Book review

St Benedict's School,Broadway: a history of a Catholic school 1938-2012

By Kelvin Canavan

The brief history of St Benedict’s School, Broadway compiled by Kelvin Canavan is both reassuring and enlightening.

Unpacking the past is always a positive but this tome achieves more in 120 pages than many larger studies.

The driving force of an Irish populace seeking education for their sons and daughters is the reassuring element. Reassuring in the sense that a ‘new’ country provided opportunities often previously denied. The provision of a Catholic education was pivotal to the some four thousand folk of Irish descent in the Glebe neighbourhood.

The value placed on education is the enlightening dimension. The challenge of providing the education is the human story. Fundraising is a theme as is the ever so slow progression to government funding.

The contribution of the Marist Brothers and Good Samaritan Sisters is both remarkable and humbling. The excerpts from Marist textbooks took this reader back in time. An example is worthy of inclusion:

“A bushel of barley weighs 48lbs. How many wagonloads of 50 bushels each would be required to haul 36 tons of barley.”

A feature of the account is the intersection of state-based inspections of Catholic education facilities. The evolution to what is now the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) is readily understood when placed in historical perspective.

The evolution of Catholic systemic schools reflects a significant change in Australian society and this book captures the individuals and the larger community of inner city Sydney that embraced that change and benefited from it.

Of particular note is the industrial dimension. The reference to the 1973 NSW Industrial Commissions decision to make salaries for Catholic teachers comparable to those for teachers in state schools remains an important milestone.

The salaries payable were $4,050 for a beginning teacher to $8,150 for a four-year trained teacher after nine years service. The parallel development of the IEU and Catholic systemic schools is not lost. The relationship is described “what is now the NSW/ACT Independent Education Union (IEU) worked constructively with Catholic educators in the development of this historic Award.”

Reviewed by Assistant General Secretary
Mark Northam