phone Mum (who was of course at home) and tell her the good news. Students never went into the staffroom and I recall being surprised at how small it was!
There was a Young Christian Students (YCS) group and Sr Virgilius decided that I would be president. I recall that we visited residents at a nearby nursing home.
The Convent is now incorporated into the school but it was another ‘no go’ area. Many years after leaving school, I returned to San Clemente as editor of Aurora. Reception was upstairs, and as I headed up, I had the strongest sensation that I should not be there! Old habits die hard.
Sr Philippa Jones was principal during my time. In Fourth Form, she escorted us (or those whose parents could manage it) by plane to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains – for three nights? We visited the sights of the capital – and slid down snowy hills on garbage bags! Her younger sister Vanessa met us in Canberra but Sr Philippa had sole responsibility for us. Not that any girl would be game enough to misbehave…
There was a tradition that the departing class would stage a concert for the rest of the school. The year before us had not distinguished itself so the pressure was on us to maintain a certain standard. Our English teacher, Mrs (Maree) Crawford, made it an English project and we staged a revue. I remember the popular John Paul Young song, “Yesterday’s Hero” repurposed as “Yesterday’s Schoolgirl” and the skit “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, in which I played Julius Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia. “I told him, Julie, Julie, don’t go…”
Almost all my memories of San Clemente are happy – in fact precious. It’s a cliché but life was simpler then. I enjoyed learning (I would have preferred not to bother with sport) and I appreciated the efforts of the teachers, most of whom were warm, dedicated and well versed in their subjects.
I am still in touch with some of the Sisters who taught me and with many other Dominicans through the local Dominican Associates.
Happy 100th birthday San Clemente High School!