Reflections on the Bluestone Pile

Len Breen 2011

(Speech delivered to the reunion of former Parade College Captains.)

Me, Past Captain

It is 50 years ago that I was Captain/Head Prefect of Parade College. The Parade in the 50's and 60's, the days of the 'Bluestone Pile' in East Melbourne, I like to characterize, historically, as the late-Victorian period of the College - not quite Dickensian but sometimes quite quite dark.

But those late-Victorian times were the days that inspired great tales, anecdotes and myths. For example, the learning experience was occasionally enhanced and encouraged by a battering and/or belting. The pounding of the pupil-head/skull/cranium into the chalk-board of differential calculus was the occasional persuasive argument to improve the understanding and enlightenment of occasional complex matters by some poor kid/larrican/brat.

It was yarns like these which when padded and embellished and delivered with Shakespearean authority by smart senior students of literature (probably) which terrified many younger students and gave us all a cause for a great laugh at their expense.

Other great laughs were to be had at the expense of the Brothers. I was actually totally shocked and terrified when Tony Cashmore proudly donned and paraded Bro Naughton's formal black homberg hat outside the office to which we had been summoned (the Bros dressed formally in those days)- and of course he later proudly broadcast his anarchism to all and sundry.

On another occasion, one very very angry brother happened to be pounding his desk with his fist. His message though was totally ignored as we were all transfixed by the upright drawing pin which bounced with each blow rhythmically, systematically and indifferently towards the said fist to - as the anecdote goes - to be implanted bloodily into the desensitised Brothers hand.

Those "late-Victorian" days were coloured by "teachers" on whom we bestowed nicknames - I recall Frank, Percy, Fred, Fingers, Wally and Butch - they were dedicated teachers with big personalities and notable temperaments. And we had some laughs at least, at their expense, by daringly dropping their nicknames into ordinary conversation in their very presence. Frank mentioned here of course positively thrilled to be so challenged by kids so daring.


(The following paragraphs were self-censored - not sure why. Lack of courage probably.)

Notes on Brother Frawley - the psychopath.

Frawley was a total bastard who should have been locked up. His frenzied attacks on poor Flavio Calandra and Peter Jones, and later Kevin Mackey, were nothing short of assault - gross bodily harm. A psychopath no less. How he got away with it is bewildering.

Notes on Brother Weston- the paedophile.

A very nasty piece who took advantage through his position to sexually intimidate and violate vulnerable pupils. He tried it on with me and left me embarrassed, wounded and ultimately scarred.

Notes on Brother Naughton - the bully.

Naughton was held in great esteem by many, but to me he was a nasty, insensitive bully, especially during my year as Head Prefect. He left me confused, guilty and having a terrible sense of disloyalty to my peers.

Notes on Brother Maloney - nasty bastard

I have always found it hard to understand why Brother Maloney was so highly regarded as a teacher of mathematics. His approach, notwithstanding his very poor care for the subject, was aggressive, presumptuous, sarcastic and downright violent. For a lot of the time I could not understand what he was talking about and only realized the extent of his failings when I discovered Colin Glazebrook's excellent mathematics notes in my final year. But Maloney would often lose his temper and literally bash some poor kid's head against the blackboard and lash out with violent strapping punishment for not being able to appreciate or understand his incompetent methods. I survived somewhat by virtue of membership of the First Eighteen football team which he 'coached'. He terrified me and many others.

It is hard to laugh, maintain sanity - scarred certainly but with grudges shelved for later reference.

(End of the bit that I did not deliver - regrettably.)


I was appointed fifty years ago as Captain of the Parade College. Though appointment was the norm and a democratic election processes inaccessible for the times I guess, I was honoured that my appointer was none other than that saintly man Frank McCarthy. (He had left for Europe just before.) Not much need be said of this man and so much has already been said that makes many of us proud to have known him of course.

But I claim him. He was my great teacher, my mentor, and no less my guru. And for me, in my adolescent years and more, a person who was the worldly big brother - the wise father figure that I had missed in growing up. Frank McCarthy was such a very clever person, a wonderful man - more so for for an alienated kid such as me, for whom he always had generous time.

He brought art and music to my world - one where otherwise such things were fanciful, if not unknowable. He, with such grace, engendered self-confidence and self-assurance in me and stimulated and affirmed my inquiring mind. He was such a special person for me - he singularly, opened up the path for my future career.

