English literature and expression were lazy, wonderful journeys into other times and places with Mr Johns; along with Mr Forster, Mr Lawrence and Mr Eugene O'Neill. Each of these literary sojourns was brought to a sudden end by the thrumming electric bell and echoing crash of locker doors in the corridor outside as students swapped books for the next period.
Wednesday sport still provided mid-week relief from the classroom. Until later, when we were thrown headlong into the workforce's unbroken week, we little realised the benefit of this. Some of us found that getting out for a run on Wednesday afternoons was the perfect way to clear our heads of jargon and the scaremongering futurology of Alvin Toffler. Alternating between running and boundary umpiring, I'd be on a bus for cross-country at Bundoora or Mentone one week; the next I'd be taking a sly peep under my arm before trying to fling a football directly into ruckman Simon Madden's arms. I needn't have bothered. Madden would have grabbed it even if I'd thrown it over the fence.
Our home ground cross-country course was the steep hill directly to the west of the college. We knew it well, but it was the venue of destruction for visiting cross-country runners. Races started with a flat lap of the grassy oval, just to lull visiting Associated Catholic Colleges athletes into a false sense of security. Then you ran through the wire gate behind the old scoreboard and jump the creek, and here the real race began. The ascent was more cliff than hill. Most competitors stopped to a walk at least some of the way. At the top, the course followed old sheep tracks for several zig-zagging miles through acres of thistle. If you didn’t get lost, you’d finish with a perilous descent back down the cliff, another leap of the creek and a sprint to the finish on the oval. The visitors never knew what hit them after the soft grass and gentle undulations of their home courses. It was a sight for sore eyes to watch visiting pretty-boy runners from De La Salle and St Bede's drag themselves to the end, exhausted of limb and broken of spirit, destroyed by the St Bernard’s cross-country course, the most brutal in the world. These days, the sheep are long gone and the crag and thistle of our old running course is St Bernard's Estate, where mock-palatial 1980s mansions hang off the hill, their fanned windows glinting in the morning sun.
Too quickly, 1974 - and school - was over. We all wanted to get out by that stage, of course. But the odd thing is that for years after leaving school, I dreamt regularly that I was back at St Bernard’s with my friends and teachers and all the joys and comforts of familiar surroundings. Then I would wake and face another day of drudgery in a drab, anonymous office-block in the city. I missed my schooldays most on Wednesday afternoons, when I would gaze out my twentieth-floor office window, cast my eyes to the north-west and imagine that I could hear, far away in Fairbairn Park, the excited thump and yell of a St Bernard's colour comp football game in progress.
Murphy's Lore and Other Stories: A History of St Bernard's College As Told By Those Who Were There
Penfolk Publishing 2010