Where are they now – James Ryan (SPC 1965-70)

September 8, 2022

We recently reconnected with Old Collegian James Ryan (aka Basil Ryan) (SPC 1965-70), who has kindly permitted the College to share his story, which was published in a reunion book produced by the Class of 1970 in readiness for their 50-Year Reunion back in 2020. Due to COVID, their reunion has been repeatedly rescheduled, but we are looking forward to hosting their reunion on Sunday 22 October 2022.

James (aka Basil) Ryan.


Some SPC Recollections by James Ryan (aka Basil Ryan) – Day Rat – and proud of it!

I began my schooling at the age of four.

I am still in school.

After completing teacher training at Ballarat Teachers’ College and an Arts Degree at La Trobe University, I taught in the State Education Department for several years before venturing into the Catholic system. And I’m still there, planning to retire posthumously!

And I should mention I have two sons, one daughter and a granddaughter.

Regarding SPC recollections, I had a dilemma! Whom to obey? I had two choices: the persistent Noel Sheehan who had been asking for an (exaggerated) reflection about my days at SPC, or my (late) mother who frequently reminded me that ‘self-praise is no recommendation’?

Noel Sheehan, you won! Here we go!

Do any of you remember (Mr) D C SNAGS from Year 12 English?


I didn’t think you would!

Well, I invented him! You may ask, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

Please let me set the context. Whilst preparing for the 1970 Year 12 English exam, many of us were struggling to remember all seven of the set texts. To assist in this matter, I invented the acronym ‘D C SNAGS’. Each of the seven letters in this name was the initial letter in the surname of one of the seven authors. I hope this pneumonic proved helpful for all of you as you worked towards scoring (a mere) 50% in English! (You will recall that in those days, the examiners didn’t score beyond 50% for this rather significant area of the curriculum!)

In my six years at SPC (from 1965 to 1970), D C SNAGS was my crowning achievement!

My second greatest achievement involved an esoteric school-desk competition in Year 7. You probably don’t remember it! (Shame on all of you!)

Again, please let me set the context. Most of you were either Ballaratians (with small backyards and no work sheds) or Boarders, from civilised and far-flung cities or towns. By contrast, I was a ‘Day Rat’, a ‘Bus Boy’ and the son of farmers from Learmonth. I was the youngest of six. Unlike many of you, I had parents with no time to micromanage their kids. Hence, I had unsupervised access to sheds, paddocks, tools, fireworks, a lake, technical advice (from my brothers), and a forge. At the age of five I was taught to drive a tractor. (I am not too sure of the relevance of some of these, but I used to spend a lot of time creating things, and all of my tooth-fairy money went on my annual purchase of fireworks!!!) Making, shaping and modifying things was in my blood! So, to achieve spectacularly in this special school-desk event, I had prepared special ‘materials’ in the farm workshop! With great success! At least initially!

Can you remember the exact nature of this event, and my spectacular success? No, you can’t!

So please let me explain!

In Year 7 there was a covert competition in which we would drop a marble in the ‘inkwell‘ hole at the top left or top right of our desks, and then let that marble emerge from the small triangular hole in the bottom. The aim of the competition was to let the marble remain rolling inside the desk for as long as possible. Well, because I was hopeless at sport I aimed to compensate by becoming school champion in this elite event! Sadly however, this elite event got terminated! Yes, one day something went so badly wrong that it was cancelled!


On that fateful day, in the middle of a Latin lesson, about ten of us had started a marble-rolling competition. One of the city slickers inadvertently let his marble hit the floor. The teacher expressed his annoyance! About 20 seconds later, a second (slightly smarter) city slicker let his marble hit the floor! There was no carpet! The noise was loud! But not as loud as the teacher! He thundered, ‘Who did that?’ And he continued at 150 decibels: ‘Everyone, put your hands on your heads!’

We all obeyed.