My most impressive memory of him - such a treasured memory - was of the (first) Student Art Exhibition - the date was 1960 - where I had entered two images. I was summoned out of class to be congratulated, praised and applauded by him for my 'fine works'. I had been so apprehensive and timid about entering my paintings and so shocked, surprised and elated by his kind and thoughtful actions and words.

For me Frank was Parade College. He set the gates open to for me to engage with leadership, gain self-assurance and self-confidence, become acutely aware of my future (our) possibilities. Most importantly and emphatically he at that time provided me with the germinal idea that teaching can be a human, generous and enriching vocation.

After Parade I met him on a number of occasions and some of these ended up with a 'competitive' slide show where he would present his (the library's) fine collection of art slides and demand that I identify and comment on these treasured images - a major task from the much lesser me. I am sure that some out there were also treated to this.


I have been looking for the Old Paradians web site for ages having been stranded in the UK for many years and from that distance reflecting much upon the College and my contemporaries. The website renaissance is wonderful and its ambitions great. Congratulations.

The site reports from the Reunion of 1960 and 70: "One former student, Spensley Williams asked if the old bell from the 'Bluestone Pile', was still working as he wanted to ring it again one more time." Note that: 'One more time' !

During the years of the Bluestone Pile the bell was rung for the Angelus - for the lapsed brethren out there this is a sequence of three, three, three then nine rings. And Spensley did this perfectly. What he failed to do was instruct those following how he did it perfectly.

The bell was activated from the rope which descended from the tower to the first floor library (if I remember correctly). It was attached to a very heavy counter weight. No problem for a well trained Parade campanologist - and tough guy like Spensely. As Senior Prefect the task was given to me - it all looked straight-forward. But pulling on the rope did not make the bell ring. Pulling on it and letting it go gave a 'DING' but it added an extra DING but with less volume.

The ringing of the Angelus was a great treat to all Parade pupils, the workers of the CSIRO in the adjacent labs and offices and for many members of the knowing public within earshot. The ringing when I first tried it went: DING ding, DING DING ding, DING ding ding - for the first set of three then pause and then a significant variation for the following threes. The final nine were seemingly easy. But no matter what technique was employed, the last of the nine was always a DING ding.

It was Maurice Fitzpatrick and James Main (allegedly) who persuaded me that they could do it properly. Maurice, bless him, notwithstanding the disorder of the first nine rings, rang a sequence of 11 plus a ding for the last nine and James started off well but with two small dings to start with then panicked, lost count and rang a total of twelve - with a small ding to finish - thirteen.

The whole school including usually reserved teachers, the CSIRO and the entire Fitzroy Gardens all broke up with hilarious and hysterical laughter. The ritual of the Angelus which followed was always a much lighter affair. Spensely's epigram, "one more time" suggests the possibility of a reunion of former Parade (Bluestone Pile) Campanologists - and the striking of commemorative badge would be great! And a dedicated web page! And joke book!

Mentioned by the afore-mentioned Maurice Fitzpatrick in the OP website was the Bluestone Pile magazine. I was privileged to edit and produce with my friends, several issues. It was most enjoyable and rewarding activity (led in latter professional life to a number of notably stretched publishing ventures). But I always remember the fun, spirit and production. The Parade of those times gave us many opportunities to engage in an extra-curricular life. Many of these are probably now part of the general curriculum.

Some anecdotes to add:
Chris McAleer swinging on the upper balcony columns.
The Methodist Ladies College adjacent - the dreadful behavior of the girls.
John Puls' punch - holding a dodgey grudge after 55 years.


Education (and Art) have been the major thrusts of my life. Parade (largely through Frank McCarthy) gave me the inspiration. In my day there were some difficulties and some dark issues but the opportunities provided for working class kids like me was part of the historical mission of the Brothers. That mission to be effective, required many able and dedicated, sensitive and caring teachers.

Today the teaching profession as a whole, and it applies internationally, is threatened by opportunistic privatization, managerial authoritarianism, with excessive and insensitive bureaucratic demands being made on it. The profession is being undermined and the future for its teachers and its pupils and students is under immense pressure. The mission of education must be valued and asserted and reinstated at the forefront.



Len Breen
March 2011 (revisited April 2016)

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