Keith Teale

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William Thompson Masonic School

Interviewee: Keith Teale, born 1933

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 15 Dec 2006

Transcription: Glenys & Kevin Murray, April 2007

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee(s) 

Keith’s father became ill as a result of experiences in France during World War I and was institutionalised in 1937 when Keith was 4. A friend and fellow Masonian realized that Keith’s mother was struggling to care for 3 sons, so he contacted the Masonic Youth Welfare Fund. Keith attended the School in 1941 and 1947-1949.

Now, were there any similar schools operating in Sydney by the time that he (William Thompson) set his up?

No there wasn't. Of course, as far as I know, this was the only school that didn't get any finance from any government organisation, whereas a lot of the other schools did. It was totally funded by funds from fellow Masons who were levied every year and all those funds were put into the running of the school. So they didn't have any help whatsoever - nor did they ask for it! Probably because they didn't want to be involved with the government. They wanted to run it the way they intended to run it.

How did they finance the school, do you think?

The original land they bought, I think they purchased for about four thousand six hundred pounds - about $10,000 today. It was 160 acres out at Baulkham Hills, and there were a lot of people who were able to give money to the cause and I think a lot of it come from that - from donations to get it going, and eventually, as I say, from the levy that was applied to all Masons. In those days it was fairly big, Masonry. Not so big these days, like everything else it's falling away. Most of it was funded that way.

So there must have been a great enthusiasm at the time to have the school?

Well there was. There was a great need. Of course, here was this man who, I think they call it "I am my brother's keeper". It only started with 47, I think, when it opened, but it grew up to its maximum, probably 300 around about the late 70's (actually the 1930's). But the need was there and he just saw so much poverty from their fellow "brothers" as they called them. It was a tremendous vision for what he did, to put it all together. To get the whole thing going - to purchase the land. They had a lot of auctions of land in lots of places. They selected this site at Baulkham Hills because they wanted to have a Dairy and a place to have an orchard and a place to grow vegetables and all these sorts of things, and it was the site that they selected, and subsequently it proved a good site.

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Sketch of Masonic School pre 1922

It was an excellent site.

It was a good site.

Now, can you remember your very first day at school, when you first arrived?

I can remember the very first day I went to the Masonic School. We got there after the lunch break, so all the children had already gone back to their school, because there was a Primary School on the Masonic School facility. And my most vivid memory was eating my lunch there, and I had - I wasn't very partial to pumpkin, and I told the lady that I didn't like it, and she said to me that I wouldn't have any trouble today. "I'll take it off your plate today, but from tomorrow onwards", she said "you've got to eat what's put in front of you. Don't tell anyone you don't like it or someone will give you an extra spoonfull". So I learnt to keep my mouth shut. That was my first day, and we were... The day was taken up with being given a uniform which consisted of navy shirts and trousers with a pocket sewn up at here, and we were only allowed to have a handkerchief that came in our top pocket. Nobody ever had money in the school - if you were caught with money, it was a cardinal sin if you were caught with money in your pocket. I can well remember one night after the War (I'm jumping ahead a bit) but there was a young fellow... they had all the best of the school books and that. You know, we had books that you couldn't buy - they were all pre-war and they brought them back when we came back after the War, there. Like Geography books that were that thick - you couldn't buy them after the War, they just weren't procurable. And I can remember we were sitting in the prep one night and a fellow pulled out his hankie - a young fellow, Farqual MacDonald was his name, and this penny rolled right across the floor. Oh we knew what was going to happen. What he'd done, he'd sold half a ruler - he'd cut his ruler in half and sold half the ruler. Poor old Farqual, it cost him a week at the movies.

He sold it for one Penny?

Yeah, a Penny. A Penny rolled out of his pocket.

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Former Laundry now Building 30 exterior 2004

Now, the dormitory where you slept. How many beds were there in there? Can you describe that room to me?

Yeah, well it was just a long dorm with 12 beds evenly spaced, and you had a little locker beside you where you put your clothes every night - you had to fold your clothes up, place for your slippers and your shirts and your trousers and all those sorts of things, that was all beside your bed, that's all you had. We all had a number of course. I don't know what my number was when I was in the early days, but I can tell you that in later years my number was SHB21 - Senior House Boy number 21. Subsequently that was the way when your clothes were washed and all that, the Laundry would know that it was Senior Boys' B Dormitory, and all those clothes would go in that stack. Of course we all knew our number and rather than have names, it was so easy to identify the clothing back from the Laundry.

Was there a Matron that slept in the Dormitory?

Yes there was.

What was her name?

In the early days it was Miss Parton was the one I had. In later years it was a Miss Tate in the latter part, before we went over to the Senior Boys' House.

