Brian’s loss had a terrible effect on my mother. She was completely desolated and I don’t think ever had a peaceful moment again. Because of her condition it was decided that I should stay for some time with Beverley and Norman. Norm was in the RAAF ground crew and had been posted to Amberley outside Ipswich after they had been married. They had rented a house in the village the next station after East Ipswich, where we had previously lived, and I went to the same school I had attended before for several months. It was a lonely time for me although Beverley did her best to make things cheerful, but it was as though you were not allowed to be cheerful, even slightly so, the weight of loss was so heavy on everyone. I don’t remember much about the period, except for going for walks around the nearby creek. Here I found what at first I thought was real gold-globules of golden substance which I couldn’t believe were not real gold-and was very excited. But alas, when I showed it to Norm he pronounced it mica, ‘fool’s gold’. I felt that somehow I would never be able to handle true gold. Years later, after I retired, when I was making jewellery for a while, I was totally delighted to be able to go to a jeweller’s supplies shop, purchase gold, the real thing, and later go through the elaborate process of fashioning it with torch and solder and pliers.
In 1945 I started school at the Christian Brothers’ St Joseph’s College on Gregory Terrace. Going to school involved the walk to the tram on Enoggera Road and then either getting off at the Normanby and about a two mile walk around Gregory Terrace past the Brisbane Grammar School, or staying on the tram and going through the city to Spring Hill and then another walk down a hill and up a hill to the school on the Terrace. I don’t remember any particular problems about settling in to the new school but soon I found that things were very different academically from when I had it all to myself at the convent. Terrace, as it was called, took students from all over the city and suburbs and of course there were other bright boys. I found myself in a group of about five who continually competed for the top places, and that went on for the next six years. I had a particular competition with Cedric Hampson who went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and the leading Queensland silk for many years.
The Brothers were a varied lot and I have good memories of all of them really, though it was still the age of punishing students with the feared strap, an instrument of torture custom made for each brother ( and some had, it was said, a two shilling piece slotted into the end to harden the impact). I managed to escape this except for once or twice, the result of a combination of doing my homework, and lying low in class.
During ‘little lunch’ and lunch the customary thing was to play handball, a specifically Brothers’ sport which the Christian Brothers had brought with them from Ireland. Along one side of most of the school property was a high wall which had been trowelled over with smooth cement. There were no side walls but on the opposite side of the property there was a proper three wall handball court which was reserved for the senior boys or the Brothers when they played, usually after school. I found this great fun and though I was never the best I was up there, and it was a good introduction to ball games in general. Later on I played tennis for the school as well as cricket, where I was the wicket-keeper for the Firsts. I have a lot of happy memories of our trips around to other schools and the thrill of competition.
I would have loved to play football, which I did only once or twice and never in competition, but I was prevented by Mum’s great anxiety about my becoming involved. This fear arose from her brothers’ experience, especially Jim and Con. Jim had been picked to play Ruby League for Queensland but a few days before the game, when he was working in the Mt Morgan mine, he was struck in the eye by a flying piece of metal flying off a billet of iron which he was shaping. He later became an alcoholic and my mother put it down to his disappointment at his football loss. Con also was a good footballer and also an alcoholic-the Irish disease-and my mother blamed it all on the sport. So no football for little Gavan. Another sport I learnt a bit was boxing, from Uncle Jack, Mum’s youngest brother, who had been bantamweight champion of North Queensland. Whenever he came on holiday to Brisbane-in the years I remember he had a hotel in Mackay-he would take me out into the backyard and teach me the straight left and the right hook, and how to keep up a defence, and other starry moves.
In 1948 I did the Junior exam-year 10, which in those days was a very important event because most people left school then and went into employment. I got 8As and 2Bs, and was one of a very few who won the Thallon medal, a gold medallion which I lost somehow years later. This was awarded to the top students whose fathers were in the railways-given the size of the QR workforce this was a significant proportion of the population. Anyway, it was an honour and my parents were delighted. I was one of the few that then went into the last two years to do the Senior, of which more later.