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Ray Carroll’s ‘From the Boundary’: March 5, 2024

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Tales from yesterday

A young teenager, who spends much time in and out of hospital, is an avid reader so recently I tried him with some of the stories much loved by kids through the decades up until around the ‘60s. He loved them, especially the titles such as ‘The Willoughby Captains’, ‘The Master of the Shell’, ‘The Fifth Form of St Dominics’ and so on.

Writers like Talbot Baines Redd, Gunby Hadith and Harcourt Burrage knew how to enthral their young readers, particularly with some classic tales of boarding school life in England. Rollicking yarns from the classrooms, dormitories and sporting pursuits highlighted by inter-house rivalries, after lights out escapades, teacher or student heroics and much more.

Life was pretty similar in many ways within the great boarding citadels in this country. Assumption for much of its history housed up to three hundred and beyond boarders and the House system stood the test of time for several generations.

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Cricket, footy and tennis were fiercely-contested and there was much pride and enormous spirit generated. ‘Colours’ equated to a badge of honour.

Times were different – to write now of the past is almost to write of a foreign country whose shores will not be reached again in this life.

Alongside the books that were so popular were the much-loved weekly comics. ‘Wizard’, ‘Hotspur’ and ‘Champion’ were devoured and took young readers on exciting journeys as well as enhancing reading skills.

On Monday mornings kids waited impatiently for the latest issue and were enthralled by such ‘legends’ as Rockfist Rogan the flying ace, Colwyn Dane – super-sleuth, Roy of the Rovers, Kangaroo Kennedy the whizzbang bowler, and probably best of all the mighty Wilson.

Wilson was a sporting superhero, multi-talented. Described as ageless, timeless and immortal, Wilson (he had no first name) was summoned from the mist-shrouded hills of the Derbyshire Peak District whenever England was in trouble on the Olympic fields, football or cricket pitches.

The mythical hero played pivotal roles in the Ashes Tests of 1882, 1926 and 1953, starred in the London Olympics in 1908 and 1948 and scored the winning goals in Wembley Cup finals.

After each display of heroics, Wilson disappeared back into the misty hills and valleys.

One of the fabled sporting poems of all time is Sir Henry Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada.

There’s breathless hush in the Close tonight Ten to make and the match to win

A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play and the last man in.

And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat, Or the selfish hope of a season’s frame,

But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote ‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’

The poem could describe many a game on fields, great or minor, and this writer experienced many across a four decade span at the helm of Assumption’s Xi’s.

The West asleep

The Kittyhawk (RAAF) is pictured flying over Horn Island, Queensland in 1943, the midst of World War Two. It seems this nation was far better prepared for war in the 1914-18 and 1939-45 conflict. Australia’s population at the time of World War One was barely five million and in 1940 it was seven million. Today the figure is twenty-seven million. Like most of all Western nations Australia is far less prepared today for war than in those earlier times.

Falling standards

It is sad that academy standards have fallen so badly in the last two decades across Australia. For generations this country was in the very top rank of countries, but sadly not now.

The picture shows students in an Assumption classroom over a hundred years ago in the midst of World War One. Classes were large and distractions were few and twenty-three years later many of the lads in the picture would have been fighting in the war zones of the terrible 1939-45 conflict. Most of them learned lessons of life, not only in the classroom but on the playing fields. I always felt the sports field was also a classroom where discipline, courage, teamwork, mateship, and respect for other were paramount. On the pavilion wall, among many posters, the following verse was prominent- it referred to students past;

‘Onward Blues, on!’

Her sons are scattered

far and wide

Beyond the sunset’s glow;

But she holds their heart with silken chord

Wherever they may go

In danger’s hour she sent her sons

To give all men can give

Some sleep quiet on alien shores

Who died that we may live.

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