And how would they enforce the discipline?

Oh, Miss Parton was a lovely, gentle lady. I think she was the most loved Matron there. But Miss Tate was a hard disciplinarian. I don't think I ever saw her smile. She might of, I don't know. But maybe she was dealing with older boys then, but she was pretty hard.

Now you were only there for three months, the first time, weren't you, until the War broke out?

That's right.

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Dormitory in 2004

How would you describe your typical day in the School in those first three months, in that first period?

Well, a typical day... you'd get up at about 7 o'clock in the morning. You'd go and have a cold shower, clean your teeth, do what little bit of work you had to do - you always had to make your bed. And don't forget, beds were made like hospitals. There had to be a special way the bed had to be made. It had to be tucked back with a crease on the bottom, and turned around. None of this just pulling everything up. There was none of that! They had to be made properly. And the Matron would come around and check to see if the bed had been made correctly. There was a procedure. And then we'd go to breakfast.

Where was that?

Just behind the Main Administrative Block, there was a massive big eating place there. Boys on one side and girls on the other side, because boys and girls were never to meet. So we'd go there and have to say Grace before we had our meal. Our meal would consist of porridge and toast, I think. That's about all.

Do you remember the words for the Grace that you said?

Gee... "For what we are about to receive may the great Architect of the Universe make us truly thankful and ever mindful of the wants and needs of others".

So you actually never referred to God as such?

In Masonry, God is referred to as The Great Architect of the Universe, and I suppose in Masonic Lodges they would do that.

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Sundial and fountain at rear of boys cottages late 1940s

Interesting. So, you would have your breakfast which was always the same, was it? Always porridge?

Oh yes, always porridge, or mostly porridge, mostly the same. And then we'd go to Assembly before school, at which Mr Cropley would come in and tell you what his thoughts were for the day, and if anybody had been naughty reports would be read out, then we'd proceed to get into line and march down to the school. We'd attend school all day. Come back for lunch. And then at night time we'd come home from school we'd have a little play. Dinner was always at 5 o'clock. Of course in Primary School we didn't have to go to Prep which we did in the Senior School. I think we just did what most little kids... we had things to play with and all that. I'm not sure what time bed was then, but whatever it was it was the same time every night, there was no excuse. Everyone got into bed after you had your showers, and lights out, and that was it... Noone was allowed to talk after the lights went out - that was it!

You said you had your showers twice a day, morning and night. Were they both cold showers?

No. Only the morning shower was cold.

Why do you think that was?

I don't know. It wasn't for any economic reason. I think it's something that may have been carried over... there was a Masonic Schools in Bushby, in England. Whether or not they carried over some of the traditions of that I don't know. But I know it was phased out in about the 70's when a new Medical Doctor took over the running of the school and he just subsequently cut it right out. So it took them a long time... probably 40 or 50 years before it stopped.

Maybe it was meant to fortify the boys, was it?

Well I don't know what it was, but... you just didn't walk in and walk out. There was always a Senior person there, whether it was a Captain or somebody, or the Superintendant to tell you. You had to spend a few seconds under it!

It was a short shower.

It was a short shower, but you had to stay there long enough to satisfy whoever was the supervisor at the time.

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A former cottage bathroom area with old lockers in 2004

You said to me earlier that you felt a bit institutionalised at that school especially in the beginning. Do you still feel that way?

On I think so. They said it was to be like the greatest of all private schools. But the regime was very strict, really it was.

Tell me about the punishment that would be meted out? What sort of system was it?

The punishment was Mr Cropley would administer the caning and gross disobedience he would not tolerate disobedience of any shape or form. The school system operated on a marks system. Marks were given by the matrons or by prefects or by the captain and depending on what the severity of the mark Mr Cropley deemed it was a punishable offence. You stayed back after assembly and he would mete out the caning.

Did it hurt?

Oh, yes I never got the cane off him but I know plenty of people that did and yes it hurt. Today I think it’s barbaric really.

Now they also had a demerit point system didn’t they? Tell me about that?

The mark system worked this way. If you lost two marks, we’d always go to the pictures, movies on a Thursday night. I’ve seen that many Jeanette McDonald, Nelson Eddy movies gee remember those that’s going back a fair way isn’t it? Yes two marks would stop you going to the movies. If you got four it would carry over to the second week and you wouldn’t go two weeks. If you got six and subsequently some people never went. Some of the boys just wouldn’t conform.

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Rear of Admin Building 14 after fire of 3 Jan 1997
which destroyed the Assembly Hall and Dining Rooms

Who was this projectionist that used to put on the movies?

