Our Lady’s Mount, Christian Brothers College, Townsville; A Century Later
by Dr Michael MacLellan Tracey BA Hons (ANU), PhD (ANU).
Time passes, and more than often, persons or structures researched and committed to historical text, outlive the author. Time also passes generations and often details and memories of the past are lost or forgotten. Our Lady’s Mount, Christian Brothers College, Townsville was opened in 1911 and would have celebrated its centenary in 2011. However, in 1969 the College was closed, sold and housing units were built on the site. Material culture such as buildings, sports facilities, science laboratories and assemblies area do not make a person. At best all material culture can do is to represent the spirit of the persons associated or involved with that material. This research was undertaken on that basis. The buildings have gone, however, the spirit remains in the bishops, priests, brothers, parents and students who were associated with or educated at Our Lady’s Mount.
In 1860 George Dalrymple (1826-1876) of whom it is often stated ‘deserves the title of father of North Queensland’ and his expedition anchored near a deserted beach some one hundred metres south of a rocky headland later to be known as Kissing Point. The settlement that was subsequently established by entrepreneur Captain Robert Towns (1794-1873) was sited at the mouth of Ross River. Townsville became the transport hub of North Queensland shipping gold, wool, beef and other commodities from it port.
Dr Robert Logan Jack LLD, FGS, FRGS (1845-1921) was the son of cabinet-maker Robert Jack and his wife Margaret Logan. He was born on 16 September 1845 at Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland and educated at the Irvine Academy. He later studied, graduated and was awarded a Doctorate in Law at the University of Edinburgh. He worked with the Geological Survey of Scotland and contributed greatly to the science in Scotland. Jack was appointed geological surveyor for northern Queensland in 1876 and migrated to Australia arriving in Townsville in 1877. By 1879 he had been appointed government geologist for the Colony of Queensland.
Jack purchased 360 acres of land at Stuart south of Townsville and named the property Strathendrick. He and his family resided and sustained themselves on this land and cared for the horses used in his many expeditions. His knowledge of the Colony’s mineral fields grew. However, many gold and tin mines were in Far Northern Queensland while he was based in Townsville. Jack had need for a laboratory with assay facilities, an office, reference library and a showroom to display Queensland’s mineral wealth to investors and prospectors. In April 1883 he commissioned the construction of a building for these purposes to be built on an acre of government land on the summit of Stanton Hill.
Looking from Melton Hill towards Castle Hill. Stanton Hill the mid foreground and the Geological Survey Museum is on Stanton Hill.
With construction completed, the Geological Survey Museum opened in June 1886. However in 1892 Jack relocated to Brisbane and moved the Museum’s exhibits to offices in Edward Street. The site of the Museum was then used by the Townsville Mounted Infantry until they were redesignated the Kennedy Mounted Infantry in 1896.
Catholic Education commenced in Queensland in 1845 when lay teachers Michael and Mary Bourke, under the guidance of the first priest posted to Moreton Bay, Father James Hanly. The Bourkes taught in a slab hut on the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Streets in Brisbane.
Education Acts passed in the various colonies during the 1870s made education in Australia became obligatory, secular and free in state schools Government funding to Catholic schools was withdrawn. Catholic schools operated solely relying on the members of religious orders and donations from the Catholic community.
Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762 – 1844)
Rice was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland on 1 June 1762. He was married at twenty five years of age, however, his wife was killed an accident shortly after bearing their daughter Mary. The harsh laws governing the teaching of Catholicism were being repealed and three years after his wife’s death he dedicated his life to education. Brother Rice sold his inherited victualling business and opened his first school in Waterford in 1802. The Vatican eventually recognised Rice and his compatriots as the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. Following two years of comatose illness Rice died in 1844. One Hundred and fifty years after his death he was beatified by Pope Paul VI in Rome on 6 October 1997.
In 1868 the first four Christian Brothers, under the guidance of Brother Ambrose Treacy, arrived on the Black Ball Line clipper SS Donald McKay establishing the Australian Province of the Christian Brothers order in Melbourne. Brothers were sent to open the first college in Queensland at Maryborough. However, following the intervention of the Archbishop of Brisbane, Most Reverend Robert Dunne DD, the Brothers were held in Brisbane to establish Nudgee College in 1891. Townville and other smaller Queensland towns would wait.
