Margaret and John Brown


William Thompson Masonic School

Interviewees: Margaret Brown, born 1932
          and John Brown, born 1932

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 18 Dec 2006

Transcription: Glenys Murray, April 2007

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

Margaret (nee Forbes) and John Brown’s fathers, both Masons, died when they were infants. Being the youngest, they were keen to join their siblings at the Masonic School when they turned 5. Margaret and John attended the Masonic School from 1939-1941 and returned in 1947-1948 when it re-opened. They married in 1955.

Do any of you remember your first day at school?

No I think we were too young.

My first breakfast I hated the porridge and I had much difficulty in eating it. That was my only memory of my early days.

But you had to eat it nevertheless, right?

Correct, you ate what was put in front of you.

John Brown in Masonic School uniform c1929

What about you Margaret any food that you didn’t like?

Yes, would you believe plum pudding, we had that every Sunday for lunch and it took me a while after I left there to enjoy my Christmas pudding. But for some reason that was the only one that I really disliked.

Can you describe what the school looked like when you came first in 1939? How large was it and what were the buildings like?

Well they were very much in order the front verandahs absolutely shining red cement I suppose and black edges. Our dormitories were absolutely... you could nearly see your face in the floors and our beds had white quilts on them that were absolutely perfect corners and straight at the top. Everything was spick and span. The front drives were palm trees all the way down, the gardens were well kept the lawns were absolutely beautiful. We picked up all the leaves it was never ever untidy. The paddocks that we played in were always mowed and we had plenty of room in fact it was beautiful the whole lot of it.

Did you like the school from the very first day?

Yes I did until the last day.

And you John?

Yes I agree with everything that Margaret said.

Did you play together while you were at school?

No, oh only possibly in the playground when we were little and then later we both went to Business College together so yes we saw each other when we were seven and also when we were fifteen.

Now tell me about the people who ran the school when you came in 1939?

Well Mr Cropley affectionately known as Pop Crop he was always a fatherly figure, would always listen to you, always kind to you, except of course when you did the wrong thing and then you might get a cane across the backside or the hands.

Rupert Cropley

 That was what we accepted it was discipline and we accepted the discipline at the school. You do something wrong you get the punishment I think most people there accepted that. Mr Cropley was the only one that we really had continual contact with as far as the people running the school. Matrons aside from that, he was a wonderful gentleman.

His wife was too, Mrs Cropley. We saw more of Mrs Cropley than the boys did. Their cottage was just not very far from where my cottage was and every day we used to at least see her and we always admired her and even after we left school she used to come and meet the married girls and she knew all the children and treated them like her own. The headmaster down at the school what was his name?

Beatrice Cropley


Huxley, Mr Huxley he as well as we had individual teachers in the classes but Mr Huxley always took the classes, I always remember mental arithmetic with him. We had a big clock on the wall and he’d point to all the different numbers around the clock and his pet thing I think was mental arithmetic to get the children really going fine. All the other teachers were great we had Mrs Cox for the first kindergarten, one, two and three she taught. She actually lived in a cottage in the school grounds she was also the librarian so we saw her quite a lot. I used to love to read so we used to go up and see her as well, they were all great.

What would your typical day at school have been like? Tell me from the moment you woke up what time that was, what you did, in sequence. Can you try and do that for us?

The bell rang at six o’clock sharp every morning summer and winter race out of bed go down and have a cold shower. Come back get dressed, make your bed and do your normal chores which were allotted to each student there whether they be inside or outside on the cottage. That’s why everything was always spick and span because something was always done everyday. Then I think about seven o’clock all marched down for breakfast.

Uh, uh we cleaned our shoes first every morning we cleaned our shoes.

Daily chore.

Clean and polished?

Oh yes, yes.

Was there inspection for that?

Yes that’s when Mrs Cropley used to come and inspect us. We used to march each side of her.

Was that before or after breakfast?

After breakfast.

You got your porridge you said.

Porridge and bread and butter and jam and a glass of milk, as much bread as you wanted, They used to put a big pile of bread on the table, it all went we put our fingers on the table to say that we wanted that many more. They’d go along and count and get another lot of bread. These cottages there was up to usually about twenty two in the girls sitting at one table so you can imagine the big piles of bread and butter on the table and jam. Then we’d march out and go into assembly after that.

Outside front of 'Faithful' cottage 2006

Well to start off with we used to sing I guess at that stage it was 'God save the Queen' (Actually, 'God Save the King')

National Anthem yes.

