Hello to you all again, (after a rather prolonged period of non-contact!). The purpose of this piece of scribbling is to honour one of the stalwarts of the staff at the College, Mrs Veronica “Ronnie” Grant, as she prepares to spend her final few weeks in her chosen profession of education. Ronnie has been at the College since long ago 1989, and has made an enormous contribution to the learning and welfare of literally thousands of its students. She is best known as the long-time Head of Harold House, but as with all Ashgrovian “legends”, her efforts have been wide-ranging and not confined to the classroom.
Ronnie’s story begins in post-WW2 Europe, specifically in the Netherlands. Her Dutch parents had married soon after the war, and Ronnie was born in 1952, with a younger sister following in 1954. Her father was a navigator with the Dutch Air Force, and the prospects for advancement in Holland weren’t particularly promising. Her mother listened to ideas about emigration insisting if it occurred it had to be to “somewhere warm.” The result was assisted passage to Australia, with the family arriving at Bonegilla migrant camp in Albury-Wodonga in November 1959. (Ronnie returned there with her husband on recent long-service leave, and says it was impossible to stop the memories flooding back).
Ronnie’s father was employed as an air traffic controller by the Department of Civil Aviation because of his flying experience, and this soon involved a transfer to Melbourne, where the family stayed at Broadmeadows migrant camp in primitive Quonset huts for 18 months. School was not a pleasant experience for Ronnie either, with teasing about her inability to speak English and being a “refugee”.
Better things were in the offing, however, for her father was transferred again, this time to Papua-New Guinea. Living at Lae was a new experience, one that Ronnie greatly enjoyed. She learned horse riding and show jumping, and loved swimming in tropical pools, even if the algae was a little thick at times. Another memory is of the sometimes “hairy” air-travel in PNG, with planes landing uphill for safety purposes! Ronnie and her sister even became budding entrepreneurs when both were given a present of a drake and a duck: the resultant many ducklings were sold by the girls to the local Chinese restaurant.
Nothing lasts forever, however, and Ronnie’s tropical idyll came to an end when her good Catholic mother became concerned at her education, or perceived lack of it. The result was that Ronnie was sent to Nambour, Queensland, where the Good Samaritan Sisters ran St Joseph’s, a boarding school for girls, for her Year 7 schooling. After the delightful freedom of Lae, Ronnie found boarding school a confronting culture shock. To this day, she maintains that anything that looks or smells like some of the “food” she was forced to endure makes her feel physically ill.
Fortunately for her constitution, Ronnie moved to Lourdes Hill, again as a boarder, for her secondary schooling. The food was much improved, but the same could not be said for Ronnie’s academic achievements which went sharply downwards after excellent primary school results. Ronnie concedes she “got up to mischief” which included dyeing her hair purple, and going for midnight swims in the College’s new pool. (One ancient nun, tottering along to find out what the noise was about, asked, “Is anybody there?” The girls replied, “No, sister”, and the ancient one tottered off again, quite happy.) Ronnie’s father, not impressed with her declining academic standards, threatened to remove her if the downward spiral continued. In an attempt to avoid sitting for an exam she knew she would fail, Ronnie faked the symptoms of appendicitis. She was rushed to hospital and fortunately for her was given a thorough examination which revealed not an inflammation of the appendix but ovarian cancer – miraculously discovered in the nick of time. (Ronnie maintains that no Ashgrove student has even a half chance of thinking of misbehaving around her – she’s done it all herself before!)
The end result of all this is that Ronnie was removed from boarding school when the family moved to Ferny Grove in Brisbane – her Years 10 to 12 would be spent at Mitchelton High School. After assimilating the culture shock of co-education, (boys!) Ronnie enjoyed Mitchelton SHS: she discovered different sports, including swimming, hockey and volleyball, and found a firm friend in Margaret Catchlove, who would also teach here at the College. Most importantly, for her father’s peace of mind, her results improved dramatically, and she won a scholarship to University, something her family could not have afforded otherwise.
