Our Lady Help of Christians was established 75 years ago, in a time when the locals took the train to shop at TC Beirne Emporium in the Valley. It was still 20 years before Chermside was built and there were no suburban shopping centres or supermarkets. You could shop though for daily commodities at your corner store and of course daily deliveries of bread and milk helped feed the families. The fresh warm milk was dispensed straight into your jugs and came from Gill’s dairy on Nudgee Rd at Northgate. Customers stored their milk in ice chests cooled by slabs of ice. Hendra Cash n Carry would also deliver groceries when needed and these arrived by bicycle. There were bakeries in Burilda and School Streets which only operated Mon-Friday. There were very few privately owned motor vehicles on the road in 1937.
Originally called German Station, the name Hendra was chosen because of the proximity to Eagle Farm Racecourse, and its links to the English racing district. Racehorses in the streets were a common site, especially early in the mornings when they were taken for training. In fact, most streets had 3-4 racing stables interspersed between the houses.
In 1929, the Catholic Church bought an old rambling residence belonging to the Bowmans on 3 acres of land which became a temporary church. It was the whole block Manson, Derby, Burilda and Bowman. It was a magnificent residence, but in very poor condition. It was so large, that by 1937 it became used as a church and school as well as accommodation for the Parish Priest and the housekeeper. It was used as a church and school until 1946. Mass was said in part of the school, so school desks and church seats had to be interchanged each weekend.
Two of Brisbane’s leading citizens played an important role in the establishment of the parish and school: TC Beirne and FJ Mc Donnell. The parish priest of Hendra was invited to be the racing chaplain, a tradition which still stands today. Monsignor Lynch, the first parish priest, had a keen interest in racing and often offered great tips to his churchgoers.
OLHC School opened in 1937, with the sisters travelling each day from the convent in Nundah. Sister Michael was Principal, assisted by Sisters Olive, Owen and Phillip. Conditions were primitive, partitions dividing up the classrooms, and buckets catching water when it rained. Long wooden desks and stools seated 6 pupils each, and slates and sponges, lead pencils, copybooks and inkwells were used.
Highlights of the school year were feast days of St Patrick and St Joseph, as they were declared holidays for the school. Religion lesson, followed by Mass, and then cordial, cakes and lollies provided by Monsignor for the whole school. Children then went home with no homework. The feast day of the class teacher was another similar party day. The annual school fancy dress ball and the school concert were other highlights. Reception of First Holy Communion was a big event for those eligible, with Confession in the week leading up, wearing of the black and white on the day, and the big ‘after party’ with food provided by the parents. The children then had to attend daily Mass for a week afterwards, wearing their shiny medals.
Divisions between the Catholics and Protestants were huge. It wasn’t uncommon to be ‘ambushed’ by the kid from the state school who lived over the road from OLHC, and held up for ransom of threepence payable on the next school day. If no money, then a beating was in store. Sister Michael used to send groups past his house to prevent young ones being attacked.
Jump forward 20 years or so to the time in the fifties when Ms Ros was at school. All the teachers were nuns and they were very strict. If you didn’t do your homework, you would be sure to get the ‘cuts’ no matter what your excuse. But they were good teachers and taught respect for others. Class sizes varied, but were mostly multi-age classes. Grades 1 and 2 together, grades 3,4 and 5 in another room, 6 and 7 working together and then grade 8, which was scholarship on its own because it was such an important class. The scholarship exam wasn’t held at the school, and the students had to be taken by bus to Eagle Junction State School to sit for it. Numbers at the school were small, and everyone knew everyone else, even their little brothers and sisters.
As in earlier days, there was still a lot of fun to be had. St Patrick’s Day especially was a concert, with the stage the verandah outside the hall and the parents seated in the undercover area, which is now our tuckshop. ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘McNamara’s Band’ and other Irish favourites were sung with gusto, and to get a part in this production was quite a feat. There was also still a yearly Fancy Dress Ball, and Ms Ros assures me she still has a photo of her in costume. It was held at Cloudland Ballroom.
Sports Day (or Athletics Carnival as we know it) was held on a Sunday at the Parish Fete. Other local Josephite Schools like Nundah, Windsor and Banyo joined in the competition. They challenged each other with age races, relays, ball games, much as we still do today. The heroes and heroines were always the ones who were the fastest runners. Similarly, OLHC students were bussed to the other schools on their fete days to compete.
For a parish with such a long history, the Priests have been relatively few in number. Monsignor Lynch was followed by Monsignor Roberts, Fr Peter Gillam and Fr Jim Spence. Fr Gillam returned for a second stay for quite a few years. Recently, we had Fr Anthony Mellor for a year or so, and are now served by Fr Geoff Baron, at least until the end of this year.
Faces in the photos on the wall in the administration building indicate that we have had teaching staff who stayed both short and long times. Following the departure of the nuns, Mr Mike Lawlor was the first lay principal, followed by Mr Dennis Carey, Mr Leo Dittman, Mr Gil Cook and Mr Joe Miranda, all of whom spent considerable time leading this wonderful community, each leading it through stages of ups and downs, growth and decline, often a reflection of the demographics of this area.
Jump to today, and you find a school that is contemporary, yet retains a strong family focus. Links with the parish are strong with regular Mass for the children and Sacramental Programme run by the parish. A stable staff, highly experienced teachers, plan engaging curriculum experiences for the classes in each of our 8 classrooms. With boys’ colleges taking upper school enrolments, maintaining good numbers in the upper school remains our most constant challenge. Demographics are changing again, and the reputation of our school as offering excellent education in a small school, family friendly atmosphere is growing. Technology is the way forward for the future, and we are working to provide an environment where children use computers and iPads as devices to assist in their learning.
Highlights of the school year are our presentations for our families like our Easter Prayer Celebration, our Dance Showcase evening, the Fete, the Christmas Concert, and of course our sports days. Unfortunately, Brisbane Catholic Education don’t grant us holidays for St Patrick or Joseph, or Mary MacKillop’s feast day, but we do commemorate special days like these and Anzac Day, Remembrance Day, as well as Community commemorations like Day for Daniel, and World Teachers’ Day. We raise money for charities like our local St Vincent de Paul, Caritas and the Missions, much as they did in earlier days.
The building impetus provided by the government over the past couple of years saw a rapid development of our facilities. The undercover area and the Mary MacKillop learning centre were tremendous bonuses for our small community. We now have an education facility that provides a contemporary learning environment for the current students and those to come.