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NEWS > From the Archives > 'Til the Cows Come Home

'Til the Cows Come Home

How a family from Holland became part of the Loreto Normanhurst story
Photo 543 - Loreto Province Archives
Photo 543 - Loreto Province Archives

It is hard to surpass the excitement that comes when a mystery starts to unravel. Occasionally a research roadblock stays unresolved for quite some time, perhaps months or years, until a clue emerges and new details come to light. 

An historian from Hornsby Shire - Patricia Dewey - contacted me several months ago, indicating someone had mentioned their grandfather worked at Loreto Normanhurst for a time. When Fiona Horbach called me on the telephone, telling me the gentleman in a published photo was her grandfather, I could hardly believe it. That photograph was in our Archives photograph collection with no name, no notes and no precise date. 

Loreto Normanhurst Archives. Alphonse Horbach - Photo 20.

Fiona shared with me the story of her Opa, Alphonse Horbach, his wife Maria and their youngest daughter, Elisa, as they journeyed from Holland after the war. Their eldest children had already made the trek across the world, with no notion they would all eventually be reunited in Australia. 

We were able to locate their names on the passenger lists of migrants aboard the MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which departed Amsterdam for Australia in early 1955. Although Amsterdam may be a lengthy 22-hour flight away from Sydney, the Horbach family's journey by sea would take them several weeks. 

Searching for employment and a place to call home, Alphonse was a perfect fit to help the Loreto Sisters; his farming experience was invaluable in managing the dairy and grounds. Alphonse and his wife took up residence in a cottage owned by the School on Mt Pleasant shortly after arriving in Australia. 

"I got John to dig up the ground (which was a lawn before the building began)... Fonse helped him. (Fonse Horbach, came here from Holland about 5 years ago. He milks and gardens)."3 

Photo 713 - Mother Emilian Cowden. Loreto Province Archives.

The beloved School cows kept the Boarding School well-supplied with milk. While a dairy may not be a common feature found in other schools, the benefit of keeping cows was keenly felt in 1960 when milk-shortages affected the area. 

"Jan 5. There is a milk strike on. We sent some milk to Kirribilli and some over to the Waitara Presbytery. This is in addition to what we usually give away in holiday time to people about here. We still have about a dozen of our cows - keep about 8 or 9 milking all the year to supply the house with milk. In holiday time we give away the surplus milk."3

Alphonse' wife, Maria, also joined the Loreto community by working in the Boarding School. Through their work, the Horbachs supported the Sisters and ensured the Boarders were well-cared for. 

"Mrs Horbach - irons blouses and polishes children's refectory.... In holidays helps in house."3

One of their children, Maria 'Ria' Wajon, also came to teach in the Loreto Junior School. She was a Grade 3 teacher at the beloved Barry Wing in 1966-1967. Perhaps one of our alumnae remembers being taught by Mrs Wajon? 

Maria Wajon (nee Horbach) with her Year 3 class, c.1967. Courtesy of Diaan Wajon, Maria's daughter

But the story doesn't end there! Fiona's brother, Wayne Horbach, is a current parent to Charlotte in Year 8. Charlotte is Alphonse and Maria's great-granddaughter, keeping the Loreto Normanhurst tradition alive within their family after almost 70 years. 

Charlotte Y8 holding the image of her great-grandfather

A name, a date, but more importantly, a beautiful family to discover from one unsuspecting photograph. There have been so many people involved in the Loreto Normanhurst story - it is wonderful to have found out about a few more. 

Thank you kindly to the Horbach family - Fiona, Wayne, Diaan and Charlotte - for allowing us to share your family's story. 

If you remember the Horbach family, or have your own LN story to contribute, please comment or click on the 'Share News' button below. 

  1. Photograph collection. Loreto Province Archives: South-East Asia & Australia, VIC. 
  2. Photograph collection. Loreto Normanhurst Archives: Sydney, NSW. 
  3. Convent Diary. 1960. Loreto Normanhurst: Sydney, NSW. 

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