Ex-students recall fond memories

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianMidwest Times
“KJ” Martin on the tools during his plumbing work. Mr Martin said he wished he could send his kids to Geraldton’s former boarding hostel.
Camera Icon“KJ” Martin on the tools during his plumbing work. Mr Martin said he wished he could send his kids to Geraldton’s former boarding hostel. Credit: KJ Martin

Former hostel was home for a culturally diverse group.

Geraldton appears to have a new park, although its owner is yet to announce permanent plans for the site at the corner of Cathedral Avenue and Shenton Street.

A high retaining wall supports a couple of hectares of land with several well-established trees and bark mulch concealing any trace of the former John Frewer Hostel.

Late last year Education Department contractors demolished what had been a temporary home to a generation of schoolboys from as far away as Kununurra and Cocos Islands.

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The hostel catered to a culturally-diverse group of students, and three shared their memories with us.

Alan Medous, who returned to Cocos to work in administration, was a Year 11 student living at the hostel in 1985.

He was one of several Cocos Malays who came to study that year and after a difficult first week he said he adapted well, partly because he had so many relatives already living in Geraldton.

“Every weekend we were just staying with relatives and we really enjoyed it,” he said.

Mr Medous said Geraldton’s Cocos community also made it easier for him to maintain a halal diet.

“We had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and with dinner we had a different menu for us,” he said.

“There were many special meet-ups for dinner, we enjoyed to meet with other relatives.”

For his first two months Mr Medous said he stayed in a dormitory with other boys that was partitioned to provide privacy for study and prayer.

However, by the next term they moved into new individual bedrooms.

“Everyone had their room which we really enjoyed,” he said.

“There was no disturbance from other kids and it was a very good experience to have our own room to sleep and study.”

Mr Medous said he had fond memories of his year there as he had made new friends and explored new cultures.

However, he did not stay for Year 12, but moved to Perth for an intensive English language course and vocational training at TAFE.

Kenneth “KJ” Martin is a plumbing contractor in Kununurra.

He was one of several East Kimberley boys who found himself boarding with boys from every region in WA in 1999.

“That hostel was probably one of the best ones going, you had a good ratio of different people,” he said.

Mr Martin said there were no single rooms for Year 11s who had four-bed dormitories with wardrobes and desks acting as partitions, and used communal showers and toilets. The Year 12s were in two-bed dormitories.

“We had two common rooms where we could play pool and watch TV,” he said.

Mr Martin said moving so far from his native East Kimberley was not too much of a culture shock for him.

“I remember that old cook, Shirley Ann Drage, I think she came from Derby so her cooking was spot on for us Kimberley mob,” he said.

“One time we Kimberley boys went out with them for a long weekend and we stayed with a friend out on his farm and we got kangaroo and she cooked a big kangaroo tail stew.”

Mr Martin said after-hours the boys were strictly segregated from the girls at Della Hale Hostel apart from regular discos.

“Everyone was all indoors and locked at a certain time in the evening,” he said.

“One boy let himself out of the hostel to go and chat up some girls, and the next day he went to the office and told on himself.

“He said he felt guilty.”

Mr Martin said they spent the weekends taking long naps, or staying with their new friends out of town.

“The friends we made were farmers’ kids so we had the bush life any weekend we wanted to,” he said.

“We used to get kangaroo and all the supervisors were really good, they used to make us feel at home.”

Mr Martin said he enjoyed the “whole Geraldton experience”.

“If I ever had the chance I would send my kids back there,” he said.

“That place was the right size to do things in and small enough not to be intimidated.”

Originally from Sandstone, Carl Walton is now field co-ordinator at Saracen Mineral Holdings’ five mines in the East Murchison-Goldfields and a fly-in, fly-out worker based in Perth.

He was at John Frewer from 1990 to 1994.

“That boarding school probably wasn’t my cup of tea initially,” he said. “There was more people than there was at my town I grew up in.

“I am pretty sure about seven of us out of more than 20 that started made it all the way through the whole five years.

“It made you tougher living with 120 guys, you learned to fend for yourself and understand other people.”

Mr Walton said he learned to like it.

“There was always someone to kick the footy with, play basketball with, go surfing with,” he said.

“Even the guys who were not sporty-based had someone to play Dungeons and Dragons with.”

The Department of Education, which owns the former boys’ hostel site, is yet to announce plans for the block.

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