52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 50: Gift giving, Secret Santa and Kiva

The topic for Week 50 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday gifts. Describe any memorable Christmas gifts you received as a child. As I was travelling I missed posting on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories on 10th December when the topic was Christmas Gifts: What were your favourite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors? As these topics dovetail neatly I’m going to combine them.

My bride doll Mary on display.

There are two Christmas gifts that stand out from my childhood – the beautiful bride doll I received when I was about seven I think. Then there was the year that I nagged my parents fairly remorselessly for a particular book published by the Readers Digest. It was all about animals and the natural world. Of course I received it and was very thrilled.

A good Christmas is always one with a book in the gift collection. I think most years I got a book of some sort from friends or family, some of which I have to this day despite the many moves of house and home. Within our own family, gifts almost always include good books: some years are more book-focused than others. One year my husband got a whole repertoire of books relevant to his family history: Argyll, Easdale, Lismore. Isn’t it a shame that I also have Argyll ancestry, but to be fair none from the Isles ;-) I’ve put in a request this year for How to write history that people want to read: a friend has lent it to me and it’s full of great tips and strategies. I do hope Santa’s got good links with the online bookstores.

The other gift-of-choice over the years has been music: LPs then CDs. Many is the year that we have almost bought the same book or CD for each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually doubled up…just come close.

One year our family looked at the pile of gifts under the tree and were somewhat dismayed by our indulgence, even though we’ve never been really extravagant with gifts. We decided there and then to simplify our Christmas in terms of expense, time and commercialism. Each family household has a Secret Santa of another household and we limit the price. We can nominate a handful of “things” we’d like, then it’s up to the gift-giving household to do the shopping and selection. We also do a silly secret Santa of low value for each individual. This year I messed up the name draw by putting our street suburb as well as our post office suburb…a neat strategy to get more presents? Well no, as it happens this year our nominated Secret Santa is to be put towards Genealogists for Families Kiva donations, as anyone on the Kiva lists needs a Christmas treat more than we do, and we get to feel good about what we’ve done. However having discovered the name-draw mix-up, the missing household has been sorted out – lucky they were leaving town before Xmas and it came to light before the shops shut! Lucky too that they didn’t want to take the gift away with them!

The littlies of course are exempt from this tradition and continue to get their own presents but not over-the-top. We also encourage them to be involved in making and giving the presents so they understand it’s about sharing and not all about them.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 47: Fall fails to inspire in the tropics

Street scene Boston, Mass

The topic for Week 47 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Fall. What was fall like where and when you grew up? Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

The leaves are turning gold and falling to the ground in the northern hemisphere, the weather is turning chilly and the nights drawing in. Meanwhile in a land Down Under, it can’t even be said to be Spring, as summer is hot on our heels with high temperatures and sunny skies interspersed with summer storms, lighting and thunder.

Having lived all of my life in the tropics or sub-tropics, autumn is a largely a foreign concept to me. Sure, in the sub-tropics some trees do lose their leaves but rarely with the blaze of gold or red that’s seen in our southern states or the northern half of the world. What is more noticeable about autumn in the sub-tropics are the shortening days and the freshness to the air that signals winter is coming. I love the cooler weather of approaching winter in Brisbane (sub-tropical) or the approaching Dry in Darwin (tropical) as it makes me feel energised. Apart from that, autumn is a non-event. Because the seasonal change is so slight there’s relatively little impact on food and I guess the only difference when I was a child might have been that Mum’s pea and ham soup appeared on the menu more often.

Near Portsmouth New Hampshire, USA

One year we decided to travel to New England (USA) in the Fall hoping to do a bit of leaf-peeping. The family had other views and illnesses meant we missed the full glory of the Fall colours by a couple of weeks, but we did really enjoy seeing the floral decorations with twigs and fruit, golden leaves massed on lawns, and the mirrored colours of the pumpkins set out for Halloween…all rather a novelty for us. So since we don’t have any Australian autumn images I’ll include a couple from our 1992 trip to New England.

To see a spectacular Australian autumn image by one of the country’s most talented landscape photographers click here.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 45: High School: I’m a proud All Hallows’ girl

The topic for Week 45 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: High School. Describe your middle and/or high school. Was it a large or small student body? Is the school still in existence today? How has it changed since you went there?

The old, new and not-so-new: buildings at All Hallows' including the heritage building on the right edge and the red-brick building which had state-of-the art facilities in my day, and the concert hall, new in my daughters' days there.

