Thursday, 13th July 2017
An Interesting Find - A Boarders Stash c1949
The top floor of St Ildephonsus’ College was once the domain of male boarders, originally in vast dormitories, then as a succession of small alcoves and cubicles. The wooden floors and long spaces are now cleared, with progressive renovation of the college yet to reach the top floor. In April this year two New Norcia staff members happened to look into a large weathered crack between floor boards in the old dormitory and saw some papery ‘treasure’ beckoning. An addressed letter was retrieved that confirmed this was the discarded rubbish of a particular boarder in 1949! After lots of prodding and with the use of borrowed, long-handled kitchen tongs, this rubbishy stash emerged to tell something of the boarders’ life in the mid 20th century.
Obviously he, and subsequent boys who bedded down near this convenient crack in the floor boards, eschewed the use of rubbish bins. But even what is thrown away is precious in an historical sense and New Norcia has few letters or personal items related to the after-school activities of the St Ildephonsus’ College boys.
Not surprisingly the predominant items are sweets and food wrappers – MacRobinson’s chocolate with the adage ‘Remember:- Chocolate is Food!’, Nestles, Ace and Wrigley’s chewing gum, Allen’s ‘Irish Moss’ and WA brand Mills & Wares biscuits. The tracing-paper rustle of sardine tin packaging with their robust label ‘King Ragnar Sild Sardines, Norway’ and lots of Minties and Peppies wrappers, familiar but in an older style, jostled together in the space under the floor.
Amongst these gems are also the torn and screwed-up packets of a boarder’s toiletries, of Aspro, Dentifrice (a solid form of toothpaste) with half a cake intact, a Kolynos dental crème box, a group of soap boxes including the bright red cardboard of Lifebuoy, also Cashmere Bouquet and Palmolive, and a robust, used red toothbrush c1940s. A group of boarders’ lists that accompany these are in a florid hand, folded and blotted, listing such teenage necessities as ‘3 cakes of soap, 2 bottles of hair oil, 1 writing pad, 1 pen and nibs, 2 handballs, 1 tooth brush, razor blades, 1 catechism, 2 red leds (sic), 2 bottles of Indian ink, 1 compass, 4 torch batteries, 2 pairs of football laces...’ There are also 4 tags from the college where our student has scribed his name and “Please soul these shoes”, as boot making was undertaken at New Norcia, but it looks as though spelling was not!
Our young ‘Master’ has also discarded, crumbled and torn, vestiges of Physics exam papers, homework and marking, achieving 5/5 for a section of Physics and 27% for Latin translation. The initial find of a letter in its addressed and postmarked envelope has proved delightful, with chat between mates of school, farm and family, of cartoons and movies, the sign off accompanied by a crude sketch of a skull with a dagger through it. Perhaps the most poignant object is a tiny toy car fashioned from a pencil stub, complete with rolling wheels in rounds cut from pencils, whittled lead centre axels and the chiselled seat cavity and sharpened nose of pencil lead, a little metal blade inset as a foil; it still rolls.
Finally there are bus, tram and train tickets, from the Pioneer and Federal Bus Services, with a Boarder’s train leave pass issued by W.A.G.R., signed and dated 22.9.1949 by a S.I.C. staff member. The whole gamut of boarder experiences is represented in this unintended cache. Our question now is what happened to our 15 year old boarder Brian Davies from Burracoppin? I’m sure if Brian is still with us he would be bemused by the habits of his younger self as a boarder at St Ildephonsus’ College from 1947-1949 where his rubbish was never expected to be discovered. For New Norcia, it is a rare find.