Monday, 15 October 2018

Building a grand Carmelite hall in Middle Park at war’s end DR VAL NOONE

 Carmelite Hall, Sunday 7 October 2018

Centenary of laying of foundation stone
for Carmelite Hall, 24 November 1918


On your behalf, I pay our respects to the Boon Wurrung people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, especially to their elders past and present. As the Middle Park history says, where the lake and the park are now were swamps and sand dunes rich in good food, fish, birds, freshwater shellfish and so on. We lament the dispossession of the Boon Wurrung and support their just claims to land and civil rights.

In the next 30 minutes I will offer you five snapshots:
1. At a building site on Sunday 24 November 1918
2. Middle Park: a new and mixed suburb
3. Prior Kindelan and parishioners at war’s end
4. On being Australian Irish Catholics
5. After the war: thriving parish in an economic depression

Because I have found so much about 1918, I will not cover the years up to 1940 in any detail but here is a bit of fun, a personal story from the later era. In this church on 27 August 1944 I had my first role in public life. At the wedding of Marie Amerina of 18 Neville Street, Middle Park and Jack Rusich of 384 Dorcas Street, South Melbourne, both Australian-born, I was the page boy. Jack was my mother’s first cousin and my godfather. My mother, a dressmaker, made a satin suit for me to wear. I will pass around a photograph of the wedding group. At that time, our family lived in rooms in our aunt’s house in Anderson Street, Albert Park: we were in SS Peter and Paul’s parish where I started school but like a good number of others our parents also took part in the life of what I was taught to call “the Carmelite”. 

I am honoured to be invited to address you today, 74 years later, and without a satin suit. And congratulations to the committee for organising this event.

1. At a building site on Sunday 24 November 1918

On Sunday afternoon, 24 November 1918, just a fortnight after Britain and Germany signed the Armistice to end the Great War, 5000 people gathered around the partly completed walls of the hall and out on to Richardson Street for the laying of its foundation stone by Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Where we are now was the beautiful small 1891 church with new bits added to accommodate the growing numbers attending Mass. This building would not be completed for a decade. The day was sunny, bunting with an emphasis on emerald green, was prominent. Members of the Hibernian Australian Catholic Benefit Society and the Irish National Foresters formed a guard of honour for the archbishop and clergy. These groups were self-help mutual medical benefits associations – important in the days before Medibank – which, from time to time, and to varying degrees, supported Irish political causes. The Catholic Young Men’s Society, which ran sporting activities and provided public speaking training in the parish, also joined the guard of honour. The band from St Vincent de Paul’s orphanage in Cecil Street played selections. 

The speeches stressed the grandeur of the plans. Carmelite historian Paul Chandler said: “With its elaborate stage and club rooms, it was one of the finest parish halls in Australia.” The cost was £7000 and it would hold 1000 people. Philip Harvey will talk later about the architect Augustus Fritsch and the builder Frederick Farr.

Here are a few remarks about the people present. Firstly, the 5000. Why so many? Eight months earlier Herbert Brookes and other leading citizens organised a meeting of 1000 people at the Melbourne Town Hall calling for the deportation of Archbishop Mannix and the banning of Irish societies. Prime Minister Billy Hughes responded positively to their delegation. The issues were military conscription and sympathy for Ireland’s independence. Anglican and Protestant leaders also called for Mannix’s removal. Sir Frank Madden, speaker of the parliament, a convert from Catholicism to Anglicanism, had earlier suggested that Mannix deserved to be shot.

Hey presto, in the following months, tens of thousands of Catholics and many Protestant sympathisers rallied to support a church leader who they regarded as a spokesman for their interests. Press reports of the day described Mannix as tall, witty and intelligent, genial yet aloof and flint-like under pressure. When Archbishop Mannix spoke at such events he was not lecturing the people, it was as if he was standing in front of the people addressing the press and the world on their behalf, thereby strengthening his hearers. Indeed, the evidence is that on conscription and labour issues the flock were influencing their shepherd.

Most of the 5000 were Australian born. Many of them were city people but a good number of them were the sons and daughters of the Irish Australian selectors, migrants who had hoped to be farmers but failed; and they found their children drifted back to the city. On the law of averages, ninety-five per cent had left school before year 10, probably less than 1 in 40 had completed secondary schooling. But, they were people who read Steele Rudd’s On Our Selection, and C J Dennis on Ginger Mick and Doreen, and Marion Miller Knowles poems and stories.