Look I can’t remember his name. He was a lovely man he was always up there every Thursday to give his time. Once again a volunteer give of his time. We used to love going to the movies that was our big thrill of the week. Nothing much else happened that was it.

It was always Thursday night?

Thursday night was movie night.

Did he bring his own projector?

No, no those facilities were there. They had a projector room up in the assembly hall, in the administrative block up the top there. That was all there.

Was it a thirty five millimetre projector do you remember for the big feature films?

I think it was.

They really didn’t spare any expense did they?

Oh no they tried to have everything there. For my part when I look back on it now. I think I might have told you before I really didn’t enjoy being there. But when I look back on it now I think it made me a better person. I’m convinced that everything I’ve done today. I’ve married and raised my family and a lot of things I’ve tried to instil in my children. Although I would never to try to discipline them the way I was disciplined. I think they’d have left home years ago.

Were there any students that were expelled from the school do you know?

Yes there was only one that I can bring to mind a fellow by the name of Max O’Hearn(?). I don’t know what he got expelled for but I know after I left subsequently there were quite a few. They weren’t as well disciplined as we were. You’ve got to remember that we came back from the war years after being out of the school for five years. When we came back they just, straight down the line it was. As the years moved on towards probably the late sixties and the seventies the Wyndham Scheme came in and children were there for much longer and I think they wouldn’t accept the discipline. The discipline wasn’t as strong as when we were there there’s no question about that.

Now tell a little bit about the dress code at the school the uniforms?

Well the dress code was short pants, long socks and cap, we had a cap. The pocket was stitched up. Mr Cropley always maintained that all you needed in your pockets was a handkerchief and a comb and that was subsequently place in the top pocket. No student was allowed money at all. There was no money. The captain and the prefects, I was captain and I think I got one and sixpence or fifteen cents a week I was allowed to have that. I was allowed to wear a watch because I was captain and the prefects were allowed to have a watch. Nobody else was allowed to have a watch.

So it marked you from the other boys?

Oh, yes yeah.

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Original school shoe locker

You’ve spoken about the top wear. What about the underwear what did you wear?

To the best of my knowledge I don’t recall us ever having underpants but our trousers were all lined. Whether they thought that was a better need or not in those days I don’t know. We wore boots, heavy boots and our jumpers were lined with blue and gold. Blue and gold were the colours of the school. It was adequate the clothing.

Did you have to polish your own shoes?

Oh, yes.

How often?

Every night, every night there was a shoe box outside the dormitory. That was one of the tasks of the prefects or the captain to go and check all the shoes. All the boxes were numbered whatever your dormitory number was and you’d check them mainly around the heels to make sure that the whole lot was done. They’d get marks for that if their shoes weren’t cleaned. They all knew that they had to clean their shoes.

How did your mother feel about having her kids in the school? I mean she must have been a bit lonely was she?

Oh like any mother I think she would have been. Her task was to try to provide for us as best she could which she found very hard of course. We spoke about it later life, we spoke about why we went there. She just thought there was no hope for us the way we were going. She could see nothing in the future for us and this was a chance to make something of our lives. She was happy in the thought that she was doing the right thing in those days even though it left her lonely.

So you left in December 1941 when the school closed?

While we were on annual leave from the schools we were all notified that the schools would not be reopening because of the Japanese involvement in the war and there was a need to have some quick hospitalisation for the soldiers coming down from the north.

So what happened then?

Well they were all notified. The Masons agreed that they would give the mother I think it was fifteen shillings a week per child. Mother got a twenty pound year allowance for clothing. Free dental and medical care whilst the schools were closed. We went to the country to live. Really it was after the Japanese sent the shell over from the submarine off Bondi it came straight over. We had relatives who had gone to the country area. Grenfell it was in the central west for the duration of the war. All their husbands were at the war and we all lived in this big house which was a horse trainer’s house. It had about six or seven bedrooms and a big verandah right around it and stables down the back. I wasn’t real happy going there because we came from Bondi Beach to a country town. It was in the middle of a drought and couldn’t swim, terrible.

So you spent quite a few years away?

Yeah till the end of 1946.

In Grenfell?

Yes in Grenfell from 1942 to 1946 about five years.

So when did you get the notice to come back to the school?

A lot of the other institutions and schools demanded their schools back. But for some reason they delayed in giving the schools back. They wanted an extra six months to do lots of things that they wanted. Eventually they succumbed to the pressure and agreed to give the schools back. Much later than the other one were given back. They wanted them back to start the school year of 1947. Remember the war ended in 1945 and they were still hanging onto the Masonic Schools at that time.