Now, it may sound non-sequitur and repetitious if I emphasise how desperate I was to excel in this event. I had even imagined designing and constructing my own trophy! My preparations had been thorough. I had prepared my marble run with umpteen text/exercise books and paraphernalia, strategically and gently sloped to create a marble roll of about two minutes. I am now prepared to reveal some of my trade secrets: I had chosen a marble with lots of surface imperfections. My preparatory experiments in the farm workshop had revealed such marbles were dawdlers! A second trade secret was that my desk’s setup included modified plastic piping, coiled copper piping, and wedge-shaped bits of wood designed to create the most gradual of gentle slopes. A third trade secret involved the use of old rags wrapped around the pipes; these rags muffled the sound of my rolling marbles and prevented teachers from thinking that I wasn’t concentrating on, ‘amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant’ – these Latin conjugations are etched permanently into my cerebellum!

So, this event was my chance to shine!

About 120 seconds after the teacher’s tirade, our hands remained on our heads.

During this agonising time, I had discretly tried to position my knees to take a silent catch.

Out came my marble!


My pathetic sporting skills had let me down.


In a micro-second, I realised I had missed it.

I knew gravity was going to inflict great harm!

That tiny piece of semi-spherical, multi-coloured glass may have looked innocent. But as it plummeted towards a hardwood floor, in a room that had been totally silenced by a military-style command, I knew that pain would follow! Yes, the noise was – shall we say – deafening!!!

And it bounced about five times. Loudly!

In the teacher’s mind, it appeared that I had deliberately set my marble into motion well after he had thundered his orders!

Woe was me! And in less than a second all hell broke loose!

Yes, I got the cuts! Two of them for good measure! One on each hand!

And here’s another sad fact: when you guys (being more athletic) won a hundred-yard race, you were applauded, praised and photographed; your achievements were published in the SPC Annual or the Ballarat Courier! Or both! By contrast, for little me there was no fame, no fortune, no trophy, no bragging rights! Just pain and humiliation in the form of an old-fashioned and sudden collision of stitched bull leather with my little hands.

It has taken me more than half a century to proclaim my gold-medal performance!

As the Latin scholars might say: ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’.

Well, back to my mother’s wisdom! She often said, ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, say nothing at all’!

With that in mind, I won’t mention being strapped in Year 8 for misspelling the Latin word for ‘Britain’. Apparently, it has – or does not have – either a ‘double n’ or a ‘double t’. I received a double strapping for this error, simply because it involved a double letter! Great logic! Tough justice! A gentle reminder would have sufficed. My strategic response has been (and remains) to go through life not knowing the correct spelling, as I am determined to prove that the carrot is better than the stick!

James (aka Basil) Ryan pictured in his Form 6 class photograph in the 1970 College Annual.

Despite the above, there is a lot I am grateful for about SPC.

As a teacher (mainly in primary schools) with almost 50 years of service up my sleeve, I am in a good position to attest that SPC did an above-average job in many curriculum areas, especially in imparting some of the finer points of English proficiency. For example, the study of Latin and French were key factors in our gaining of a solid foundation in grammar and vocabulary. (And yes, I was one of those who endured the legendary Inter-A, where all students studied Latin and French, and all of us heard Bill O’Malley bragging about having taught two Brownlow Medallists! He would rant, repeatedly – I’ll tell you who was obedient! Jamesy and Gleeson – they were obedient! There were many other rantings!)

In Year 10, a more civilised teacher made an appearance at SPC in the person of Br O’Donohue – and he took on teaching French. He was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and I attribute much of my enthusiasm for both teaching and languages to his positive approach. I continued with French to Year 12, and after a three-year hiatus at Ballarat Teachers’ College, resumed studying it at La Trobe University. I taught French for five years at St Kevin’s College in Toorak. I have tasted a few languages; my limited proficiency in these has been caused by a lack of brain cells, rather than a lack of enthusiasm.

Many other SPC events come to mind, especially the ‘runathon’ around Lake Wendouree. You will recall that the SPC boatshed had gone up in smoke, and a 20-kilometre fund-raising event was arranged to pay for it. I didn’t exactly enjoy the run, but the good news is, it put an end to any thoughts of joining the Army! It was public knowledge that the Army loved 20-kilometre runs. Our runathon taught me that the words ‘fun’ and ‘run’ should rarely be used within the same sentence. Mr Tony Benson had no trouble running in this event; his example didn’t cause me to feel excited!

Speaking of the Army, how times change! I recall SPC Army Cadets carrying rifles on the school bus! You won’t see that sort of thing ever again!

