Brian McCrohan and Michael Shannon - Day 1 - 64 years apart
It is Michael Shannon’s first day in Year 7, and he has nearly everything that he needs. Decked out in a brand new summer uniform and loaded with textbooks for his locker, he carries a mobile phone for the tram and bus rides from Mont Albert to Bulleen. His maroon backpack bears the college crest and motto Virtute ad Altissima in gold and blue. The Latin seems appropriate; when asked in his selection interview to describe himself, Michael chose the words ‘determined’ and ‘passionate’.
Boys entering Year 7 at Marcellin College in 2015 join a community of over 1000 students. Surrounded by so many new faces and buildings, some might worry about being lost in the crowd. But Michael, who has come from a primary school of only 230 students, has a brother in Year 10 at Marcellin and is already familiar with the layout of the college. Thanks to the Year 7 Orientation Day in December, he is also acquainted with his Mannes house group and pastoral leader.
Michael admits that he felt nervous at Orientation, sitting with his pastoral group in the Brother Placidus lecture theatre. He is keen to make a good impression, and looks forward to covering ‘more advanced stuff’ in his classes and getting involved in the school music program. The nerves haven’t disappeared just yet. ‘[I’m] very nervous,’ he confides, ‘and excited!’
Since opening in 1950, Marcellin has welcomed thousands of commencing Year 7s. Most students remember their own first-day nerves and excitement, but perhaps none so keenly as Brian McCrohan: the very first student ever to step foot on college grounds.
Brian arrived at 8 am on that inaugural day, sixty-four years ago. He was early: his father had a morning meeting to attend in the city, but wanted to catch the tram with Brian up Burke road, then walk him the several hundred meters along Canterbury road to the college’s original location in Camberwell. At the school gates, the elderly Brother Placidus was waiting to welcome Brian and 120 other students to Marcellin, some of whom were coming from towns 50 km away.
It may be difficult for Year 7 students in 2015 to imagine, but in 1950, the college consisted of little more than some stables recently converted into classrooms. In fact, Brian recalls that on his first day construction was still in progress; some of the classrooms finished, others not. The completed rooms were uncarpeted, and had lightweight wooden desks – with inkwells and lids – which sat two boys side by side. It is possible, however, that on that first morning some classrooms went without furniture. ‘There were shortages of just about everything!’ Brian remembers.
Though the college was not entirely ready, Brian himself was dressed and pressed, with ‘not a hair out of place’. He wore shorts and a dark blue suit blazer, and carried a ‘Gladstone’ schoolbag. The bag was a far cry from today’s orthopedic school backpacks: pure leather, a metal lock at the top, and a rectangular shape with plenty of room for sports gear. There was no school crest; Brian estimates that it was several months before the students received a small sew-on badge for their suit pockets.
Many of Brian’s school experiences will seem so familiar to current Marcellin students – Latin hymns at Mass, chilly cricket at Assumption College, girls from surrounding schools passing ‘like ships in the night’ – that it is easy to forget that he began his studies very soon after the end of the second world war. In hindsight, some of Brian’s teachers were perhaps unnecessarily strict, but he can understand why. ‘Remember, we were just coming out of the war. There were quite a few teachers who probably fought…’
Of course, minor infractions didn’t lead to detention in Brian’s day. Whispering in class could earn the boys a trip to the principle’s office and up to six raps on the hand with a leather strap. Though the punishments were certainly more severe in 1950, it seems that the perpetrators haven’t changed much in half a century: ‘Classes like Year 8 or Year 9 seemed to get [the strap] the most,’ Brian muses, ‘they were the ones that usually deserved it!’
When it came to the strap, Brian had little need to worry. He was a diligent student, enjoying French and Latin and later specialising in maths and science. As was common at the time, Brian repeated Year 12 to give himself a little more time before university, and to achieve the best results possible. These marks merited a Commonwealth studentship scholarship, which enabled him to complete a Bachelor degree in science at the University of Melbourne and ultimately to pursue a career in teaching.
Reflecting on his time at Marcellin, Brian also recalls hours spent outside the classroom. There may not have been as many co-curricular opportunities as today’s students enjoy, but Brian remembers singing in a choir, and captaining the school First Eleven. Sometimes, the teachers would take the boys down to Anderson’s Park in Camberwell for some exercise. Their means of transport seems novel now: ‘They ordered a special tram… It’s amazing when you think about it. A school could get a tram to come along at a certain time, [to] pick up the school load.’
The days of ordered school trams are long gone, but when the bell rings today, there will be a Marcellin bus waiting to take Michael Shannon part of the way home. Excited about new challenges in the classroom and about learning a brass instrument ‘just for the fun of playing’, it seems that Michael shares Brian’s eagerness for knowledge. Brian’s first day at Marcellin, all those years ago, marked the beginning of a life dedicated to learning and teaching. Who can tell where Michael’s will lead?