14 12 16 16:22 Filed in: Children 1950s
Like everyone else I started school in “Bubs”, aged five. The baby boom was in full swing and there must have been an imbalance of kids between my year and the next because one day, out of the blue, the woman in charge of the little kids, (called the “Head Mistress” *snigger*) came into our class and called out half a dozen names including mine. We duly stood and followed her into the class next door: Miss Meadow’s Grade One, making a total of 47 little baby boomers in her class. I had already been through the joys of John and Betty, so the move might have been mid year. I loved Miss Meadows, it can’t have been too traumatic.
My only other specific memory from those very early years was the Junior Mistress with a dressed up visitor accosting me in the playground and asking me what half of eleven was. I was very aware that I was part of a little show to impress the lady, and I remember consciously acting out the part of the clever but deferential little student.
In Grade four, we had monthly tests, probably in Reading, Composition, Spelling, Arithmetic, Writing, maybe some sort of social studies…. a variety of things. The results were compiled into a single numerical score. Each month the class’s seating would be rearranged into numerical order according to these results. The top two sat in the back desk in the furthest left hand row, the bottom two in the front desk in the furthest right hand row. There were four of us who vied each month for that top spot. So I shared a desk with Gordon, Dianne or Wayne. And when Mr Symes left the room, he left me, Gordon, Dianne or Wayne in charge. It was Mr Symes who told me that I needed to hold my pen properly for writing, or else I wouldn’t be able to take notes properly at university… no pressure Margaret! I remember him as kindly and firm but not cruel.
Mr Woods on the other hand, my Grade three teacher, was scarily unpredictable. He had been a soldier and probably had terrible PTSD. He used the strap liberally and publicly against girls and boys. Once a couple of boys got the giggles during the Last Post bugle call at an Anzac Day assembly. As we filed back into class we all knew the signs… someone was in for it. He stood the boys up in the front of the class and whacked the strap across their bare legs, punctuating the whacks with a diatribe, the content of which I don’t remember.
At other times I remember him offering kids the choice of a hundred words or the strap and randomly dishing out the punishment they chose, or the one they didn’t choose. You never knew which would happen. I have no memory of his teaching or my learning… only the terrifying punishments and unpredictable outbursts.
My Grade five teacher was Mr O’Brien, an older man: competent, kind, musical, enthusiastic. The weekly spelling list became cryptic puzzles for those who finished their work ahead of the rest. There was a piano in the corner of the room and we sang often. He was a keen gardener and the whole class made geranium cuttings in the front garden. I often missed out on these extra activities because I was the designated “helper” for Joseph. Joseph was so old that he shaved. He had been in grade five for some time. I think this might have been his last year at school. I helped him with his rudimentary literacy and numeracy skills while the other kids were learning about sirex wasps or coal gas or the Spanish Armada.
Mr O’Brien organised the “school concert” and ran the choir. Kids were invited to audition for the concert and Margaret Lees and I prepared a special duet. We sang an English folk song about a cuckoo, as a round. I remember practising round the side of the building. We began with “Oh look, there’s a cuckoo”, “I love cuckoos”… leading ever so seamlessly into the song. But how to finish? Ah of course…. another friend called from “off stage” and we had to run off home for tea. We weren’t asked to repeat our performance at the concert.
My memories of Mr Stafford’s Grade Six are less clearly defined than Sue’s who had him for two years. There was a Speech Error jar on the shelf above the blackboard. If a child said “I seen” or “he done”, their name was put on a slip of paper in the jar. I don’t remember the sanction for this if there was one, as it never involved me, needless to say.
I have few memories of my Box Hill South Primary teachers. I vividly remember starting Prep or Bubs as it was known then. I remember learning to write with a big thick grey lead pencil, reading from John and Betty , the innumerable flash cards beginning with words, phrases and then sentences all based on John and Betty.
Of Grade One I only have memories of the large picture hats the Head Mistress wore. I remember it as an everyday occurrence and that they were covered in large flowers. I cant imagine that this was so, maybe she wore one once. As her office was right next to our room we would have seen Miss Shattock often as she went about her important duties.
Grade Two, on the other hand, I do remember but, again, not the teacher. The room was upstairs in the old section of the school, each room had a large fireplace in the corner attended to by the boys who, of course, were the wood monitors. The boys feature in my memories of Grade Two, as this was the year I was dared to run into the boys toilet, which I did. A flash in and out, adrenaline pumping, I cannot even remember what I saw in that mysterious place. Another activity I knew occurred on the red brick wall of the boys’ toilet was a peeing competition, never witnessed but obviously talked about. Miss Shattock appeared in my Grade Two classroom the day of my great shame and indignation. I was sitting up the back and was playing a game with the girl over the aisle. We would drop something, both bend down to pick it up and giggle and talk. Down the long aisle (the classes were huge) swept Miss Shattock and marched me to the front of the class to hold out my hand for a smack with the ruler. I was then instructed to stand in the corner until lunchtime. Oh the indignation, outrage and humiliation! At lunchtime surrounded by a bevy of sympathetic girls, I announced to the world that I was going home. I didn't of course and I probably didn't play that little game again either!
In Grade Three I moved to Bennettswood Primary the year Margaret started school too. Miss Burlock, my Grade Three teacher, was a tall redhead. She wore black straight skirts that she teamed with pale stockings through which we glimpsed her freckled legs. She probably had nice legs and showed them off with very high heels. I didn't like her much, especially as she made me feel embarrassed when spelling potatoes out loud to the whole class. I pronounced it pot a toes, spelt it correctly, but was sharply corrected for my mispronunciation.
Grade Four and I loved Mr Norman. We moved across the quadrangle and I had a wonderful time in his class. He was an interesting teacher who frequently read aloud to us. He did this very well, obviously enjoying it. I do remember having a sore stomach from so much laughing when he read us the Henry Lawson story, The Loaded Dog. We also did lots of projects on a wide variety of topics.
I loved school but I particularly loved Mr Stafford’s Grade 5 and 6 classes. He must have been a very good teacher. He was very old of course, at least 40. He lived near us in Byron Street and we sometimes saw him walking home from the bus in his check sports coat, leather case in hand.
An important aspect of Grade 6 was Temperance Physiology and the signing of The Pledge. It seemed as if every morning began with:
‘Our bodies are made of millions of tiny cells………..’ This was the first sentence in our Temperance Physiology exercise book. Mr Stafford was a staunch teetotaller. We knew for instance that not a drop of alcohol had ever passed his lips, so he would have been very much in favour of teaching from the book, Temperance for Schools, approved for use by Victorian Education Department.
Reading the Preface to this book it seems like something from a distant age. I suppose it was! Suburban, white, mono cultural, Melbourne in the 1950’s
Our Temperance Physiology classes warned us of the evils of alcohol and the dangers that lay in wait for the unwary who indulged. I can remember with great gusto drawing an illustration in my exercise book of a wretched drunken man raising a fist to his cowering wife and children. Embellishments were a broken beer bottle on the ground and a trim policeman standing sternly at the door.
Towards the end of the year we sat for the Temperance Physiology Exam and if we passed it was presumed we were saved and we received a glorious shiny certificate from the Independent Order of the Rechabites.
Another highlight was Poetry Anthology. Not only did we copy the poem in our best writhing into our Poetry Anthology book, but we also illustrated each poem. Of course I loved using my Derwent pencils to draw the Lady of Shallot floating down the river golden tresses trailing around her lifeless body. We also recited poems and Margaret and I, to this day, can still recite the first verse of several of the poems learnt in Grade 6, precisely as taught to both of us, (in separate years) by Mr Stafford.