In 1949 and 1950 I was a teacher at Marist Brothers’ St Joseph’s College, East Brunswick, where Bert Newton was a student.
Brother Clement Stephens (known as Edgar at the time), who was raised in the Mintaro Hotel in the mid north of SA, was the principal of the college in those years.
When Bert asked for leave from school in order to attend radio trials, Br Edgar gave him permission. They became close friends over the ensuing years. In fact, The Advertiser ran an article featuring their kinship with an impressive photo of the two friends.
Bert and I renewed our acquaintance in 1980 when St Joseph’s was celebrating its golden jubilee. Bert used his popular media coverage to promote the jubilee among the old scholars of the college. At that time, I was undertaking the year-long program at the National Pastoral Institute of Religious Study in Melbourne.
Bert decided to divide the jubilee celebration events into three groupings based on age categories of the former students and he invited me to help with the task. I asked Bert if he could arrange for some tickets to the Don Lane Show on which he featured. A week later 12 tickets for the musical Evita, in which Bert was starring, arrived. We lucky ones enjoyed dinner at a Mongolian restaurant and after the show, supper at the Brothers’ house. A wonderful outing! Thank you, Bert.
Bert also took an interest in our Marist Cricket Carnival. He rang me to enquire about the progress and then proceeded to pay my return fare to New Zealand where our Sacred Heart College in Auckland was hosting the carnival.
Over the years, Bert provided us with several free tickets to his various shows (mostly musicals). The Producers stands out for me.
Brother Austin Stephens (another close friend of Bert from his days at St Joseph’s) and I were stationed in Adelaide at the Catholic Education Office and Aquinas College respectively. We both flew to Melbourne to celebrate our Brothers’ jubilees.
After several phone calls from Bert or his secretary, we were booked in to see The Producers as guests of Bert. On the night of the show, four of us Brothers were chauffeured to the theatre where A class tickets were provided to us. Upon entry we were given a box of chocolates, two special programs and an envelope containing $50 for drinks during interval – all courtesy of Bert. After the show, Bert’s chauffeured car drove us home. A few days later, the same car arrived to transport us to the airport for our return to Adelaide.
While I was based at our Brothers’ home in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, during the study year, Bert dropped in for a chat one night. No beer! Bert soon rectified that situation to ensure a memorable visit.
Bert starred in Grease while I was in Adelaide – again the same generous hospitality from Bert! The special note for me was when Bert adlibbed during the show with ‘Nice to see my old friend Br Jordan in the audience tonight!’
Thank God for the wonderful life of Bert.
Our deep sympathy and prayers for Patti and family.