Earlier this year I wrote about my high school, All Hallows’ School, because in 2011 the school has been celebrating its 150th anniversary. At the time I spoke about its critical role in my life and the importance of the teachers who taught me there. Equally important to attending this school, was my mother’s determination in ensuring I was accepted to the school even though my primary school was run by a different order of nuns. At a time when many working class parents either did not believe in educating their daughters to university level, or could not afford it, my father and mother committed themselves to making this possible….without this opportunity I truly believe my life would have been very different.

All Hallows’ is a reasonably large school with a student population of around 1000, which may have changed somewhat in recent years with a significant building program to utilise what is a restricted inner-city location. Inventive building strategies have been required to maximise the opportunities.

The Brisbane city skyline as I finished school: you can see the start of the high-rise construction..

What’s changed since I went there? In my day the teaching staff were almost exclusively nuns and when we passed them we would have to curtsy and say, ever so politely “good morning sister”. These days the teaching staff are mainly lay teachers but I imagine that the students still have to be as courteous.

Our dress code was much more rigid than it is today. In some ways the school has had a more “modern” dress style than many other private schools of the day (aka public schools in the British system). However in my day, wearing stockings, gloves and hat was non-negotiable and failure to do so would generate a severe reprimand. It certainly kept the prefects busy ensuring everyone was dressed to code. And in case any wayward girl shed her gloves or hat on the way home, there’d be bound to be an “old girl” who would happily report the misdemeanour to the Principal! There are even occasions when I’ve felt like doing the same (before overcoming the urge) when their bags etc are scattered around the Brisbane mall on a Friday evening.  They even have scarves to wear these days…how trendy ;-). Eating in public was a major no-no as people would apparently think our parents hadn’t fed us….not so today.

Brisbane's river view from near the school c2001. The area beyond the right of the image is dense with tall office buildings and high rises. The old Customs House stands proud in the shadow of the new Brisbane thanks in large part to the support of The University of Queensland.

We were equally restricted in our social interaction on the way to or from school. It didn’t matter whether the boy on the bus was your brother or the gorgeous creature (usually from Churchie) that you’d had your eye on for ages….there was to be no communication…not even meaningful glances. By the time my daughters went to the same school they had a repertoire of male friends whom they met on public transport to/from school. When they were at All Hallows’ there was a visiting group of Italian students on exchange at the school…the “interpersonal interaction” on the Terrace was enough to make the deceased nuns spin in their graves!

The Story Bridge: part of the school's borrowed landscape as the saying goes. The bridge has always been something of a character in the school's events and dramas including this year's celebrations. Where there was wharves and working areas are now high rise apartments and a hotel.

Another significant difference, too, is that in my time we had both boarders and a primary school stream. There was always a division of sorts between the boarders and day students as we had an independence that their restricted lives precluded. I believe that the primary school has recently been reopened. The primary school strand was closed first and some time after I left it ceased to be a boarding school.

Another major difference is the view from the school up and down the river as you can see in the photos here. Taken from slightly different places near the school you can see how Brisbane has mushroomed.

The school retains its emphasis on academic, sporting and cultural achievement as well as its focus on Mercy ideals and faith-based activities such as retreats or charity and support for the less-advantaged. On Bow Tie Day this year, one class of students collected $15,800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society from Brisbane’s CBD workers and visitors…that’s a pretty impressive contribution! I admit that when did something similar I was really pathetic at doing the collecting…left to my teenaged self they’d probably only have raised $15.80!

Brisbane, the River City c2001 from near the school.

The style of the activities may have changed but I imagine in many ways, it would be perfectly possible for any “old girl” to slot right in. What remains for many are the bonds formed between these teenage girls as they progress through high school and into the wider world, and the knowledge that women can be independent and successful…however each young woman chooses to define it.  I doubt, too, that there’d be many of us who have forgotten the spiritual presence of generations of women that you feel in the school chapel. No wonder it’s been such a success since they opened it as a wedding venue.

If you missed my earlier post , I’d love you to read it in conjunction with this story.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 44: primary school, church, nuns and migrants

The topic for Week 44 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Elementary (Primary) School. Describe your grammar/elementary/primary school (or schools). Were they big or small? Are any of these schools still in existence today? If so, how have they changed since you went there? This is going to end up as a long post, be warned.(I keep thinking of Cat Stevens and the Days of the Old School Yard, cue the music).

