|22 Jul 2022
|From the Archives
The 1950's were a decade of exciting developments in technology, entertainment, social change and fashion. It was the era which saw Queen Elizabeth II assume the throne as head of the Commonwealth in 1952, and Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as the first to summit Mt Everest in 1953. The country welcomed in migrant families leaving post-war Europe, the population reached 10 million people, and in 1956 the first public broadcast marked the launch of Australian television.
It was also a decade for 'new' at Loreto Normanhurst, with major building projects dominating the decade. Whilst the school grounds seemed to resemble a permanent construction site, the results were much-needed extensions to existing buildings and the creation of many new ones.
"Geometry theorems were learnt to the churning of the cement mixer; Botany to the rasp of the saw; English poems to the colloquialisms uttered by the skilled craftsmen..."1
A new senior school wing was opened in 1953, with the additional classrooms alleviating the pressure felt squeezing seniors into the main study. Apparently, the move to something new was long overdue!
"We began the year in the new classrooms. The more sentimental may miss the dear old classroom with the crack in the ceiling, and generations of finger-prints on the walls that gave it age and dignity.
No one can say any longer: “See those stout little finger-marks? Those are my mother’s, and the ones over there are my grand-mother’s.”* But we realists rejoiced when we moved over to the new classroom block. We have to be more careful now than we were before not to drop ink on the polished floors.”
*The writer of this extravagance will be handed over to any indignant grandmother bent on reprisals.”2
As students moved to new classrooms, the former study was renovated and converted into a parlour space - now affectionately known to us as the 'Reception Room'. Once lined with writing desks and a supervising Sister's platform, the Reception Room was fitted out with a plush rug, lounges and velvet curtains - an inviting space to host visitors and boarders' families.
Another major building project led by Mother Clare Birrane, the opening of the School's new chapel in 1954 was a significant moment. Replacing two earlier chapels built into the Boarding School, the chapel provided the community with a space to come together. Reflecting on the opening day, a beautiful story was created by Fourth Year Ellen, imagining an alumna looking back on the special occasion:
"The old book was battered and torn. Almost an antique, Sue thought, as she pulled it from the old box, shaking away the dust. “Why! It’s a photo album!” she exclaimed, opening it with the eager fingers of her years.
The first page was dated 20th March, 1954, and the picture was one of girls in a pleated uniform forming a guard of honour down a drive. With a thrill of excitement, Sue realised it was over fifty years old.…
The old lady took the book from the extended hand with the tenderness that belongs to a memory. Seeing the picture, the memory of the day flooded back to her… It was taken on the day of the opening and blessing of the new chapel by Bishop Lyons. She remembered it all so vividly: the guard of honour they formed down the drive, the Bishop’s arrival and blessing of the chapel. How proud they were that day of their chapel and how impressed by the reverence, dignity and concentration of the ceremony.
The old lady’s mind returned suddenly to the qestioning, upturned face of the child, and she said softly: “That picture is a memory that will never grow old.”1
Ellen Bracks (Dougherty, 1955)
With so many younger pupils enrolled, the Junior School was desperate to move into its first proper home. Pupils as young as 5yrs had attended Loreto Normanhurst nearly since its beginning, but enrolments, including day-boys, were exponentially rising. For the first time, the Junior Students had a place of their own. Favourite memories included art lessons with Mother Evangeline, a craft castle kept in the corner of the classroom, special trips to the bush, ballet lessons and twirling ribbons around the maypole.
Halfway through the decade, it was formally decided by the Loreto Province that a novitiate be built and the training of new sisters be undertaken at Normanhurst. At that time, the number of novices had outgrown Mary's Mount, VIC and a new space at an existing Loreto school was sought. The new novitiate building would be constructed down from the Oak Tree Lawn, connecting with the existing Boarding School. Its balconies afforded an incredible view over the district (apparently the Sydney Harbour Bridge was within its sight!), and both the 'Normo' girls and the novices seemed to enjoy each other's presence.
"Te Deum Laudamus sang the school-girls at Loreto Convent, Normanhurst, as we knelt in the chapel a few minutes after arriving there. We would like to have lifted our own voices in praise and gratitude, but our hearts were too full for words."3
- The Novices, 1956
Many familiar pastimes were enjoyed by the girls across this decade, including sports, bush picnics, feast days and concerts. At least two full-length films were shown each term, with other short, educational pieces played during the week. Mother Antoinette had to arrange for a new projector as the previous machine was struggling to keep up with this popular tradition.
Hard-working and selfless, the Convent Diary records that a special treat for the Sisters came about in 1955. On August 20, a brief passage mentions a familiar family performing at the Conservatorium of Music:
"20th August - Trapp Family Singers gave concert for religious - as most of nuns went, we had a picnic lunch for children down [in the] bush - near Cemetery."
The Von Trapps were a very musical family from Austria. The matriarch of the family - Maria - had undergone training as a novice at the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg prior to connecting with widower Georg and his children. Their story, of course, was popularised by the classic film The Sound of Music (1965), but previous to this, the musical ensemble toured extensively across the United States, South America and Europe. In their final year of touring, they made their journey to Australia and New Zealand for a series of metropolitan and regional concerts. As most of the Normanhurst community attended the concert, I'm sure the Sisters would have had great fun sharing the time they met the 'real' Von Trapps in the years to come.
And of course, a proper congratulations must go to the brilliant tennis players Christine Fish (Dempsey, 1956), Megan Gorman (Lewis, 1956), Marilyn Bashir (Matha, 1955) and Carmel Williams (Cattle, 1956). They were the very first to win the much-coveted Cardinal Cup for Loreto Normanhurst - no ordinary feat!
"We have to refrain ourselves from going romantic and dramatic over the 10th of July, 1955, when our tennis team brought home the Cardinal's Cup, having beaten St. Scholastica's, Glebe in the finals... The Cup is now standing.. in the boarder's refectory. And the general feeling among the girls is: Long may it stand!"
No doubt the 1950's were a decade of excitement and anticipation. The era also marked a first in the School's history where the ratio of day-girls exceeded that of boarders in 1958.
Next #FlashbackFriday we'll be looking at Loreto Normanhurst in the swingin' 1960's - the space race, social revolution, new fashions and familiar faces.
Did you attend LN in the 1960's? We want to hear from you! Comment below or find the 'Share News' button at the bottom of the page to submit your LN memories.
Ms Rachel Vaughan
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Celebrating 70 years since the laying of the Chapel's Foundation Stone, bringing the community together for various events and creating cherished memories. More...