Mrs Fitzsimons and the Whitefriars’ scribes

Every now and then I am invited to help with a writing workshop at a school.

Recently I was contacted by Jill Fitzsimons who heads up the English department at Whitefriars College. We had a chat about putting something together for some Grade 8 boys.

I got the impression that nothing had changed at Whitefriars since Dips O’Donnell and Sal Ciardulli and Bakes and Smithy went there – the joint was sports mad.

But all those guys, now 50 or so, are happy in their professions, so Whitefriars must have given them a good academic grounding as well.

Off I went, along the Eastern Freeway, listening to AM on 774, wondering how the morning would unfold.

I found a beautiful school in a bush setting, the sounds of handball and leaf-blowing ringing out across the manicured ovals. Very nice, I thought.

Mrs Fitzsimons was really welcoming and I knew she was a sensitive soul when, within minutes of meeting her, she had told me of the centrality of suffering in human existence. While there was a good chance she had been influenced by the Carmelite tradition, I soon learned it was her love of the Tigers which had shaped her.

The walk from the staff room to the classroom reminded me so much of my teaching years. (“Morning”. “Good win on Saturday.” “Got that form in?”) That walk tells you a lot about a school.

Mrs Fitzsimons introduced me to Nick d’Urbano who wrote for this year’s Footy Almanac, a fine piece on the Queen’s Birthday match. Although in Grade 11, Nick came to be part of the conversation and to encourage the boys (which he did).

The Grade 8s were Renno, Westy, Angelo, Conor and Zac. And so the conversation began. All we did was tap into our memories, to tell stories, and jotted down a few notes while keeping in mind that we were all going to be published writers by the close of play. The boys had heaps of stories. Renno, who looked like a 14 year old Shane Kerrison, could remember everything. I called him Blue; I had to explain why. Westy had stories of his grandpa; Angelo had soccer stories; Conor had a comeback story; Zac seemed to have a knowledge across a lot of sports. We talked about the theme of a story and working towards developing an idea, and different types of sports writing.

Nick read his story – about how his commitment to study has meant he hasn’t been able to get into the MCG so often, but goes to his Greek grandparents place to watch the Pies. We talked about Greek and Italian immigration and Richmond and Collingwood, and about footy and soccer and heritage. We talked about success and disappointment and how life takes you here and there.

Mrs Fitzsimons added to the conversation with so many anecdotes and memories.

And, when it seemed the right time, the boys worked through their notes, planned a story, and hit their laptops – quite furiously at times. (Although Westy did get Renno with a straight left when he thought Mrs F wasn’t looking.)

The session ended. But, the best thing? The boys followed through. And now they are published writers. Thanks for a terrific day.

You can find their stories here.


If you would like John Harms, or one of our other writers, to visit your school, contact us at [email protected]


School visits - Whitefriars - Dec 2015










About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. The Friars grounds are magnificent in a very natural way. Bush and gum trees. I have many great memories of my years at the Friars. Glad to see the tradition is continuing with these young lads.

    Shane Kerrison – classic.

  2. I was lucky enough to score a gig out at Whitefriars a few years back. Enjoyed the vibe there and the evident staff commitment to inspiring a love of stories and storytelling. Skills for life, no matter what career beckons.

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