William Thompson Masonic School
Interviewee: Pat Copley, born 1927
Interviewer: Frank Heimans, for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 11 Jan 2007
Transcription: Glenys Murray, April 2007
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Pat (nee Cox)’s parents were killed when she was 3 years old, and she boarded with relations until she was 6. She and her older sister Connie were sent to the Masonic School in 1933 and Pat attended there until 1941 when the school was closed for the war effort. Pat returned as a staff member in the late 1940s.
Tell me a little bit about the school when you first arrived? What did it look like do you remember?
Goodness me I was only six. My first memory of the school is my aunt and uncle leaving me there with all the little girls lined up to go into the dining room. It must have been late in the afternoon I suppose when we got there. It was September 1933 and it was just after the school holidays. I remember another girl we found out since, Moira and I had gone in the same day. But we didn’t know that til latter years. So that’s my first memory. It didn’t really worry me I have no recollection of being upset at all. I was a little child of six and when I look at children today I think well it must have been traumatic. But I was amongst all little girls and I’d been living with an elderly aunt and uncle so it was probably a haven, a paradise for me. Beautiful grounds, lovely trees, very clean I can see it today. It was such a lovely place.
Were you happy there?
I was extremely happy I can’t ever remember any other childhood. I know some pupils weren’t happy there. I think that came after the war. I think there were very few of us unhappy before the war. We had others to help us along. A tradition from 1922 was older ones helping little ones. We all had, as you got older a little girl, a little boy in the other case to look after. I had my sister with me so I had someone to cling on to I suppose. Where a lot of children didn’t and particularly with homes say the boys were further away.
Masonic School swimmming pool 1940s was near
Cropley Drive west of the Hospital Building 33
They were in the grounds but you didn’t mix. That was a sad thing because say if you had a visitor on a Saturday Mum would see the girl for a few hours and then go over to see the boy. But in latter years one of our very wonderful Masonians Ted Smith, he was on the board, he got that changed so they could join one another. If it was a wet day in one of the cottages or in the hall or lovely day down in the paddocks. We had plenty to occupy ourselves as little girls.We were taught swimming, we had a gymnasium, had a physical culture instructor. He was a strange man he was an old army physical culture instructor. One of his favourite sayings were “if you don’t do what you’re told I’ll put my hand down your throat and I’ll turn you inside out”. We thought that was rather funny but when you think about it I don’t think it was very funny. School was in the grounds for the junior boys and the girls. We had physical culture there at playtime. We marched back to the cottages and the dining room for our meals and then we’d march back again to school in the afternoon. It was always intriguing our driveway would have four lanes. In latter years we moved to three lanes because they changed the grouping. I think we had another physical culture instructor who thought three looked better than four.
Christmas holidays I don’t know how many times that was done, might have been bi-annually. The roadway would be retarred so we’d lose all our tracks and have to start again. We had gardens around our cottages. There were five cottages for the girls and five for the boys. Junior boys’ senior boys were separate. There were ninety six of them in a two storey building over the hill in our grounds. I was only about ten and I loved gardening. I think my grandparents had owned a farm in Wellington. One of the other girls who I was very fond of more of less took over me when my sister left school. She would be studying and I used to do her garden and I enjoyed that. Of latter years we didn’t have to do our own gardens, the gardeners took over. We had a wonderful market garden there which supplied our vegetables. We had a little dairy, a pig farm. One of our treats was on a Sunday to walk down to the pig farm, of all things, it was away from our buildings and it was just a nice little walk. All the food was saved in our pig bucket. Whatever was left although we had to eat everything on our plates, if ever anything was left was put in our old pig bucket in the dining room and that was taken down to the pigs. These days you couldn’t do that. The pigs we didn’t have they were only there to sell, to get money. We didn’t have chooks strangely enough I don’t remember ever having an egg. No doubt we had eggs in our meals. It would have been very difficult giving children an egg. You’d look at the matrons sitting up there with their bacon and eggs and think mmmm while we were having rolled oats. Another one which we used to call saw dust I suppose it was wheat. I hated rolled oats but I did like the other porridge.