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library Negative number: 146812, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

No school bells ring today, there is no sound of children playing or chanting tables. Those who live in the modern townhouses built on a large block on Clyde Road probably have no idea that there ever were bells or children. After all, it is many decades since the old school and church were there: they only know of the 1960s church and presbytery adjacent to the townhouses, and even those are quiet these days.

Only those who attended the little parish school during the fifty odd years of its life can remember that it wasn’t always a sleepy hollow. In fact much that happened there reflected wider social conditions as well as a very particular experience of Catholicism in the pre-Vatican II era.

The official jubilee site tells how the Herston parish of St Joan of Arc was established mid-1920, while Trove reveals more details of its blessing in December 1920. The parish complex of 2 ¼ acres, included Clydesdale, an impressive house built c1890 which was to become a convent, a building for the priest, and a timber building which had been relocated from elsewhere and raised to a second storey building (apparently a former Salvation Army Hall, something I never knew), which was to be used for the church and a hall. The church was blessed by Brisbane’s “building Bishop”, Archbishop Duhig, who made much of the event by declaring all Brisbane’s Catholic churches to be fully occupied…ironic to read these days. Archbishop Duhig was renowned for buying premium plots of land around Brisbane and establishing many new parishes. He also contributed the organ to the new church.

I was surprised when first reading about the hall in the old timber building. To me, it was both church (upstairs) and school (mostly downstairs). While I don’t think of it forming a hall, on reflection the central area downstairs, immediately under the church’s footprint, could be opened up and with the stage (on the ground floor beneath the altar above), it would form a very satisfactory hall. I suppose this is where we held our concerts, though to be truthful I have no memory of the events themselves, only the preparation. The two central areas were surrounded by enclosed verandahs which mostly served as class rooms though downstairs there was a tuckshop and kitchen.

My first communion class from St Joan of Arc school. I don’t usually include photos of people without their permission but this one is so small and so old, and unidentified that I’m going with it.

The Presentation Sisters commenced the school in mid-1924 and for another 44 years it would have a pivotal role for the Catholics in the area. Of course a parish school is very much centred on the church and our lives were inextricably linked to the church’s liturgical seasons. We prepared for First Communion and I distinctly remember the bishop coming to examine us for our Confirmation – I was scared stiff I’d get the answers wrong.

Over the years this parish became responsible for the ministry to the Royal Brisbane Hospital so it was quite common for those who had been hospitalised there before their death, to be buried from our parish. It was the task of the pupils to sing at the funerals which became quite an intriguing responsibility: it became a “bread and butter” event for we school children. Of course the boys would also have the alternate responsibility of serving as altar boys at the funeral. I’m always bemused by people who have never been to a funeral until they’re adults….I lost count of how many I attended as a child and the richness and ceremony of the priest’s words, the incense and the procession of the coffin remain in my memory.

I started primary school aged 5, in prep class, and progressed round the classrooms for the next 9 years until finishing in Grade 8. My first classroom was on one of the verandahs adjacent to the church and I must say I don’t remember my first teacher with any great affection. While occasional nuns were pleasant (and young!) many were what I’ve heard referred to as “industrial strength” nuns. The convent, Clydesdale, was adjacent to the school so the nuns were definitely part of our lives. This convent was, I think, a sort of retirement home by this stage and many of the older nuns came there to live…at least that’s my memory of things. Apart from those who taught at the school, there were others (more than one?) who taught music. My friend, who was a non-Catholic, also went to the convent for her piano lessons.

Oh so demure Confirmation photo.

The school was always a small one, at least in my time. Most classes would have had fewer than twenty pupils and were usually taught as composite classes: eg Grade 7 taught with Grade 8. We used slates in the early days (that hideous scratchy noise) and ultimately pens dipped in the ink wells on our desks. The cane was never too far away for unruly students, especially the boys. Many of the boys left around Grade 6 and went to one of the larger boys’ schools. Only a handful of boys remained in my small Grade 8 class of about 13 students. If the nuns were sometimes cranky who could blame them, wearing those heavy serge habits in the heat of Queensland’s weather.

There was a nearby State School and the bus would go past our school on the way to and from it. Pupils of both schools happily shouted rhyming invective that would not be tolerated these days. At the recent Shamrock in the Bush I was much amused to recognise some of these old ditties while the younger attendees look on bemused, or was that appalled? Fortunately it was uncommon for the rivalry to go beyond the odd slanging match….uncommon but not unknown.

One of my endearing memories of primary school was the huge school and church fetes that were held in the grounds. Really they rivalled the Ekka for excitement. I think nearly everything was hand-made and the fete was just an absolute delight: sponge cakes, toffees, coconut ice, fudge, toffee apples, dolls clothes, dresses. What fun! They seemed so grand and important to me that I’m surprised there’s nary a mention of one on Trove.