Her major subjects at Queensland University were Ancient History and Geography, and it was on a field trip in the latter that she met an interesting young chap named Geoff. He hailed from Maryborough, was a pretty good rugby player, and like Ronnie wanted a career in education. When Ronnie’s father was transferred again to Melbourne, she elected to remain at Queensland University, becoming a boarder at Grace College, using holiday jobs to supplement her scholarship. Inevitably, since Cupid’s arrow had been very accurate, Ronnie and Geoff became an item, and studies completed and teacher graduation achieved, asked for a posting together “somewhere on the coast north of Brisbane.” The arbiter of their posting, teaching legend and Bronco’s talent scout Cyril Connell, didn’t know much geography, according to Ronnie: their destination was 270 degrees clockwise from north – to wit, Charleville! When the couple protested, Cyril gave the wise advice that they would love it, and would really learn how to teach there. Somewhat to their surprise, Ronnie and Geoff found that Cyril was spot on and enjoyed three great years in Charleville, attending every B & S Ball for hundreds of kilometres around. They were married in 1975.
After three years the couple transferred to Geoff’s home town of Maryborough, with Geoff being appointed Head of Social Science at Aldridge SHS, and Ronnie becoming Year 8 Co-ordinator at Maryborough SHS. She remembers it as a period of team-teaching and open area classrooms.
Then came the almost inevitable – a family. In 1982, first son Cameron was born in Maryborough. Maternal leave was, by today’s standards, non-existent, and Ronnie was forced to resign. Second son Andrew followed in 1985, but family finances forced Ronnie to commit to supply/contract teaching, with Geoff’s family generously helping with child care.
1989 saw a transfer to Brisbane with Geoff being appointed Deputy Principal at Albany Creek SHS; Ronnie continued with contract work and also house hunting for the young family. They finally settled on a home in Stafford Heights, but in common with many other families at the time found themselves confronted with an interest rate that reached an appalling 18 (yes, EIGHTEEN) percent. Ronnie was depressed by the financial burden and the uncertainty of her supply work, though fortuitously much of it had recently been in English and the comparatively new subject of Legal Studies. Then a friend told her about an advertised job for an English/Legal Studies teacher at a school called Marist College at Ashgrove. Nothing loath, Ronnie applied and an interview was arranged for about 4:30pm one afternoon.
Ronnie used a referdex to find the way to Ashgrove, and coming in over the bridge to the College was immediately struck by the physical beauty of the place, with the green playing fields, the well-tended grounds, and the majestic Tower Block looking down on the creek. She felt straight away, “I want this job!” In the interview, Ronnie looked out over the wonderful vista through the window of the Headmaster’s office, and commented without thinking, “You must hate it working here!” Ronnie feared she’d blown her chances, but answered all the questions in tone with her character, forthrightly and honestly. It was arranged that she would be phoned on the next Friday with the result: when she answered the call, the voice on the other end said two words she has never forgotten: “Welcome home.” Ronnie says that those words cemented what she already felt – “This is it! I belong here.”
Ronnie joined the staff as an English/Legal Studies teacher, and with a Year 11 Homeroom. She was fortunate in the quality of people supervising the College: Richard Ward as Year 12 Co-ordinator; Michael Gubbins with the same role in Year 11; Denis Callaghan, the “Mister Chips” of the College, was English Subject Master. In addition, several female staff members including Majella Stevens, Cheryl Geck, Megan Wandell and Jan Mulvihill assisted her in the early days and she remains grateful for the warmth of their welcome. Ronnie has one over-riding mantra: “I love working with young people!”, and found she had arrived at just the right place for that to occur. She admired the straightforward approach of the Marist boys to everything: what you saw was what you got. The boys soon learned, however, that while Mrs Grant was friendly and approachable, she did not tolerate fools gladly, and those who transgressed soon wished they hadn’t. Mrs Grant’s classes were not those in which you put your feet in the wrong place.
Fortuitously, 1989 was a landmark year for the College, as was 1990, the Golden Jubilee of Ashgrove. Ronnie became part of huge changes, the most obvious being the opening of the Champagnat Centre in 1989, when the all-weather gymnasium/Assembly area/sporting venue long hoped for was finally constructed. No less a personage than the Prime Minister Mr Bob Hawke was invited, along with lesser dignitaries, each of whom was assigned an individual staff member as a helper during the day. Ronnie found herself welcoming the CEO of Brisbane Catholic Education, Mr David Hutton, on the basis that she had taught with him in Charleville! It was a wonderful day for the College and Ronnie was vastly impressed with both the scale and the efficiency of the organisation involved.
