Remember getting to school?

John Castle  

Getting to school these days is fraught with difficulties and dangers. I had it easy in my day.

Born in Whistler Street Manly, when I was six years of age we moved to Clontarf Beach where my father had built a brick and tile cottage near Rocky Point. It was so close to the beach that at high tide you could dive off the front of the lawn into the water.

I was enrolled in the one-room, one-teacher Infants School at Balgowlah Heights, which still stands in the grounds of the now much enlarged school. Getting to school was easy, as it just meant walking from Clontarf Beach up to the top of the Balgowlah Heights Hill, and down again at the end of the day. As I got to know the hill better I was able to work out tracks through the trees, bushes and rocks in order to cut off three bends in the road.

I moved on to  Mosman  Primary School, which required rowing an eight  foot clinker-built , snub-nosed dinghy  across Middle Harbor to the Spit, then catching a tram from the Spit to Spit Junction then a second tram down towards the Zoo, reversing the process on the way home.

From home in the morning I could hear the tram coming  down from Spit Junction to the top of  Parawi  Road. That meant it was time to pick up my school case, run to the dinghy, launch it, row as quickly as I could across  Middle Harbor to Adam’s Boat Shed, which was alongside the wharf near the Swimming  Baths, pull the dinghy up onto the floating pontoon, grab my school case and run out to the tram stop just in time to catch the tram going back up the hill to Spit  Junction.

We bought “two way” tram tickets for one penny and this allowed us to ride on a second tram without paying a second penny. If the weather was fine we could walk from Spit Junction to the school and thereby accumulate tickets with only one small square punched by the conductor on the tram. The tickets were different colours for different days, and if you had a ticket of the correct colour with only one square punched, you could get a ride and slowly accumulate one penny. The conductors were well aware of this and did their best to hide the day’s colour.

When I moved on to North Sydney Boys High getting to school was a little easier. Although it was still necessary to row across Middle Harbor, there was only one tram to catch from the Spit.

Bad weather posed a problem rowing across Middle Harbor, and sometimes I was allowed to get a ride on “Rod’s Ferry” which cost a penny. One day when due to bad weather the ferry was not running, I was tipped over twice in my dinghy and I felt I deserved the day off school but my parents were very firm about my getting an education. I was made to walk around the rocks from Clontarf Beach to the Spit, cross the Spit Bridge and catch the tram.

When I was in second year at Sydney University the family moved to Collaroy Plateau and there was no water to row across. If I had an 8am lecture all I had to do was leave home at 6am, walk down Alexander Street to Collaroy Beach, take the bus into Wynyard, walk down to George Street and catch a tram out to the University. If the tram or bus ran late, the lecture was missed as the lecturer insisted that the doors to the lecture room were locked promptly at 8am.

I am glad I did not have the problems faced by today’s students.