Where are they now – Noel Sheehan (SPC 1964-70)
September 14, 2021
Old Collegian Noel Sheehan (SPC 1964-70) is one part of a very special SPC duo. Noel and fellow Old Collegian Michael Dowd (SPC 1964-69) are the organisers behind the popular Paddies Seasonal Lunches, which have been held on the first Friday of each season at The Emerald in South Melbourne, for the past decade and have proved a great way for SPC Old Collegians to catch up with old school mates and meet other Old Boys from the College over that time. For Noel, these lunches are quite special – “There is a vast range of ages and interests in the guys who attend. The shared culture and comradeship is most evident, the atmosphere is warm and inviting and a common thread that brings us together cannot be explained,” he says.
Noel’s story, which was recently published in the Class of 1970 Reunion Book, is kindly reprinted below.
Years at SPC: 1964-1970
Status at SPC: Day Student
- Wife Colleen Banks (ex St Martins in The Pines) – yes, met at school social.
- Married in SPC Chapel 1973, (not sure if I was the second or third Old Boy to do so)
- Nine children, eight grandchildren;
- Tragically lost Colleen to cancer in 2010;
- Did Teacher training at the Old Ballarat Teachers College, now Federation University
- Taught until 1994 then set up a Teacher’s Agency in 1995
- Still working full-time in The Teacher’s Agency
- Re-partnered with Mary O’Connor
Would I do it again?
The only thing I sometimes wonder is how different things would have been if I had have done my Teacher training in Melbourne. Growing up in Ballarat and tertiary study in Ballarat narrowed my outlook on the world. However, if I had have had that experience, I would have missed many of the other blessings I consider I have been most fortunate to have experienced. So, yes, I would do it all again… with a few minor tweaks here and there.
I married Colleen Banks (ex St Martins in the Pine girl) in the Chapel at St Patrick’s College on August 18, 1973, not even three years out of school (love has mystical powers). An extraordinary part of our love story is that we met at a school social with the girls from Loreto and St Martins in the August of 1969 in the boarders’ dining room, less than 100m from where we were married on August 18, 1973, four years later. Our first four children were christened in the College Chapel. My memory has it that we were the second or third marriage in the Chapel.
Tragically we lost Colleen to breast cancer in 2010. That was a dark period for my family for a very long time. We mention her name often in conversation with heavy hearts but without the tears. Four of the grandchildren weren’t born but they recognise by sight and name, ‘Ma Ma’, from the pictures. We have nine children, five girls and four boys and eight grandchildren (five girls and three boys). I believe that my family covers most aspects of society. Four of my children are married, three were married in our garden at home; two are in relationships and three are single. In the diverse age we all live I have two of my daughters living in LA, two children in Melbourne, four in Ocean Grove and one in Geelong.
Other than losing Colleen, I still feel blessed to have nine healthy children and eight healthy grandchildren.
I attended Ballarat Teacher College after SPC and thoroughly enjoyed my career as a teacher for the following 23 years. My first teaching stint was at Camberwell South Primary School. I subsequently taught in eight other schools in Melbourne, rural areas around Ballarat and in and around Geelong. Of the nine schools I taught in, four have closed, one has moved site and one has changed its name – I’m not sure what one can read from that.
In the early 1990’s Colleen and I moved our family back to Ballarat and operated the Indoor Sports Centre in Sebastopol, another venue that no longer exists. We thought it would be a great opportunity for our growing family to have closer access to ageing grandparents and other extended family members. Along came the ‘Kennett years’. The re-structuring of the education system resulted in us choosing to move back to our home in Ocean Grove. Although I was disappointed to be leaving teaching, the new environment in education opened up the door for Colleen and I to establish the first Casual Relief Teaching Agency in Victoria. We worked very hard to start a business from scratch with two children at uni, six in school and one in kinder. Colleen and I were very proud of the way our children engaged in the whole process having to pitch in to help with chores, having to sacrifice some of the extra curricular activities that some of their peers engaged in but they never complained. I shouldn’t romanticise too much as they certainly pushed the boundaries, and beyond, on numerous occasions, but one forgets that after a while. Losing Colleen was the greatest blow I have experienced throughout the journey. Colleen was the ‘glue’ who kept things together and together we made things just tick along. No doubt we assume our important roles in our parenting and it certainly is ‘teamwork’. Once a ‘cog in the machine’ stops working it takes a very long time for things to stabilise.
