‘Commem’ Memories

Photograph from the collection of Petra Jones (nee Skoien)-pictured far left. Fellow members in the Commem Procession 1951 include Geoff Price, Kathleen (seated), Pam Jones (seated) and Dolly.

Photograph from the collection of Petra Jones (nee Skoien)-pictured far left. Fellow members in the Commem Procession 1951 include Geoff Price, Kathleen (seated), Pam Jones (seated) and Dolly.

My mother, Agnes Skoien (nee Moore), was the oldest graduate of this university when she died in 1994. I never thought about going to Uni myself, but wasn’t surprised when she booked me into the Women’s College at Kangaroo Pt in 1950. THAT was an experience.

I loved Mum’s stories about her time at Uni. She told me about how it was in her time doing Classics. The Profs and Lecturers were friends, often spending time socially, playing hockey (her special game) together. She often relished hitting the ankle of a Prof who had marked her a bit severely. The janitor, Walter, would say to her before the exam, ‘Oh Miss Moore — are you prepared?’

She also told the story of travelling by train to Sydney for a Student Christian Movement conference, and Raph Cilento was in her carriage, as well as his Phyllis, who was paying some attention to another male. He opened up the carriage door and swore he would throw himself out if she continued her dalliance. Phyllis said OK, if he had to be silly.

When Mum was quite old, I used to accompany her to Convocation and the new Alumni, and she embarrassed me one time by tearing a strip off Sir Fred Schonell for causing St Lucia to spread like an octopus when she and her Toowoomba committee had the land and money for a uni up there. Little did either of them know that she was to become the mother-in-law of his daughter.

But back to my story. Having been at two boarding schools, where girls were not allowed nearer to the front fence than six feet, the freedom of University was heady, not only for me, but for most of the freshers in College. Except for the Medicine, Dentistry, and Engineering students, it was open slather into all the clubs and doings of Uni, with lots of time for coffee and conversation in the Refec. And the Clubs were keen to have us! We were among the early arrivals at St Lucia.

Because we were freshers, it was important for us to learn the Uni songs and we frequented the Commem Pracs, which were on most Saturday nights over near the Med School at Herston, and met each other—freshers and other older students. So although a few didn’t go, it became common for us to know the songs, ready for the big graduation ceremony at City Hall. Here the Commem pianist (which I was for two years) and conductor led the relevant songs for Arts, Science, Medicine, Law, Dentistry Engineering, etc using a very large shinbone. In the meantime, all sorts of outside entertainment was underway; one night a large amount of flour tipped over from up round the ceiling, onto the Chancellor and Vice C, Deans, Archbishops, etc on stage.

I remember one time, the Arts Society President Geoff Price (later our Ambassador to Vietnam) rose solemnly as the Arch. finished his blessing—per Christum Dominum Nostrum’—and declaimed in his beautiful voice, ‘HALLELUJAH’, followed by those around him.

The big Commem Ball followed at Cloudland that night—formal and supposedly ‘dry’, but it never was. The big dance was the University Crawl, which might be just one round of the very large floor — for the quiet ones. The famous Billo Smith was the band conductor and a well-liked dance was ‘In The Mood’, where the sprung floor, for which Cloudland was famous, really bounced, as he did the usual ‘In The Mood’ finishes.

The Commem Parade was a big day, and lots of the public lined the streets for 00’s and Ah’s as the floats went by, lampooning Government, Council, the uni, and the police, who not only had a good laugh, but directed the whole show. The Engineers were famous for having closed Victoria Bridge for half a day, their signs ‘Proceed by Grey Street Bridge’ looking so genuine that the police directed traffic ‘til the perpetrators carefully removed them about midday, and then the police twigged to what had happened. We climbed up the lions on King George Square and I remember when one fellow participant decided my ancient gown needed trimming. He chased me down Queen St and into the Regent Theatre—up and down the aisles, ‘til I sought refuge in the Ladies.

