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My father was employed in the Gold Mining industry as a metallurgist, and consequently, I spent my school days as a student in the mining towns of the outback, or at boarding school. In those days there were nuns and priests, many of them Irish, in most outback Australian towns.

I started school with the Sisters of Mercy, and after 75 years I still recall those wonderful selfless women. They lived in a corrugated tin-roofed convent, and taught in an adjacent corrugated tin-roofed school, dressed in their long black habits and veils and white wimples and bibs. In the sweltering heat of summer with no air-conditioning, the heat must have been unbearable.

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The first group of Sisters of Mercy arrived in Australia from Ireland on January 8, 1846. After travelling for four months on the Barque ‘Elizabeth’ they came ashore at Fremantle and travelled up the river to the Swan River Colony (Perth) the next day.

I recall the Beacon Readers,which were a series of reading books used to teach English. 

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They contained fairy tales, stories by the Brothers Grimm, and other literature, including poems. I recall “The Ship"(after having downloaded Book 2 from Project Gutenberg):

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I spent much of my schooling as a boarder with the Christian Brothers. They dressed in long black robes with clerical collars. They were hard men, and all had black leather straps about a foot long, consisting of two leather strips sewn together, sandwiching what we believed to be a hacksaw blade. When getting whacked on the outstretched hand and up the wrist, it was like being kicked by a horse.

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Our daily routine consisted of being awakened at 6 am, kneel and say prayers, have a shower, attend Mass in the chapel, have breakfast, day's schooling with maybe the strap for good measure, sport, dinner, study, the Rosary in the chapel, and then bed. After lights out talking was forbidden, so those who owned one listened to the crystal set under the blankets.

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CBC Wakefield would become the first Christian Brothers boarding school

In all my years I never encountered the slightest hint of sexual abuse. On the contrary, any student engaging in such behaviour would get his head knocked off. The brothers I knew were good and dedicated men. I am grateful to them for a good education and making me tough for my journey through life.

 

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Of course, there was sexual abuse by the brothers, which appears to have been confined mainly to the orphanages. This revelation came as a great shock to me and does not reconcile with the men who educated me.

While I was at the brothers, many of us learned Latin. It was thought desirable for those considering the professions of medicine or law, or indeed Holy Orders, as the Mass was in Latin. To no avail did we recite "Latin is dead, as dead as dead could be - it killed the ancient Romans, and now it's killing me." We had to learn by rote all the declensions of nouns, conjugations of verbs, and the tenses and parts of the language, such as gerunds. I take a certain grim satisfaction in that I managed to satisfy the examiners.

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Even as Hitler these days hogs the limelight on the History Channel and Netflix, Julius Caesar was the star of the prose we were required to master. I recall translating Caesar's Gallic Wars. In the laboured translation of those and other classical works, so-called "schoolboy howlers" abounded (girls did not learn Latin in those days). I recall a translation of “Caesar …dierumviginti” (Caesar… of twenty days), as "Caesar died a virgin". When told that pictures of nude sculptures in the texts were art for art’s sake, we pondered the identity of Artus!

an interesting podcast to listen to for any interested readers.

 We memorised mnemonics to assist with obscure points of Latin grammar. One that echoes down the years is "From nemo (no-one) never let me say, neminis and nemine”(pronounced neminay). I can imagine the Roman Magister denying his student a trip to watch the lions in the Coliseum devour the Christians, for having used “neminis” instead of “nullius”.

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There was Virgil's Aeneid, which dealt with the Trojan War. It described the wanderings of a band of Trojans following the fall of Troy. We also translated Caesar's account of Cassivellanus, a Roman chieftain, who opposed Caesar's second invasion of Britain. It was certainly a different world to Facebook and Twitter. How many today would know what the pluperfect tense is, or even care?

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Perhaps the intricacies of the language were the downfall of Caesar.   As the assassins moved in for the kill, he may have vacillated whether to use the imperfect tense in calling the Praetorian Guard, or to use the genitive case, or toss in a gerund or an optative subjunctive. When it was too late, and he lay dying from numerous stab wounds, he accused his friend Brutus with the apocryphal words “Et tu, Brute” (And you, Brutus), translated by us as "And you too, you brute".When you think about it, there was really not much difference then, to that which is occurring regularly in Federal politics today.

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Just as I believe that a dose of national service would today benefit many members of the community character-wise, I believe also that a dose of Latin would benefit them literacy-wise.

Then came the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, which was hijacked by the left who dismantled the Church of old. Today, thanks to them, there are no nuns and brothers, few priests, and locked and decaying convents and churches in rural Australia.

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MOUNT ST. MARY’S COLLEGE AND CONVENT KATOOMBA

My mother loved this poem from one of the Beacon Readers, which sums up the loss of the golden old days for me:

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 Perhaps the final word lies with Stalin.

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