Masonic School dinner plate
We had bread and milk for breakfast and jam of course, plenty of it. It didn’t matter keep on eating as much as you liked. Although I’ve heard other stories since where they only had two slices but I don’t know where they get that from. We had a full meal at lunchtime. Meat and vegetables and then dessert, I don’t remember having a drink at lunchtime. Then in the afternoon after school we’d have slices of bread waiting for us, just bread and butter. If you’d had visitors at the weekend we’d all share in the food. If there wasn’t sufficient in the cottage sometimes the office would be able to supply. Masons would bring up boxes of fruit or boxes of lolls and different things that were shared amongst us all. We learnt to share and I think we’ve carried that right through our lives. There’s a group of us still meet once a month. Marg and Johnny Brown are one of those too. Then we have an annual dinner at Grand Lodge once a year. We used to meet in one another’s homes but as we became older the travelling with walking sticks and various other complaints was getting difficult so we now meet at lunchtime in the Masonic Club in Castlereagh Street. They’ve given us a little corner of their dining room and we’re quite happy there. We get there anything from ten and leave there three o’clock or so. Do nothing but talk. We’re a great family, we all help one another. I know my husband and I are going through a very bad spell at the moment and I got into very serious trouble when they eventually tracked me down. This had happened before Christmas and I didn’t want to tell everybody because I thought I didn’t want to spoil their Christmas. They loved John and known that I had gone to the Christmas Party but John hadn’t. So they rang around and said “John and Pat must be OK they’ve gone on holidays”. So finally Marie got me and really roused on me she said “you know we’re family we share your troubles” which they are doing.
Was John also a student at the Masonic School?
No, I met John at work at the ABC. I was there for actually thirty years, John was only there for twenty. We met at the ABC and eventually married.
What were you doing at the ABC?
I was a secretary, a good old secretary. It was after I left the Masonic School the second time. I started off in Sir Charles (Moses) secretariat a group of girls, from there you go to another grade, you do exams and you advance to another position. I was only a typist in the beginning, I had done shorthand at college I revised my shorthand so I got a higher grade and I could become a secretary. Then I worked in various departments. I used to say I got the seven year itch. So you’d apply for another job and move on. They were happy years too.
Now tell me about the Cropleys, Mr Cropley and his wife Beatrice, what were they like?
Mr and Mrs Cropley were I’ve always felt she was a very sad lady. She was very distant in a way. As a child I felt that but when I went back to the school to work I saw a different side of her. She was a very loving, feeling person. They had lost their little child at five and they didn’t have any more children. They were business people or he was. I think he was in business with his brother but he gave that up in his forties to come and look after the children at school. He was a fatherly man. I think it was 1935 I was still in kindergarten and Mr and Mrs Cropley took a year off, yeah 1935, to go overseas. They had a holiday and there was another little girl and I Betty McCourty(?) and we were chosen to write to him. I would love to see those letters. But he wrote back and I still have those letters, I have three of them. He was travelling the world and in one of the letters he said. They would be given to Mr Busby I think at the time was our deputy superintendent and he would read those letters out to us at assembly. But they were given back to me and I still have them. In one of the letters he said “he’d been travelling the world and what a lucky little girl I was, and what I good little girl I ought to be because I lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world”. And I believed that not that I’ve travelled the world but I have travelled to England. My husband’s an Englishman and we went to see his family. We have got a beautiful spot at Baulkham Hills which has been ruined of course. But that’s progress.
Rupert Cropley (Pop Crop) with car late 1940s
What was there when you came in terms of buildings that were already there? Can you describe them?
