The days were colder when I was young. And warmer too. Winter mornings used to suck the warm air from your lungs as soon as you poked your head above the bed cover, and the summer northerlies sucked the moisture from your body during long hot pre-daylight savings days.
The winters seemed longer, darker and danker. Walks to school were often in the rain and in those days plastic raincoats were only used to keep the rain off you. School uniform was shorts , no matter how cold it was, the knobby knees of my childhood knocked together in the cold. Before the roads were made on the estate the puddles in the potholes would freeze and you could lift a sheet of ice off like a pane of glass. Frosts were common, and Gardiners Creek often flooded when the rains came.
Our house had one heater, briquette replaced by oil and then by gas. In the lounge room, it did not heat the bedrooms down the passageway at the back of the house and on those winter mornings we’d gather in front of the fire to get dressed in the warm. In the early school years, before Mum went back to work she’d drive us, in an old Vauxhall with no heater, no radio and wind screen wipers that occasionally worked.
Bennettswood State School was typical of those built through the 50’s and 60’s in Melbourne. Several wings of grey besser brick, flat roofs, and asphalt coated quadrangles separating the buildings. It was nestled in amongst the triple fronted brick veneers of a relatively new suburb peopled with middle class Anglo Saxons for the most part. The back of the school was a paddock which contained a flattened out oval which the school footy team played on. For the bigger kids it was possible to kick out from full back and score a goal at the other end on a good day, something I never did.
The banks of the oval cutting were covered with carpobrotus plants, more commonly called pig face, lovingly planted to stem the erosion of the yellow clay by the assistant Head Master Mr. Stafford. Every lunch time, over the public address system an announcement would be made, “Those children going down to the oval, please don’t step on Mr. Staffords pig face.” You reckon that didn’t make us laugh.
The grass in the back paddock was long. Because it was adjacent to the creek there were tiger snakes around in summer, but we didn’t really take too much notice of the warnings. We’d tie bunches of grass together into traps and then watch as kids would run around and fall over as their feet got tangled up in the trap.
I wasn’t really one for playing footy and cricket during the breaks. In winter we’d create skid pans and many was the time when we’d trudge back into class covered in mud. In summer the dirt became somewhere to play marbles.
The quadrangles which echoed to the sound of drums each morning as we marched into class after assembly became the arena for battles of British Bulldog or my favourite, Humpo Bumpo. Both those games involved someone being “he” who had to complete a task in order to have more people join him in the middle. In the case of British Bulldog we’d all line up against one wall and on a count you’d have to run to the other side of the quadrangle. The person in the middle had to lift both your feet off the ground and if he succeeded you joined him in the middle to hunt in packs. In Humpo Bumpo you had to hop on one foot from one side to the other whilst the one in the middle hopped at you trying to knock you off your feet. Bruises and grazes were common but that was part of growing up – no cotton wool in those days.
I went to School with a kid called Clive. He was comparatively small and certainly a little eccentric when most of us were playing humpo bumpo, British bulldog or chasey, he spent the play time pretending he was driving around in a magic motorcar. The tough kids picked on him mercilessly and the others like me who wanted to fit in laughed and made fun of him just so that we wouldn’t be on the outer. I remember one year I got invited to his birthday party but I didn’t tell Mum about the invitation because I didn’t want to go. As far as I can remember nobody went. What a horrible thing to do to a kid and I am ashamed looking back that I bowed to peer pressure even though at the time I didn’t know what it was.
Eventually Clive snapped and during one art class he picked up a Stanley knife and sliced another kids calf muscle open and I remember feeling sick looking at the exposed muscle. I often wonder what happened to Clive, all I know is that he didn’t go onto Burwood High School like the rest of us.
There was another kid, Andrew, who gave me a hard time for a while. One day he swung a punch at me and I saw red, chasing him around the school ground. Fortunately for him I didn’t catch him, or maybe fortunately for me because I don’t know what I would have done if I had grabbed him. Andrew went on to become a successful sculptor and stone mason and we became reasonable mates during high school, whilst not close we got on OK from that day forward. I actually caught up with him 18 months ago at a school reunion and he’s a good guy.
And yet another kid who lived up the road from us in Massey Street and one day after school he came into my front yard and decided that he would practice a judo throw by tossing me over his shoulder. I remember that it hurt and I picked myself up, rushed around to the backyard, grabbed a handful of stones, jumped on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could back into the front yard taking aim and knocking his front tooth out with a stone. He went crying home to his mother who then came down and told my Mum a version of the story. I think Mum and Dad ended up having to pay for the tooth repair.
End of Part 1
I have a lot more to say and will flesh a few more things out before I upload it. Truth is I don't know how long it will end up. I guess we'll all wait and see. Now sisters, if you read this, you're getting a bit behind me now.