Father William Mason Walsh was the second parish priest of Townsville. He was concerned that boys from Catholic families had no educational facilities in the town. He purchased the Geological Museum site for £2000 from his personal funds and the Church spent an additional £4000 needed to repair and renovate the near derelict buildings. Fr. Walsh invited the Christian Brothers to his parish. In 1909 Bishop James Duhig (1871-1965) of Rockhampton was on a tour of the United Kingdom, Ireland, America and the Vatican. While in Ireland Bishop Duhig arranged for a community of Christian Brothers to take up the work of education in Townsville. The Christian Brothers arrived in August 1910. Father Walsh died in Sydney before the College was completed. His body was returned to Townsville and is entombed in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Stanley Street.
Opening Ceremony of Our Lady's Mount College in 1911
The refurbishments were completed by the beginning of 1911. The North Queensland Register reported on 22 January 1911:
The opening of the Townsville Christian Brother's School took place to-day before a large gathering. Bishop Duhig performed the opening ceremony. The building has cost altogether £6676/11/1, and the amount subscribed was £2527/4/6, including the late Father Walsh's legacy of £2000. The collection taken up at the school this afternoon amounted to £303/3/-.
Bishop Duhig proudly commented during the opening ceremony ‘it being hard to find in the Commonwealth a school better appointed in all respects than this’. Townsville was then a rapidly growing town with a population of approximately 20,000 residents.
The inaugural staff members at Our Lady’s Mount College were Brothers P. Nolan (principal), E Stanton (6th Grade), Hogan (4th Grade) and C. Mahoney teaching an enrolment of 150 students. The Brothers were not qualified to teach Senior Latin, Mathematics or Ancient History, requirements for matriculation demanded by the University of Sydney. Mr D. Whelan of Townsville Grammar School assisted with lessons by visiting the Brothers’ residence and instructing the boys. Tobin states:
Mr. D. Whelan, resident master at Townsville Grammar, assisted the brothers by teaching a special senior class in Latin, mathematics and ancient history at the brothers' residence from four o'clock till five forty-five each weekday, and from nine to half past twelve on Saturdays. His efforts and those of the brothers brought a higher than average percentage of successes in public examinations.
Bishop Duhig had been constant in his efforts for the Catholic Colleges to focus upon public examinations. The philosophy of the education and personal development of the Brother’s students was based upon the principles of; Scholastic excellence in an atmosphere of discipline; a religious dimension in all aspects of life and devotion to the Mother of God; care and concern for each individual and special care for the poor.
Teaching aids were basic with students using slates and slate stylises, pencils, copy books and pens with wooden shaft into which fitted steel nibs. Text books were mainly procured from England and were very Eurocentric. The Brothers taught with a firm hand using a simple blackboard, duster and chalk. While a primary concern for the establishment of the Christian Brother’s College had been the availability of a Catholic education to Townsville boys, not all students were from Catholic homes. Many Catholics boys who later enrolled at the mount had attended public or state schools.
World War One
The advent of ‘the Great War’ of 1914 – 1918 was contained in Europe and had minimal direct effect upon Townsville. However, the town was used as a recruitment centre and staging depot for enlistees departing for Brisbane. In 1914, following the onslaught of war the Kennedy Regiment, based in Townsville, became the first Australian Infantry unit mobilised into service when it was dispatched from Townsville to Thursday Island for coastal defence due to growing concerns of German military action in the Pacific. The students of the College would have been too young to enter into military service. However, many parents and relatives of students became involved in that tumultuous period of inhumanity.
Under the guidance of the Brothers and assistance from community, the 1920s saw the strengthening of the educational and sporting attributes. Of most importance was the partial fulfilment of Bishop Duhig’s inspiration of achievement in the public examination system. One student, namely Alexander G Finnis, achieved considerable success in passing the Queensland University Junior Examinations with subjects including English, mathematics, algebra, geometry, chemistry, freehand drawing, geometrical and perspective drawing and geography. The foundation was being cemented for the academic, sporting and cultural traditions the College would develop and nurture in future years.
