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STORIES FROM THE VAULT – RODNEY’S 20 YEARS AS ARCHIVIST

Amongst the teachers and members of staff farewelling Parade this week is Rodney Prusa - a final-year student of 1981 and, since August 1999, the College's resident archivist.
As part of his brief throughout that period, Rodney has answered hundreds of requests for information regarding Old Paradians, whether from family history researchers, relatives of old boys, authors or government agency representatives. Rodney has also worked closely with the Old Paradians’ Association, in particular the CEO, in delivering quality events to old boys and their families and providing detail for stories involving Old Paradians in the wider community.
In addition, Rodney has gradually sorted and scanned the vast collection of artefacts held in the Archives, as well as accepting donations of and sourcing significant Parade historical items to further add to the collection.
“The first task I was fortunate to be involved in was assisting Br Naughtin with his book ‘The Parade Story’- an extensive work on the history of Parade from its inception in 1871 to 2001 – the 130th year of the College,” Rodney said this week.
“My main task was to source from the College Archives the many photographs to be featured in the book as well as enhance many of these photos to make them more suitable for publication.
“It was very much a case of being dropped in the ‘deep end’ of the pool, as I had no prior experience in using photo enhancement programs and so had to learn ‘on the run’. Fortunately, I found my feet quickly and thus was able to meet the strict deadlines as each chapter was readied for proof-reading. In response to a request from the Old Paradians’ Association, Rodney agreed to detail some of the many and varied major projects with which he has been involved as archivist - and the stories behind them – as follows:

 

The original bluestone steps that originally led from the back verandah of the Victoria Parade school into the yard. (These had been removed during renovation and re-purposing of the original building in the late 1990s). “I arranged for their transport to Bundoora, along with sections of the original iron fence (now in use at the Bundoora front entrance). Transport was generously donated by Lou Arthur and Co. I then arranged for the steps to be installed in Foundation Square by Lodge Bros - also an OP-run company through Phil Lucetta.”

 

Heritage items from the old Edmund Rice Juniorate, which Rodney rescued prior to its demolition in 2000: the foundation stone; all the etched glass from the Chapel windows; the ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Succour’ icon panel from behind the altar; the leadlight feature panel from the entrance foyer; the statues of Edmund Rice and Our Lady from outside the ERC Chapel; the large bronze bell from the arched tower of the Chapel; and the cross from atop the arched tower (now the war memorial cross in Foundation Square.

 

The Edmund Rice statue from the old ERC, which was subsequently installed atop Foundation Square but was destroyed by vandals within months. Rodney managed to source an identical one located at the CB’s property ‘Amberley’ in Lower Plenty and arranged for a mould to be made from it. “This involved me restoring the surface of the statue first, so the mould would be of first-rate quality,” Rodney said. “The mould was then used by professional makers to produce a replica for both the Bundoora and later Preston Campuses as well as a number of other EREA schools around Australia who heard of the mould that we had in our possession.”

 

The cross from the ERC bell-tower. “Although it was supposed to have been removed prior, the cross was extensively damaged during demolition, but after having it professionally straightened (by a heavy truck repairer) and carefully repairing small dents and other blemishes myself, the cross, along with a replica of the decorative base made by me, was then installed in Foundation Square as a memorial to all Paradians lost in war,” Rodney said.

 

The leadlight panels in the Chapel and Sacristy. “These rescued panels from ERC were first restored by me, then re-orientated to the vertical position and with custom-made frames I designed for the purpose, were installed in the original Brothers’ Chapel windows as privacy panels,” Rodney said. “The Sacristy entrance on the corridor side was originally closed-off by means of a curtain, but with the installation of doors, I saw an opportunity to design and install a decorative window that utilised the fifth and unused panel of rescued leadlight. By extending the ends of the panel in sympathetic design (to widen it) and incorporating it into a timber frame of my design, with clear and red cathedral glass border, the whole looked like it might have been in place since the building was first built. Ten years later, these leadlight panels in the Chapel windows were removed during the transformation of the building into the new Holy Spirit Chapel and incorporated into the doors of the Chapel and Sacristy by an outside contractor. The window above the Sacristy doors remains in place.”

 

The original 1870s longcase clock from the Victoria Parade school. “The clock was in pieces under the library when I first arrived,” Rodney said. “I arranged for the mechanism to be restored, the face to be cleaned and restored and the gilded pendulum and door glass reveal to be restored. I then cleaned and repaired the wooden case, including re-gluing loose veneer and re-veneering damaged door in front of the face of the clock. I restored the weights and pendulum bob and made new brass hinges and a new brass lock for the face door. I then built a platform for the clock to stand on in the Heritage Centre and a special means of hooking it to the wall (for stability).”

 

The original Victoria Parade gas hall lantern. “The lantern was also stored under the library when I arrived,” Rodney said. “I am not sure how long it had been at Bundoora, but it was in poor condition (luckily no broken glass panels). At some time, it had been painted with thick gold paint which obscured much of the decorative details. I stripped the paint off and discovered the original silver-oxide (gunmetal grey) main colour and polished brass highlights. I was able to research the original means by which this finish was created and then using silver oxide from our science department, set about restoring the lantern. I then arranged for it to be installed over the stairs to the College boardroom (the only place with ceiling height sufficient to hang it with its original mounting).”

