The School

The school was situated on the Mallacoota side of Mirrabooka when I commenced my school days. Previously there had been one at ‘Sunny Corner’ and earlier still on the Raheen property. For me, one of the most exciting things to happen was receiving the Victorian Commemoration Medal in 1935. The Education Department presented every school child in the State with one, to celebrate Victoria’s Century. One side depicted a scene of the Yarra River with the steeple of St. Pauls Cathedral and the dome of
Flinders Street Railway Station in the background. (I don’t think Young and Jacksons made it!). On the reverse side there is a scene of the landing at Portland, with the inscription, ‘Centenary of Victoria, 1934’.

One of my grandchildren asked me if I had worn button up boots and seemed disappointed when I told them that girls wore tan/brown canvas sand shoes. Later we had laced up shoes and in summer the wonderful Roman sandals. Most boys went bare footed to school. The 1930’s were ‘The Great Depression’ years and it was difficult for parents to clothe their children. Mothers handed down clothes which their children had grown out of and the fact that we girls sometimes
wore boy’s long, patterned topped grey ‘golf socks’ was of little consequence to us.

It is difficult for children of this generation to realise that when we were thirsty we only drank from the school’s tank or from bottles of oatmeal or barley water, even sweet cold tea. There were no cordials, fruit juices and the like but most people grew orange and lemon trees for drinks. I still recall the wonderful taste of lemonade that someone had bought back from Ottons ‘new’ cordial factory at 8ega.

Our staple school lunch were sandwiches using homemade butter and in some families dripping with left over Sunday roast, cheese or the inevitable home made jam. I vowed I would never ever eat plum jam again! Remember there was no regular transport into Mallacoota in those days so fruit and vegetables being home-grown were only seasonal. If a parent had been away their children had the luxury of having banana sandwiches next day at school. How our mouths would water!

We found it difficult to relate to teachers, we mostly feared them as we were strapped for the smallest offences. If you hadn’t learnt your work you were ‘kept in’ no matter how long until you knew it. I still believe that the penalty of writing and rewriting spelling mistakes in Dictation and Composition was a sure way of remembering
the correct spelling.

The older boys delighted in scaring new teachers and it was not unusual to see a ‘dead’ snake coiled lifelike on school steps. Unsuspecting teachers found frogs, cicadas and lizards in the top drawer of their desk. There was also a vile smelling lily, commonly referred to as ‘stink lily’ which would also be deposited there.

When I was small I had a fear of storms and whether the teacher of the time showed great compassion or an intolerance for a wailing 5 year old, I’ll never know, but at the first distant roll of thunder, I was immediately dispatched home with an escort. It was probably the only time in my life that the male species vied so fervently for the privilege of taking me home! What a way for them to gain freedom from the classroom! Somehow I can never remember getting home, I can only recall howling under the wattle trees as the chosen boy scaled the trunks for gum, searched for cicadas or checked out bird’s nests. With a bit of luck he could wangle a few hours from school!

The high light of the year was the Christmas Tree and Cinderella. Mothers saved for months to buy their daughters that ‘one good dress’ for the year. We
eagerly awaited the spring/summer catalogues, especially Winns of Sydney who always had several pages of children’s clothes. We would desperately hope that no other mother would have ordered the same frock for her daughter, it was always kept secret. The mothers of the State School Committee would decorate the old hall (now the site of National Parks office) with tree fern fronds, gum leaves, balloons, streamers, paper chains and paper Chinese lanterns.

The big night duly arrived and we school children would stand straight to sing “God Save the King” the girls feeling self conscious with their new shoes, new frock and your face all ‘dolled up’ and in my case, worse still, my hair frizzed in unfamiliar curls.

Those concerts were really something with all the children participating in the carols and plays, There were solo items too! Recitations songs, at which Pat (Bristow) Noden always excelled and Joe Bruce played the mouth organ. Bird calls were very popular in those years and we would imitate the whistle of many birds and cup our hands for the mo poke owls. Gum leaf playing also featured.

Then the Big Moment, the Presentation of Prizes. Best Marks in the Junior section (Grades 1 to 4), Best Marks, Senior Grades (5th to 8th) grade. George Latta always won the ‘Best Attendance Award’. Those who had passed the eighth grade exams would receive the much prized Merit Certificate. The arrival of Santa Claus was eagerly awaited, then it was supper, and the adults took to the dance floor. The bigger and more daring children would perform in the corners of the Hall endeavouring to emulate the footwork of our elders. The floor by this stage was covered in sawdust and candle wax which was disastrous for children at anytime, but in new shoes it was like skating on ice. We would slip and slide and fall, knocking into the adults and making general nuisances of ourselves, but that was the way we learnt to dance.

Well despite all the white ants planted by the boys, the school which had originally been shipped from Paynesville, survived. While it was being moved to the present site in 1936 we used the Hall for temporary class rooms, The boys must have had high hopes in deed, of quick and complete destruction, so they had another go at introducing white ants but to no avail. Finally the ‘old school’ made it’s farewell departure so as to make way for a new building in 1962. It ended up as the middle flat in Bruce’s Flats.

From it’s arrival here in 1906 to it’s demolition in 1962, a period of 56 years, the ‘old school’ served the community well and left many happy memories for the children of that era.

Leone Pheeney

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