Memorable Student Days at St Lucia

 

Patrick Mahoney

My association with UQ began long before I was enrolled as a student there. In the latter years of WWII, my family moved from Red Hill to St Lucia, which was largely undeveloped at that time, and the University was still being built. The only permanent building on site was the Forgan Smith Building. Multiple heaps of Helidon stone were scattered over the site. To the young of the district, this was our playground, together with the thick scrubby bush and the creeks and water holes that existed, of which more later. The piles of stones extended to the area of the present Rugby League fields and provided excellent climbing challenges for small boys.

Between Warren Street and Walcott Street were swamps and fields for grazing horses and the odd cow. The same marshy area later provided me with a fertile field for our entomology prac in 4th year, when we had to present mounted and identified larvae, pupae and adult mosquito as part of our exam. I provided several of our group, including my future wife, Mary, with specimens, as I found the subject fascinating and relatively easy to do the finer work from capture to slide.

The Brisbane City Council started to use “the swamp”, as the locals knew it, as landfill, and post-war this included a lot of army surplus equipment. The most prized of these were the gas-masks, from which one could make goggles (why, I now can’t recall), and best of all the corrugated, cloth-covered rubber tubing which became THE status symbol for handlebar grips on our pushbikes.

After I finished Senior and enrolled in the Medical Course at UQ, I realise that living at St Lucia was not really an advantage as a lot of our first and second year work was done at William Street (Physiology), George Street at the site now occupied by QUT, (Botany and zoology) as well as at the St Lucia Campus.

The range of sports available at the University was amazing and I developed new friendships, dabbled in Rugby, judo, boxing and rowing.
With a deep interest in rowing, coming from a non-rowing school, I was attached as a “spare” to a young crew of first years in a four, with an enthusiastic coach, a businessman from Perth, in Queensland as part of his job. As luck (for me) would have it, one of the crew developed appendicitis, and I became a permanent member of the crew, which had a modicum of success in time, including two State Championships and a Half Blue for me.

My parents were determined that their children should have a good education, and I became the first of my family to attend a university. My two younger siblings also followed through the University of Queensland, with my younger sister finishing an Arts Degree which she began at the University of Ontario while teaching in Canada.

During my university time, I, like many others, had part-time, or vacation jobs, such as postal delivery at Christmas break, when there were two deliveries a day and one on Saturdays, working in a soap factory, both on the manufacturing floor before the factory closed for the Christmas break and then joining the maintenance gang to refurbish the factory in the 3 weeks it was fully closed. I also learned to start, and maintain a boiler fire as a stoker at the same place, where steam was the major source of power for the factory.

Two other ventures stand out. Early in my student days, a few of us earned the princely sum of one pound and ten shillings a day for a week as subjects in a heat stress experiment for Professor Otto Budtz-Olsen, one of our physiology lecturers. This money would get us in to a lot of movies in those distant times. The second job was much less strenuous, as I was asked by my brother-in-law’s father to take his place as First Aid Officer in a chemical and fertilizer factory in Pinkenba when he took leave over the Christmas period. This was a very interesting and appropriate line of work for a medical student. The good aspect was that when he returned from his holiday, I negotiated a switch to the factory floor as a labourer, for the remaining duration of my holidays.

The most lucrative and the longest lasting of my part time jobs was as an “inserter” for the Sunday Mail when it was located at what is now Post Office Square. For three pounds and ten shillings, we worked from 9pm Saturday until about 3am Sunday putting the colour supplements, which had been printed the previous Wednesday, into the newspapers. It was physically strenuous and very dirty as the air was full of ink-laden dust disturbed by the thunderous printing presses.

Life was not all work and study, as the Med Balls live long in the memory, as did the Intervarsity Sporting competition meets, and Commem Processions, which in those days wended through the streets of Brisbane to large crowds of public spectators. I particularly remember one float of our group which parodied “On The Beach”, the Neville Shute novel which had recently been made into a film in and around Melbourne. My role was of the leopard -skin draped beater of the gong with which all J Arthur Rank movies opened.

“On the Beach” in the Commem Procession

My time at UQ is something I will never forget for the friendships made, the teachers encountered, and the knowledge they imparted to us as they prepared us for our futures.

 

K. Patrick Mahoney