Craig Carey describes his time at St Paul’s School for the Blind as a “Hogwarts type existence with its own special kind of magic”.
The former student, now aged 54, spent eight years at the then boarding school – moving in on his fifth birthday in 1973. You could imagine a young child would feel very homesick and lonely, which he did for a short time, but the years that followed were filled with what Craig describes as “fun adventures and unique learning experiences”. It was even where me met his first childhood sweetheart, and the same school his now-wife attended.
Craig recently joined eight former students and teachers for a trip down memory lane, touring the former school site in Kew before it is transformed into a retirement living precinct. More than four decades on, Craig says returning was a “privilege”.
“My fondest memories are of being with friends that I remain in contact with even today,” he recalls. “We would run down to the boys’ house after school, grab a snack of cut apple or orange pieces, and then rush outside to play until dinner time. As a very young boy, I vividly recall playing in the dirt underneath giant pine trees with Matchbox cars, and kicking a ball was the best fun.”
Craig, like all students, had a vision impairment, though he believes today he would have attended a mainstream school.
“I have reasonably good vision and was not considered legally blind. I thrived in learning and developing alongside other kids who were blind or had some eyesight. While blind children learnt braille, the sighted kids were taught how to write with a pencil and paper.”
While boarding schools are often perceived as cold and not often desired places to be, Craig – who now works as a freelance copy and content writer – looks back with only fond memories.
“St Paul’s was special because it was unique in many ways. Though it was a small school with well under 100 students, the staff were incredibly supportive, always strict but usually fair. The life-long friendships that I made have stood the test of time.”
One of those friendships was with Barbara (Barb) Collins who also attended the school tour.
“It was quite an experience seeing my childhood girlfriend (Barb), and swapping stories about our time at St Paul’s more than forty years ago,” says the father-of-two. “I recall we would hold hands on the school bus when on excursions, and if I were daring enough, I would steal a cheeky kiss if we thought no one was looking. My wife Carmela also attended St Paul’s and though we didn’t know each other at the time, we met and married years later!”
Barb says visiting the school was like revisiting the “most incredible part of my childhood”.
“It gave me goosebumps and at one point I think I was fighting back tears, but they were happy tears.”
Barb started school aged four in 1971. She went to public school 12 months later for some years, and then returned when her eyesight began to deteriorate. “I flourished at St Paul’s. The education there was so good,” Barb says. “We were a little more advanced than the public school system.”
The grandmother of two says despite some early homesickness, looking back it was the best time of her life.
“I’m a very regimented person, so I fitted in very well with boarding school. The friendships… I’ve never had friendships like it since. You’re like a family.”
Craig and Barb, along with some of their former schoolmates, hope to visit the new site of St Paul’s College in Balwyn and meet current students soon. You can learn more about the history of St Paul’s below.