You are currently viewing A Look Back in Gratitude – By Barry Honan

Introduction by Dave Cameron

Barry was a student at the College from 1956, (except for a year and a half when he attended Sandgate State School), until his Graduation year of 1964. In that year he was College Captain, Class Leader of Senior Blue, Captain of the First Fifteen Rugby, Vice – Captain of the First Eleven Cricket, Open Athletics Champion, and Regimental Sergeant Major of the Ashgrove Cadet Unit.

After graduation, Barry gained a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Maths and Physics, then completed a Diploma in Education. He also pursued his Rugby ambitions, playing nine Tests as a Wallaby, representing Australia against New Zealand, France, Ireland, Scotland and South Africa. He joined the teaching staff at the College in 1970, being highly regarded in both the Science and Maths faculties, and rising to the position of master in charge of Mathematics in the College. He was also a highly successful and innovative coach of the First Fifteen Rugby, in fact the first layperson to assume that important role in the College’s history. In six years his team would win four
premierships and be runners-up twice, a memorable record. Barry would later coach lower grade teams with the
same expertise and enthusiasm.

He taught and coached at the College for 17 years, resigning in 1987 to become Director of Rugby Coaching in South East Queensland. Much of Barry’s “second career” would indeed be Rugby orientated, including producing digital coaching programmes and the organisation of overseas supporters’ tours. He was much missed by the Ashgrove staff for his expertise, his dedication, his affable personality and his humour.  If there was one chink in Barry’s armour, it was a tendency to forgetfulness, which led to some memorable incidents.

Barry’s wife Kay knew that if a telephone conversation between them was interrupted by Barry’s promise to “Hang on – I’ll be back”, the absolutely precise time to wait was five minutes: after that, it meant Barry had been distracted and would never return. Barry, running late, also once rushed into a Physics classroom and began teaching immediately, the only problems being he was on the wrong timetabled day, in the wrong room, and with the wrong class. The correctly timetabled teacher (who happened to be Headmaster Brother Alexis Turton), watched Barry’s performance in silence for a few minutes, and then with a straight face politely thanked him for so generously taking his class, to the uncontrolled hilarity of the boys and Barry’s mortification. Finally, proud parent Barry brought the last of his offspring to Friday afternoon choir practice (aka staff drinks) in a bassinet for everyone to admire. Come departure time, Barry drove off in his car with the whole staff waving vigorously and shouting to him from the staffroom veranda. Fortunately Barry stopped the car without too much jerking and managed to retrieve the bassinet and baby from the roof of the car where he had placed them, to the intense relief of the watchers. These few incidents notwithstanding, Barry gave his all for his College as a student, a teacher, and a coach. His time as a student, in particular, was rarely easy, for a variety of reasons which his article recalls – he looks back with gratitude on those who helped him on a difficult journey.
Still half asleep after the jolt that stirred me, I looked around and saw nothing but darkness. Shortly after realising where I was I thought to myself… idiot – I’ve done it again! I was sitting in the empty cabin of a train having dozed off before the train went past Sandgate, my intended destination, and terminated at Shorncliffe. The jolt was the steam engine connecting to the opposite end of the train before reversing direction and travelling back to Brisbane. It wasn’t the first time this had happened and it would not be the last! I had recently turned 15 and was in Year 11 at St Mary’s Ashgrove. I hope that a little background on where I was at during my school days will shed some light on why certain Marist Brothers and a number of wonderful families have had a huge influence on my life and instilled in me values that are an intrinsic part of my being. After 3 years at St Brigid’s convent at Red Hill, I joined my older brothers John and Bob at St Mary’s Ashgrove. I could not have been happier. I remember very little about grade 4, but I do remember Br Jarlath throwing a chalkboard duster at me for talking in class. The duster fell through a hole in the floor of the old wooden building and landed on my brother’s desk on the floor below. A few minutes later my brother appeared at the door and sheepishly handed the projectile back to Br Jarlath for later use. Halfway through grade four my parents separated. Older and undoubtedly far more aware of the situation, John elected to stay with my father in the house at Leslie St Bardon. I and middle brother Bob made the very painful decision to leave our father, our brother, our home and our school to be with our mother, going to Sandgate to live with our grandmother on Mum’s side of the family. Bob and I attended the Sandgate State School for a year and a half before our parents reunited and the two younger brothers returned to the College. Even in that short time, I had made many friends at the State School, as well as quite a few more who were students at St Pats Shorncliffe.