Then two children one a boy and a girl would have a speech made out of their own making and this started from little five year olds, someone would help them, and go on up, but they stood with the superintendent with Pop Crop in the front of the assembly and said their speech with him holding the paper so you had to know you speech and as you got older you’d have three or four pages on subjects like Faithful as our cottage was called or we’d pick a subject ourselves and a boy and girl would do that. A boy and girl also said a prayer every morning and quite a long prayer that was always said at assembly. Then Mr Cropley would have a talk to us about current affairs or something and then we would always sing 'Abide with me' before we left. Then we would march out and march to school down near the gates you know the front gate always with the drums and the bugles playing and we’d all march in formation down to school.

In step.

In step yes.

Sounds as though it was regimented a bit was it?

Yes it was but how can three hundred children be otherwise.

Miss Wheeler, Matron of the girls cottage AB,
'Faithful' 1939

Now you mentioned that your cottage was called Faithful, what was yours, John. What was it called?

Fortitude I think.

What were some of the other names of the cottages do you remember?

They all started with F every one of them.

The girl’s cottages starting with A and B Girls was FaithfulFidelityFamousFelicity and Fabian the boy’s cottages ForemostFirmFortitudeFearless and Fervent.

They're all the junior boys I don’t have any record of the names given to the dormitories at senior house if they did have them at all.

So Margaret what happened after you marched to school?

Well we went into our individual classes and about morning tea time, I guess it was about eleven o’clock we went out to the playground and had a play with everyone and then after about ten minutes we did the daily dozen. Now we all were in formation and we did about sixteen exercises with several counts on each one. Everyone knew the exercises and we’d start with the gym master in front. His name was Mr Baxter at that stage and we’d all do our exercises. Then back into class and about twelve o’clock we were all marched back down to our dining room to have lunch. After lunch straight back to school again. At three o’clock home back to our cottages again, we had afternoon tea which was a glass of milk and bread and butter and then most days we went down to the paddocks and played and at five o’clock a bell rang and we all came up and tidied up for tea. Marched down to the dining room and had our tea which if we had been at the school all day we had soup and bread and butter and jam and cocoa. But if we attended the outside schools which a lot of the senior boys did and some of the senior girls went out to high school and we went out to college, we had a hot dinner. We’d have the hot dinner that the children had had at lunch time. After that we went back to our cottages. If we had homework we all went to our sitting room and did our homework. The little ones not having any homework they’d sort of play around for a while and then off to bed very early the little ones and all lights were out by nine o’clock. Oh before we went to bed we all had a hot bath. On Thursday nights was always picture night and once you turned eight you were able to go to the pictures, that’s of course if you hadn’t been naughty for some reason, and off to the pictures. You’d still have your bath before you went to the pictures but because you’d had a hot bath and you were going out into the night air we had cold showers after our hot bath. That was when we had a concert on a Saturday night or always on a Thursday night. But any other time it was a hot bath and into bed with no talking of course.

L to R: Jean Noakes, Babs McKay and Norma
lock at Easter Show 1941

How did some of these kids react to this regime? I mean you people obviously didn’t mind it. Some of the other kids were they a bit more difficult perhaps or what?

Before the war they didn’t seem to be because no one after about twelve was taken into the school so they were all young, but after the war they did, some of them were fourteen or something and they were quite rebels and yes they did buck the system quite badly. I think Mr Cropley and following Mr Turner did have a lot of strife with them, they hadn’t had the early discipline that we had had and they just didn’t like all the discipline. But there was no problem there when we were little because everyone sort of accepted it. Maybe we had more discipline at home, certainly I think we did. We had in those days - there was more discipline in the home and in the public schools. Any school you went to there was more discipline than it was in the later years after the war.

Now can you describe to me the uniforms that you wore? What sort of items did you get?

We had a navy blue cotton frock with light blue round the sleeves and in the neckline and in the winter time we had a woollen petticoat to wear under it and a jumper of course and we had black stockings to the knees for the little ones, black stockings, long black stockings for the big girls. Then going to church and if we were going out on any excursions or even going home on our holidays we had black pleated woollen skirts with a white overblouse with a tie and a little panama hat and our stockings and we thought it was very nice. After the war also we had a navy blue overcoat for going out. I don’t remember having one when we were little, no we didn’t we just had the jumpers.

Well you must have looked a real picture with those clothes?

Yeah I thought so, we were very proud of them.

What about you John what did you wear?