When I went to school in 1933 it was complete. We had five girl’s cottages, five boys and the senior house. I think senior house had gone up about 1927. They had been living out some of the senior boys in Wyoming but by then they’d built the senior house for ninety six boys. That is now used as a wedding and reception place. The rest of the school is occupied by Baulkham Hills Shire and it’s used for various other functions. St John’s Ambulance and Boy Scouts and retarded kids. Each cottage has a different use which is good to see. It was very sad for us to leave the school. A lot of us were angry, disappointed but after the war women were getting more pensions. No doubt mothers didn’t want to lose their children they wanted to keep them at home. So they were working or they had pensions so they were able to look after their own children. Even so the Masons were still caring for them to help with education and health and what have you. So that was why the numbers were diminishing and it wasn’t being practical to keep it closed. I remember saying to Mr Cropley “oh why can’t we have it as accommodation for elderly people”? I wasn’t thinking of retirement villages at the time or “couldn’t we have it as a hospital”? There was a hospital in Ashfield, which is now not the Masonic Hospital anymore, where as children you went there to have you appendix out or whatever we had a little hospital at the school for measles and chickenpox and you name it. Mr and Mrs Cropley they were Mum and Dad to me cause my Mum and Dad are only a picture on a wall. I was very fortunate that when he was passing on that I lived nearby to the Masonic Hospital. One of the older girls Betty McGillivray was able to be his night nurse and I was able to go and visit him and I’ve always treasured that.
Did you have a very close relationship with him then?
Well I think working at school. I just feel I don’t know why really. I remember when I went to work in the office his initials were RSC, Rupert Sidney Cropley and here I was as an eighteen year old being very smart. I said “oh I’m Ruth Patricia Cox,do you think I can put RSC, RPC on the top of our letters”? He said “by all means, yes”
Were you ever sick, did you ever go to the hospital?
I was never sick as such. We were in quarantine at one stage, weren’t allowed visitors because of diphtheria. So we just had to stay in the school grounds. I don’t think anyone had diphtheria but it was prevented from coming to us. We were closed at times with chickenpox and measles. I don’t recall ever having them. I recently asked my doctor cause with my husband being ill I’ve been very worried about shingles. John’s had a few bouts of illness and I’ve managed to get through. We’ve had a bit of sickness in the family too. And he said that I had had chickenpox as a child they can check that. So you’ve got to be careful then because you can contract shingles because the virus is still in your body. So I don’t remember I just know that we were isolated. So the school was just closed but life went on for us. Occasionally one cottage would be completely isolated. They’d have to have their meals coming down to them. So whether they had a bigger dose of chickenpox or measles so they couldn’t mix with the rest of us. Every Saturday we’d line up for I think one week we might have had Epsom Salts and the other one was Senna Tea. That was to keep the old body pure and clean. We had visiting doctors, dentists, hairdressers. The girls used to cut one another’s hair but the boys had it done professionally. They were all volunteer Masons. We had films on a Thursday night if you were good. But if you’d lost two marks in my day you couldn’t go. I don’t ever remember although I used to get into trouble for a lot of things I suppose. I don’t ever remember as a big girl not going to the films other than when I was studying. Then it was great peace to have them all out of the cottage.
You remember the projectionist, what he was like?
Yes we had one projector who was our main projector. We used to say “hello Mr Black Thompson” because he was black. You wouldn’t be game to say that these days. That man would come up by bus if he couldn’t get a driver to drive him up, imagine how heavy the films were. I don’t know where he lived but he would get the bus from Parramatta or someone would bring him in the car. If he came up the driveway it was always “hello Mr Black Thompson” because we had our own Mr William Thompson. I often think about that I don’t know what nationality he was really, but I just know he was black. I don’t know if anyone else had mentioned that but I can remember it so clearly.
Primary boys marching at Sports Day late 1940s
You mentioned that the boys and girls were segregated at the school. Were there classes still co-educational?
Oh no we had co-ed till fifth or sixth class and by sixth class the boys went to seniors. A couple of times during the year you’d see them at the films boys here, girls there. We’d have dances trying to teach us how to do the good old Pride of Erin or Jazz Waltz, the lovely old Barn Dance. We’d have that which was a bit of entertainment. You had a boyfriend of course and you know you saw them in the distance. We had one group of boys that would come home at four o’clock. They would have been the Parramatta High boys. Then we had another group which was the Granville Tech boys they would come home at half past four so you’d try to get a little sneak to wave to you boyfriend. That might last another year until the next dance and you’d get another boyfriend. Some of the folk, Margaret and Johnny Brown have married, Marie and Billy White. They’ve been quite a few marriages. I actually had a friend from school for quite a while but I think when it came to the crunch I didn’t think about it for a long time. But to me I thought you’re like my brother, I only think of you as my brother. I have asked some of the girls “how do you feel” but I’d been at the school the same time as he from a little girl of six and I’d grown up with him. It was just like he was your brother. That’s why I think I didn’t ever marry anyone from school. We’re all good mates and we still are. I think people get amazed although my husband got used to it. He’ll go and greet someone with
a good old hug, good old kiss we can all do with that.
