The School Part 7

Mr McDonald loved being outdoors and when the strong south-westerlies blew he would often have us making kites with much pasting of brown and newspaper and using thin straight branches. Without materials like bamboo or balsa they were cumbersome things with little chance of getting off the ground. We decorated the tails with bows of left over Christmas crepe paper. Following Mr McDonald, we would traipse over to the sportsground near where the far shelter shed is today and commence, what was for the younger ones, several hours of frustration trying to get them off the ground but absolute joy for our teacher. Wooden tops were popular in those days but were difficult to spin on the dirt.

Like most school children of that era, the boys collected cicadas in the summer evenings. Those poor cicadas who used the cover of darkness to emerge from their holes in the ground so as to avoid predators would be suddenly unexpectedly caught as they began their ascent up the tree trunks, by school boys. The cycle of their egress from the earth was always supposed to happen a week after Melbourne Cup Day on the East Coast of Australia. The ‘Green Grocer’ variety was fairly common, then there were the ‘Yellow Mondays’ and the most prized of all the ‘Black Prince’ or Double Drummer.’ The boys would smuggle them to school and hide them in their desks and many a lesson was interrupted by the shrill sound of a cicada in full voice. (It didn’t just happen in Mallacoota, my late husband, Rod told me of the occasion when he was at school in Eden and as visitors were approaching the class room, they quickly put the cicadas in the clock. When the Bishop commenced to address the class, the cicadas began to ‘sing’.)

Our vocabulary changed considerably during Mr. McDonalds time as teacher. He always referred to your feet as ‘plates of meat’, your abdomen as ‘bread basket’ or ‘Nelly Kelly’ and so on. He was an advocator of picturesque, Australian slang! Our identities also changed with the arrival of Mr. McDonald as he never called us by our given names only his version of a derivative of each one; so we were known as “Diddy,” “Giddy,” “Mulberry,” “Claw Hammer,” (an unfortunate choice as she was a girl!), “Willy Roostopholis” (goodness knows how you spelt that!), my sister, Mione was dubbed “Drink to me only… ” a popular song of the day). With a name like Leone, I was destined to get “Leonidas the Spartan.” Who would have known then that in the years ahead, I would have a son-in-law who came from Sparta (Sparti.)

Mione and I seldom arrived early for school, mainly because I liked to explore the Shady Gully area with it’s wonderful bird life. I would literally drag her way up along the creek, crossing to the other side then rejoining the dirt road. On the right hand side was an old mine shaft, I guess long fallen in by now. I remember the occasion when arriving late for school, Mr. McDonald with an almighty roar, jumped out from the library store room where he had been lying in wait for us to go into the class room, hitting me on the head with the heaviest available book. His means of punishment more than often, differed from the standard discipline.

As I mentioned before, Mr. McDonald was a great lover of out doors so our history lessons were mostly held in the playground where we would be manufacturing mia-mias from bark as he imparted to us, his knowledge of the aborigines. Early European history was not forgotten either and I recall the time when with bull ants as soldiers, a ditch as a river, at which both armies were lined up each side, I spent a very sleepless night as my Horatio was hell bent on attacking me rather than defending the Tiber! Those history lessons were certainly implanted in, my memory.

Leone Pheeney

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