They were proud of Australia, proud of Federation, the basic wage, the vote for women, pensions, the social gains that had made Australia a leader in the world for working people. A good number supported the White Australia Policy. But they were reeling from the last four years. Most of them had sons, or brothers, or husbands, or friends, at the war, many had lost loved ones. They saw the crippled returned soldiers begging at Flinders Street station. Twelve months before, they had experienced one of the harshest years in European Australian history: prices had sky-rocketed during the war but wages remained frozen. They had just lived through bitter divisions over the referendums on conscription. In one way, they were, as historian Joan Beaumont has suggested, “a broken nation”.
But on this day, as the Advocate said, they were going forward. They had dreams and plans. The Archbishop praised the “very good purposes” of the hall, and spoke of the “prospect of abiding peace coming to the world after four years of terrible strife”. At the cathedral the previous Sunday he had dwelt on the horrors of the war, and the 45,000 Australians who had given their lives. “It was cruel to talk to those bereaved of the glory of war,” he said. “Any attempt to humiliate or crush a rival will not lead to a lasting peace, but to inevitable war.” At Middle Park Mannix “enlarged upon this theme, and gave examples, showing the changeableness of public opinion. His speech was heartily applauded throughout.” 

Atypically the Catholic and other newspapers did not give a detailed account of Mannix’s speech on the day. Was Mannix being less forthright at a time when Irish independence representatives were seeking to gain a place at the peace treaty negotiations? Was his review of the war years subject to censorship, official or self-imposed, under the War Precautions Act?

On this occasion, as in every speech that I have studied, Mannix expressed respect for the soldiers of the AIF and sympathy for their families. His opposition to conscription and his description of the war as a trade war in no way mitigated his solidarity with the sufferings, heroism and hardships of his listeners.

2. Middle Park: a new and mixed suburb
Second, a note on Middle Park at that time. As many of you know, a military reserve and a rifle range occupied the sand dunes and swamps of Middle Park for some decades before substantial housing development began in the 1880s, that is, later than South Melbourne or St Kilda. In that boom decade some impressive middle class homes were built. However, by about 1918, census figures suggest that the population was largely blue collar, tradesmen, labourers and factory workers, with a noticeable percentage of public servants. 

The crash and depression of the 1890s hit Middle Park badly, as it did most of Victoria. Many of the grand houses were rented out to multiple tenants, many became rooming houses. In the early 1900s, only 38 per cent of the population were owner-occupiers.

And Middle Park was something of a Catholic stronghold. By 1921 Middle Park had 28 per cent population of Catholics, when the average for Victoria was 21 per cent. That seems to have lasted till the 1950s.

When war with Germany, and soon after with the Ottoman Empire, began fours year before the day we are commemorating, Middle Park and its Catholic population had its share of volunteers – although Catholics were drastically under-represented among the officer class. The Makin family who were prominent in parish life sent three sons, and lost one. Les Maher of 91 Harold Street fought in Gallipoli and Flanders and died two months before the day we are commemorating. The girls at Kilbride Brigidine school in Beaconsfield Parade raised money to send to nuns in Belgium for the relief of civilian casualties.

Middle Park was in the federal seat of Fawkner, as was part of South Melbourne. The state member of parliament at the time of the laying of the foundation stone was Joseph Hannan of the Labor Party, who had held the federal seat for some years. Hannan was born in England of Scottish parents and had married Theresa Phelan at SS Peter and Paul’s, South Melbourne, in 1903. He supported the war but opposed conscription.

I looked at some voting figures for the Fawkner electorate in the first conscription referendum of 28 October 1916. Voting for Middle Park was at the Middle Park Theatre. For Albert Park it was in the Wesley Preparatory School in Kerferd Road, or the Baptist School, also in Kerferd Road. Overall the electorate voted Yes by 51 per cent. Middle Park voted 56 per cent yes, Albert Park 52 per cent No and South Melbourne 61 per cent No. This probably reflects the higher percentage of working-class votes in South Melbourne and Albert Park. In the second referendum, if Fawkner followed the state pattern, the electorate and perhaps Middle Park would have returned a No vote.
3. Prior Joseph Kindelan and parishioners at war’s end

Part three. A snapshot of Prior Joseph Kindelan and some parishioners. In those days parishioners often identified themselves in public documents as Roman Catholics, not Catholics. They heard Mass in Latin, said by a priest facing away from them. Some read from prayer books or recited the Rosary during Mass. A good percentage of men at the Carmelite were members of the Holy Name Sodality, which meant taking Communion one Sunday a month and sitting together under banners at Mass. Likewise women joined the Sacred Heart Sodality.