I am still operating the Teacher Agency and working full-time. I have been most fortunate in meeting and partnering with a lovely lady, Mary O’Connor. It is nice to have a partner to share many experiences we look forward to as we travel through the latter third of our lives.
Would I do again?
In the past I believe that my maturation process was stunted in that I remained living at home in Ballarat with my mum whilst at Teachers College, had my group of mates around town, continued playing footy at North Ballarat and was never really forced into new and uncertain environments. Many of our peers had to experience the anxiety of having to leave home, leave the comforts and familiarity of friends and the hometown environment. It was an accelerant roadway into maturing adulthood. However, upon reflection, if I changed any of my past I would have missed many of the experiences I was blessed with.
Yes, I would do it all again…. with a few minor tweaks here and there.
Interestingly, my connection with St Pat’s goes back to the mid 1930’s. My mother as a 16 or 17- year-old young lass worked in the laundry at St Pat’s which I think, from her telling, was connected to Kenny House, but don’t quote me on that.
Over the years I have become aware of numerous families who were supported by the Christian Brothers and the various Catholic Church Agencies.
During my years at St Pat’s I wasn’t aware of the support the Brothers offered to my mother and many other families of boys who were at school with me. I had an absolutely extraordinary mother who raised her six children after my father died at the age of 37. There were six children, 10 years and under. My mother didn’t pay fees at St Pat’s throughout my time there. My education was sponsored by the Bishop of Ballarat Fund, I understand, or by the Christian Brothers or both.
My personal history in many ways has been unspectacular. I was very fortunate to be able to play footy until I was 31 years old. I would loved to have continued but my family commitments with five children at the time would have been too demanding and somewhat selfish on my part. Choosing to have a large family restricted us in pursuing individual sporting activities but it certainly brought us much joy with the challenging demands of a family. I was an inaugural member of our children’s school council, Star of the Sea at Ocean Grove, for a number of years. The usual demands of being involved in the children’s sporting pursuits was enough to keep us very busy for many years.
When the children were younger we would go to the annual Music Festival in Port Fairy. We went every year for approximately 13-14 years and would often call in to catch up with Gus Freeman and Cathy and their children. They would always warmly welcome us with a lovely afternoon tea on our way home.
In recent years I catch up with a yearly hit of tennis and a half dozen or so games of golf. I intend to be more regular as I transition into the next phase of my life.
I have been really fortunate in going on some memorable treks over the past five-six years with some of my children: a trek to Macchu Picchu in Peru with a son and daughter five years ago; the Annapurna trek in Nepal three years ago and the Kokoda Trail in 2019 with one of my sons. This year I had been training up to walk the Camino de Santiago across Spain but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons, hopefully next year.
The only person I have been in constant contact with over the years is my great mate, Michael Dowd. I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with SPC Old Boys and being introduced to other SPC Old Boys via the Paddies Seasonal Lunches. Michael and I have been organising these lunches for the past 10-11 years on the first Friday of each season at The Emerald in South Melbourne. You guys are most welcome to let Michael or I know of your email address to include on our emailing list. It has been a fantastic way of catching up with old school mates and meeting other Old Boys from the College. There is a vast range of ages and interests in the guys who attend. The shared culture and comradeship is most evident, the atmosphere is warm and inviting and a common thread that brings us together cannot be explained. We do know, however, that it is a great experience in re-connecting with old school mates and creating bonds with guys that we didn’t know at school or weren’t even at SPC at the same time as us. We now have around 175 guys on our email list. We generally get anywhere from 30-50 guys turn up. Those of our year will know many of the guys who attend. We have been really missing our gathering during COVID-19.
I have many special memories of St Pat’s, more around the mateship that I experienced rather than the ordinary academic achievements I made. Jake Farley’s Under 15 football side and the thrill of winning the ‘best back’ award was my first recognition of achieving anything in my first three years at St Pat’s. I’ll reserve my opinions of Jake, the ‘task master’, but must admit he was the first teacher who acknowledged anything positive in me at school, and I was in Year 9.