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Oval with Recreation Gall and Admin Building late 1940s

The school looked substantially different after you returned to the school in 1947?

The dormitories didn’t the senior boys house wasn’t opened then. It had eventually been turned into a nurse’s home. They agreed that they wouldn’t change anything structurally, the army, but they did. So the senior boy’s house wasn’t suitable for housing anybody straight after the war. It didn’t open again until 1949 the senior boy’s house. I was in the first intake that went back over to Cropley House as it’s known now.

You were much older of course than when you were there, you were five years older. Did you feel any different?

Oh yes, oh yes five years living a free little life in a country town. Free as a breeze and straight away, boy it was hard, into the regime.

Keith, can you describe the meals when you were having your meals at night and in the mornings where did the person supervising sit and what were you allowed and not allowed to do during meals?

Well the matron used to sit at the head of the table. Some of the tables I can’t recall but they might have been the full dormitory there. Twenty four to a table there was no talking at the meal tables at all. While you were waiting for your meal you had to sit with your hand behind your back and when you’d finished your meal you had to sit up with your hands behind your back.

Right really?

That’s right.

If you didn’t you’d be punished?

You’d be punished you’d get marks for talking at the table, no movies. I suppose when you’re looking at it. Two hundred children seated at meal tables if their all chattering away it would be pretty noisy I should imagine. I don’t know if that was the rationale behind it all but there was no talking at all.

Now did they take you on organised outings or trips sometimes?

The only organised I got... but in subsequent years they did back in the sixties and seventies they had some great trips out of the school. In my day the only outing we ever got was to the Royal Easter Show.

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Left to right: Jean Noakes, Babes McKay and
Norma Block at Easter Show 1941

Were you allowed to buy a show bag or something?

No show bags no they give you five shillings which is fifty cents today. They maintained that it was an educational venture nothing more nothing less. You’d buy something with your fifty cents but it wouldn’t buy much. Though it wasn’t bad in those days fifty cents was quite a bit of money in those days. But only the top, I don’t know if they’d take forty children or not. It was on the marks system again and only the top forty who had the least number of marks were eligible to go to the show. Those that missed the cut off didn’t go.

So you must have looked forward to that did you?

Oh yes immensely.

Was there any other entertainment at the school put on for the kids sometimes apart from the pictures?

Not that I can recall. They used to have a Christmas concert I know they used to have a Christmas concert. Some of the Lodges would come up and we’d have a Christmas concert. They’d bring some singers and all that type of thing. But outside of that I can’t recall anything else, no.

Where did the entertainment actually take place?

In the Assembly Hall, in the assembly hall which is just behind the administrative block.

Did you ever have any dances there were they put on?

Oh no boys and girls didn’t meet at all, at all.

Not even for the senior boys?

No, no.

Right there was also a newsletter called The Masonian. Did you have a part to play in the production of that?

No we didn’t have any part in that no. It was a magazine put out by the welfare board and it went out to all lodges. That was the circulation through the lodges. Everything was to do with the lodge. If the lodge was to donate a box of fruit or a bag of this all of this was put in the thing. Children were encouraged to write speeches on any subject that they choose. It might be on punctuality or something like that or all those sort of things that Mr Cropley liked and to put it in words and if you were lucky enough you got it published in the Masonian.

Now the difference between the school before the war and after the war in terms of the regime and strictness was it changed or was it the same amount of strictness after you returned?

I think it was about the same in my day it was anyhow. I didn’t notice any difference.

Now you went to live in Cropley House for Senior Boys?

1949 I went over there.

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Cropley House c1950

Yeah right. Was it different from where you had been before?

Yes it was it was because we had a different supervisor. We were supervised by Stan McMillan it was his domain over there. He ran that. Much the same as get up early in the morning do your tasks at work. Have your breakfast we used to have to march to school right from Cropley House down to the buses. They didn’t educate senior boys at the school. They used to do the girls there up to a period of time and subsequently they went out to high schools. There was a big argument about that because as I say the boys and the girls never met. They tried desperately to get the girls put into the Macquarie Girls High School so they’d be separated from the boys. They missed out on that so they ended up going to Northmead High and that would be probably the only time the boys and girls would meet at school.

So the school actually went up to the end of primary school didn’t it?

That’s right. For the girls in the early part it went up to Intermediate standard I think. In later years they all went out to school high school girls.

Mr Cropley died in 1949 didn’t he?

Yes, yes.

Who took over from him?

Mr Turner ex pupil of the school as was Stan McMillan. They were all ex pupils of the school so they knew how to keep the regime going.

Were they stricter than Cropley had been?

I think about the same in my time I don’t think it was any different.

So the atmosphere was the same was it?