St Patrick’s Day concerts were a very big focus: I remember that on the day we would wear little green ribbons with a shamrock badge in the middle..our Irish heritage was proudly flaunted in those days. We’d have to stand on the platforms on the stage while we practiced our songs and hymns, presenting all the old favourites both religious and Irish. For a long time it seemed that if you were Catholic you were Irish but that was soon to change. In fact one of my rare experiences of winning a raffle occurred in primary school when I won a lovely tin filled with home-made confectionery. It was a rare enough event that I still have the tin. :-)

My primary school years overlapped with a significant change in Australia’s cultural life with the massive influx of post-war immigrants. I’ve talked before of how important this influence was in my life. Previously we had mainly Irish nuns, and an Irish priest, and many of us had the Celtic colouring of red hair and freckles or the “black Irish”. But our new school mates looked different and were learning English as their second language, negotiating with their parents or grandparents in another language and trying to navigate all the new experiences, no doubt including vegemite sandwiches, sardine and potato crisp sandwiches on Fridays, not to mention warm milk from the tuckshop daily. However one thing that would have provided continuity for them would have been religion, or at least I assume so. Many, if not most, of the rituals would have been familiar to them, although the Catholic Church in Australia at the time was very Irish-influenced. The Mass was still said in Latin in those days so some part of their religious life was a reprieve from the language barrier challenging them in the outside world. We had absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the horrors many of them must have experienced in the war years or immediately afterwards.

Trove again illustrates day-to-day life: to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, 400 “New Australian” children each planted a tree in nearby Ballymore Park (later to become the Rugby Union headquarters)[i]. This again shows how much a part of the local fabric these new immigrants were becoming. Many of the parents, especially the women, worked in nearby factories like the Mynor cordial factory or the cardboard factory, or much further away at the Golden Circle cannery.

Around the middle of my time at school, and to minister to the significant immigrant population, we acquired new priests from Holland (the Netherlands). One in particular was amazing to us because not only was he staggeringly smart and well read, but he spoke about 8 languages: unprecedented in monolingual working-class Australia.

Students from St Joan of Arc convent give a eurythmic display 1924 ( a bit before my time!). From Trove and The Brisbane Courier 15 December 1924.

And so the school and I moved closer to the Vatican II era and much was changing. The nuns remained for a while but I lost my link with them when I went to high school as it was run by a different order of nuns. I laugh when I think of the day my Grade 9 teacher challenged something I’d done by saying “you went to a Presentation convent didn’t you?” Apparently that could explain all vagaries in my behaviour! No doubt the Presentation nuns thought much the same of Mercy-trained children.

The old timber building is long gone replaced by a modern 1960s church with its simple style and open outlook, a promise of a new Vatican II era. The only remnant of its history is the statue of St Joan of Arc which links the old and new churches. The nuns also left and their rather more grand building was also demolished.

School, convent, and church: memories only for those who lived in those days.

( I can find no photographs online or in my own archives of the original church -something to add to my to-do list).

[i] The Courier Mail 20 May 1953 and The Courier Mail 29 May 1953.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 43: Worst subjects

The topic for Week 43 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Worst School Subject. What was your worst or least favourite subject in school and why?

The first thought that came into my mind with this topic, was “Chemistry”. Imagine my surprise when I went back to look at old report cards that I’d actually got better marks for it through high school than I sometimes did in subjects I liked much better. However in those days it was the results you got in the state-wide end-of-year exams that really counted. These were held at the end of Year 10, called the Junior exam, and Year 12 or matriculation was Senior, and your results determined what you could do in the subsequent years as well as whether you gained a Commonwealth scholarship – critical support for on-going education in working class families. In those days, too, Chemistry was a prerequisite for 1st year science at university where it was my undoing: I guess that’s why it’s stuck in my mind as a least favourite subject.

On my primary school report cards it was drawing and physical education/sport that consistently scored the worst marks. I would have loved to be able to draw but plainly it just isn’t one of my talents. As to sport, well, that’s never reached my high-enthusiasm levels either at school or beyond. Dancing, however, was a different story.

Why were these the worst subjects? I think we love most what we’re good at. These subjects simply didn’t meet that objective. Committed study may get you better marks but you’re never really going to fall in love with that subject.

