St Brigid's community celebrates centenary milestone

For any person, their first day at school is usually hard enough.

Jose Farrar reflects on her time as a student at St Brigid’s in Crossley after her family migrated from the Netherlands to Australia.

Jose Farrar reflects on her time as a student at St Brigid’s in Crossley after her family migrated from the Netherlands to Australia.

But imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t utter a single syllable of the language.

That was the scenario that confronted young Jose Farrar (nee Beks) when she became part of the community at St Brigid’s at Crossley more than half-a-century ago. 

As a post-way migrant, she was thrust into a life where her native language from the Netherlands became obsolete. 

Her story began when she jumped on a plane with her family in 1951. After six stopovers — unheard of in any modern-day flight abroad — they arrived in Australia. 

Eventually the Beks settled beside the south-west coast of Victoria, on a hilltop wedged between Port Fairy, Koroit and Warrnambool and overlooking Killarney. 

Crossley and its community became the place where the young Dutch girl would forge a new life. She hasn’t forgotten that and remains deeply grateful.          

Pushed straight into school life, Mrs Farrar was nudged into a special school community at St Brigid’s church school. 

Back then the iconic church was in its 38th year of existence and stood abruptly just paces away from where she studied. 

“The obvious, most difficult part was not being able to speak a word of English, having only arrived a few days earlier,” Mrs Farrar recalled.

One comfort for her, perhaps, was being able to share her situation with her brother.

“I suppose children tend to learn language more quickly than adults so it wasn’t long before my brother and I learnt enough to understand the teachers and students.”

Mrs Farrar, 68, only lived in the Killarney area for a few years and has since made her home at Purnim, Port Fairy and now Warrnambool. 

But despite spending limited time at St Brigid’s since her school days, history has called her back for this weekend’s centenary celebrations.

“We were only here for a short period of time and it’s just since all this has been happening for the centenary — because some of the locals realised my name was still on the school roll — I’ve been contacted and I’ve become involved with the school and happy to help now I’ve retired,” she said.

Visitors are expected to join the pilgrimage to Crossley from as far as Western Australia. 

The highlight will be a commemorative Mass tomorrow marking 100 years since the church’s inaugural service. Mrs Farrar knows too well the sacrifices that have been made over time to ensure St Brigid’s church and hall remain standing.

“When you understand how hard they had to fight to keep the property and how difficult it has been for a lot of the locals during that time, we admire their application to it and their dedication for keeping something like this, which is obviously so precious to them.

“(I’m) happy to be involved in whatever small way.”

Mrs Farrar was on hand last Thursday when a large bluestone memorial — supplied by Bam Stone — was delivered and placed at the new St Brigid’s ‘Peace and Healing’ garden.

Those attending the centenary celebrations can buy a paver and a plant in the name of a relative who has died, to be placed in their memory.

The Friends of St Brigid’s Association chairman Dennis Bushell said anyone in the local community was invited to make a tribute.

“We’re going to open our peace and healing garden and anyone who wishes can buy a paver in memory of one of their ancestors or in memory of anyone who’s died,” Mr Bushell said. 

“And we invite anyone to purchase a plant to place in the garden in memory of that person.”

It wasn’t only Jose Farrar who was there last week. She was joined by other past pupils of the church school, all of whom carry special memories.

Centenary committee member Mick Lane is one who reminisces fondly on his days at the school — the place he met the girl he would eventually marry.

“Lots of memories,” Mr Lane said. “I started here in 1945. I remember the school days, the dance days.

“I met my wife here when I was 16, married her when I was 22. Seventy years of memories.” Chairman of the centenary committee, 74-year-old Gerry O’Brien, also has a long history with the church and hall.

“I started school here when I was five, so 70 years ago,” Mr O’Brien said.

“All my brothers and sisters went to school here. My mum and dad went to school here.”

With three aunts working as Good Samaritan nuns at the school, Mr O’Brien said he had to be on his best behaviour if he wanted to avoid a “clip behind the ears”, he joked.

“We had to be fairly good otherwise they’d (teachers) report us to our aunties.

“All our kids were baptised and they made their first Communion here.”

And he — not unlike Mrs Farrah and Mr Lane — certainly hasn’t forgotten his roots. 

“It’s been the whole part of our life,” Mr O’Brien said.

“It (St Brigid’s) just has a great feeling about it. 

“And to think when they were going to sell it to the highest bidder, it really got us upset. We think we did (the right thing). 

“People say ‘where do your roots come from’ — well, this is it.”

How close the church came to never reaching its 100-year milestone is now a well-known story.

“(I’m) very proud. It’s been a big struggle the last four or five years — the last seven or eight years — but now it’s all falling into place and it’s very rewarding,” said Mick Lane.

“There’s still a lot of work ahead of us; we’ve got to keep working for years yet, but it’s a good start.”

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