Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Decorated Sister of Mercy Takes Trip Down Memory Lane

The official amalgamation of historic St Patrick’s College and Mercy College in 2023 has revived golden educational memories for old time residents of Mackay.

Local identity and decorated Sister of Mercy Denise Hinton took a trip down memory lane this week when she reflected on her days at St Patrick’s Convent High School – a boarding school for post-primary aged girls and secondary school students that opened in 1930.

The school was located in River Street – across the road from St Patrick’s Christian Brothers College that was founded the previous year.

Sister Denise attended the school from 1958 to 1961 after sitting for her Primary School scholarship exam during her final year at St Francis Xavier Catholic Primary School.

“Back in those days most of the Convent High students would ride their bikes to school - complete with hats, gloves and stockings,” recalled Denise.

“A few buses transported students from Marian and Sarina but the majority travelled to school by bike.

“The Sisters held a Retreat Day at the school on the first Sunday of each month and the boarders would have the option of going home or spending the weekend at a friend’s place.

During her time at the Convent High School, Denise attended the Sub Junior, Junior, Sub Senior and Senior classes.

“There were 70 students enrolled when I started at the school in 1958 which included 36 students in my Sub Junior class and by the time I graduated three years later the numbers had grown to 100,” revealed Denise.

“In my final year in 1961 there were only six students in the Seniors class which comprised of myself, Margaret Dixon, Myra Rodgers, Heather O’Rourke, Patricia Watson and Phillipa Bull,” she said.

“There were no Schoolies Week celebrations during those times of course so to mark the occasion we visited the Mackay Tourist Café in Victoria Street and treated ourselves to delicious waffles and ice cream and a milkshake,” Denise laughed.

A talented basketball/netball goal shooter in her youth, Denise represented Mackay at the 1960 Queensland Schools Championships in Townsville and remembers the team travelling north to the Carnival by train on a Friday June 10 night.

“It was during that same evening that a Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft crashed at Far Beach (Illawong) killing 29 people that included students from Rockhampton Boys Grammar School,” said Denise.

“The Mackay girls formed a guard of honour the following week at a special Memorial Service for those departed – such a terrible tragedy.’

Denise was a stalwart of the St Francis Xavier Netball Club and a prolific goal scorer with unerring accuracy – leading her teams to several premierships.

Her catch cry before shooting for goal was: “Hail Mary full of grace, put the ball in the right space.”

She also teamed up with good friend Margaret Dixon to capture the Mackay Schools tennis championship.

Annual School Picnic Days were usually held at Far Beach but in her final year Denise and colleagues persuaded principal Mother Mary John to stage the event at the original Mulherin Park near Mackay Harbour Beach.

“Are there plenty of trees offering shade at Mulherin Park?” enquired Mother Mary.

When the students arrived at the park they were shocked to learn that the trees were barely a foot high – and went home severely sunburnt.

“To make matters worse the girls had to front up to the School Speech Night that evening which proved an uncomfortable experience” Denise recalled.

Anzac Day Marches were also major events at the school.

Deportment specialist Mrs Frendo ran a tight ship and would remind students to “keep in step” in no uncertain manner.

“If a student lost a shoe or their skirt loosened during the march they had to keep moving – much to their dismay” Denise added.

After graduating, Denise helped run the office of her father’s Fruit Exchange business in River Street Mackay before entering the Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy in 1966.

She was professed in 1968 and this year chalks up 55 years of service as a Sister of Mercy.

Following her profession Sister Denise trained as a primary school teacher and taught at various locations including Bundaberg, Walkerston, Sarina, Rockhampton, Biloela and Barcaldine where she had various roles including teaching, part-time pastoral care, religious education co-ordinator and school board member/chaplain.  

During these years, Sister Denise recognised the need for a ministry to refugees and migrants. With the support of the Sisters of Mercy, Denise dedicated her time and gifts to many families from various ethnic backgrounds and she is well-known and respected within the Mackay community for her commitment to this work.

By Chris Karas

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