Did you form a strong bond with other girls at the school?
Oh of course as I say we meet one another. Some of my friends go back to my six years of age. Margaret and Johnny Brown would be later. Margaret was in a different cottage to I but then when I went back to the school to work Margaret was fifteen I’d say. I was a bit lonely at night I’d be upstairs in a room so I’d go down to the office and I’d sit with the girls in the office. That’s why I think I missed that era of girls. The new lot I shouldn’t say they didn’t want you but they were more independent. “No I’m in charge of the office tonight, not you”. I can think of one girl very clearly a captain.
Primary girls marching at Sports Day late 1940s
What were the matrons like that looked after you?
The matrons as a child I had a Mrs Warnham(?) who was a lovely lady. Another friend and I Cecily we used to love to go in the afternoon. Instead of being down in paddock playing we’d be sitting beside Mrs Warnham(?) watching her sew. We learnt to darn my sister taught me to darn and knit. She was a very motherly lady. We had quite a few matrons in my time who were very motherly women. Particularly one Mrs Carey who was in another cottage and she had lost her son in the war. Ross had been a boy from school who had left before I went there. I had boarded with Mrs Carey at one stage. She and I kept friends until the day she died. She did love my husband too and I think he replaced her Ross. She came back to the school when I was about nine. Ross had been killed at Tobruk. Did she spoil those girls she was a tailoress they had beautiful patches on their pants. The other matrons would say “Mrs Carey don’t have to do the girl’s patching they’ve got to do their own”. The matron would pin it for you but you had to do a lot of it yourself to teach you. I think some of them were a bit hard but we were fortunate. Although the next matron I had she was a single woman and I think some of them it was just that they weren’t motherly. When I look back over it some say they didn’t have love. Well in my young days I had my sister and I had Mrs Warnham(?) too. The other elder girls were very affectionate to us they looked after us. I remember one night my sister wouldn’t say good night to me. I often wonder why, I never asked her, I lost her unfortunately. I was allowed to go to the sitting room and say good night to Connie and give her a kiss goodnight but this night she wouldn’t answer me. I remember Joyce said “come on Pat you can say good night to me”. Which was probably naughty cause Con was chastising me and I don’t know what I did. I probably got into trouble for something. But I often wondered why, why did she do that to me.
So they really became your parents in a way did they?
They did as far as I’m concerned they were my parents. I regretted perhaps leaving the school in the end and going out into the big world. But as it happened it was the best thing because the school closed and where would I have been then. They would have found me a job somewhere no doubt. Gordon stayed on for many years though he’s older. He’s only ten years older than me. It was very sad to see it go derelict for a while. Ilma, Nancy and I have been back at times but now the Council has restored it. We can commend the Council they’ve done a fabulous job.
Aerial view of Masonic School site in 1947
What was the state of the school just after the war when you came back?
I remember being fairly horror struck. Mr Cropley and I spent my life on the telephone ringing the grand architect Mr Hodson who had to get in touch with the army. There were slabs of concrete all round our paddocks that had to be removed. Where they’d had huts I suppose. I went back before the children. I’m not too sure what date I went back. The kiddies came back after the school holidays in January. It opened in 1947. I feel I must have gone back December. I’ve been going to ask Gordon that because we went back together. But whether we went back the first of January or not I’m not sure. The buildings themselves had all been repainted there was nothing wrong with that. We used to have outside toilets where we went at night before we went to bed with frogs, straight through spiders round the trees. There were toilets in your cottage but they were only used as emergencies at night. After the war they had outside toilets built onto the end of our cottages which were fantastic. In my day we had a little fire (chip heater) with (wood) chips and coke so we had to light that every afternoon or you had a cold bath at night. After the war hot water was laid on. I had a boyfriend and I used to love going over to the wood heap didn’t I? You had two buckets and you’d go over and get your chips and your coke. I thought I can get over there and get some more coke or chips this afternoon. He was actually the captain of the junior boys and he’d be over there chipping. Very quiet he was and I was quiet too. I’m not quiet now I’ve had to learn to fight with my husband who is very quiet. I think I learned to do that when my brother’s wife died It was rather a trauma in the family he’d lost his little son at ten and then we found his wife had it. He had four boys and he lost Peter when he was ten. Although I was very quiet I had to learn to fight for the boys with my brother. He’d lost a wife and lost a child. He was a wonderful man Doug. Took him a long while but they were kin souls the two of them and I think that’s where I learned a little bit. They had a lovely happy marriage. It was a wicked, wicked sin the good Lord’s got a lot to answer for.
