by Shelagh Rees (U3A Namoi)
School days, well they were just super, as there were lots of friends, plenty of learning and school sports and special days when I was allowed to purchase lunch. You see, most days I had to run around the street to Tebbuttt’s General Store where Dad worked. Dad would have my lunch ready for me there, he always managed to take his lunch break at 12.30 and eat with me. On hot days we would go down into the cellar where it was cool. The cellar stored round blocks of cheese and the Allowrie butter, packed into pine boxes.Sometimes hams in cotton mesh bags hung from the ceiling. Dad told me this was the best place to keep food cool. Lunch over and it was a race back to school to play, but all too often there was not much time left.
After school finished for the day there was a long walk home. How safe those times were, no worries about strange men lurking about.I would dawdle home, weighed down by my school case filled with books and all other necessities, not forgetting the half-eaten apple, squashed and browning, in the bottom of the case.
I remember the nuns allocating days for the students to attend morning Mass. In the summer this was O.K. but in the winter it was just awful. Winter morhings I would dress by pulling on a spencer over a singlet, then a white bouse and a choking tie. A pullover went over the top of the blouse and then the three-pleated serge tunic. Then I pulled up black stockings and those wonderfully warm flannelette bloomers with tight elastic that had shrunk with many washes. Mum made thiose bloomers for me, thinking back, it must have been heaven for all concerned when cottontails becamee available.
I would wrap the serge belt around my waist and thread it through the buckle and pull it tight. I felt like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle. GrabbInng my gloves and my navy blue beanie I would high-tail it up the back lane, around past Miss Harker’s house, up the main street and past the newsagent’s and Cameron’s chemist shop. I then ran past Auntie Gert’s bakery, where the hot bread smelt so inviting, around the corner, past the police station and post office to the church.Through the door, I’d fall on to the hard cold wooden pew just in time for Mass to begin. And I forgot to say that the frost would be thick on the ground and I always had a cold, glowing red nose that would never warm up.
Now I dwell on those cold early mornings all those years ago and I am sure the good Lord will remember how I made the effort. Hopefully He will reward me when I stand to be judged one day. Life certainly wasn’t meant to be easy way back then.At school during the war years in the 1940’s we had some kind of war-time drill. A siren would sound and all the children would go out of the school rooms and into trenches that were dug in the school grounds. We had to crouch down and move from side to side. I guess we were meant to look like something waving on the ground. Sometimes the drill was to take off for home. Some would walk and some would ride bikes. Two local schools did this and there would be children scurrying everywhere. Now that I come to think of it if any planes were coming to bomb our little country town Jill Andrews, Neal Baker and myself, pedalling flat out down the main street, would have been prime targets. I can’t recall if we had to go back to school after this exercise. Maybe they gave us the rest of the day off.
Now, about that classroom. Well! It was nothing to be compared with today’s comforts. There was no carpet on the floor, only bare boards and in places the wood-knots had fallen out. Most holes were left that way, although a few had jam lids tacked over them to keep out the worst draughts. Not much comfort on cold days. There wasn’t any cooling for sunmmer either. The desks had ink wells and we each had a desk to ourselves, but there must have been a shortage of paper because at one time we were given slates.
The school grounds were never mown and there was marshmallow weed and clover all over the play area. Still, we did manage to play sport and among ourselves. The school building was weatherboard and there were lots of windows, however the lower glass in some windows was frosted so we couldn’t see outt. I guess it was meant to stop us being distracted from our work.
Some afternoons after school we would play rounders on the road outside. There was very little traffic then and we didn’t have to move off the road often, only for an occasional car or thruck. We would all get excited when army trucks drove through town. Dad told me that the soldiers came all the way down from Queensland. We would stand on the side of the road and wave and the soldiers would throw their “dog biscuits” to us and, sometimes, if we were lucky, chocolate!