Where are they now – Gavan Connell (SPC 1961-68)

February 19, 2018

The College reconnects with former boarder Gavan Connell (SPC 1961-68) who generously shares his family’s connections and memories of St Patrick’s College.

Gavan Connell.

My father Bryan Connell attended SPC from 1927-33. He had two other brothers older than he, John (Jock) who attended from about 1927-31 and Gavan Leo, who attended from about 1927-32. At the time, my grandfather, John Thomas Connell was the resident engineer at what was known at the time as the Ballarat Mental Home where the family lived in the allocated cottage.

According to my father, when he went to SPC it had a reputation as being a tough school and as a result, the Christian Brothers had imported two disciplinarians to ‘clean the joint up’. One of those was a Brother Murtagh and the other was none other than Brother, W.T. O’Malley, who was to remain at the school until his death and become a living legend.

My father was a good all-round athlete and played tennis, golf, cricket, football and athletics. He also smoked at home as a 16-year-old and when ‘Wild’ Bill O’Malley heard some matches rattling around in dad’s pocket one night after cricket training, he chased him around the change rooms with a cricket stump, declaring that he would never play for the 1st XI or 1st XVIII. When he went home and my grandfather saw the welts on Bryan’s back, he told my grandmother he was going to the school to have it out with O’Malley. He jumped on his pushbike and was prevented from leaving by my grandmother, who said it would be wrong for my grandfather to do such a thing to a man of the cloth. My father never did play 1st XI or 1st XVIII for the College. Whether or not it was because of that incident, we will never know.

Many years later, in 1961 when I arrived for my first day at SPC, Br O’Malley was in the reception room when it was discovered there had been a problem with my enrolment and that nobody knew I was arriving. (This despite our having received letters telling my parents what uniforms I had to buy and what were the necessities of boarding and do on). Br O’Malley remembered my father (he had an uncanny knack for this) immediately and the two were soon chatting and laughing although I don’t recall the cricket stump incident being mentioned. In minutes, an old classmate of my father’s came into the room. It was none other than Brother O.V. Wynne, who was to play an important part in my immediate life at SPC. All was sorted out and I found myself in what was known as the ‘junior lockers’ with O.V. Wynne as well as being in his Grade six class. That day was one my mother would bring up from time to time as the years passed, how Bryan had spent years telling her how ‘Wild’ Bill had given him such a hard time for so long as a boy but as soon as he saw him years later, all that was forgotten.

I boarded at SPC from 1961-68 and my brother, Peter, from 1962-69. At that time, my parents were living on Nauru Island. I loved boarding and he hated it from the beginning. I was lucky enough to do well at school and he claims that as he followed me through the years he suffered from the, Why can’t you be like your brother?- syndrome.

My own experience with W.T. O’Malley were considerably less traumatic than my father’s. By the time I was in the famous ‘Inter A (grade 10) he was probably into his 60s and very placid but he had one problem. He had taught two generations of boys and in our class there were three of us. David Cleary (Father Barry), Gerard Surridge (Father Bill) and myself. Bryan and Barry Cleary had been good mates and classmates and Bill Surridge was a year or two older as I recall. We three played Russian roulette with ‘Old’ Bill calling ourselves, Gavan, Bryan, Gerard, Bill, and David and Barry at various times. Br. O’Malley was sometimes confused and we loved to create that confusion but every now and then, he would spot the game we were playing and that usually resulted in four of the best and despite his age, he could still wield the ‘gat’.

Our star Latin student was Robert Crouch. One day he was at the front of the class reading the previous night’s Latin translation and ‘Old’ Bill was listening with his head in his hands as usual. He had been teaching that text book for 30 years and knew it and the translations by heart. Unfortunately for Robert on this occasion, Br O’Malley must have been alerted by something that all was not as it should be and he looked up to see that Robert was holding the book upside down and had himself learned the translation by heart. He only did it once. I think it was the only time in his time at SPC he ever copped four of the best.

Our Inter A class was the class that followed ‘Old’ Bill up the stairs when the then new O’Malley wing was inaugurated. We are in that respect a small part of the legend of W.T. O’Malley, one of the college’s favourite sons. My father, Bryan, Barry Cleary and Bill Surridge would all have approved.