Enrolments had reached one hundred and two by 1924. In March 1925 forty new enrolments were added culminating in one hundred and sixty students by the end of that year. Financial pressures grew during the depression. Father Rowan was a great benefactor to the Brothers and provided a loan of £500 to assist address the difficulties of running of the college. Confidence in the education potential of the Brothers grew in those difficult times with thirteen boys gaining state scholarships; ten passing the Railway Entrance Examination and obtaining first and fourth places; the Senior team were runner ups in the cricket competition while the Junior remained undefeated in competition.
Twenty new enrolments were recorded for 1927, however, no students were form Catholic schools. Brother Anthony, XXXX, met with the Reverend Mother from Saint Patrick’s College and obtained name of mothers of several pupils. He approached the mothers to persuade them to send their sons to the Catholic College. Twenty new enrolments resulted in 1927. The College facilities had to grow with the increasing enrolment and Monsignor XXXX authorised £137-10-0 for forty eight additional desks. The costs would be bourn across three Townsville parishes. The College was maturing and now enjoyed the support of a an organisation of ‘Old Boys.’ In 1927 the Old Boys raised £110 and construed a concrete under the shelter where the boys tried to escape the tropical heat during their lunch breaks.
1928 saw the enrolment reach two hundred and twenty and the shelter shed was renovated and converted into a class room with two additional blackboards and world maps. This structure was to become the Scholarship room and a new shelter shed and tuck shop adjoining the class room was constructed.
World War Two
Australian troops had been at war since the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Our military joined England in the fight against Nazi aggression in Europe. In 1940 Brother R. G. McCartney arrived at the College. Although war raged in Europe none considered Townsville would be seriously affected. However, war arrived on Queensland's doorstep when the Japanese carried out their infamous attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbuor on 7 December 1941. Japanese expansionist aggression the Pacific had a great impact on Townsville. Following the fall of Singapore and the Philippines the invasion of the Australian mainland seemed imminent. McKernan states:
Angry and shocked, too, by the treachery and deception of the Japanese, who had made no formal announcement of war. Always suspicious of ‘orientals’, Australians quickly saw their new enemy as particularly devious and treacherous.
Maher comments upon Brother McCartney’s deep concern of impending Japanese invasion expressed in a letter of 14 December 1941:
... our position here threatens to be most vulnerable: our aerodrome is reckoned one of the most important. In addition, since an American squadron is rumoured to be due, things for us should be, at least, interesting. The Government Medical Officer, our benefactor, Dr Halberstater, ... has asked us for the following services both to him and to the unfortunate victims of air raids, which are expected at almost any hour; Ambulance drivers; control officers at first-aid posts; air raid wardens; first aid workers ... .
The Japanese bombing attacks in 1942 concentrated on Darwin. However, strategic targets in Queensland were within range of Japanese air bases on Rabaul. Horn Island, in the Torres Strait, was targeted for its airstrip in 1942 and 1943. Mossman in far north Queensland was raided in June 1942. In July 1942, three small Japanese air raids were made against Townsville, which was by then the most important air base in Australia. Several 500 pounds (230 kg) bombs were dropped in the harbour, near the Garbutt airfield and at Oonoonba, where bomb craters are still clearly visible. No lives were lost and structural damage was minimal, as the Japanese missed their intended target of the railway and destroyed a palm tree. Although the Japanese aircraft were intercepted on two of the three raids, no Japanese planes were shot down. In 1954 The Townsville Catholic News stated:
Then came that fateful moonlight night when the Japanese did bomb Townsville ... That night the Brother stood on the front verandah watching the Japanese plane overhead and listening to the roar of the anti-aircraft guns. When they saw the plane was coming overhead they dashed for the trenches in the school grounds.
