Ruth Bernard

21 June 2019

Dear Friends’ School

This is a thank you letter – long overdue.

I was born in 1928 in Vienna (Austria). On 13 March 1938, shortly before my 10th birthday, Austria ceased to be an independent country and became part of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. This was a cataclysmic event for the whole of Europe and the first step toward the outbreak of World War II. It was a disaster for my family as we were Jewish.

My family was very fortunate that we were able to escape and thus not become holocaust statistics with almost certain death in one of the concentration camps. For the next two difficult years, we were refugees, until we found a safe haven in Tasmania, at the other end of the world from Austria.

We had no money, but eventually, my father was able to find work with the Australian Newsprint Mill in Boyer, New Norfolk. At that time, 1940, there were virtually no foreigners or refugees in Tasmania. When the Quaker community heard that my parents had two school-aged children, Miss Ida Mather who, I think was on the Board of Governors of the Friends’ School, offered my older sister Lotte and me, free places as boarders at the School. It was an extremely kind and generous offer.

Lotte, who by then was almost 16, stayed at the School for only one year, but I was there for the whole of my secondary schooling, through to the Leaving Certificate. At first, I was something of a novelty and I remember the other students pointing and whispering to each other “that’s her” and also getting me to say certain words so that they could laugh at my funny accent. However, that all soon passed and I was able to make very many good friends.

Mr Ernest Unwin was the Headmaster during my time at the School and he was very inspirational. He would often lead the senior students in discussions on social issues and in morning assembly he played recordings of classical music, introducing us to a whole new world of wonderful music. As he was not only the Headmaster and Teacher of Biology but also an artist, he used to take those of us who were interested on out-of-doors painting excursions.

After finishing school, I was able to go to university. For much of my adult life, I worked in the public service in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. I also travelled extensively overseas. Later in life, I pursued my passion for painting, ceramic sculpture and woodcarving. I have now lived in Sydney for many years.

Now I am 91 and have low vision because of accelerated macular degeneration. However, I am still able to live independently. I tend my little garden, do the shopping and cooking (I like cooking) and the domestic chores and I socialise with family and friends. Once a week I also teach German to a group of seniors at my local senior’s centre. There are eight of us and we have a lot of fun.

I am and shall be forever grateful to The Friends’ School for giving me, a young refugee girl, the opportunity to develop toward a rewarding and fulfilling life.

With very best wishes,

Ruth Bernard
Class of 1944