50 to 50 #6: Myponga Primary School

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts in the lead-up to my 50th birthday next weekend. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it’s been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, eventually, just not one per day.]

One day in early 1966, when I was still five years old, I caught the school bus from the front gate of our dairy farm near Mount Compass and enrolled myself at Myponga Primary School.

Yes, I enrolled myself. My parents were too busy running the farm that day. I can just remember being taken to the principal’s office to answer the questions he needed to complete the enrolment form. Name, date of birth, address, telephone number, parents’ names and so on. I daresay my parents had phoned in advance with most of that stuff, but at the time I felt so very grown up and clever.

I knew my alphabet and could count and do basic arithmetic before I went to school. These days there are kindergartens and pre-schools in the cities and towns, and plenty of kids’ TV programs wherever you live. But who taught me back then? I’m guessing my grandmother — my mother’s mother — who lived with us on the farm. Alas, I have almost no memory of her.

School bored me. All these kids seemed so stupid! They had to be taught their letters and numbers and I already knew all that. Apparently I was disruptive in class. Who knew?

The photo [embiggen] is actually from 1969, when I was in Grade 5 and nine years old. Which kid is me? I’ll tell you at the bottom of this post.

The guy on the top row, sixth from the left with a cheesy grin, is Mark Lorenzetti. Our families were friends. Mark was the same age as me, his youngest brother the same age as mine, and he had a brother in the middle. Like us, they had a dairy farm, though theirs had plenty of irrigated land and was clearly far more productive through those droughts of the 1960s. I reckon our dogs were smarter than theirs though.

Somewhere in that photo should be a guy called Gino Pacitti, but I can’t figure out where. The teacher is Mr Kunze. At the time I didn’t understand why some kids were punished so severely for making jokes about his name, but I get it now. That giant blonde girl in the front row? I’ve no idea who she is.

But I get ahead of myself…

One day in maybe June or July 1966, the principal came into the Grade 1 classroom with a man who I later discovered was a school inspector from the education department head office in Adelaide. They took me to another classroom, maybe Grade 3 or Grade 4, where the students were taking turns reading a story from a book. They sat me at a vacant desk and, when it came to my turn, I read from the book like everyone else. I did just fine.

I remember that moment because it was the first time I’d encountered a metaphor. I didn’t know the word “metaphor”, obviously, but in the story they said that something happened “once in a blue moon”. I didn’t know what a blue moon was either, but I had seen the Moon lots of times and it was never blue when I’d seen it, so I figured that “once in a blue moon” must be “not very often at all”. A Eureka moment! You could use words with one literal meaning — well, I didn’t know the word “literal” — to talk about something else completely different! How cool is that?

The next day I was moved to the Grade 2 class. The principal wanted to bump me up further, but that was against policy. I hated Grade 2, because unlike Grade 1 there wasn’t a toy telephone for me to play with when I got bored.

What else do I remember about primary school?

Fire drills. The wooden classrooms had a hatch in the side, below the windows. When the fire bell rang, we had to open the hatch and, hinged at the bottom, it dropped to form a ramp down to the asphalt playground. We had to go all the way to the other side of the playground — walk quickly, but don’t run! — and across the football oval and wait. On really hot days we left the hatch open so the breeze would cool the classroom.

School milk. At morning recess, wooden crates were lined up on a bench at the side of the playground. The little glass bottles had metal foil caps. The milk was always warm because it had been sitting in the sun, not because it was fresh from the cow. It always tasted so stale, but we had to drink it anyway. All of it. Sometimes I secretly threw mine away.

I’m bleeding and I’m going to die. The doors of the metal lockers had very sharp edges. Once during a fight my head slammed into that sharp edge and I was cut across the top of my head. It really, really hurt and there was blood everywhere. I was scared.

Decimal currency. This Dollar Bill TV advertisement is still in my head.

If the video doesn’t work, try here.

Sometimes, after school, I would buy a loaf of bread to take home on the bus. One loaf of sliced white bread used to cost two shillings, and now it cost 20 cents.

Attribute blocks. Who remembers New Maths? Learn set theory and Venn diagrams with coloured wooden blocks and cane hoops! This hoop is for green, this other hoop is for triangles. The hoops overlap. Here is a red triangle, where does it go? Here is a blue square, where does that go? But teacher, I want a green triangle! Shoosh! Fortunately our principal was unimpressed with New Maths, and he decided to teach us to read and write as well.