By all reports, Father Kindelan, who in 1909 was the founding parish priest of the newly separate Middle Park parish, was a dynamic leader, inclined to aim higher rather than lower in parish building projects. He was, like the majority of priests in Victoria, born in Ireland. Indeed, in an account of parish history, Frank Shortis suggests that, for a number of reasons, the Carmelites were slower to recruit Australians than some other orders. The following year Kindelan stepped back to an assistant role but when the church was opened in 1927, a year after his death, it was declared a memorial to him.

The appeal for funds was moved by Mr John Clarebrough, a parishioner and a decorator who had a contract with the builder of the hall. All indications are that Father Kindelan’s plans for the hall had strong backing from parishioners. You can read further details in the accounts reproduced in the handout.

However, there is more to Mr Clarebrough’s speech than meets the eye. Thanks to Trove and the Australian War Memorial, we learn that John Clarebrough and his family lived at 195 Beaconsfield Parade. The house, now gone, was called Taurauga after the place in New Zealand where they had previously settled. Mr and Mrs Clarebrough had three sons in the Australian Imperial Force. The oldest, Charles, had been educated at St Patrick’s Jesuit College in East Melbourne, enlisted, fought at Gallipoli, became a lieutenant, and had been killed in action two years earlier, at 36, and was buried in Pozieres. The next son John Augustus also fought in France and went on to become a Brigadier in the Second World War. A younger son Frank had been in training camp at Broadmeadows when Charles was killed and the State Commandant discharged him on family grounds.

No wonder then that John Clarebrough said at the hall that day: “You should contribute generously for the reason that the building would serve a useful purpose, and as an act of thanksgiving to Almighty God for the termination of the war! (Applause.)” He added that “a further inducement to give” came from the “memory of the brave men who had fallen at the front.”

Some of you may know members of this Clarebrough family. Two grandsons of John who spoke, sons of Brigadier Charles, were known to my generation. John Clarebrough in 1968 was the first director of open heart surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital, and Leo, an eminent physicist and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. I knew Leo from the movement against the Vietnam War and conscription. St Dominic’s parish in East Camberwell hold lectures on social justice issue in his memory.

A later speaker on the day also showed up in Trove, namely Jeremiah O’Brien who seconded the vote of thanks to the Archbishop. As far as I can tell, Jeremiah, licensee of Bleak House until 1913, brother-in-law of J R Buxton, the legendary real estate agent, and thus grand-uncle of historian Kathleen Fitzpatrick, was living in retirement at 85 St Vincent Place, in one of the grandest houses in that grand street. Jeremiah’s parents, bounty migrants from Ireland in the 1840s, had made their pile from the Nar Nar Goon hotel.

The accounts of the foundation-day ceremony mention no women by name and only one group, the Women’s Branch of the Sacred Heart Sodality. However, the women’s group had the distinction of making the largest donation to the appeal: they gave 50 guineas.

Also, for the record, we should recognise the work of Frank Wrigley who had secretarial duties for the event, as he had done for parish events for a decade.

4. On being Australian Irish Catholics
Fourth, a note on being an Irish Australian Catholic in those days. By the time of the stone-laying in November 1918 dramatic events of the past four years such as attempts to deport Mannix, the Easter Rising and the conscription referenda, had heightened the awareness of Irish Australian Catholics of their identity. 

A couple of remarks in the accounts of the Hall ceremony reflect the changes and tensions of the day. In seconding John Clarebrough’s appeal speech, Mr C Bradley added that “The use of certain public halls had been refused to his Grace by bigoted peopIe, but that slight could not be put upon his Grace at Middle Park when the parish hall was completed.” Bradley’s hearers knew well that twelve months earlier, on the eve of the second conscription referendum, St Kilda Council had refused the use of the Town Hall to Christian Brothers College East St Kilda for their speech night because Archbishop Mannix was to speak. A number of local boys from Middle Park attended CBC. No surprise, the speech night went ahead at the college with a large crowd, and banners for both the No vote and for Irish independence.

