In summer we pupils went swimming scrambling down the cliff, where there are now steps, past the far shelter shed. I remember on one occasion Mione and me had no bathers and our mother told me to ask Mr. McDonald if it would be acceptable if we wore shorts and blouses, to which he replied, “I don’t mind if you come in the nude, as long as you go swimming!” When relating this to our Mother she wasn’t exactly pleased as she felt it was not an appropriate answer to give a child. I clearly recall the day when I pleaded with Mr. McDonald for Mione and me to be allowed go home instead of swimming. I could see a huge black cloud looming over towards the Narrows and with my intense fear of thunder storms, I imagined it to be a prelude to one. He finally relented and we were fortunate to arrive home not long before the bush fire which had been burning on Howe Range for weeks, ‘jumped the Narrows’ and completely burnt all the area where we had walked.
Mallacoota was founded on the fishing industry and for we children one of the most exciting times of the year was late April when professional fishermen with their families arrived from other Gippsland fishing towns for the opening of the season on May 1st. It closed again in October. The arrival of the children swelled the numbers of our school. Robinsons from Paynesville, Mitchellsons from Lakes Entrance and Casements from Metung who would later live here permanently. There was always a fear of school closure if the numbers dropped (I think below eight) so many parents sent their children younger than five years of age. Mione was four and a half. In those days there was not enticement for children to commence school and it was not unusual to see parents literally carrying kicking screaming kids to the school gates only for them to double back and head for home.
Many pupils had School Bank Accounts which were with the State Savings Bank and I always envied them as they lined up with sixpences (5 cents) on the allotted Bank Day. When we were born our Mother commenced small accounts for us with the Commonwealth Bank and those Depression years money was not around to support two banking systems. but I still felt left out!
When the polio epidemic emerged in Victoria parents became very anxious and hoped our isolation would be a safeguard. Harry and Elsie Bolton who owned the Hotel sent their girls, Marie and Lola up to Bristows at Double Creek as they thought they would be away from contact with any Hotel visitors. Mum made small sachets of garlic to hang around our necks as a protection and some children had small pieces placed in their shoes. We also had correspondence lessons for a while and when Mr McDonald was recovering from an appendix operation we had relieving teachers. We all literally worshiped Mr. Lloyd Buchan and were devastated when we learnt he was leaving. Somehow we children managed to raise money to buy him a block of chocolate (the ultimate for us) as a farewell gift. We resented poor Mr Mcinerney, his replacement who had an unusual method of teaching. I remember when familiarising us with the names of Victorian towns, he would illustrate on the blackboard. I distinctly recall the drawing of a large rat with a bell around it’s neck, depicting ‘Ballarat’ I wish I had retained more useful knowledge during my school years!
Before the Christmas school holidays we would spring clean the school in readiness for the first term of the coming year. We would arrive with mops and cakes of Velvet Soap and the wooden floors would be awash with suds. I can assure it was an event and hard for anyone to visualize. The boys to create a bit more fun would tie scrubbing brushes to their feet and skate through it all. At the end of the procedure we would after landing on it a few times, be as wet as the floor but it was the only time in the school year that the teacher turned a deaf ear to our singing and squealing.
In 1939 ominous clouds of war began to gather over Europe and although we were half a world away, soon our little bush school would be changed forever.