School Days

By Shelagh Rees (U3A Namoi)

School days, well they were just super. 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 to Tebbutt’s General Store where Dad worked. He 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 in pine boxes. Sometimes there were hams in cotton mesh bags hanging from the ceiling. Lunch over I would race back to school to play, but all too often there was not much time left.

After school there was a long walk home. How safe these times were, no worries about strange men lurking g about. I would dawdle my way home, weighed down by my school case filled with books and all other necessities, not forgetting the4 half-eaten apple, squashed and browning in the bottom of the case.

I remember the nuns allocating days foe students to attend morning Mass. In summer this was O.K but in winter it was just awful. Winter mornings I would pull a spencer on over a singlet, then a white blouse and a choking tio. The a pullover on top of the blouse and then the three pleat serge tunic. I’d pull up the black stockings and those wonderfully warm flannelette bloomers with the elastic washed tight over many washes. Mum made those bloomers for me, but thinking back now, it must have been heaven for all concerned when cottontails became available.

I would wrap the serge belt around my waist and thread it through the buckle and pull tight. I felt like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle. Then, grabbing my gloves and navy blue beanie I would high-tail it up the back lane, past Miss Harker’s house, up the main street, past the newsagent’s and Cameron’s chemist shop. Then past Auntie Gert’s bakery, where the hot bread smelt so inviting, around the corner, past the police station and the post office to the church, through the door and fall on to the hard, cold wooden pew just in time for Mass to begin. Oh, and I forgot to say that the frost would be thick on the ground and I always had a cold red nose that would never warm up.

Now as I dwell on those cold, early morning activities all those years ago I am sure the good Lord will remembe3r how I made such an effort to be present at Mass and reward me when I stand before Him some day to be judged. Life certainly wasn’t meant to be easy back then.

In the middle of the 1940’s – war years – we had war drills. A siren would sound and the children would leave the classroom to go into trenches that had been 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. Another drill was when we were told to take off for home either walking or riding bikes. Two local schools participated and there were children scurrying everywhere. Now that I come to think of it if there were any planes coming to bomb our little country town Jill Andrews, Neale Baker and myself pedalling down the main street would have been prime targets. I can’t recall if we had to return to school after this exercise, maybe they gave us the rest of the day off.

Now, about the classroom. Well, it certainly had none of today’s comforts! There was no carpet on the floor, only bare boards and in places the knot holes had fallen out. Most of the holes were left that way, although a few had jam lids tacked over them to keep out the draught. There was no heating in winter and no cooling in summer. The desks had inkwells but at one time there must have been a shortage of paper because we were given slates. However, we each had a desk to ourselves.

The outside of the building was weatherboard. There were a lot of windows, but the lower glass in a lot of them was frosted. I guess it was to stop us being distracted. when we were doing our schoolwork. The school grounds were never mown and the play area was thick with marshmallow weed and clover. Still, we did manage to play a lot of games.

Some afternoons after school we would play rounders on the road outside the school grounds. There was very little traffic and we didn’t often have to move to let a car or truck past. We would all get excited when the army trucks came through the town. Dad told me the soldiers had come all the way down from Queensland. We would stand on the side of the road and wave and the soldiers would throw us their “dog biscuits” and sometimes, if we were lucky, chocolate!