Divisions among Catholics were also referred to in the speeches. Mr McCarthy, in proposing the vote of thanks to the Archbishop, included a comment that “they could afford to treat with silent contempt the attacks on their Archbishop and clergy, and the efforts to divide priests and people. Certain people had failed to stand up in defence of the Archbishop”. Most of those present knew who McCarthy was referring to. During the conscription debates a small group of Catholics publicly attacked Mannix, including Vincent Nolan, lawyer, Frank Gavan Duffy, a judge, Auguste de Bavay, a bacteriologist, Benjamin Hoare, a  journalist, and Edward Stanfield Wardell, retired deputy master of the Royal Mint and son of the architect. Against them, McCarthy declared that Mannix “would be associated for all time with the successful fight to keep Australia a free land”.

Not mentioned in the press accounts but relevant was the background knowledge of all present on the day that eight Irish Australian republicans arrested earlier that year, including two Victorians, Maurice Dalton and Frank McKeown, were interned without trial in Darlinghurst Gaol, and had not been released at the Armistice. Campaigns for their release were, however, successful before Christmas. By 1918, many Irish Australians shifted from supporting Home Rule for Ireland to supporting autonomy and independence.

Two years ago Eoin Hahessy made an excellent low-budget documentary film about this change, entitled Michael They’ve Shot Them, shown on SBS under the tile of The Rise of Irish Australia.
One of the priests in attendance, Father William Ganly, parish priest of West St Kilda, played an important role not in the politics of Irish Australia but in cultural matters. A native Irish-speaker from the Aran Islands, from whence very few people migrated to Victoria, he was a Gaelic scholar of international reputation, who gave public lectures on the literature, art and music of ancient Ireland, and was, for a time, inspector of schools for the archdiocese.

5. After the war: thriving parish in an economic depression

Part Five. Those 5000 on 24 November 1918 were hopeful of re-building community life despite the drastic loss of life that had just ended with the Armistice, and despite the bitter divisions over conscription and living conditions of the previous three years. Unlike the economic boom which my generation experienced after World War II, sadly, ahead of the post-World-War-I generation was an economic depression, and another world war. 

More than that, two months later the Spanish Flu epidemic devastated Melbourne and much of the world. The next year would also bring the bitter Seamen’s Strike. In that, Mannix would again show support for his predominantly working-class flock. In regard to church matters, justice for Catholic education would continue to be a major focus down into the 1960s. In Irish matters, the war of independence, the massive 1920 St Patrick’s Day march in Melbourne, the Irish civil war and so on loomed ahead.
However, the press reports and photographs of the hall and the parish during the 1920 and 1930s are full of plays, balls, communion breakfasts, fund raisers, queen carnivals, boxing tournaments, sporting teams and other activities. On present evidence, the parish of Our Lady of Mt Carmel combined its middle-class and working-class members into one of the strongest parishes in Melbourne. The priests and parishioners who built this hall put down a basis for a rich community life which stood them in good stead during the crises of the following couple of decades.

Conclusion: respect for elders
By asserting that our ancestors are worth remembering and honouring, this afternoon’s discussions are a contribution towards paying respect to our elders and their traditions. The parishioners could not have foreseen the crimes and cover-ups that have rocked the Catholic church in recent decades. It is important that we try to understand our elders in their time and place. Warts and all, there are good grounds for being proud of the history of the Carmelite parish and in particular of the grand hall.
I trust that I have alerted you to five aspects of the laying of the foundation stone of this building 100 years ago on 24 November 1918: 1) a sketch of the people who were present; 2) an overview of Middle Park as a new and mixed suburb; 3) Prior Joseph Kindelan and parishioners at war’s end; 4) aspects of being Australian, Catholic and of Irish origin; 5) a mention of what was ahead of them after the war.

I am reminded of the famous American folk singer, Woody Guthrie, who said: “I hate a song that makes you think that you’re not any good, a song that makes you think you’re bound to lose, no good to nobody, no good for nothin’ … I am out to sing the songs that will make you take pride in yourself.” 

Sin é mo scéal. Ω

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