My first School years
When I turned six I was taken to the school by my stepmother, Ethel. My siblings who I adored, living in far off Melbourne told me never to trust her. Inevitably this meant my relationship with Ethel was fractured.
In 1942, Ethel enrolled me at a Mt Evelyn Primary School. With around 130 pupils, located in a bush area, it was one mile from the tiny town of Mt Evelyn, in Victoria, Australia. I attended this school for four years. As was normal in those times I walked to and from school unaccompanied. The walk was mostly along bush tracks and the distance was about a mile
I remember my first day at school. A teacher fussed over my blonde curly hair. She said, “Here is one out of the box’. I hated my curly hair especially the way women patted it.
I have no recollection of lessons from these four years. I do remember standing in front of the class giving some kind of a talk.
Here are a few things that still live in my memory.
My best day.
Ethel made the most boring sandwiches you could imagine. However, on one memorable day I had the best lunch ever. It had all the things that Ethel had previously banned. Soft white bread, a jam sandwich, delicious cake with icing and a chocolate bar. That night I thanked my stepmother for the magnificent lunch. She asked me what was in it. When I told her she shook her head. “That was not your lunch”. Then it dawned I had eaten someone else’s lunch. I have always felt sorry for the child who opened my lunch.
One day I forgot my lunch. Ethel brought it to school at lunch time. My siblings had impressed on me that she was weird and I fully got it. But to have her at the school perimeter fence calling ‘Stanley’, Come here darling’, was more than I could cope with. For a start I disliked my name. I was the only Stanley in the school. I wished I had a proper boy’s name like Bill or George. Full of embarrassment and shame I raced to the fence and snatched my lunch. ‘A little kiss for mummy?’ she asked. No way. I was gone.
There was one boy in our school who was German. The War was raging and we knew that the enemy were Germans. The boys picked on the German boy mercilessly. I didn’t do the pushing and poking, but I was all for it. The German boy’s father who had no doubt suffered this same treatment drank heavily. One night when he was dead drunk, he lay down, or fell down, in the middle of the main road. Inevitably on that dark and lonely road he was run over and killed.
In a community where only 20% were Catholic, Protestant parents taught their children to despise Catholics. My dad told me to never trust a Catholic as they were scheming to take over Australia. So, with a group of Protestant boys, I ganged up on the minority Catholic children. We couldn’t do much in school but after school was a different matter.
We would hide in the bushes overlooking a track some Catholic children had to take home. When they passed we threw stones at them and chanted,
‘Catholic dogs, sitting on logs, eating maggots out of frogs.’
Racism now disgusts me, but back then I was part of it.
Excitement and experimentation
In 1945 the war ended. We won! Excitement filled the air. I remember an Air Force plane buzzed our school making several low passes. It was so low we could see the pilot. My guess is that he had once attended our school.
We all wanted to smoke but there seemed no way we could get cigarettes or tobacco. My friends and I made our own substitutes. By rubbing the bark of gum trees we made something that looked like tobacco. We wrapped this in rice paper, in fact pages torn from a Bible. When lit they made us cough a lot. Although our smokes were certainly not addictive, at the time it was somehow daring and delicious.
One day the news went around that a couple of 6th graders (12 year olds), a boy and a girl were going to ‘do it’ in the bushes after school. I didn’t know what ‘doing it’ was but as with most of the boys I went along. The event happened in the deep bush. There was a large crowd and being a smaller (8 years) I couldn’t see a thing. Everyone was very quiet. There was no cheering or yelling. Later when I asked other boys what happened no one would tell me. It would be another 6 years before I had any idea what this encounter could have been about.
I walked to school alone along bush tracks. There were plenty of snakes but they slithered away at the sound or vibration of footsteps. What really worried me was magpies. At nesting time they would swoop from the tree tops on any person that moved – especially school boys. Without warning with screeching wings they would part your hair with their claws, beaks and wings. They terrified me. In the nesting months I walked to school holding my school bag on my head.
However, my greatest life threat was dragon flies. These large insects would fly towards my face and hover a short distance directly in front of me. I had been told again and again that they did not sting. But I was not so sure. In nightmares I was often stung by their long venomous tails. In my dreams this resulted in great pain and near death.
Ours was a very religious household. We went to church three times on Sunday. In the afternoon I would walk alone along the bush tracks to the Methodist Church. None of the neighbour children went to Sunday School. It was a lonely trudge. Many times it was very hot and the dragon flies were always there waiting for me.
One Sunday the Sunday School had a special teacher who had come all the way from Melbourne. She had come to help us give our hearts to Jesus. She asked us to bow our heads and shut our eyes. Then she said “If you would like to give your heart to Jesus, raise your hand”. Then she began saying, “Thank you Jesus”, and “Yes Lord”” again and again. I assumed from this that lots of children had put their hands up and so I took courage and put my hand up. When the prayer time was over she announced to the class that only one person had put a hand up and then she pointed to me! I was most surprised and my class mates stared at me.
The lady asked me to stay on after Sunday School had finished. She prayed with me and gave me some Scripture Union Notes (daily Bible readings). Although I felt tricked I was glad to receive the Bible reading notes. I have used them, though often not daily, for most of my life.