Dad worked at a paper distributor, E C Blackwoods, and so we always had stationery; exercise books, derwent pencils, folders etc. Boy did I love my Derwents, no other kids had them and the colours were richer and stronger than anything anyone else could use, and of course when we were taught all of these things we had to write a few lines in our Exercise books and illustrate the story.
The other bonus of Dad’s job was that we always had brown paper bags and grease paper to wrap our sandwiches in. There was no such thing as Gladwrap and nor were there pre-packed snacks.
Lunch was sandwiches, vegemite, sometimes with cheese, jam, and in the hot weather tomato. Not altogether of course . The latter I used to hate, because by lunchtime they’d generally have made the bread soggy. Snacks were a bit of fruit, apple or orange mainly, but the odd banana when they were in season.
And unlike now, fruit was really seasonal, there weren’t cool stores, there weren’t even big supermarkets, fruit and vegetables were bought at the Green grocer and inevitably those stores were run by Italians or Greeks – Con the Fruiterer, Mark Mitchell’s famous character really existed and was maybe partly based on that same guy at Bennettswood shops that we used to visit.
Once a week we were allowed to buy our lunch. You had to fill in an envelope in the morning and the lunches were then delivered to the class room in the late morning. There weren’t a lot of choices, sandwiches, pies, pastie or sausage roll was the extent of it and given we took sandwiches the other days of the week it was a pie and sauce for me. I can’t remember the number of times I burnt my lps on boiling meat, but on a cold winters day it was fantastic.
The tuck shop sold icy poles in the warm weather most of which were water based. The most popular were Zig and Zags, one of which was orange and white, the other green and red, but don’t ask me which was which, and then there was Sunny Boys and Raz’s. They were around 2 or 3 cents each at the time.
Every morning play we were given a half pint of milk. Delivered in glass bottles and crates it was the job ot the milk monitors to deliver the crates to each f the class rooms and then to collect the empty bottles and crates at the end of play time. It was an honour to be a milk monitor because it meant you could drink as much milk as you could fit in. I think I managed a gallon one day, we used to race each other in sculling it and seeing how much we could actually stomach. Of course it was always better on the cold mornings because if it was left in the heat of the sunshine for too long it would curdle in the bottles and that was enough to make you gag.
If it rained at lunchtimes we were allowed to stay in the class room, but if we had the choice we’d always choose to go outside. Funny, even if the days were cold, we warmed up pretty quickly because we were always running around. And anyway, whilst we had oil heaters in the classroom they often didn’t work so it wasn’t any colder outside anyway.
I’m not sure when I started to walk to school, maybe in Grade 3 or 4 at around 7 or 8 years old. Mum drove us in the early years but when Debra came along I think we started to walk. In 1967 for my tenth birthday I was given a bike which was my pride and joy. It was an orange Fujicycle, three speed, white walled tyres with a light and pack rack on the back. When I got that I started to ride to and from school, and that didn’t take me too long at all.
|My 10th Birthday - The day I got my bike|
It was very much a white Anglo Saxon experience. The only Asians we saw were behind the counter in the local chow shop. In that part of the world even the Greeks and Italians were still yet to arrive. Whilst there were plenty of wogs and dagos in Brunswick where my grandparents lived they were few and far between at Bennettswood in the early years, although by the late sixties we were starting to get a few. Of course as kids, it didn’t matter to us what there names were, they were the same as us anyway, but Smith and Jones were much more common than di Grazia and Mihalos.
Our biggest prejudice centered around the rural kids. For some reason our school was involved in an experiment where a group of kids of mixed ages were placed in a class together as if they came from a small country town. I have no idea why, but it made them separate from the rest of us and those of us in “normal” classes looked down our noses at them. Rightly or wrongly, and more likely the latter than the former, we thought they were dumber than the rest of us.
We had to wear a uniform, ours was grey with stripes on the collar and cuff of the jumper in two shades of green. We also had a matching green tie and it was compulsory to wear all of that, although the caps of private school kids were absent from our uniform.
I never had long pants. The concession to the cold weather of winter was that we wore woolen shorts instead of cotton ones and long socks instead of short ones. We had to wear black shoes and it was my job to polish them each morning, not only my own but everyones, and I’d sit on the back step of the laundry, brush and cloth in hand, rubbing away the dust before we walked out the door each morning.
Dad always used to tell us the story of a teacher of his called Daddy Egan who used to use the edge of a metal ruler to belt kids over the knuckles if they misbehaved. Corporal punishment was still allowed when I was at school and it wasn’t uncommon for kids to get the strap or a yard long ruler smacking them on the bum if they played up. Usually this was done in front of the class as an example to the rest of us as to what lay ahead if we were naughty.
I only remember getting the strap once at school. That was when instead of playing brandy with a tennis ball we decided to use oranges. Brandy was a game where we’d line up in front of one of the brick walls and the object was to have someone piff the ball as hard as they could at you. If you got hit it was then your turn to throw the ball. You can imagine the mess the oranges made and that day we were in the process of having a great deal of fun when one of the teachers arrived on the scene. Four of us were marched straight up to the Headmaster’s office. His name was Mr Allsop and unfortunately for me he had previously been headmaster at Merlynston State School at a time when my Uncle Keith was School Council President and Mayor of Coburg. So not only did I get six of the best but the longest lecture about how disappointed my uncle would be in me. We were then given letters to take home to our parents and have them sign it and brought back. Lucky for me Dad’s signature was pretty easy to forge so there were no further lectures on how upset my Mum and Dad or Uncle were.
There were fights at school and in the time honoured tradition of schools up till that time at the first sign of an altercation word would go around the schoolyard and we’d gather somewhere down the back of the school in a large circle and start chanting “Fight Fight Fight”. Not sure what the teachers were doing but they’d usually arrive sometime after the first blows were struck and when they were seen to be approaching another shout of “Teacher!” would go up and we’d all scatter to the four winds. Most of the time the fighters got away with it.