We had a long sleeved navy blue shirt and navy trousers, lined trousers and for functions going to school we had a striped tie blue and gold tie long socks and boots were the order of the day for the boys. You had to be a certain height before they went into long trousers even if you went into school in Parramatta you still wore short trousers if you were I think it was about five foot three was the height before you moved into long trousers. We did have a white dress shirt for special occasions but there wasn’t too many special occasions that we used the white shirt. We did have a cap for our formal dress whenever we went out of the school grounds we always wore a cap.

Girls' hat badge 1940s

What about underclothes?

Singlets only. The trousers were lined and there was no underpants as such for the boys.

We had our own lockers and our Sunday uniform was in the lockers and we all had our own suitcases and on the back of the top of the suitcase was a list of the clothing that we had taken home and the list had to be checked off as we were going, leaving the school and when we came back to make sure that we bought all of our clothing back.

Did you feel a little bit lonely because the other kids did have mothers visiting?

No because there was quite a few of them didn’t and you just went off and played. You talked to the other mothers, I mean I knew John’s mother up there, everyone sort of combined.

A big family?

It was a big family we felt like a big family.

Did you mother ever write you any letters?

Oh yes all the time and we wrote to our mothers every Monday in class. That was one lesson we all had to do and we all wrote every week to our mothers.

John Brown's Globite suitcase with clothing list
for Senior House

Did the Masonic School support your mother financially while you were at the school?

No I don’t think so.

No, not to my knowledge.

But during the war yes, not so much supported her but supported us.

They provided an income to feed us, and not necessarily to clothe us because we were able to go into Anthony Hordens I think it was, regularly and get the clothes that we needed. But there was support given to our parent for food to maintain us while the school was closed.

And educate. Our school reports were sort of sent back so it was as if we were still there.

How many years were you there until the war came at the school?

1939 to 1941.

Clothing list for Senior Boys late 1940s

So three years, three full years at the school?

No both of us went during 1939.

I’m not sure of the day I went there actually.

No me either.

Now when the war broke out did they announce it on the radio, it must have been big news at the time?

Yes we were at school and I can remember that day. It happened to be one girl in my class I was in fourth class, my teacher was Mrs Melluish and it was one of the girl’s birthdays, so I always remember the day it was announced.

Now you were at the school for two and a half years or so and war meant that the school was no longer available. What was the announcement that you heard why you couldn’t go back to school?

It came by letter while we were home on holidays it just said that we wouldn’t be returning to the school so we went to the schools closest to us wherever we lived. We didn’t return until 1947.

Where did you live though?

I lived in Nyngan and went to Nyngan Public until I went to high school and then I came down to Parramatta High School and then over to North Sydney Girls' High School.

Aerial view of Masonic School site in 1947

While you were at Parramatta did your parents come with you?

No I was boarding with a lady not very far from the school. Then my mother did come down to Sydney she was still in Nyngan came down and she had a flat at Milson’s Point so I went and lived with her and we transferred over to North Sydney Girls' High School until I finished high school there.

What about you John?

I lived at Homebush at the early stages and went to Homebush Public School and I was there for quite some years I think before we moved to Petersham but that may have been after I left school. But I think Homebush was pretty well the base while the school was closed.

What do you know about happened at the school during the war years. I know you weren’t there but do you know something about what the army did and so on?

Not really other than it was made into the hospital and we found out afterwards that they weren’t very. They didn’t look after the place at all. It deteriorated quite badly while they were using it as a hospital but while it was a hospital we just knew it as a hospital.

They built a new building down where we used to play in the paddocks that was their operating theatre and that was retained and later it was our tea rooms after the war. The girls went down and cooked scones in the afternoon and served the visitors when they came up on Saturday.

Operating Theatre builing c1943. Later became
Recreation Hall

When you went back to school were you happy to go back after the war?

Yes looking forward to it, we had seen some of the students while we were away and yes we were looking forward to going back and being all together again.

And you John were you happy?

Yes quite happy to go back.

What was it like when you came back, what changes had happened to the physical look of the place?

Bit of a disaster the verandahs were wrecked, windowsills names had been carved on them. Still remnants of temporary buildings in the paddocks a lot of cleaning that was necessary but the early ones that went back after the war helped clean it up or tried to get it back to our original condition which was impossible. Disappointing to see it in the state that it was having been there before what you didn’t know for the people who followed us that hadn’t been there then they wouldn’t know any difference. But it was disappointing to see it almost to wrack and ruin stage.

Was the atmosphere any different from before the war?

Not particularly I don’t think.

Not with the powers that be but with the children yes. Because they hadn’t had the discipline and they didn’t like being regimented so much.

How much religious instruction did you get at the school?

