History & Foundation of the OBU Australia

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History & Foundation of the OBU Australia

By the late Mr. Keith de Kretser

The Wesley College Old Boys Union Australia Branch
By Keith de Kretser

It seems like only yesterday that a small group of Wesleyites gathered to form the first Overseas Branch of the Wesley College Old Boys’ Union in Melbourne, Australia. In 1979, the Trinity College OBA informed Cecil d’With-Barbut an old boy of Wesley, that Mr Cedric Oorloff (Wesley’s Principal 1950-1957) wished to meet as many Old Wesleyites when he visited Melbourne in 1980. This was the catalyst that brought the Old Wesleyites “Down Under” together. Mr d’With-Barbut happened to work with Rodney de Kretser and myself and we were called to his office to discuss this request and formulate a plan to host Mr and Mrs Oorloff. There was a feeling of excitement for until then, the Old Wesleyites did not have an association in Melbourne and we were a significant group scattered across Melbourne. A date was set for the inaugural meeting and it was left to the three of us to network through all the Old Wesleyites we knew, to inform them of this very special day and the plans we had in store.

That day, 25 November 1979 was eagerly awaited. Attendees were requested to bring a plate of short eats and their drinks to the meeting. Being the first meeting there were only 14 Old Wesleyites present with many apologies from those that could not attend. The Keeley Park Scout Hall in Clayton was the venue and as each car pulled up and parked the thought raced through every ones mind, “I wonder who that is?”. It was a great feeling to meet and greet men who were rallying together with a common interest and common purpose. There were fourteen that were present but from memory I can only recall the following names Ron Campbell, Arthur d’With-Barbut, Cecil d’With Barbut, Keith de Kretser, Rodney de Kretser, Gerald de Zilwa, Jeremy Ebert, Lucien Fernando, Upali Perera, Robin Reimers, and Norman de la Harpe.

The eras covered by the attendees were many and it was fascinating to hear the stories of old whether they were about the Principals, Teachers, administrative staff, the servants and even their own personal experiences that had left an imprint in their minds. How can one forget the late Ronnie Campbell who would come in his sarong to the meetings and do his Ranis impersonations? It was truly a nostalgic journey down memory lane that proved to be a regular feature when ever “the past and present” met.

The aims of that early gathering clearly embraced the two essential elements of common interest – our beloved alma mater, Wesley College and common purpose – Fellowship; which to this day form the hub around which our Constitution is based. Little did they realize that the body they were about to form would still be in existence and that it would be the catalyst to propel similar interests by Old Wesleyites inter-State and across the world to form branches in their respective States in Australia and countries.

The OBU adopted the title of being the OBU Australia Branch due to the large ex-pat Sri Lankan community in Melbourne and not knowing whether it would create an interest in the other States in Australia. True to the spirit of its charter, the OBU Australia Branch aims were
1. To unite in one fraternal band those who were educated at Wesley College, Colombo.
2. To afford an opportunity of bringing together past and present pupils of Wesley College.
3. To assist in meeting the needs of the College as they arise.
4. To do all things necessary to preserve the honour and dignity of the College.

The Foundation Committee comprised:

President: Cecil d’With-Barbut
Vice President: Gerald de Zilwa
Secretary: Keith de Kretser
Treasurer: Nelson de Silva
Social Secretary: Rodney de Kretser
Asst.Social Secretary: Upali Perera

It was decided that all future meetings, would be open to Old Wesleyites. The frequency of meetings was to be determined.

Plans were made to host Mr & Mrs Cedric Oorloff at a Dinner Dance on 1 February 1980. The excitement and anticipation was building up and for a moment there were doubts on whether the function would go ahead. The State of Victoria was in the throes of regular industrial disputes with the Electricity Workers Union, and there were frequent blackouts enforced by the Government to manage the crisis. What were we going to do? The band needed power. The significance of the occasion meant that we had to proceed. David Schokman an old boy lent us a generator which looked after the power needs of the band. Neville Ludowyke had a collection of empty beer bottles that had not been disposed of in his rubbish collection that after a quick clean and wash provided the candle stands. The ambience of the room was fabulous with the two blues featuring prominently with bunches of balloons and the napkins on the table complimented by the subtle hues of the flickering flames from over 100 candles. The evening got off to a great start and power blackout aside, the fellowship and camaraderie compensated for a truly memorable evening. The Dinner Dance for Mr. and Mrs. Oorloff turned out to be a great success and it enabled the OBU Australia Branch to find its feet and galvanised the group of proud, loyal Wesleyites living in Melbourne.

