Lidy Waanders – assisted by her sisters Thea Quain and Astrid Hartcher, and Day Pupil Colleen Murphy (nee Campbell)
(Lidy was a boarder at San Clemente from 1954 to the end of 1959)
Lidy Waanders’ father arrived from the Netherlands in January 1950, and lived in the migrant hostel in Nelson Bay, working as an electrician in Newcastle. He told Lidy’s mother who was still in the Netherlands with their four children, to “buy the biggest army tent you can get, put it and all the furniture that will fit into it - and my motorbike - into a wooden shipping crate” to bring out to Australia with them later in the year. By the time Lidy came by ship with her mother and siblings six months later, her father had saved enough money to rent a house for them while they waited for their crate to arrive. He found a block of land with a ‘weekender’ that belonged to someone from Sydney, rented part of the block and put up the army tent, and the family lived there for 9 months while he saved enough money for a deposit on a house. Her father drove his motorbike to his work at Courtaulds in Tomago, and sometimes arrived home very late. On one occasion he hit a kangaroo and had to walk his motorbike home all the way to Nelson Bay. A couple of years later Lidy’s father bought a second hand taxi and taught himself to drive at night after work. To get his license he drove himself to the police station where he was taken for a driving test and obtained his driver’s license.
The family lived not far from the migrant hostel which used to be army barracks, near Little Beach, and Lidy and her siblings used to walk through the bush to the Public Primary school opposite the Police Station in Nelson Bay. Her parents were concerned about their children’s religious education so in 1954 they sent Lidy to San Clemente as a boarder where she attended 6th Class (now called Year 6) at St Columbanus’ Primary School, adjacent to San Clemente, where the Dominican Sisters also taught. St Columbanus School and Church are today called St Columban’s School and Church.
Lidy continued as a boarder until she completed her Leaving Certificate in 5th Year (the equivalent to what is now the HSC and Year 12). Both her younger sisters also boarded there, Thea attending from 1956 to 1960 and Astrid from 1960 to 1962.
The uniform worn at that time was a maroon serge box-pleated tunic with a fawn shirt and maroon tie, a maroon blazer with crest and maroon hat and brown gloves, light brown lisle stockings (no pantyhose available at that time) and brown leather lace-up shoes. The sports uniform was a cotton apple-green box-pleated tunic with a white open-necked, short sleeved shirt, white cotton ankle socks and white canvas tennis shoes. To protect their uniforms, boarders wore pinafore aprons over their uniforms.
The boarders were separated from the day students and didn’t associate socially except for sport – basketball (netball), tennis, vigaro, and athletics.
Lidy enjoyed the company of the boarders and the Sisters and didn’t get homesick as some of the younger boarders did. There were very young boarders there as well - Lidy remembers a pair of sisters whose mother had died, and both boarded although the younger was only 4 years old, too young even for kindergarten.
The boarders, both senior and primary, ate all their meals (including lunch) in the refectory (dining room) and were together except during school time.
They had a very busy timetable. They were woken at 6.30am by the Sister in charge of the boarders, dressed in their school uniform and then went to 7am Mass in the Chapel downstairs with the Sisters. For head covering the boarders would wear mantillas to Mass in the chapel and when they went to St Columbanus’ Church for Confession (Reconciliation) on Saturdays. Breakfast (like all other meals) was taken in the boarders’ dining room supervised by one of the Sisters. Meals were usually eaten in silence, and special hand signals were used to ask for someone to pass the bread, butter or jam. Lidy and her sisters Thea and Astrid all remember their favourite meal was meat pies on Tuesdays for breakfast and on those mornings, so as not to miss out, the Sister on duty always took one of the pies into the Sisters’ refectory for her own breakfast! After breakfast the boarders all went upstairs to make their beds, and then up to the dressing room in the attic where they brushed their teeth, straightened their hair and uniform, tidied up their washstands and got ready for school. The attic is where each boarder had a designated area where they hung their uniforms and dressing gowns.
