Historical Treasure

As the School celebrated its 125th birthday on 4 February 2021, it was interesting to peruse the School’s History St Catherine’s – A Centenary Celebration 1896-1996 edited by DE and IV Hansen.

This book is an outstanding read for not only those associated with the School but also for those interested in Melbourne’s history. One of the chapters, Leafy Toorak by Sylvia Black explores the suburb when St Catherine’s moved here in 1922. An aerial view of Toorak circa 1925 showcases the many large estates including Beaulieu (now Sherren House) and Illawarra which are still part of the School today.

Although most of these large estates have been redeveloped, it is wonderful that St Catherine’s School is the current custodians of two of these historical treasures. A recent discovery by School Council member, Mr John Stevens has located the original gates of Illawarra (now the School’s Boarding House) at the entrance to Chapel off Chapel on Malvern Road, Prahran. In an article on the website www.melbournecircle.net it states that the gates were bought by Stonnington (then Prahran) Council in 1924 when the Illawarra estate was subdivided. The gates were then moved to the entrance to Princes Park.

Another chapter titled, Forget the Address by DE and IV Hansen, includes discussions about the life of the boarders. As the authors state, “boarders develop camaraderie in a way day students never can. St Catherine’s has always had boarders”

Life for boarders over a hundred years ago was much more restrictive – no leave outs to visit friends and no hot water bottles for the winter (or heating). Reading about the lives of boarders sleeping out on open verandas in the middle of winter is so different to the lifestyle of the modern boarder. However, the skills developed by the boarders both over 100 years ago and today remain the same: resilience, integrity, respect for each other, empathy, resourcefulness and the desire to be included and to be make friends.

Communication with parents is vital within a boarding community. Modern day boarders keep in touch with their families through their mobile phones and the internet. It was not that long ago that boarders relied on postal mail and the weekly phone call home as their only contact.

When the recent lockdown occurred in Melbourne during February 2021, nearly all the boarders remained at Illawarra to complete their online learning. It was a privilege to be a spectator to how the boarders quickly adapted back into remote learning and to witness how much they have enjoyed the company of others. Meal times and breaks during the day gave everyone a chance to get off their notebook computers, eat and enjoy some fresh air. Many of the girls went for long walks or runs or to Toorak Village for a quick shop.

Throughout the history of the School, the impact of boarders has continued to be an important part of the fabric of the school.

Mrs Sue Collister

Head of Boarding Services

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