FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL
“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days,
Readin’ an’writin’ an’ ‘rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”
Will Cobb and Gus Edwards 1907.
This month thousands of eager, bright eyed little people set off for school for the first time. Some walked, some rode bicycles, some were taken by bus while others were driven in the family car.
. Mostly they went into air conditioned classrooms and sat at little tables on chairs made specially for their age group. There were probably no more than thirty in each class and many of the newcomers would have already been to Pre-school.
When the above song was written in 1907, education was probably a little different from today but certainly fairly similar to the experiences of the Oral History group who this month reached far back in their memories for their first day at school.
Many of our group have lived in the bush and had a long way to go to school.
Elma was only five when she walked to her little school at Eurunderie through a vineyard and over several paddocks to wait for her teacher who drove along the dusty road to pick up his pupils and take them to school.
Jeff and Keith both rode horses quite long distances, but John had the advantage of going to his father’s school just across the playground from his house.
Monica and Pauline had a subsidised school on their property and were taught by a teacher
who boarded at their home.
“There were four families of children taught in the shearing shed so the shearing could only be done in school holidays,” Pauline told us.
“The teacher was frightened of frill-necked lizards so of course we placed two so that she would trip over them when she came in the door.”
The first day at school can be very confusing for little newcomers and our group was no different.
Bronwyn decided she had had enough at lunchtime and walked four miles home.
Tim started doing correspondence lessons supervised by his mother but later started at Inverell primary school where his mother took him on his first day.
“I beat my mother home”, he told us.
Dick went home for lunch on his first day at school at Trinity Grammar held in the Bluestone building in Anson St.
“It’s on again this afternoon!” I told my mother in great surprise.
It certainly could be very confusing when you were only five.
Lyn told us about a little girl who went to school for the first time and came home and burst into tears.
“Didn’t you like it ?” asked her mother in concern. “I loved it”, she replied,” but you always told me that I would go to school one day and I want to go again- not just for one day!”
Leslye also had a story of a little boy whose mother explained to him to his great distress that he would have to go to school for at least another ten years.
“Will you come and pick me up when I am fifteen?” he asked his mother tearfully.
Doreen was confused when her older sister came home at the beginning of the summer holidays before she started school and told her that the school was breaking up. “Why would they break up a perfectly good school?” she wondered and was relieved when she finally arrived for her first day to find what a good job they had done repairing it.
In those far off days we used to recite The Pledge at assembly before school.
“I honour my God, I serve my king, I salute the flag.”
“I liked it,” said John. “It made me feel proud to be Australian”
We certainly had rather a structured way of looking at things, perhaps because the Second World War had not long finished. We did a lot of marching around the playground perhaps emulating the armed forces we had seen so much of during the war.
In fact some of us remembered the air raid drills we had when the enemy seemed very close to our shores.
“We had trenches dug near our school in Anson St,” said Dick. “The air raid siren would sound from the Fire Station for a practice and we would have to go ‘in and orderly fashion’ to the trenches and file in.”
I remember as a very small child doing the same thing in an air raid practice and having to enter trenches half filled with water after heavy rain of the night before. We carried “ air raid bags” with a comic to read while the bombs were falling, a cork to put between our teeth to prevent us biting our tongues, and cotton wool to put in our ears, apparently to stop us going deaf in the bomb blasts.
Life has certainly changed since those days when the discipline was often harsh, and we learnt by rote. Some of us boiled a billy over an open fire for the teacher’s cup of tea, others remembered with horror writing a thousand lines as a punishment and the ring formed by children in the playground to watch two boys punching out a grievance while the whole school looked on.
It was certainly not better than today—just different!
by HELEN McANULTY from Orange (NSW) Oral History Group