Remembering Kostka Hall

Reflecting on the recent announcement by Xavier College of its vision for the future, Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ shares some fond memories of his time at Kostka Hall.

I was very moved to hear of the decision to close Kostka Hall. Not surprised, not angry, because even when I was a boy its viability was questioned, and institutions come and go. But moved, because my memories of Kostka are so precious. It is now time for me to say thank you for Kostka.

In 1949 I began at Kostka in Year Seven, low in confidence after an unhappy time in another school. What I immediately appreciated about Kostka was its human scale: the modest things that then made it precarious, and that would today make it unacceptable.

Classes were small, and were held in an old and dilapidated two-storey house – I used to think with childish exaggeration that we could not only fall through the floor, but also through the walls. The Chapel was a lived-in room in Maritima, the old homestead that also housed the Jesuit community. The playground was mainly dust, and so suitable for minor hydrology and building experiments, divided by a path known as the Murray. Older boys played on one side and younger on the other, with occasional incursions and repelling of attacks. All the stuff from which friendships were made and confidence was built. 

The teachers formed a diverse group who appealed to different temperaments. I recall with gratitude an older Jesuit, a fussy, nervy priest, who took an interest in me as in the other boys, and who remembered my birthdays long after I left Kostka. There was also the legendary Fr Brady recently ordained, a fiery and passionate man, who as a student used to cycle to Tatura and back in a day to visit his family, and at Kostka organised sports and expeditions with great energy. Like his fellow teachers he inspired and encouraged, but did not impose his expectations. In retrospect his most breathtaking enterprise was to take a group of twelve and thirteen-year-old boys on a week’s hike in Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. OHS and mobile phones had not then been invented, and would anyway have been of little interest to him. He and Fr Philip McInerney, a fair and genial headmaster, were among the first Jesuits to be sent to the Indian Mission. 

The most significant events in the school, institutional and personal, could be attributed to serendipity rather than planning or strategy. At the start of 1949 a teacher had withdrawn and left the school a teacher short. That weekend Fr McInerney went down to the local oval to watch the boys play cricket, and chatted with another passer-by. He was Sam Tully, a teacher who had recently resigned from another school. Fr McInerney proposed; Sam accepted. Kostka gained a kind teacher and a wonderful role model, and Mick Brady a willing and moderating companion in his schemes. 

For me the fortnight gap before he began to teach was also fortuitous.  A Jesuit staying at Kostka for a few weeks filled in for a couple of English classes. His reading of poetry introduced me to the delight of words and has remained with me.  

Octogenarian memories, of course, smooth over rough times, frustrations and deficiencies. I am delighted that students now have the benefit of better facilities and a wider and more carefully planned curriculum. I hope, though, that they will also experience the gift of serendipity and the joy of building laughter out of wholly inadequate materials.

By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