Kookaburras. They lived in the big tree in the playground. They were very loud. One day, one of the kookaburras had a black snake in his mouth, just like in the pictures. I’m scared of snakes.

[Where in the photo is Stilgherrian? I’m in the bottom row on the very far right.]

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29 Replies to “50 to 50 #6: Myponga Primary School”

  1. We are similar ages and I went to a rural primary school in Scotland, but many of your memories are similar to mine. Myponga is a similar size to New Gilston where I went. I was in a two teacher school with a class initially of two or three in my year and never more than thirty in the whole school while I was there. Although we didn’t live on a farm, we were surrounded by farms and had to make our way to school by ourselves and I suppose I would have registered myself too. Great memories of morning milk, rote learning of times tables and school shows. UK did decimals around 1970. We didn’t have a telly at that time, so no memories of publicity.

    Nowadays I go through Myponga regularly. Granny lives at Normanville. Love the markets, the microbrewery and the garage always has a wrecked car as a reminder of death on the road.

    Thanks for sharing. So where are you in the photograph.

  2. From one week to the next in February, 1966, the standard, not so healthy but very Australian Monday school tuckshop order changed from 1 and thripence [sic] for a meat pie and sauce accompanied by a jam donut for 9 pence, to 13 cents for the pie and 7 cents for the jam donut. We’d put the 2 shilling/20 cent coin in the corner of a plain brown paper bag and fold it umpteen times to keep it there. Mum would write your name and order on the front, and it would be collected in a wire basket next to the teachers desk before school.

    The red rocket icypole shot up from thripence to 3 cents. We were ripped off. You could only get three for 10c, instead of 4 for a shilling.

  3. @Colin Campbell: I’m guessing that for both the UK and Australia there were very similar cultural themes through the early to mid-1960s. Certainly Australia still saw itself as part of the Empire — although I notice that in the decimal currency film Dollar Bill has a distinct Aussie whine in his accent while his pre-decimal companion speaks in “proper” British tones.

    The Myponga markets and the microbrewery were created well after my time. In the 1960s that cheese factory was still operational, although our own farm’s milk was trucked to Victor Harbor. There’s still some very beautiful spots along that road to Normanville, though.

    @Margaret Smith: I seem to recall being able to buy a nice peppery pastie and sauce for under a shilling, but memories are very fuzzy there. I’m sure we would’ve had some sort of lunch-delivery system like your wire basket too. We can’t all have gone down to the little bakery.

  4. Attribute blocks ring a bell, but the description of them doesn’t…. did you have Cuisenaire?

    And that photo is so late 60s. 🙂

  5. @Sean the Blogonaut: I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts. Digging out the old stuff and writing it is an interesting journey in itself. Yes, I’m enjoying it. But it’s also making me feel rather old.

    Nevertheless, I’ll post another one tonight.

    @Baden Smith: You’d be referring there to Cuisenaire rods. We certainly had them at our school, but I don’t think we ever referred to them by that name.

  6. Stil, Enjoying these posts and relating. I am 6 months older than you and at the time I was about 90km away (according to the map) at Woodside Primary. My family wasn’t on a farm but all the rest is bringing back memories.

  7. Such a cute bunch of smiling faces, especially the one on the bottom right… so full of promise.

    So what went wrong? 😉

    Seriously though Stil, these posts are great.

    Thanks much,

  8. I would never have guesses the face. Keep up the posts.

    I had problems with my early years of schooling and was lucky not to be kept back a year. I did kindergarten in Mount Alvernia in Singapore, when lived in Perth where they did not have the pre year. I then spent some time in a single teacher primary school in Jingellic NSW, where I think I must have learned to write as I write in the style of NSW. Then when I was at school in Melbourne they could not handle the fact that I had missed out on Prep and wanted to keep me back a year. In the end they reached a compromise and I did combined grade 1/2 for one year and 2/3 for the next.

  9. I enjoy these posts as well… We are of similar age and I remember some of the institutions of the 1960s… like school inspectors and school milk, quite well, as though it were yesterday…

  10. my mother in law is in this pic. it was interesting to read about myponga primary school my daughter goes there now. thanks

  11. @Steve: Fear not, the hiatus in these posts will come to an end soon. I think I’ve said it before, but I do enjoy writing them — although they tend to take three or four hours of quiet reflection. I’ve been over-ambition with my planned writing schedule.

    @jo hutchinson: Wow, now I want to know which one she is! But then again, I don’t remember any of these kids except the two guys named in the original post. Glad you’ve enjoyed the post. I daresay Myponga Primary is a very different place now.

