[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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