James (aka Basil) Ryan pictured in his Leaving class photograph in the 1969 College Annual.

And speaking of the school bus, it provided a great opportunity to see and mix with the broader society. It also provided me with an opportunity to set a good (errr…slightly good) example. One afternoon the school bus stopped near the intersection of Drummond Street and Sturt Street. A woman was walking along the footpath nearby. A girl from another school yelled out some abusive comments. About two seconds later, kids from about ten schools were hanging out the bus windows, laughing loudly, throwing insults, and generally giving this lady a hell of a time. By contrast, the three SPC kids on the bus remained seated, and we ensured our laughter was neither seen nor heard by the poor victim. I recall the bus driver telling everyone off, but noting that the SPC kids had set a great example.

Bus boys were time poor. We struggled to be involved in any extra-curricular or out-of-school activities. Usually, that suited me fine. I didn’t enjoy sport and am proud of my early retirement from Football. I used to play for Learmonth (part of the then ‘Clunes’ League). I was in the Under 16s when I was 11 and 12; in the under 17s when I was 13; and in the under 18s when I was 14 and 15. Yes, the League had progressively increased the age limits. I retired at the age of 15. Proudly! I was motivated by my desire to remain alive! The problem? Several teams in the Clunes League were uncivilised!

I found life at SPC was generally pleasant. Disruption of classes due to poor behaviour was a rarity. Sadly, several SPC teachers didn’t know that in the event of distraction, classes would have responded positively to a brief reminder to refocus. Nevertheless, I have happy memories, especially of classmates being great people and great students; and I have happy memories and amazement at some of the talent. For example, Tom Murphy’s brilliance in Mathematics and Science was staggering; Colin McDonald could learn anything with ease; and about 20 others had the brains to get into the hardest University courses. Surrounded by such talent, it was hard to shine!

But shine I did! In dubious things! Living on a farm provided the correct environment to set a football kicking record! One day in Year 9 I recall arriving home to our farm, with an extreme and damaging wind blasting in excess of 110 kph. I took a football to the back paddock and launched a torpedo punt as far and high as I could. Under normal conditions it would have travelled about 30 metres! With a cyclone behind it, the ball went into Lake Learmonth – on the full – never to be seen again! I was 100 metres from the lake when I set this record…unseen, unproven, unofficial, unwitnessed! Farm life facilitated so much science, fun and excitement; it allowed me to cope easily with any negatives from the occasional teacher who enjoyed wielding ‘the dreaded gat’!

What a strange word…gat! Was this word used in any other contexts on planet Earth? Or was it unique to SPC?

And what a strange event occurred in Year 11: do you recall that we all received a copy of the book titled, ‘With Marriage in mind’? A day later, we were asked to return it! Apparently, it contained a few ‘elements’ that were too…er…umm…ahhh…inappropriate for 17-year-olds to read…or…umm…er…ahhh, too explicit to look at. Shame on all of you who had trouble returning the book in a timely manner!!! Pleasingly, the ‘statute of limitations’ has saved you!

And how times have changed!

In Year 12, someone at SPC had forgotten to submit our applications for Victorian Education Department Studentships. To fix the problem, about 40 of us needed to make a brief but urgent visit to Ballarat Teachers’ College. Br Guthrie (I think) drove us two kilometres up to the College, on the SPC tray truck! No seats! No seatbelts! No hand rails! But plenty of noise! We loved it! We screamed the War Cry all the way! And all the way back!

No Police saw us! No-one was arrested! And pleasingly (again), the ‘statute of limitations’ has saved all of us!

A few times were sad, fantastic or special. I recall the passing of an American History teacher from heat stroke in the outback; the sudden death at our Year 12 farewell dinner, of guest speaker Monsignor William McCunnie; a TV being made available for us to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon; the father of a student bringing a gold nugget to school, and all of us having a turn to hold it! What a great way to learn about specific gravity, with gold being 19.32 times heavier than water. We were all stunned at how heavy this oddly-shaped, palm-sized piece of metal was.

And speaking of science, a couple of SPC teachers gave liquid mercury to my older brothers to play with! And take home!


Indeed, we have so many moments to savour.