Townsville became host to over 50,000 American and Australian troops and a major staging point for battles in the South West Pacific. Enrolment at Our Lady’s Mount decreased from 300 to 80 as many Townsville citizens fled to the protection of the proposed Brisbane Line. The college grounds were commandeered by the American. It is considered the defences were an element of the 208th Coastal Artillery (AA) Regiment. The American informed Brother McCartney that batteries of three inch guns were to be installed and manned. The next day when students arrived at school they were surprised to see anti-aircraft guns in the play-ground, the college buildings covered in camouflage nets and sentries posted at the gates. Students in classes below grade six were not allowed to attend school. With the possibility of further Japanese attacks the Brothers trained as Air-Raid Wardens, undertook first aid classes, established a poultry run and large vegetable gardens.
Brother Nugent almost achieved what the Japanese failed to do. He was an advocate of physical training and sport and elected to build a tennis court on the rocky hillside. He applied for approval to blast an area of rock in the college grounds. In repose to his application the following approval was received: In reply to your recent application, I beg to advise you that permission is granted to you to blast the Christian Brother College, Stanton Hill, Townsville.
While occupying the College the American forces build a wooden structure that was to become the science room. In appreciation for the assistance rendered to the Americans a golden chalice was presented to the Brothers for use in their chapel. The American forces vacated the College grounds in 1943.XXXX. Prior to the onset of WWII Townsville was a sprawling, country town of approximately 35,000. During 1942 the town experienced 5000 voluntary evacuees. However, with the influx of troops the population rose to over 120,000 by 1943. After erroneous struggles and considerable loss of lives the Japanese capitulated in 1945 and the American forces returned home. Following the war years Townsville’s population fell to pre war level and Our Lady’s Mount returned to its normal educational routine.
‘The Mount’ from the front gate c.1956.
College Cadet Unit
In 1941 Cadet Units had been formed in both secular and denominational schools. The school Cadet Units received further Army funding and support and in 1944 uniforms was authorized by the Federal Government. Conditions of the Cadet Units service gradually improved and equipment issues became more plentiful. By 1946 school cadet activities were funded by the Department of Defence (Army). The title of Australian Cadet Corps was officially adopted and in 1951.
In 1959 at Our Lady’s Mount Brothers Rochford and Connors held the ranks of First Lieutenants and were in charge or assisted the training and running of the Cadets. ‘Cadet Days’ or ‘Cadet Parades’ or held at Our Lady’s Mount every Wednesday from 12 o’clock to 4 pm. The parades included general drill, weapons training, weapons care, weapons firing on the school’s rifle range, assaults tactics and ambush methods. Brother Connole (history teacher) took over as Captain in charge of the Cadet Corps unit and was assisted by First Lieutenant Brother Connors. Ex WWI and WWI rebored Lee- Enfield 303 rifles re-bored down to 22 calibre were fired on the school rifle range.
Special army fifteen days camps were held at Sellheim and Macrossan near Charters Towers. These facilities were regular army camps established during WW II. While at military camp various weapons were fired on the live firing ranges. Certain students from the cadet ranks were selected each year to attend Under Officer training.
Townsville slowly evolved from a country town into a city in the 1960s. While the town could boast many movie theatres, a modern swimming pool and other sporting and other amenities there was minimal social or cultural outlet for students at the Catholics school. The Brothers, with the support of the Nuns, had established a tradition of school dances. For a brief moment Dr Jack’s museum morphed from a place of learning to a dance floor. The Shakespearian tradition of boys playing female roles was normally adopted in the various concerts. The dances provided the opportunity to meet ‘real Catholic girls.’ All too often parents had conspired and preselected partners well before the dance commenced. However, many future wives and mothers were first meet during these dances. Large folding wooden and glass door divided the original museum from the four class rooms that were added in 1911. The large doors were folded back and the floor cleaned and polished proving a more than adequate dance floor. The decoration and polishing of the floor with ‘Hops’ made from sawdust was a welcome relief from the everyday toil of learning.
Many boys learnt music from various sources, played in the College Cadet Band and the Brother strived to provide other cultural experiences. Many students excelled in the Townsville Eisteddfods in such disciplines as singing and elocution. The elocution training was provided by the talented Mrs Irene Lambrose. The main focus of these cultural experiences was based upon classical themes. However, another side of music was presented in the early 1960s. While endeavouring not to single out personalities, it would be remiss not to mention Keith, John and Neil Graham and David Camp ‘The Grahams’. Their performances of ‘popular’ music during and following school inspired many who would follow in the various bands in Townsville. During this era Catholic boys were required if not compelled to meet and marry Catholic girls.