 

The large portrait of Br Treacy on the stairs to the Boardroom. “The portrait was also languishing under the library when I took the position as Archivist,” Rodney said. “When the former Brother’s residence was made available to the College in 2001/02, I undertook to have a brass plate made for the painting and then designed a mounting bracket system to hang it securely on the wall but also make it easy to remove if necessary.

 

The WW1 Honour Board – made to drawings and dimensions drawn by Rodney, who referenced photographs of the original (from the 1917 and 1921 editions of The Paradian) and the dimensions of the only surviving original component – the name panel. “With some effort and paperwork, I was able to secure a grant from the Federal Government to meet some of the costs and contracted a firm of first-class furniture makers (Charles Sandford) to craft the board from Blackwood as per the original (reported in the 1917 The Paradian),” Rodney said. “I regularly supervised the construction and recorded in photograph and video the various stages of its reconstruction. I then engaged an expert French-polisher (Jason Snook) to finish the board in the original manner and then personally undertook the signwriting of the board to match the photographs of it as it appeared in 1916. The board was completed and unveiled in April 2006.

 

The Headmasters Board - designed and crafted by Rodney in the College’s maintenance workshop in 2008. “As the board was to cover all Headmasters from Br Treacy in 1871, I designed a traditional board that looked as though it might have been made in the late 19th/early 20th Century,” Rodney said. “This was French-polished by the same fellow that did the WW1 board and again I did the signwriting.”

 

The Old Paradians’ Association’s ‘Presidents and Secretaries’ Board. Originally crafted in the 1930s, the board was in poor condition having suffered vandalism attacks over time and looked quite shabby. “I had the board stripped and repaired by the aforementioned French-polisher and then I undertook to re-instate the signwriting as it had originally appeared,” Rodney said. “The only difference this time was that the names were done in an imitation gold vinyl – which in hindsight was a mistake. It doesn’t look as handsome as it would in gold leaf.”

 

The Perpetual Trophies display cabinet in the Administration corridor (formerly Reception area). “This, like the cabinets in the Heritage Centre, was designed and built by me using standard components from Click Systems,” Rodney said. “However, their system was designed to build cabinets that were floor standing, so I designed and built a steel frame that carried the weight of the cabinet and glass, thus allowing the cabinet to be hung on the wall, creating a modern, clean look. I also adapted a shop fitting display backboard inside so proprietary shop display fittings could be used for setting-out the displays. Also fitted is a programmable 7-day timer so that the cabinet lights will operate without the need for daily attention.

 

The Perpetual Trophies, which have been under Rodney’s care for many years. “Each year I have been responsible for having them engraved with recipients’ names. Also, as some had been damaged or lost parts (like lids), I have been gradually having them repaired and replacement parts made,” Rodney said. “Recently, I have designed, had made and fitted new bases to two trophies to extend their life by adding more space for names. Every year, I also make cards to put next to each award that explain their relevance and the latest recipient to the visitor.”

 

The Old Paradians’ Association Hall of Fame display at Bundoora and later clone of it at Preston were designed and installed by Rodney (with help at Preston from Frank Musolino (former Maintenance Officer). “This included affixing the gallery track and making the pelmet and hanging the panels,” Rodney said.

 

Displays in the Heritage Centre – “Over my time as Archivist, I have been responsible for a number of different themed displays and having classes visit to hear about the history of the College and see artefacts that enhance the experience,” Rodney said. “Each year for about seven years, I had all the Year 8’s come through during Activities Week in November to learn about Old Paradians who served in the First World War.”

 

Videorecording of College and Old Paradians Association events. Too numerous to list, but includes: College Assemblies, Valete Nights, Musical and Drama Productions, Theatre Studies Classes, Special staff events, Building openings, Book Launches, Reunions, etc., all filmed by Rodney.

 

Sets and props for the College musicals and drama productions. Also too numerous to list, but notable props crafted by Rodney include the oversize spray can in ‘Hairspray’, the train carriage in “Hello Dolly” and a couple of Victorian Theatre Guild commendations for sets in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ and ‘Aida’.

 

The complete restoration and fit-out of the Heritage Centre, Archive Office and Storeroom. The Heritage Centre fit out required the complete sheeting of the walls with plasterboard and then painting with a colour chosen to enhance the sense of the room being a special place. It also involved the replacement of termite damaged timberwork; restoration of original timber doors and internal fittings; design and build and fit-out of display cabinets; and installation of the track lighting. “With some help at times from the Maintenance staff, I transformed the former kitchen, larder and scullery of the Brothers’ residence into the Archive Store and Office,” Rodney said. “This involved complete removal of the old cooking range, overhead exhaust ductwork, cupboards, sinks, termite –riddled timberwork and decayed and loose plaster rendering. Then, the walls had to be repaired and painted, contractors installed the new vinyl flooring and shelving and compactus were ordered and installed (by me with help from Maintenance). I built the fittings for the Archive Office such as the desk, bookcase and inbuilt bookcase in the wall in front of the desk.”

 

In embarking on a tree change by relocating to Leongatha, Rodney leaves having committed much to the preservation of the time-honoured Parade story.
As he said in closing: “I hope my work has helped enhance the work of other staff and aided the College in its endeavour to deliver a high standard of educational facilities to its students and give them a sense of connection to the College and its rich history”.