The memorable times of Years 7, 8 & 9:
- wiping out the memory of OVW’s (Br Wynn) slap of his ‘polished’ strap on the rickety desk as an introductory to secondary school;
- the occasional games of running, hiding and chasing through the pine trees on The Hill avoiding being caught by the Prefects;
- the race to the jerk courts each recess and lunchtime;
- Br Millington’s white socks and the white sock craze that lasted for best part of a year or two;
- Wednesday afternoons when we were able to watch the 1st XVIII football games;
- the Head of the Lake thrill and taking part in the war cry;
- riding my bike to school meeting mates on the way and riding on the way home;
- Year 8 – in the portables whilst O’Malley Wing was being constructed – Mr Green (aka Zorro) and the 5C footy picking competition;
- The day Mr Halliburton walked into the classroom in Year 9 with his ‘fly’ down. His reaction: he turned his back to the class, zipped up and said, ‘better close the gate before the horse bolts’ – that brought the house down;
- The Cadets and the bivouacs and Cadet Camps at Puckapunyal;
- The introduction to The Hill cricket and football competitions.
The senior years were more special for me:
Rowing with Mick Dowd, Peter Favaloro and Dennis Halliburton and winning the State Under 16 championship on the Barwon River in Geelong and being named as the 1st Crew in 1968, the Year of the Drought and no Head of the Lake. We were a crew that ‘peaked early’ with very little success thereafter.
- 1968 – Lap of the Lake: It was related to me that I was the original ‘Bradbury Affect’, you know – the guy who won the skating Gold medal for Australia after the entire field in front of him fell over and he skated to victory in the Olympics of 2002.
- As recorded SPC had ‘The Sheehan Affect’ in the Lap of The Lake in 1968. Everyone at the time knew that Sheehan was a rank outsider for the ‘Blue Ribbon’ event, he wasn’t even a cross country runner. Record has it that with about 400m from the finish, the red hot favourite for the race and a damn good runner, Brian ‘Doc’ Walker was leading comfortably in front and Sheehan desperately trying to keep pace with him. Suddenly, without warning, just by the Ballarat Yacht Club, poor Doc ‘spewed up’ on the side of the track. It was evident that Sheehan checked to see if he was okay but Doc sportingly waved him on. Sheehan was left out in front with Billy Mahar another couple of hundred metres back and was in the most unfamiliar role of being first to cross the winning line. He wasn’t sure how to do that as it was the first race of significance that he had ever won….. and for the record it was the only race of significance that he ever won. It can be noted that Doc won it the next year. He should have had back-to-back wins.
- The thrill of playing in the 1st XVIII on the Main Oval, every footballer’s dream at SPC, was special.
The thrill of being chosen as Captain of the 1st XVIIII and the O’Malley Cup winner.
- The greatest thrill was really the confidence my peers put into selecting me as their School’s Deputy Captain.
- I reflect on the decision that ‘Stubbie’ McDonald made when I was in my 2nd Year HSC. He lent his EH Holden to me to drive around over a weekend whilst he was in Melbourne … what was he thinking?! I felt really honoured, and, somewhat puzzled, but, I accepted graciously.
There were a few major introductions in 1970:
- the establishment of the Student Council
- the publication of the student paper ‘Pegasus’ and
- the introduction of having a HSC dinner. The first HSC dinner was more memorable because of the unfortunate timing of Monsignor McCunnie’s heart attack and subsequent death at our dinner table.
A current day realisation was how young those men were who taught us back then. Many seemed like old men but there was only Br Bill and Br Carol who would have been approximately our current ages.
We were at St Pat’s during the good years. Sure, the staff were tough at times and unrealistic, but we were sometimes victims of the frustration of men in a ‘contrived’ community that was out of touch with the times. Nevertheless, I think there was a positive culture created in St Pat’s guys that is evident to many people who didn’t attend the College. It is an unspoken, subconscious culture that exists. One of my ex- employees used to comment how he found a number of his ex St Pat’s mates had a particular bond or connection that was special, regardless of the length of time that they had last seen each other. I know I have been enjoying catching up with ex St Pat’s guys, many of whom I hadn’t seen for 40-50 years.
I am really fortunate to be living and working in Ocean Grove. Personally it hasn’t been an issue. My routine hasn’t really changed a great deal except for the fact I didn’t leave Ocean Grove for three and a half months. Business wise, it has been crippling. The closure of schools means that we have very few positions to offer to our teachers. Teachers who rely on Casual Relief Teaching have also experienced a horrid year. There have been a number of really sad stories of friends and relatives who have passed this year without being able to support and offer our condolences in the traditional way. I was honoured but saddened by the situation in that I received my first ‘invitation to a funeral’. Who would ever have guessed that we would be in positions whereby invitations would have to be sent to attendees at funerals. Another example of the sign of the pandemic times.