Later on, one morning, arriving for lectures, large footsteps were seen on the Uni Tower leading to the top; they were cleaned in the afternoon, only to be seen again leading DOWN from the top on the other side, the next day.

Every Faculty (well, most of them) held their own Faculty Balls, not always at Cloudland, which was too expensive, but at other well—known venues, and the faculty songs were sung. The Commem magazine, Scoop, was known for its irreverent jokes and songs, as well as a Glossary, e.g.

  • DENTAL STUDENT: Of doubtful extraction.
  • HELL: Allowable expression in Sunday School. Also on viewing an exam paper.

This was at the time of the Menzies’ ‘Commies-Under-The-Bed’, and uni clubs brought out various people — the British ‘Red Dean’, the author Frank Hardy, smooth-talking politician and Navy Minister Jim Killen, and at the time of conscription for 18 year olds unluckily born in a certain month, a big ‘Brass’ who had to deal with a not-very polite audience. These addresses during the lunch hour in the big lecture room (A 4?) were very lively!

"Red Hot Blue", Uni Revue, 1950s. Picture from the collection of Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien).

“Red Hot Blue”, Uni Revue, 1950s. Picture from the collection of Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien).

A Uni Revue was started: Bert Cornelius was a great comedian, and Pat Lee and Shirley McCorkingdale were great dancers and singers. We benefited from the number of US ex-Army, etc., some of whom, especially Nat Kipner, had great musical talents in both composing and performing. I remember singing and performing two of his works. The revues did peter out later for a while. So you see how tempting all these activities were and how they caused the shocking results for a large proportion of the WC freshers. I soon gave up and moved to the Teachers’ Training College—which I had really wanted to do, always.

Already, at the completion of the Great Court semi-circle with Physics, the student population was rising, so that perhaps there wasn’t the same camaraderie. My younger brother, seven years behind me, noted that there didn’t seem to be the same meeting of minds. Nevertheless, with another law student, Skoien and Heiman started the Scoop Reviews with a plethora of talent, writing, music, acting, and producing, which brought full houses for more than one week. Channel 7 (or 9?) wanted to get their segment called the ‘Death of the Auld Game’ (cricket, of course) on their Channel, but I think S. & H. declined. Their productions stopped after Scoop 6.

Going back to the Colleges, we were all over in Kangaroo Pt, except for Emanuel up near Gregory Tee, so there was quite a bit of interaction between Women’s, King’s, and John’s. John’s men turned up at our dinner first term, sitting between us, and when we said our usual grace, ‘Benedictus benedicat’, they all seemed to roar in their deep voices, “Per Christian Dominum Nostrum”, which rather ‘threw’ the more timid. I gather our women had gone over to John’s. When the phone rang at College, it was “PHONE, FRESHER!” no matter where you were.

Picture from the collection of Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien), pictured second row far left.

Picture from the collection of Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien), pictured second row far left.

Freshers were woken by masked, gowned Kingsmen one night and made to crawl out of our dorms under the beds, while being poked by sticks, and then to parade before their Judge and Jury—blindfolded—dosed by what smelt like castor oil (which luckily turned out to be water), while the men chanted ‘drink drink drink’. Then we had to hold ‘worms’ and were told ‘EAT, Fresher’ (they turned out to be cold spaghetti). Then there was a Court where we were sentenced to perform certain tasks. One had to get one of Barne’s Auto draft horses and ride it down Queen St, facing backwards. I had to scrub the City Hall steps with a toothbrush (in the lunch hour). A very attractive lass doing Dentistry had to stand up in a lecture, count all the men, then rub her hands, saying ‘000 Goodie!!’. We all had to wear our academic gowns to the buses up near the City Hall with placards on our back, reading: ‘I have just come from the W.C.’— during 1st Term! Kings freshers had to wear bow ties.

In spite of all these festivities, most students lined up when the jacarandas bloomed and managed exams, sometimes using powdered caffeine to lengthen study time, and another drug that sometimes had the weird effect of students writing absolute nonsense for a whole book, and handing it in quite happily.

Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien), Brisbane.