Sr Virginia Wilkinson: A gifted teacher, a talented choir, and a hard-fought EisteddfodPrint
In honour of the 170th anniversary of the Sisters of Charity in Tasmania, four of our Sisters remembered their time ministering in the Apple Isle.
Here is Sr Virginia Wilkinson’s story, a memory of St Aloysius School, Kingston Beach
Being asked to write a reflection on some memory of my time living and teaching in Tasmania gave me much to think about. I chose this little anecdote as it is a very treasured memory of some very special children.
St Aloysius, Kingston Beach was a small, fairly new school in a semi-rural area, about 16 kms out of Hobart. The children came in from Snug, Margate, Longley, Kettering, and from Kingston itself. The school looked out on to a view of the mouth of the Derwent River that would be the envy of people anywhere in the world.
Every Friday morning, as the bus pulled up outside the school, out stepped Melba Kelly. As she approached the school, dressed in a most colourful array of flowing gowns, brilliant scarves and flamboyant hats, a quiver of joy and expectation went through the classrooms. Melba was a speech and drama teacher of note, who no longer worked in the high school’s or the drama and theatre scene of Hobart, but who came to share her wonderful gifts with our children.
As in many small towns in Tasmania, Kingston had an excellent drama group known as the Kingston Players, which produced wonderful plays each year to which we were always invited. I remember enjoying such plays as Bonaventure, and several Noel Coward productions.
This group organised a Junior Drama Festival each year and involved all the schools in the area. Due to the giftedness of Melba Kelly and the unbelievable talent of the children, St Aloysius took out the first place every year. Melba saw their possibilities and suggested competing in the Hobart City Eisteddfod. Most of our children had rarely, if ever, been into Hobart, so this was a very interesting and exciting experience. Here again, as Melba elicited the most beautiful speech, animate, and sheet talent from the children, they won many awards.
There was a section for boys only choirs, which catered for all the big high school groups of talented males. St Virgil’s College entered two big choirs each year, and frequently won first and second prizes. To meet the required number to compete in the choouir section, our little school had to include boys fro 7/8 years to 12 year-olds.
The day of the Hobart City Eisteddfod finally arrived and wee made our way to Hobart to take our place in history.
After sitting through choir after choir performing over many hours, we were delighted again to take take first and second places with our combined choirs. The time had come. Announcements had been made, and the boys from St Aloysius climbed on to the huge stand, on the huge stage, in the huge Hobart CVity Hall for the performance of their lives. As I saw how small they were, I wanted to take them down. To us, they were already champions.
However, the bell sounded for silent and a hush fell over the whole place. These young boys from outside the city limits were competing with the best. But only we knew that they had been trained by the best.
As the last line of the last poem can to an end there was a deathly silence throughout the hall. It was only seconds, but it seemed like minutes. Suddenly, the whole place erupted into a sea of applause. They had done it again. These boys had completed what they came for and it showed in their beaming smiles and angelic expressions.
Then the big moment came. From the back of the hall, the adjudicator approached the stage. She critiqued the performances, and then announced the place-getters: 3rd place to one of the big Hobart colleges; 2nd place, St Virgil’s Christian Brothers College. (I was very happy for them.)
I was feeling so much for our small, tired boys, standing there amid the senior boys in their very smart uniforms.
Finally it came: First place, St Aloysius School, Kingston Beach. The hall erupted again. Not just applause this time, but a standing ovation which seemed to go on for eternity.
The boys looked stunned. We were all stunned. As silence was called for, one of the smallest boys in the front row stepped down, walked across the front of the stage, looked across to where we sat, and called out in this beautiful young voice, with perfect diction: “WE WAS GOOD, SISTER, WAS WE?”
They had climbed the heights that day, but nothing could change our delightful, happy unsophisticated, St Aloysius children.
As a footnote, Melba Kelly died in her sleep very soon after that Eisteddfod, aged in her late forties.