I first saw San Clemente in 1954 or 1955 when I went with my mother to enrol for 1955. My first impression of San Clemente was the lovely grounds, buildings and grotto not to mention the cows! It was situated in the most heavily industrialised suburb of Newcastle if not Australia, so cows were very unexpected, especially at a school. There were also large vegetable gardens as well as a tennis court.
School excursions and Shakespearian Experiences
Today the schools have many excursions local, Canberra, Snowy Mountains and Blue Mountains to name a few and even overseas. We also went on excursions in the mid 1950’s.
The excursion that I remember most, was to The Century Theatre at Broadmeadow Nineways, to see the movie Richard lll starring Laurence Olivier. Three classes went on this excursion, 3rd, 4th and 5th Years, most likely 5th Year were doing Richard III for their Leaving Certificate. We left the school in full uniform (hat, gloves and stockings), to walk to Broadmeadow, escorted by a couple of mothers. It was a hot day and back then we didn’t take drinking water with us as they would have done today and by the time we got there we were very hot. Maybe I wasn’t feeling in the mood for a film, I thought it was gruesome, Richard III being a Plantagenet king was not a favourite in Tudor times and Shakespeare was a man of Tudor times. The scene of Richard’s death where the nobles fell upon him was gruesome as he cried out “My kingdom for a horse” - some doubt if he actually said this. After the movie we had to find our own way home, I was feeling quite ill going home on the bus.
We had another Shakespearean excursion this time everything was different - it was “The Merchant of Venice”, which was the Play we doing for our Intermediate Certificate. Our teacher was Sister Agnes who took us through the play explaining about the characters of the play, I remember being very interested. The Merchant of Venice was playing at the Roxy Theatre, it was a live production, and it was arranged that the class could go. It was at night and we were out of uniform, our parents were responsible for taking us to and from the theatre, it was a great experience and I think we all enjoyed the play.
Our next adventure into Shakespeare was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the brainwave of someone in our class. I was asked to play the fool, we had fun and it was chaotic, it most likely did not resemble the actual play. We put it during our lunch time - just 14 and 15 year old girls just having fun.
We had other excursions - one I remember was to Sandgate Cemetery Chapel on All Souls Day, which was a religious occasion. Our School during summer had swimming excursions to Newcastle Baths, a bus would take us there and we would catch our buses home afterwards. It was just swimming as we didn’t have carnivals (that came later) and nothing was organized, we just enjoyed a day out of school. I don’t think any other Girls Catholic High Schools had swimming days at that time.
School Dances during this period of time were interesting. My first two “St Dominic’s Day Dances”, we had no boys and had to dance with each other which didn’t excite us too much, although it was a social outing. We were told of a School dance before we started High School when the girls had to dance with brooms, which they dressed up! Thankfully, we were spared that. In my Intermediate Year, there was change in the air as the Rock and Roll period had started and a young man from Memphis named Elvis Presley was on the scene; and we wanted boys to dance with. The 4th Year girls led the charge, the poor nuns relented - I can imagine the discussions the nuns had at night. The Marist Brother’s School boys were invited. We had to dress modestly, hems correct with no low necklines or sleeveless dresses. We all had to show up before the dance to be inspected to be sure that we were dressed correctly. I can’t remember what the dance in the school hall was like except that I had a good time.
I admired some of the nuns’ dedication. At the school there were two old trams which were used for various things such as Speech (elocution lessons) also classes were held there on a couple of weekends for craft. It didn’t cost our parents anything except a small charge for the equipment we used. I did leatherwork and Sister Agnes instructed my class. Other girls did screen painting on material up in the assembly room in the school. We just wore casual dress to these lessons. I enjoyed these classes and appreciated the time the nuns gave to us after teaching us all week. Our Director of Studies was Sister Diana Mary, the girls would talk about her University Degrees and how clever she was. Although she didn’t teach me she knew who I was and mostly likely everyone else. I remember seeing her in the school grounds sitting in a quiet corner during sport helping a girl who was struggling with her schoolwork, such was her dedication.
Judith Laughlin (nee McDonald)
Judith Laughlin's photos