Those early days were interesting, formative and very important. Meetings, which were restricted to members only were held at Keeley Park Scout Hall, Clayton where our plans and hopes for the future were discussed and determined. These meetings were entertaining and educational as well. The cross-section of members from different eras, recounted their experiences and explained the basis for the folklore that generations of Wesleyites had come to hear about. Every meeting concluded with a rousing version of the College song and War Cry, the total lack of harmony being compensated for by energetic and robust vocals.

As would be the case with many a fledging group, after a couple of years the committee prepared a draft constitution to present to the Members. There was no constitution in the early years as members worked together on a “one for all, all for one” basis. This Musketeer like attitude was satisfactory up to a point but one had to plan for the future as the OBU was growing from strength to strength. To use a musical metaphor, to avoid the occasional wrong note being heard and in the interests of harmony, a score had to be written. The Constitution was duly adopted at a specially convened meeting on 14 June 1981. The introduction of the Constitution and a formal Executive saw the demise of the informal and convivial gatherings of all Members. This transition was necessary due to the growing membership and clear indications that a one time fledging Association was now flexing its muscles to pursue with greater vigour those aims to which it was committed.

On 16 April 1993, the OBU became an incorporated body and changed its name to “Wesley College (Colombo) Old Boys’ Union Australia Branch Incorporated”. The word “Colombo” was inserted to distinguish it from Wesley College in Melbourne. Membership of the OBU Australia Branch is drawn from most Capital Cities in Australia. Melbourne has the largest proportion of members because this is where the organization was formed and was based. The Sri Lankan Community in Sydney embraced the Past Pupils Association concept in the nineties and the Old Wesleyites there formed a chapter in 1995. Close ties were forged between both Associations and the highlight being the inter-State visits between the associations for a cricket match and a good social outing. Sadly these visits have not happened in recent years. There are a number of Wesleyites who have, as yet, not enrolled as members of the OBU. It would be a fair estimate that there are more than 400 Old Wesleyites in Australia. Links with Old Wesleyites from inter-State continue with the Claessen brothers, the Bartholomeusz family(all doctors), Warwick de Kretser all of Adelaide, Haig Claessen and Nigel Christoffelsz from Perth, Bill Deutrom and the Poulier brothers, the Harvie brothers, the Henderling brothers, the Wells-Peris brothers from Brisbane and a number of Old Wesleyites in Sydney – the Sappideen brothers, Musafer bothers, the Swans brothers and the Koch brothers. Apologies to those not named. Refer Data base.

The Committee of Management over the years worked tirelessly to organize social outings such as Club Nights and the “Double Blue” Ball. In the 1980’s we were the first Past Pupils Association to have a Club Nite or as we termed it a “Podi Natuma” for our members residing in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne. These were low budget dances but very effective in getting the support of Old Wesleyites across Melbourne. Maurice Mortier who was Social Secretary also had a catering business and we were indeed fortunate to have an excellent caterer in attendance at all our functions. Old boy Duleep Boteju, Melbourne’s pioneering Hopper Man has supported and catered for many OBU functions. The “Double Blue Ball” has grown in stature and has featured the creative talents of Old Wesleyites be it in the music with Dallas Achilles and his band, Beverley Nathanielsz and his band, Linden Bousted and the creative décor of Rienzie Mahamooth. The 125th Jubillee Celebration Ball being the standout with the Principal at the time – Ben and wife Ira Fernando, Old Boy and former Principal – Louis and Lisbeth Adhihetty from Switzerland, Upali Samarawickrema from Sri Lanka and many Old Wesleyites from inter-State and Melbourne gracing the occasion.

The OBU led the way in the 1996 by arranging a Seniors Lunch which has brought together many of our retired Senior Members. The success of this event has seen a similar format being introduced in many other Past Pupil Associations. It is well supported by the Senior Members.