We had Sunday School which was run by ex pupils of the school, actually, but it was non-denominational church type service a few hymns and a small amount of religious instruction. I guess it was adequate to keep it in the non denominational sense.

But that was in the afternoon in the morning we marched to church.

Oh yes we went to the Holy Trinity I think at Windsor Road Baulkham Hills.

We marched from the school to there. Even in the afternoon we were always given a text to find in the Bible and also a passage that we had to learn for the following Sunday. I know that another girl and I actually read the Bible right through while we were there.

Was religious instruction compulsory, could you opt out of it?

Everyone, everyone attended and as I said earlier we had morning prayer every morning and before we had any meal grace was said. But down at the actual teaching school part we didn’t have religion. Sunday was spent like morning church and afternoon Sunday School.

Talking about religious denominations were there any non Christians at the school?

Well none that I could really identify. There was all religions though.

All Christian religions?


I don’t recall anyone saying they didn’t have any religious beliefs they just went to Sunday School like everyone else.

The church that you went to on Sundays, what denomination was it?


The girls sang in the choir at the church there so we had to learn the special hymns that we were going to sing in the choir at the church.

You also sang in the choir did you Margaret?

Yes I did.

What were the words of the grace before meals that was said?

“For what are about to receive may the great architect of the universe make us truly thankful, so mote it be”

What about outings. Were there any outings out of the school?

When we were younger we went into the Theatre Royal was it?


And saw some big magician that came out.

The Great Levanti.

The whole school went we went into town by bus and then marched down the street to the Theatre Royal wherever the bus left us. I always remember that.

Stopped the traffic.

Did you have to go and ride the little bike on the stage?

No he had to borrow a handkerchief so he used my handkerchief.

He used your handkerchief, I knew there was something and that would have been before we were nine and we both remember that. We went down to the National Park another time and had a picnic down there.

Always went to the Easter Show.

John Brown as a senior student c1948

Yes every year we went to the Royal Easter Show.

Providing you were good.

We used to have concerts on the Saturday night and dances occasionally with the boys, the girls and the boys.

This is for the senior students is it?


At what age did they allow them to mix a bit?

I guess the girls from about twelve, boys would be the same as soon as they go to high school. The boys went out to school.

On Thursday night you said you had a projectionist that came to the school do you remember his name by any chance?

I don’t recall his name. I think it was a Pakistani or Indian gentleman always came. We do recall that one time he had to walk all the way from Parramatta with his films because he couldn’t get transport. That’s quite a hike.

Can you remember any films that you saw, the names of the movies?

Gunga Dhin.

Gunga Dhin is the only one I recall too.

We both remember that there must have been something about it.

Something impressed you in there did it?

Yes, yes.

There was a couple of gory parts in it for a young kid to be looking at, but still...

Was there any entertainment provided at the school at any time?

The concerts on Saturday nights.

The odd concert.

That the Masons had organised and they’d come up. Other than having the dances the senior boys and the senior girls they'd have a dance night on a Saturday night. Other than that that’s about it, isn’t it?

Mmm I don’t remember too many because I wasn’t a rebel but I wasn’t an angel either so I didn’t get to see many.

You had too many demerit points did you?


How did that system work?

Oh one mark for various things. It wasn’t a case of being naughty if you had dirty shoes you’d lose demerit points and depending on how many you got within the week was whether you didn’t go to the movies or you got the cane, usually the cane was something severe like talking in bed. It’s surprising how they accumulated for very minor items. So I missed out on a few things.

Margaret Forbes and John Brown (centre) with other Old Masonians at a Deb
Ball early 1950s

Did any of you make any friends at the school?

Yes we still see them. My bridesmaid was from the school, two bridesmaids were from the school our groomsmen and our best man were both from the school. Harvey what was he? He was the usher into the church he was from the school. We still see girls particularly that I went with and some of the boys we still see them. We’re able to meet once a month, we don’t always go every month but the others are there every month. We see them once a year at an annual dinner. There wasn’t that many there this year just under a hundred but there has been up to three hundred there at that. But of course they’re getting older now and that dinner Mrs Cropley in her will left money to organise that annual dinner so that everyone could get together. We lost only last year one of our dear friends from the school and he used to come up from Melbourne and stay with us to go to that annual dinner. We saw him quite regularly through the year or we went down to Melbourne. We’re like brothers and sisters to most of them and yes we do keep in touch with them all.

OldMasoniansbadge.jpg    OldMasoniansbadge2000.jpg
Old Masonian badge 1949                       Old Masonian badge c2000


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