Upon leaving school many such relationships began in the Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement. The YCW Hall was built and dances were held every Sunday at the ‘Record Hop’. The Hall was later to become ‘The Shack’ during the 1970s when the population of Townsville increased dramatically with the influx of Army personal. The Grahams provided much of the early live entertainment at the YCW hall.
Jack Graham was to comment in 2008:
The Brothers put us on every show. I learned later that the Catholic Bishop Huey Ryan was behind this. He knew us growing up at Mount Spec where my Dad had a weekender and where Huey used to spend his spare time. Killian was dead against electric guitars and used to censor the lyrics as well, but he had to appease Huey.
John Rupert Killian (1922 – 1982) affectionately known as ‘Sid’, was a Townsville boy educated at Mount Carmel College, Charters Towers. In 1939 Killian entered the Juniorate of the Christian Brothers, Strathfield, Sydney. At thirty five years of age he was appointed Principal of Our Lady’s Mount College. He was a pious and energetic person with a deep interest in the College and love of music. Brother Killian died in Sydney at the age of fifty nine.
A pivotal year in the history of the College occurred in 1961 on the fiftieth anniversary of the educational facility in Townsville. Mr Joe Griffin, then president of the Old Boys Association, announced the proposal to purchase land where a new college would be established. For several years Saint John Fishers, established in 1952, had relieved the strain of enrolment numbers. Maintenance of the buildings was becoming financially unviable and space for additional facilities was strictly limited. The suburbs of Townsville were rapidly expanding to the west and the centrally located college was becoming increasingly difficult for student access and transportation. The Mount was coming to its end.
On a less sadder note special celebrations to mark the anniversary were held including a special mass and breakfast. The distinguished guests at the celebration included Bishop Huey Ryan - Bishop of Townsville, Brother Lacey, Brother Bernard Dominic Healey Provincial of St Mary’s Province of the Christian Brothers and Brother John Killian then Principal of the College. A special choir, including many Old Boys, was convened to perform during the mass under the conductorship of Mr John ‘Jack’ Tracey.
Bishop Maguire, the first Bishop of Townsville believed the rough climb up the goat track deterred potential students and 1932 he authorised the purchase of eight acres of land in Railway Estate. However, the Brothers were not to move from Stanton Hill until 1969. Our Lady’s Mount and Saint Fisher’s were subsumed into Ignatius Park College.
The Christian Brother Colleges in Townsville could not have existed without the humble men who devoted their lives to the education of many generations. ‘The Brothers’ taught the set academic curriculum as required by the Queensland State Government. In addition they imparted the principles of faith, fairness, social graces, of being a member of your community and started many on their professional careers. It is understood that the Brothers maintained a humble attitude and existence. However, the life they led as teachers and men impacted upon many lives and added to the fibre of modern society in sports, politics, trades and professions and to the continuation of the Christian Brothers and Priesthood.
No physical remains are extant from Our Lady’s Mount and the site has been redeveloped. Arguably physical remains may represent the past efforts of these men. However, any remains would pale in significance when compared to the spirit and the achievements of past students of the Brothers. Human society evolves upon the shoulders of giants. Without the technical and social skills, respect and discipline gained while in the charge of the Christian Brothers many men would not have taken those principles into their lives. Many aspects of our society would be weaker or fail to exist without that imparted spirit. This paper is not intended as an honour board nor meant to impress. It is mealy to remember certain men, their students and families who assisted the order over the years. To plan our future we must learn from the past. For many the past was the Brothers of Our Lady’s Mount College, Townsville.
Gibson-Wilde, D. M. and B. J. Dalton, B. J., 1988. Townsville 1888, Department of History and Politics, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, Plate 26.
Manion, B. C., 1975. A centenary of service : the Christian Brothers in Queensland 1875-1975, Christian Brothers College, Stirling Street, Perth, West Australia.
Pearce, H., 2009. WWII: NQ: a cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II, Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, Qld.