Looking back at the school in what way do you think it formed your character? The person you are today how did the school help you do that?
Well I think it formed my character. The comradeship and the fact that you help one another Mr Cropley taught us never to be selfish, greedy. I don’t care whether you’re the suburb’s sweeper as long as you do your job properly. You don’t have to have academic qualifications. I have found that hard because I think in the big outside world how much you’ve got in the bank or how many cars you’ve got. He was a very wealthy man. They didn’t get paid for that job it was an honorary job all those years. It wasn’t a paying job. Mr Turner’s was and Mac of course they were just ordinary old people like the rest of us. His was an honorary job which is a purple ribbon for that isn’t it? To do that for little children all those years he was there twenty four hours a day. He had one day off a week Monday when he went into town I suppose for business appointments and on that one day she had a meeting at our club. All the old girls would go with their babies. She would love to have them all there so that was her day off. So they didn’t have much outside life.
So quite a bit of dedication on their part then?
Tremendous, tremendous I’m not saying people couldn’t do it today. People do a lovely lot of voluntary work today helping people. I get amazed sometimes you see it written up “This is your life” or something. But people are selfish today Frank I think we’ve all become that a bit, we’re greedy. We were taught to help one another and I think a lot of us have stood by that.
Official Opening 11 Nov 1922 Masonic School
What do you think were the golden years of the school, Pat?
Oh the golden years I’d say my years were the golden years of the school. It commenced on the eleventh of November 1922 and I think they would have been hard years the learning years. But by the time I went there it was well established it was over ten years and it was working like clock work it was well oiled. I think after the war it was never the same. The time I was there I don’t think I had any complaints but by the time I left from what I’ve heard it was never the same. There’s a few that you hear good reports. But I heard more bad reports of after the war than I ever heard before the war. But it could have been a wonderful boarding school. They would have gained more money. You look at what the private schools are gaining now.
Maybe that wasn’t part of their philosophy they wanted to help people without any payment?
I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s a point I hadn’t thought of that. They made money by selling so what’s the difference.
We’re coming near the end of our interview is there something else you want to talk about the school anything else you want to say?
No, I don’t know, I think I’ve talked enough. I’ve talked myself out. I’m just that very proud that Baulkham Hills Shire have seen fit to do something about it and spent the money because it is heritage. I remember going back to 1980 when John had his first bypass we went for a drive. We got up that way we were going to Ital(?) gardens I’d heard about this and I wanted to get a figure for the garden. He said “let’s go there that looks nice I think we’ll go and have our lunch there”. We always took this basket with us. So I got into the grounds and I said “John I think I’ll go for a walk” I just felt uncanny I was in the school grounds. I hadn’t been back there for thirty years and by then all these roads were in and all these houses were up. I just walked and then on the roadway “the kiss of the sun for pardon, the sighing of the lark for laughter, you are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth”. Now that was on a corner where we walked into our school grounds. I hardly recognised it but when I started to walk around I saw where I was. But it had so changed. Now the Council has done a lot and they are restoring a lot, it was so derelict. Ilma, Nancy and I went back about three years ago and we cried, we really cried all the trees oh. But now they are doing a very good job.
I’ll pass it onto them then. Thank you for the interview Pat that’s wonderful.
I’d love to hear Margaret and Johnny’s because Margaret is very good. (Referring to Margaret and John Brown's interview)