Exactly the same there was no change that I could ascertain.

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Cropley House front close view 2004

Keith, during the Assembly there were lots of things that you had to do, wasn't there? Can you tell me what was required of you every day at the Assembly?

We never had Assembly as such over at the Senior Boys house when we were over there. Before we went to the Senior Boys house we had a combined Assembly with the whole of the school, because it was convenient to do it then, but we didn't have it as such over at the Senior Boys house. Assembly always would consist of Mr Cropley taking control of the Assembly and telling you what he'd heard or words of wisdom each day, and then all the Prefects would give their reports out for the day, and what discipline he was going to deal out. Basically that's what it was all about.

And did the boys have to make a speech?

Everybody had to make a speech - boys and girls. In your dormitory number as it came around. You'd pick your own topic. I remember one feller, my mate Tony Fox, he had a topic called... Mr Cropley told him to make a speech on "in for a penny, in for a pound". I can still see Mr Cropley so horrified when he got up and he said "If you're going past an orchard and you want to take a piece of fruit, you might as well take three or four, and not one". He was horrified! That's what he thought "in for a penny, in for a pound" meant!

That's one interpretation.

Yeah, that was his interpretation...

Were the boys pretty honest? Was there any stealing and things like that?

No. I can honestly say I never, never experienced that whatsoever.

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Marching Band late 1940s

Right. And how religious was the school? You said you marched to church every day...

Yes, we marched to church. It was based on Anglican, Church of England religion - Anglican I think they call it today. And we used to march to church up old Seven Hills Road, along the Windsor Road down to the Anglican church there on Windsor Road. Every Sunday morning and the pupils of the school would participate in the church service - they would do the readings and what have you. Then we'd march home and we'd have lunch, and Sunday afternoon we'd have Sunday School - pretty well taken up. And, as I've said, anybody who had to go to the dentist, all that was attended to on Sunday morning... if you didn't go to church you went to the dentist.

But the rest of the week you didn't have religious instruction of any sort?

No, only Grace before meals...

Now, what do you think were the crisis periods for the school? They must have had their crises, difficult times?

In terms of?

In terms of the major crises... one of them would have been the War, when the school had to close...

Well that was out biggest crises.

Were there any others?

I think it was probably the beginning of the end for the school when the Wyndham Scheme came in, because education went from 16 to 18... you were 18 when you left. And then the other thing, too, as the wind-down of the schools happened, as the economy was growing, women were going to work and mothers, rather than... well, you wouldn't want to put your child away in a home if you could look after them yourself at home... and the numbers started dwindling, and I think that was our biggest crisis.

So, the society was changing?

Yes, the whole society was changing around. And mothers could afford to keep their children at home, and that's what they did. And the numbers just dwindled, and dwindled, and dwindled... and costs were going up. Wages were going up for the Matrons and the ancilliary staff that were there, the gardeners and all that sort of thing. And all that mitigating keeping the schools open - they were just running down. It was just not feasable to keep it viable, I think. That's what beat them. So they decided to, in the end, to sell it to the Baulkham Hills Council, who purchased it, I think, for nine million dollars back in the late Seventies, I think. They were the two major crises, I think.

So the demise of the school was really due to society changing, do you think?

I think so. No question about it... the need wasn't there any more.

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Admin Building after the fire 3 Jan 1997

What a wonderful organisation the Masons were, then.

Well I think they were. They're still doing great work... they're just involved in this latest one about trying to get men our age to go to see a doctor all over New South Wales. It's been very successful, I believe. They've been the lynchpin for all over Australia, and they're still working hard. A lot of people think it's a religious thing. It's not. My best mate in Forbes - he's passed on now - he was a very good Roman Catholic and he became Master of Lodge at Kempsey just after he left Forbes, so anybody can join a Masonic Lodge, anybody. Providing you have a belief in God and accept the Monarchy. That's the two criteria. And a clean record... can't have any criminal conviction whatsoever. So I think it's a good start.

It certainly has been for you, hasn't it?

Mmm, I think so.

So, anything else that you want to talk about before we wrap it up? Is there anything else that you want to say?

No, I think that's about all. I think it's a fairly honest appraisal of my time at Masonic Schools. I thought they were hard when I was there, but when I look back on my life now, I can see it's been to my benefit, without any doubt.

Did you join the Masonic Lodge out of gratitude for what they did for you, do you think?

I think I did. I wanted to try and put something back into it. I got involved in lots of Masonic charities and all that sort of thing and certainly that was my motivation.

Good. Well thanks very much, Keith, for this interview.

Thank you for the opportunity. I hope it's been of some use in the future.

Oh it will be, definitely.