What really took her eye was the opportunity offered by the huge space of the ground floor of the Champagnat Centre. To coaches and PE teachers it was an ideal indoor space for teaching and games/exercises; to Ronnie it shouted “Fashion Parade!” Ronnie was accustomed to fundraising as part of teaching in both Charleville and Maryborough, and straight away envisioned a catwalk down the centre of the gym, surrounded by tables of guests. She broached the idea with Headmaster’s secretary Mrs Kay Wells, and a livewire like Kay was soon a convert. The result was to be fashion parades from 1991 to 1997, each of which was hugely successful as both entertainment and in fund-raising. A new annual event had been added to the College calendar, and Ronnie had been the inspiration and prime-mover. (Myer even sponsored one of the parades, and was so impressed that it used the Year 12 boys for two shows at its Indooroopilly store! For their part, the Senior boys, after initial reluctance, soon saw the inherent advantages in flaunting the body beautiful on the catwalk!)
The fashion parades abruptly ceased after 1997, however, for the good reason that Ronnie had gone in a very different direction: in 1998 she was appointed as the Head of Harold House, stepping into the shoes of Mr Graham Perrett, who resigned the position the previous year. It was no small job in 1998, seeing to the organisation and pastoral care of one eighth of the College’s population, and it has become even greater with time as that population has steadily increased, particularly after Year 7s were added to secondary schooling. (A reflection of this is the number of Home Rooms each House has: a perusal of the Blue and Gold annual magazines shows that in 1998 when Ronnie became Head of Harold there were 5 Home Rooms; in 2018 there are 8.) The fact that Ronnie was selected to lead Harold says volumes for her efficiency and her organisational abilities; it is also a tribute to her pastoral abilities, for that is a large and important part of the role. She has led Harold with the same no-nonsense approach that has characterised her teaching: there are expectations about how a Harold House student acts and behaves; there are privileges in being a Harold House student also. The expectations must be met before the privileges are earned. Ronnie is uncompromising in her standards, and 20 years of Harold House boys are fortunate to have had her as leader. She is very supportive of any student with genuine needs, but “tough love” is very much the order of the day.
Ronnie is proud of Harold House’s sponsorship of its favoured charity, the Little Kings Movement, especially the fact that the House raises four to six thousand dollars each year through its support. (Characteristically Ronnie has instituted an “opt out” rather than an “opt in” approach to the Little Kings: it is assumed a student will automatically take part – an explanation to Mrs Grant is required for anything to the contrary!) Similarly, Ronnie takes pride in the concept of the Battle of the House Choirs, added to the Champagnat Day celebrations for the last six years, and now an accepted part of College culture. There was not universal support for the idea amongst the Heads of Houses but Ronnie was firmly behind the concept and successfully pushed for its adoption. Harold House has won the House Cup only the once, in 2011, but Ronnie in her annual magazine reports regularly says that isn’t for want of trying – the Harold boys do their very best!
Other things? Ronnie has been a long-time supporter and coach of volleyball at the College, bringing her characteristic energy to the role. Both sons, Cameron and Andrew, inherited her love of the sport. Both graduated from the College and both were members of the First VI Volleyball, with Andrew later going on to represent Australia at the 2012 London Olympics.
Ronnie is also pleased to record that she eventually managed to teach geography in the College – it was, after all, one of the specialist subjects in her University degree! She has also been grateful for the opportunities offered by the College to go on “Immersion” experiences, and for the frequent attendances at Retreats with the boys – she sees them as fabulous opportunities for examination and renewal of spirituality.
Closing thoughts? Ronnie wants to thank everyone she has been associated with during her many years at the College. In particular she wishes to acknowledge her fellow Heads of House: they are a disparate group in both outlook and abilities, but their combination, she believes, makes a very positive contribution to the “ideas room” of the College. Ronnie also acknowledges the challenges she has faced in her time here – it has been hard work, but she has loved it. Guided by her mantra about working with young people, she says “It’s all about the boys.” Never was this more obvious than in the last House meeting for Harold when the Year 12s were farewelled: Ronnie kept in the background and out of the limelight, even though it was her farewell, too, after 20 years of leading the House.
The College will be the poorer for her going and her wealth of talent and experience will not be easy to replace. In common with other Ashgrove ‘legends’ she has given selflessly of herself and counted not the cost. Now she has decided it is time for her to step back and let someone else take on the burden. Ronnie, may your retirement years be long and filled with happiness, particularly spoiling your new grandson. The College thanks you for wonderful work of which you can be justly proud. Ave and Vale from us all.