Wednesday, October 08, 2008


My father, my mother, my sister and I were refugees from the Great Depression in the United States. An expatriate Australian, my dad was unable to find accounting work in San Francisco and in 1938 turned in his Ozzie passport for a free passage home to Sydney on the SS Mariposa. Times were tough, but he managed to find work in Sydney and we settled in to an apartment in Bondi Beach.

Shortly after war was declared in 1939, dad who had been a commissioned officer in the Great War and who was probably suffering from what would now be called, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, volunteered for the AIF and was appointed a Staff Sergeant in the Paymaster Corps at Victoria Barracks. A year later he died in the repat Hospital in North Sydney, his spirit finally succumbing to the effects of his on the Somme in World War 1.

We were alone and reduced to living in Wooloomooloo in a small bedroom with a louvered kitchen porch, a penny-in-the-slot gas-ring, a tin washing-up dish and a shared bathroom downstairs. Lest anyone think this was the gentrified neighborhood it is now, it wasn’t! Our neighbours were out-of-work actors (Peter Finch, Nan Taylor) and young women who sought out the Yanks cascading from the American Invasion to win the war.

Charity -Receiving and Giving.

The Legacy Club accepted mother and I for help: dental, medical, financial and social. The war had made it obvious that the wives and children of deceased enlisted men could not ‘make it on their own. Jobs were scarce for unskilled, homemakers so my mother became a domestic servant - a steep descent for a woman whose family in Bourke had owned farms and a hotel on the Darling River. When the Legacy Club asked us to sell Legacy buttons, we started out early in the morning for the Wooloomooloo docks and the approaches to the Garden Island Navy Base.
Buttons were priced one bob to five quid and we sold a lot of them to the dockworkers and the generous Yanks.The Australian currency was ‘funny money’ to them - and they had lots of it. No wonder our neighbour ladies liked the Loo! Legacy was grateful for our efforts and when I passed the NSW State Bursary exam they agreed to pay the extra half of the tuition and board at the school of mother’s dreams. Billy would be a Riverview man!
Mother still a great sense of style, and I don’t know where the money came from, but towards the summer’s end, I was introduced to Peapes - the Sydney equivalent of Brooks Brothers in the United States.At the Temple of the GPS - the Boy’s Department on the 2nd floor, I was outfitted in a Riverview gray, suit. Several days later I was interviewed by Rector of, Fr. Johnston S.J., who, because he followed the previous rector, Fr. Hehir, a.k.a. “The Mouse”, was known as “The Cat” !

My Riverview Experience and Its Mark On Me

Old Boys will tell you that life at ‘View in the Thirties and Forties was tougher . They will say,“WE slept in open air dormitories, ate tinned baked beans on toast and endured ‘table wars’ for a limited supply of milk; had melon and lemon jam on dry bread for an after sport snack.”.

Old men always had it rougher than today’s softies. Really? Heads up, old classmates, today’s a different world! The expectations placed on today’s lucky few are beyond anything we could have imagined.

A well rounded education today involves travel, writing and research on a computer, a good diet and a healthy body. These are real needs for all the young men at Riverview. For a bursary student whose family is of modest means, not participating in the sports and travel nor having the right gear, leaves them at a severe disadvantage. Believe me, I’ve been there! Having to borrow Brian Regan’s jacket was embarrassing in 1948 but today it would be humiliating. Not having easy access to a computer puts the man at a disadvantage not easily overcome. Today’s bursaries must include things which at my time would have been considered luxuries.

But what did Riverview do for me?

St. Ignatius left me with a lifelong love of learning. I shall grow old remembering Fr. ‘Twit’ Dennett’s Ancient History classes, Fr. Ryan’s encouragement to “write, write, write”, Doctor King’s world view, Bruce Kinnaird’s patience in Maths. and Harry Thomas’ attempts to eliminate Strine. Great men who set a great example. ‘View also left me with a sense of what was the right thing to do: to help someone who was less fortunate or had ‘lost the way’, to give without counting the cost, to never give in. When asked what our school motto “Quantum Potes, Tantum Aude” means, I usually reply that a loose translation is, “Give it a go, mate.”

And what’s in a name?

I’ll share little secret: Years later after I returned to the USA, I took an entrance exam en route to becoming a USAF pilot. The Air Force assumed that my listing of three years at St Ignatius College was three years of ‘college’ - the U.S. name for university. And, with my Jesuit grounding in the liberal arts, my test score was lifted above the other entrants. Once again, in a new country, the bursary boy scored a try - his first, but one which built on the great Riverview foundation.