    1. Very different indeed!
      I recently visited the schools website as i was thinking of enrolling my two children there, how disappointed i was that i had to call the school and enlighten them to a spelling mistake in the school’s motto, “excellence” was spelt “escellence”.
      I just couldn’t send my children to a school that makes such a serious error!

  12. hello she is in middle row 4th from left. her name was Gaynor Hinkley back then. and i have told her about this and she is quite interested and has a copy of this photo still. and she is going to tell me who the giant girl in the front row is… 🙂

  13. Hi Steve, I am a little confused? You say that in the class photo, you are the kid in the front row on the far right. I’m also in the same photo, 2nd row, 3rd from left. I have since spoken to some other kids in the same photo, and we all knew that kid as [REDACTED]. Could you please explain how [REDACTED], became Steve Stilgherrian? If you are the same person, which according to your short history, it seems as though you are, then it is good to know where you are these days. By the way, I also caught the same school bus as you did, and I do remember you going from grade 1 to grade 3 in one go. Could I ask you which school did you go to once you left Myponga?

  14. @Michael Mignanelli: I’ve redacted my old name out of your comment but, yes, you’re right. You’ve spotted the same person. Well met!

    However you’ve got the “Steve” bit wrong for my name now. Stilgherrian is now my sole name and has been for nearly 30 years. I think you got “Steve” from seeing the tag @Steve at the start of a comment I wrote? That just indicated that I’m replying to Steve’s comment.

    I don’t refer to my previous name at all any more, and would appreciate the link not being made. Not because there’s anything to hide — far from it. The name change is all on public record should people be curious enough to pay the document search fee. It’s simply that Stilgherrian is my name now, and has been for a long time, and I think it’s more important to live in the present than wallow in the past.

    Which makes this series of blog posts the biggest piece of hypocrisy ever, right?

    I do vaguely remember you from that school bus run, west along Lanacoona Road in the morning, but looping back first eastwards via Pages Flat Road in the afternoon. A long time ago, Michael…

    We left the farm in mid-1971 and moved to Gawler, where I went to Gawler East Primary for a year or so before winning a scholarship to Prince Alfred College. Now that I’ve finally resumed this series of posts we’ll get to that part of the story soon enough, although some of the story is on the About page.

    The bump-up-a-grade thing interests me. What did that look like to everyone else? Can you remember?

  15. when you started school and was moved from grade1, to grade 3, you were the talk of the school. it was incredibble to see some one, starting school on day one, and beeing able to do grade 3 work. Something that we had never seen before, and have never seen since. a mate of mine in that photo, and I over the years often look back and wonder where some of our class students have finnish’d up in life. one thing that amazed him and I was the fassination you had for space ships. on the bus and at school, you were always drawing space ships, they were drawn very neat and also to scale, for some one your age at the time, it was amazing.
    we were convinced that later in life you would probably finnish up in America working on some space mission.
    as for myself, I also grew up on a dairy farm, and am still farming today. when you were here, there were hundreds of dairy farms, now there is only a hand full of us left.

  16. @Michael Mignanelli: Oddly enough, the next post in this series will be about my relationship to the Space Age.

    I’m not surprised that there’s so few dairy farms left. The economics have changed so much, and it’s such hard work. And yet all the milk still must come from somewhere. I wonder where the growth areas have been for dairy?

  17. Hi! Your post made me laugh out loud til I cried because I am the GIANT BLONDE GIRL IN THE FRONT ROW!!!!
    It was great to read this, and I do remember you, though I hadn’t recalled about you skipping a grade (and I know your old name) but, like Michael, I did recall your fascination with rockets!
    Katreena Clarke’s Uncle Allan is my cousin, as were half of the kids in the school (the Faggotter family) and I, too still have this photo and could tell you who everyone is. As for me being the giant blonde girl, it was both good and bad being the tallest person in the school ( Malcolm W and I used to measure up against each other to see who was tallest.) I ended up 5′ 10 and 3/4 (180cm) which among today’s teenagers is not tall at all! I distinctly recall in that photo how the photographer got me to sit slightly sideways to supposedly make me look shorter but I think it had the opposite effect!
    What a lovely trip down memory lane this is! All the best to you! : )

  18. Another comment – I believe Gino was in the next class down and Ida is his sister – she’s right in the centre, behind me. Oh, and, being a very visual thinker, I LOVED Attribute Blocks and Venn Diagrams, they live on in my memory from Grade 3 or 4!

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