Older brother John had finished Year 10 and had left school. I was now in Year 6 and was one of 50 plus lads in the care of Br Francis  McMahon, the first of the Marist Brothers who have left an indelible mark on me. All who have read the previous Ashgrovian and the wonderful article written by David L’Estrange will understand why I think this man was and is as close to a saint as any person I have ever met. David extolled the virtues of “Frank” better than I ever could in his article, but suffice to say that even at this early stage of my life I was in need of a role model and I had unknowingly found him. If perchance you have not read David’s article, you really must do so. Br Francis coached the 1st XV and 2nd XV together back in those days. The only time I was not fond of “Frank” was when he brought me up to the “Seconds” when I had just turned 14 and was in grade 9. If the photo should be included in this article, that is me on the right looking befuddled and quite out of place. Although honoured by the promotion I spent the season far more scared than confident.

Back to the train in a moment. All went well at Ashgrove for the next five and a half years, and as young fellows gifted with more than our share of athletic ability, brother Bob and I immersed ourselves in every sporting activity, the school had to offer and loved every minute of it. My father’s business had collapsed. He was declared bankrupt and we were soon to lose the house. At home, we were seeing our parents’ relationship gradually disintegrating again.

Except for evenings, I spent more time at the homes of friends than in my own. Michael Neil and Michael Randall were Ashgrove classmates and my best friends. Both Michaels were blessed with wonderful parents, each of whom created a family home that was full of love and welcoming to kids like me. Mike Neil’s Dad died suddenly of a heart attack at age 42. Although I felt a huge amount of sorrow, it was nothing compared to the pain the Neil family had to endure. It was in Year 9 when I had my first and only family holiday. It was not with my family but with the Randalls. Each Christmas school holidays they set up their hut at the Scarborough camping grounds, and I was ecstatic when asked
to join them for a week. I had no idea who the Miles family was at the time but here was another wonderful family, along with many others, having their annual holiday at Scarborough. I was 14 years old and fell in love with Kay, younger of the two Miles daughters. “Puppy love” .. not so! Seven years later we married and, skipping quite a few chapters of my life; we now live in retirement glowing in the joy of our large family which consists of 5 children and 17 grandchildren. At the end of year nine, brother Bob had left school but joined Mum and I as we once again farewelled Leslie Street, and took up residence at Sandgate. Grandma Holmes had by that time passed away and left the house to our mother. This time I was old enough to make at least some decisions for myself, and despite being urged by my Sandgate mates to go to St Pats or Nudgee College, my heart was at St Mary’s Ashgrove. For the next 3 years, every school week, five days from Tuesday to Saturday, I travelled to and from Ashgrove. The day began with a 6.00 am two-kilometre bike ride to the Sandgate station, a steam train ride to Roma St Station, a tram ride to the top of Glenlyon Drive, and a 15-minute walk to school, which always included a short halfway stop for a prayer at the Marist Fathers Chapel. Because I was involved every term in sport, Saturday virtually became another school day. Cadets was on a Friday afternoon, so from Tuesday to Friday I would leave school just after 5.00 pm, catch a bus from Moola Rd for a lengthy ride to Central Station and train it back to Sandgate, hoping my bike would be where I left it. Although there was no lock on the bike, it was pretty safe as it was undoubtedly the worst bike on the rack, and bike thieves were not all that common back in those days! That’s where the opening train story came in.