The bell rang at 9am and the day students gathered on the grass outside the verandah near the First Year classroom, then went to the 1st Year (Year 7) classroom (now A6) for prayer and messages. Colleen Murphy (nee Campbell) who was a day pupil, remembers that they said the Morning Offering, concluding with “and to gain all the indulgences I can”. They also said a Prayer to the Holy Spirit – the Pentecost Sequence – every morning. Then all students were sent to their respective classrooms for class. The 2nd and 3rd Year classrooms were across the corridor from A6, 4th Year was downstairs in the basement where the typing classes were held, and 5th Year was upstairs, above the Library. Lidy remembers a small room across the hall from 5th Year where for a time a female Vietnamese University student boarded. Every day at midday the Angelus bell was rung and the Angelus was said – the bell was in the small courtyard in the middle of the school, just outside A6.
The compulsory subjects from 1st Year through to the Leaving Certificate in 5th Year were Religion, English and Maths. Lidy also did Ancient History, French and Latin – students could choose to do either languages or Home Science strands.
At recess the boarders gathered on the back verandah for bread and jam (no butter), and did the same for afternoon tea after school. After this they had a study period from about 4.30 to 5.30pm, then to the Chapel to say the Rosary, followed by dinner in the dining room at 6pm. After dinner there was another study period from 7pm to 8pm, then bedtime. The 3rd Year and 5th Year students preparing for their Intermediate and Leaving Certificates (equivalent of Year 10 and Year 12) had an hour of extra study time after the other girls went to bed – and enjoyed the privilege of some hot cocoa before going to bed themselves! In Lidy’s day there were 5 years of secondary school whereas now there are 6. Many students left school at the end of 3rd Year (Intermediate Certificate) and went on to get a job, attend business college or begin a career in nursing.
Weekends were also busy, mornings starting with Mass, then sport on Saturday: vigaro and tennis on the court near the covered walk to St Columbanus’. Saturday was also hair washing day. Sunday Mass was in St Columbanus’ Church, and the boarders would attend in full uniform including hats and gloves, and were supervised by school prefects.
There were also study periods and Library time on weekends. After returning to school from holidays or home visits, the girls brought sweets to school. These were locked in a cupboard, and on Saturdays they could have some of them or buy some which the Sisters were selling. Occasionally on Saturday evenings Sisters would play the piano in A6 for a sing-along and for the girls to dance.
St Dominic’s Day was a special day which commenced with Mass and singing the hymn “Gaude Mater Ecclesia”. It was a school holiday and later in the day the girls (both boarders and day pupils) celebrated with the annual St Dominic’s Day school dance held in the parish hall, so during the year all the San Clemente students learnt to dance the Barn Dance and the Pride of Erin.
There were visitor weekends (normally on a Sunday) when parents could take their daughters out for the afternoon, or alternately visit them at the school. It was during these visits that the boarders would frequently take their family to Fairy Dell which was a private area of grass, flowers and hedges on the slope between the school, Crebert St and Bellavista, hidden from the school by tall bamboo. Lidy’s parents visited occasionally, and once a month Lidy went home by bus from Mayfield to Newcastle, and then from Newcastle on another bus to Nelson Bay. Lidy also went home by bus for the end of term school holidays. From Newcastle, traffic to Stockton and Nelson Bay was transported across the Hunter River to Stockton via a punt, not far from where the current ferry terminal is now.
An exciting annual event was the St Patrick’s Day March in Maitland, when the girls dressed in their school sports uniforms and caught the train from Waratah to Maitland train station. From there they marched down High Street to the Maitland Showground to participate in the combined Catholic Schools Sports events. They weren’t accompanied by the Sisters, but were supervised by the school Prefects. On occasion, San Clemente sports teams would play in Sports Competitions at Santa Sabina in Strathfield, and at St Mary’s in Maitland.
Becoming a Child of Mary was another opportunity. It was a Religious society for girls, and belonging to it meant putting yourself under Our Lady’s protection, and living in the same way as a child of Mary was expected to live. There was a ceremony with special prayers. All students were encouraged to become one. On feast days they could wear their blue cloaks, white veils and medals and sit separately from the rest of the school, with other girls in the congregation who were part of the same society. When a Child of Mary married, they would wear the blue cloak to church, and it would be received back from her to signify her progression to the next stage. Women could continue as a Child of Mary if they didn’t marry.
Lidy had a great admiration for the Sisters, and was influenced by her time at San Clemente to follow a vocation as a Dominican Sister for three years, before leaving after discerning that this was not her calling.
Astrid, Thea and Lidy Waanders