Cricket matches were organized against the Old Royalist, Old Thomians, Old Trinitians and Old Bens. Stars of bygone eras that were game to play displayed their skills and some of the older members recounted memories of the past. The likes of, Norman de la Harpe, Harold Matthysz, Henry Duckworth, Glenn Reimers, Robin Reimers, Delmer Achilles, Errol Smith, Harold Juriansz, Hilary de Vos, Everard Schoorman, Frank Schoorman, Reza Sinnen, Mahendra Dissanayake, Sanjeeva Wijesinghe, Kurklen Solomons, Duminda Nissanka and Danesh Dissanayake brought back memories of their heroics at Campbell Park. Apologies to any names I may have omitted. The OBU also participated in a Quadrangular Cricket Tournament with Royal, St Thomas’ and St John’s College Jaffna Old Boys Associations. Sri Lanka’s admittance as a major cricket playing nation gave the OBU the opportunity to host Sridharan “Jega” Jeganathan and Abu Fuard on many visits to Melbourne. We were indeed proud of their achievements.

Links with the College were forged and strengthened over the years. The proceeds of the Dinner Dance and other fund raising activities enabled the OBU Australia Branch to make regular financial donations to the College. To this day, the Committee have been guided by this principle that funds will be sent to support projects or needs of the College.

The OBU Australia Branch continues to help the College with the quantum of the individual donations over the years increasing in proportion to our financial standing. Donations have been made for the swimming pool, electronic whiteboards, computers, PA systems, and sporting needs (matting for wickets, cricket balls, and rugby boots, a new scoreboard (still in operation today), and blazer fabric), new capital works, building and classroom furniture refurbishment. A special project to refurbish Marshall Perera’s house in his village was another well supported project which was completed with the help of the members. The OBU Australia Branch has also established two scholarships. The Australia Branch donated two hundred 125th Jubilee Ties and a Pulpit Bible for the Chapel to commemorate this significant milestone. Funds have also been sent to the Old Wesleyites Sports Club with some of their fund raising projects. The OBU Australia Branch has played a pivotal role in using the resources of its Members to assist needy Old Wesleyites both local and overseas, hosting and assisting students who have come to Australia. The OBU in recent years has consolidated its ties with the Methodist College Old Girls Association. Members have always provided significant support on many projects and have readily responded to Wesley’s call. All these donations have been supplemented by donations directly to the College by Members of the OBU Australia Branch.

The OBU was a founding member that helped set up the Combined Colleges of Sri Lanka Carol Service in 1998. This event has grown in stature and is well patronized by the Sri Lankan community in Melbourne. It has been instrumental in raising over $50,000 for charity from the proceeds of the offertory.

The opportunity never slips bye for Old Wesleyites to gather and host Old Wesleyites from inter-State and overseas when they visit Melbourne. Such a thing would not have been possible if there was no association and one of the major benefits has been the ability to network and be in touch with many Old Wesleyites. In 2013, the OBUA and Old Wesleyites in Sydney and Brisbane hosted the Principal Dr Shanti mclelland and his wife Sriani and former teacher Mr Haig Karunaratne.

Whilst reflecting on the past I have fond memories of those Old Wesleyites that are no longer with us. Their contribution and input has been valued over the years. They are sadly missed but not forgotten and may they find eternal rest.

The changing times in modern society has also seen an erosion of the traditional values in Sri Lanka. Hardly any of the present students represent generational links with Wesley so there is no connection that will perpetuate the rich tradition that is ours. Also changing priorities and the modern lifestyle has not been conducive to nurturing these values and I do not believe that the newer generation of Old Wesleyites treasure the traditions and values that were such an intrinsic part of our makeup. The OBU Australia Branch has been many things to many people and sadly if the current trend continues I believe the OBU Australia Branch will be lucky to survive and celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. It is not a phenomenon unique to Wesley but one that is being experienced by all the Past Pupil Associations of Sri Lanka in Melbourne. The OBU Australia Branch has given each of us an opportunity to make new friends, reminisce and share those precious moments of our youth as students at Wesley College. Therefore we must treasure what we have and enjoy every moment when we meet. Our sincere thanks to the many volunteers that have given of their time on the many Committees over the past years to give us the opportunity to meet.

It has been my privilege as a founding member to have spent over forty years in the capacity of Secretary, President, Editor and to have been involved in every aspect of the OBU Australia Branch. It never ceases to amaze me the camaraderie that we share as Wesleyites regardless of our age group. Those schoolboy days made a lasting impression on each one of us and as the words of our revered College Song state we are…. “Bound by one fraternal band the band of double blue…” We are proud to be Wesleyites – Wesley to the fore.