Bennettswood State School was typical of those built in the 1950’s in Melbourne. Grey besser brick, asphalt quadrangles, and weather board shelter sheds. I arrived there in 1963 in the typical school uniform of grey shorts and grey shirt along with a class full of around 40 other 5 and 6 year olds.
Sitting here now more than 40 years after it is a little hard to sort through the memories and to put them into chronological order so this will be a broad brush jump around tour of my memories of the school and things we did and of some of the characters who crossed my path.
The school was around 2 miles from home and I think that most of the time in those early years I must have been driven. Mum had an old Vauxhall and I have vague memories of being driven to school in that, brown leather satchel hooked over my shoulders. Around grade 3 or 4, perhaps at 8 or 9 years of age I began to walk home.
School days always seemed hotter or colder than now. There was neither heating nor cooling in the class rooms and schools seem to me to be much more of a community these days than what they were back then. There were no school concerts and I can’t really recall any open days.
At the back of the school was a paddock usually covered in long grass in which we would tie together grass traps then lie back watching as kids who ran around tripped over as there feet caught.
When it rained we created skid pans and would slide in the mud inevitably falling over and laughing as we did so each recess or lunch time not worrying about tramping the dirt into the class rooms as we returned after play time.
We played british bulldog and humpo bumpo in the quadrangles and games of slaggar which could last for days. The latter in some other places may have been called tiggy and tag but the rules were pretty much the same with people who were “it” having to signal thumbs down if the got within a couple of yards and those who weren’t giving you the thumbs up. They were all anarchistic with no captains nor foot soldiers, everyone one was equal, and the winners were those who displayed cunning and fleetness of foot.
We also used to play brandy, a game in which we lined up against the brick walls whilst someone through a tennis ball at us – if you got hit you swapped places. One day a number of boys including myself decided we’d play with oranges and we all laughed as we got splattered with the pulp and orange skins. Unfortunately we were caught by the teachers and marched into the headmasters office where we all got six belts across the hand with a yard long ruler. It was my bad luck that the head master, Mr Allsop, had come from a school at which my Uncle was head of the School Council, so I also copped a lecture about how ashamed he would be off me.
We went through regular fads, playing marbles in the dust, or walk the dog with yoyos [coke ones were definitely better than fanta] and even hula hoops at one stage.
I struggle to remember the faces of my teachers. In fact I cant remember who I had in Grade 1. In Grades 2 and 3 I had Mrs Cannon, a tough lady, who did dish out a whack over th had with a ruler on the odd occasion. Miss Gash was my Grade 4 teacher and I have no real memories of her. In Grade 5 it was Mr Nicholson and his son was a World Champion bike rider and I remember him speaking very proudly of that – from memory the next year his son John won a silver medal at the Mexico Olympics. In Grade 6 I had Mr Fulton and the odd thing about that was that his son Ian was also in my class.
The school had an oval – albeit a small one, which baked hard in the summer sun and turned into a mud pile in the winter. Spiros Tamarus, a year ahead of me was in the school football team and could kick a goal after kicking out when a point was scored at the other end. That won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t know a thing about Australian Rules, but it is an impressive thing to do even on a small ground.
The oval had been excavated into the side of a hill and the embankment was planted with succulents to prevent erosion. We always used to laugh when an announcement would come over the PA system just before lunchtime reminding anyone who played on the oval to please keep off Mr Stafford’s pigface – he didn’t want his precious succulents trampled.
Mr Stafford was Vice principal and in around Grade 5 he would come in and teach us each morning giving us updates on lone sailor Frances Chichester’s solo voyage around the world.
Music lessons consisted of listening to ABC school radio and singing songs from a book that was given to us at the start of each year. My first reader was John and Betty – how boring was that – but as we got older we graduated to puffin books which were all packed into a box of sorts through which we could search and choose what to read. I learnt to love the roman adventures written by Henry Treece and discovered the science fiction of Robert Henlein. Reading remains a joy to this day.
School canteens carried pretty Spartan fare in those days, pies, party pies and sausage rolls, sunny boys, razz’s and zig and zag icy poles. But still it was a treat to be able to buy lunch. Most of the time we brought vegemite and cheese sandwiches and an apple. Occasionally Mum would make me tomato sandwiches but I hated the way the bread went soggy. There were no plastic bags in those days so the sandwiches were wrapped in grease proof paper and placed into brown paper bags, which we never had a shortage of because Dad worked for a paper merchant.
Just before morning recess we were always given a third pint of milk. It was always better drunk cold in winter than after being left in the sun for an hour or two on a summer’s day. Being a milk monitor was a privilege and there was always a competition to see how much milk we could drink from left over bottles.
The toilets were unroofed and boys being boys we would stand at the urinal and see if we could piss over the top of the wall. It was bad luck for the kids who were bending over to take a drink from the water fountains on the other side if someone did manage to reach the top of the wall and beyond. Gross ladies I know, but boys wil be boys – to the best of my knowledge no one died from it.