After leaving Auburn South Infants School and relocating to Yerrinbool I was given the choice of attending Mittagong Primary School eight miles away from our home or the local one teacher school. Although I preferred the idea of the larger school the hour long bus journey each way was enough to convince my parents otherwise.
Yerrinbool Public School was a cream coloured weatherboard box on brick piers, first opened in 1922. It had a corrugated iron roof, a closed in verandah and a cloak room where we left our bags and washed our hands.
Inside the classroom there were rows of wooden desks, upper division on the left and lower division on the right. As we moved up a grade, we moved one row closer to the front. The desks held inkwells that were filled by ink monitors when the need arose. Two blackboards on easels stood at the front of the room, each side of a fireplace and the teacher’s desk. Mr Scott would have all the work for the morning written up on the two boards. At the time of my arrival in First Class there were about thirty students. They were the children of apple orchardists and poultry farmers, itinerent railway workers and a few business people working in the bigger towns.
I soon settled into life at the new school. Playtime and lunchtime were periods of great freedom as Mr Scott stayed inside to eat his lunch and listen to Blue Hills, (a long running serial) on the wireless. There were cubbies built in the scrub and destroyed by opposing gangs, there were episodes of marbles and hoops and once a year Redback Town would come to life. This was a hard clay depression in the ground which for a few short weeks sported houses and shops made from bark and leaves, joined by dusty roads on which we placed our toy cars. Then as quickly as it started it would vanish. We played Simmonds and Newcombe, the names of two Long Bay Gaol escapees and told jokes about them.
Collecting cards was the craze when I first arrived. Beautiful bird cards from Lipton Tea became a most desirable possession and swapping took place every playtime. Over the years we collected 3-D cards from Weet-Bix and Lipton Tea, Birds, Beetles and Sea creatures from Shell Service Stations, plastic cars, trains and boats from Kellogg’s Cornflakes. They were all free but we had to consume large quantities of the product to complete our collections.
Sport consisted of rounders every Friday afternoon. This was quite exciting because Sir would come out to bowl. He was, as the local mothers put it, “past retiring age” so as my years at Yerrinbool progressed he became increasingly less active. Even our annual “Bird Walk”, the only excursion we ever had, was indefinitely postponed in our final year.
The wireless was our main source of entertainment and diversion at school. “Tales of Many Lands”, “Health and Hygiene”, “Let’s Sing Together” were some of the programs. They must have been a great help to a teacher trying to manage seven classes, but we ended up all learning the same things as we couldn’t help but listen. Our visitors were few, but a Bowral Real Estate Agent drove out once a week to give us our Scripture lesson.
As we had no homework I would memorise songs from my Broadcast Book or learn poems. The long dreamy afternoons were spent reciting, drawing and painting, weaving baskets and singing or listening to Mr Scott reading extracts from Perseus and Medusa. There seemed to be little money spent on the school but I remember Mr Scott purchasing a set of illustrated Social Studies books on early Australian explorers. Adding pictures to the words made them slightly more interesting as we followed the often disastrous journeys of these driven men. The only time I was motivated by my drab Social Studies book was the description of the voyage by ship from Sydney to London via the Suez Canal. The exotic ports of Singapore, Colombo, Aden and Port Said, the mysterious pyramids of Egypt and ancient treasures of Greece and Rome eventually led to England, the country of my ancestors, so familiar and yet so distant.
To my annoyance my teacher insisted we write business letters or letters to friends for Composition every second week. The other week we were allowed to use our imagination. He said we would write far more letters than stories when we were adults. Handwriting changed significantly over the years.
Not long after we progressed from printing in pencil to copperplate with pen and ink, a new handwriting syllabus appeared. The new writing was called Modified Cursive which meant we had to relearn our letters. No longer were we encouraged to use thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. Capital letters became simpler and loops were removed. To help us the Department provided us with new pens with small reservoirs which meant less dipping in the ink. Ball point pens and fountain pens were unknown until I reached High School. Every week we would do Mapping with a special fine mapping pen, choosing a country from an atlas where many of the countries were coloured red, drawing in freehand, trying not to smudge the ink.
Arithmetic was my father’s specialty. He had been caned at school for making one mistake in an important exam. The pressure was on to get a perfect score which I rarely did. We were still using Pounds, Shillings and Pence, often multiplying these amounts by three figures. Strange and useless tables were learnt like “pounds in a bushel of wheat, oats, barley” (they were all different). Rods, poles and perches, chains, yards and feet all became obsolete a few years later when the metric system was introduced.
The only other change in the school over the six years was a square slab of cement poured onto the hard baked clay at the front of the building. Mr Scott would clap his hands at the top of the step and we would line up on the new surface, say good morning and march into school. We even had Folk Dancing on the cement broadcast from the wireless but that stopped when the numbers became too low. By the time I reached sixth class there were four children in my year and two in Kindergarten. Once we four went to High School the school was permanently closed and Mr Scott retired.
I left Primary School determined to do two things. One was to become a teacher and the other was to travel the world.