Before I had finished year 10, Bob had left home and I was living with Mum, who was now so depressed she rarely left her bedroom. Once again I had the fortune to be welcomed into the homes of so many great families both in Sandgate and back in the Ashgrove area. The Roggenkamps, the Newtons, the Pollards, the Nouds and the McDermotts were such Sandgate families. Then there were Ashgrove families other than those previously mentioned such as the Costellos, the Woods, the L’Estranges and the Wilsons. At various times they were so kind and generous and offered a bed whenever it was needed. At St Mary’s I was also hugely influenced by a number of brothers. Br Phelan (later Br Geoffrey Joy), Br Alexis, Br Cyprian and Br Gordon were all very different people but their obvious strong faith, their dedication to the
Brotherhood and their excellence as teachers were largely responsible for turning my academic achievements around, enabling me to gain entry into QLD Uni by earning a Commonwealth Scholarship.

Br Othmar was the Principal in my final year, and although not one to make the list of my favourite Brothers, he won my great respect through his handling of an incident that I will never forget. Monday was the only day of the week when I was not involved in after-school activities. When school finished, if I ran to the bus stop near the Moola Rd school gate I could catch the 3:40 pm bus into the city, and provided the bus trip was not delayed, catch an early train to Sandgate, getting home before dark. On this day as the final prayer for the day was being said in homeroom class I made an early movement towards the door of our classroom. Mr Fred McGrath, later to become a Marist Brother himself, noticed my error of judgement and at the end of the prayer issued one of three statements I will never forget. The first and third were requests but the second was an order! “Class dismissed, Barry Honan stay back”. My classmates mistook my following action as a sign of courage, but in reality, it was more a sign of exasperation and frustration. I continued to the door and hurried along the corridor as Mr McGrath then shouted an order heard by everyone in the building, let alone the third floor .. “Honan, get back here, or it will be the last thing you ever do at this school”. I did not go back. With my heart still pounding, I had no chance of falling asleep on the train, but I did get home before dark. Little homework was done and although I went to bed early, not a great deal of sleep was had. During homeroom the next morning everyone was quiet including Mr McGrath. Then came the inevitable knock on the door and my French teacher’s second unforgettable request. “Barry Honan, Br Othmar would like to see you.

”I had never before and rarely after experienced such a feeling of panic. Br Othmar knew quite well my family history and the difficulty I experienced every day coming to and from school. I had wrongly believed Mr McGrath had too. Br Othmar opened with – “Barry why? No one should do what you did and especially not the Captain of the school!” I thought I would be stripped of my captaincy and have my prized honour blazer taken away. This was not the case, and instead, I was heard by all the class and Mr McGrath to be given 6 “cuts” and told never to even think of doing such a thing again. What the class did not know and I was asked by Br Othmar never to tell (at least until I left school), was that none of the “cuts” made contact. The noise of the cane six times slapping across Brother Othmar’s cassock and the look of pain on my face as I re-entered the classroom was enough to convince everyone that I had been suitably punished. Incidentally, I found out later from my father that because of my family situation the Brothers allowed me to gain the benefit of all my education at Ashgrove without one penny of school fees ever being paid. I intended this article to be short and I apologise for its lack of brevity. However, I cannot finish without mentioning the influence of Terrence Curley, who recently passed away. Terry was a giant of a man in many ways. He walked away from his position in the Wallabies and his engineering studies at Sydney Uni at the age of 20 to become a Marist Brother, arriving at Ashgrove in 1965, the year after I left. Because of my own rugby involvement and my deep feelings for the College, I had a great deal to do with Terry throughout the years he was at Ashgrove. His sense of discipline was extraordinary and he possessed the highest set of principles I have ever come across. Because of these traits, no one could ever sit on the fence when assessing Terry Curley. They either liked and admired him or felt diametrically opposite feelings for him. Such was Terry’s influence on me that when the first of my five children were born, a boy, he was named Terry and Terry Curley was his Godfather.
Halfway through the first year at University, I changed from Engineering to Pure Science, and after majoring in Mathematics and Physics completed a Diploma in Education. I had made the decision, with the encouragement of Br Phelan who had then become College Principal, to return to Ashgrove as a teacher. I only hope that the 17 years I taught and coached at Ashgrove in some way repays the huge debt I owed to the College and the Marist Brothers and that the influence I had on my students was a positive one.

Barry Honan