Marist Brothers College Class of 1965
A wonderful story of a boy's own adventure in 1960s Darlinghurst, by reader Stephen Hickmott (front row, last on the right), now aged 59 and living in Tasmania.
I was raised from a baby in a little house in Darlinghurst, on the opposite side of the Green Park Hotel, in Liverpool Street, just up from the corner. I went to Darlinghurst Public School through the years, up until 5th class, when I changed to the Marist Brothers College, on the corner of Liverpool and Darley streets.
The former Marist Brother College, now the Alexandra Flats.
When I was about five we moved to the downstairs of a terrace house at 96 Surrey Street, which had a massive backyard. We stayed there from about 1955 to 1970, but my father remained there for another ten years. My old man was a merchant seaman and later drove Green Cabs.
96 Surrey Street.
The thing I would love to see again one day is a secret probably not many folks know about: the secret passageways that belonged to the old Darlinghurst Gaol.
The passageways were beneath the Marist Brothers College and the manholes, or entrances to them, were boarded up after the brothers set a trap and caught me another fellow down there.
You had to go down and along, crawling on your belly, into a small cell, only 3 feet high, which had shackles on its walls.
There was one entrance to the tunnels under the staircase in the school, which at the time was a broom closet, and there was another entryway in a room the brothers’ used briefly for music lessons. We found yet another entrance in the house where the brothers lived - when we accidentally emerged from the tunnel in to their residence.
We first discovered the tunnels one day in 1968 when we got in to trouble and the brother told us to go and get the biggest cane in the school. As we were always getting into strife we looked ‘’everywhere’’, but of course never went into the other classes to get one.
While we happened to be looking around we opened the broom cupboard and there was a 20 feet long cane with a chimney sweep on it - we decided this was the one.
But as we were getting it out, we noticed a crack in the floorboards, so we lifted them up and discovered a tunnel down in to the dark . . . we put the floorboards back and decided to return later.
We opened the classroom door and started feeding the cane in. After about 15 feet went through, the class was laughing, but the brother jumped up and turned red and spat the dummy. He screamed ‘’Next door! Get a cane!’’. He didn’t see the funny side of it at all.
We got six each and detention for a month.
About a week later we went back and started investigating the tunnels with a torch.
The tunnels were about 2 feet wide and made of lime and there were small rooms about 8 feet wide with shackles on the wall. I guess it was solitary confinement to the max.
We would mainly access the tunnel through one of the manholes that was in the art class, which was taught by a teacher and not a brother, meaning we could get away during the class by going down the floor under the desk.
We would usually turn our pants and shirts inside-out because we’d be white as soon as we came out, and then we’d turn them back around so it wasn’t noticeable.
This one time, we didn’t bother turning our uniforms inside-out because the old teacher had a 2-hour class and we thought we’d have plenty of time to clean up.
But someone – one of the teacher’s pets – went and told the headmaster we had gone underground, so he turned up with the other brothers to look for us.
We had made our way back to the art class by then and when we got near the entrance we heard the brothers calling to us to come out. They didn’t sound very happy about it either.
After a 15-minute stand-off they got a hammer and nails and threatened to nail us in, which they proceeded to do.
We headed back to the broom cupboard exit to escape, but before we could get out the brothers realised they had been outsmarted so a general assembly in the yard was called.
We slipped out of the cupboard and joined in with all the other classes coming down the stairs from level one and two.
In the yard I was in the second row back, and the headmaster walked up each row. We stood out something shocking, covered in white. As the headmaster went past me, he said, ‘’Out!’’ and then he also got my mate up in the back row.
I received six cuts of the cane on each hand. And detention. Which was actually pretty bad because you had to stay until 4.30pm and that made the day really long.
Ten years ago I moved down to Tasmania, where I grow cherry trees. I have many great memories of climbing all over the Cross on roofs and riding our billy-carts down Bayswater Road, and I would love to come back and explore the tunnels again.
NEXT WEEK: Violet Investigates the Secret Tunnels.