I was ironically amused by this report card I got in the 7th grade. I’d come 1st in my very small class in a very small school but the comment simply said “good progress”. Those nuns didn’t give much away…you wouldn’t want the kids to get too big-headed.

BTW love my Flip-Pal for these quick scans :-)

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: week 42: favourite school subject(s)

The topic for Week 42 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Favorite School Subject. What was your favorite subject in school and why? Was it also your best subject?

There are times when school seems so long ago and far away. When we’re in school everything about it seems so intense and important which of course it is, with the fundamental knowledge blocks being pivotal. However what’s really important, long-term, is the process of learning to learn. With that acquired we can always move on and learn new subjects and new skills throughout our lives.

My favourite school subjects were different in primary school and high school because in the latter I moved into a science stream. English was probably the common denominator between them both.

So in primary school I really enjoyed social studies/geography because I loved learning about places around the world, their people and their features. My mother was always interested in geography and travel so I guess this may have rubbed off. We also had an influx of post war migrants into our parish school in my early years in primary. They came from many countries in Europe: Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Malta and the Netherlands. At various religious ceremonies they would wear traditional dress which added colour, vibrancy and a sense of the world beyond Brisbane. The opportunity to learn about difference in culture and language was a defining aspect of my childhood.

In secondary school I guess my favourite subject was probably Maths II once I figured out what it was all about..which did take quite a while. On reflection I think what I liked about Maths II was the problem solving aspect: not unlike pursuing a family history puzzle. Of course because it was a subject I liked I was fairly good at it, but never having used it since, I’ve pretty much forgotten all I learned.

Despite my comment about German in my “teachers” post recently, I enjoyed opening the door into another language and it has certainly been a significant benefit in my family history research, despite my very rusty skills. One of my wishes is that I was bilingual in any language: fantasy-land in some ways but possible if I put as much energy into that as I do to family history :-) One can dream!

The observant reader will notice that none of my science subjects feature here, which simply proves I should have been more lateral in my subject choices.

52 weeks of Personal History and Genealogy: Week 41: Teachers to whom I owe a debt of gratitude

The topic for Week 41 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Teachers. Did you have a favourite teacher when you were growing up? What class(es) did this person teach and why did he/she make an impact on your life?

Good teachers really do have a pivotal and formative role in our lives. I’ve been lucky to have three teachers who I feel formed my education and in the longer term, my life.

The first teacher I remember as “top of the pops” was Sister Gemma who taught me in my final year of primary school. She was quite young, as opposed to many of the others I’d had previously, and she was certainly switched on and positive. Her teaching meant a great deal when you consider that in those days we sat a state-wide exam called Scholarship[i]. Depending on how one performed in that exam it was possible to gain a government scholarship for the first two years of high school, an important consideration for a working class family. Thanks to her teaching I gained the scholarship and went into my high school with a sound academic result.

The heritage buildings of my high school in Brisbane.

While my teacher in the first two years of high school was certainly knowledgeable and taught us well she was very old, quite eccentric and didn’t engage us personally. Another teacher who taught physiology was quite different:  young (in nun terms) and very intelligent and a spirited teacher. Again thanks to these two teachers I gained a further scholarship for the final two years of high school.[ii]

However it’s the teachers in my final two years, known as Senior in those days, who were even more pivotal. My class room teacher, SIster Mary Benedict, taught us all our science and maths subjects as well as religion, encouraging us to think for ourselves, challenge ideas and stretch ourselves. She was a ball of energy and intelligence, a wonderful teacher and offered great encouragement, knowing when to issue a challenge to one’s intelligence or academic performance.

My other senior teacher, Sr Mary Borgia, was my German teacher who had something of a problem getting the science class to take this non-science subject all that seriously. We used to think her pronunciations rather over the top but I remember on my first foray into German-speaking countries in Europe realising her accent and pronunciation had been entirely correct.  Her teaching has made it so much easier to follow up my German heritage so I’m very grateful to her for this knowledge, however rusty it now is.  On one visit back to the school she told my mother (rather charitably) what a lovely girl I had been –she’d plainly forgotten the day she’d sent me out of class for doing Maths II problems in German class!

There are often criticisms of nuns as teachers but in my thirteen years at school I had only one or two occasional teachers who were not nuns. Not only were the nuns our teachers, but these complex and sophisticated businesses called schools were also run by nuns who had the foresight to move with the times and provide cutting edge facilities for their pupils: we had language laboratories and science labs that were truly advanced.

Many of the nuns were truly superb teachers, influencing the academic success of their pupils not only at the time but also into the future. The good ones taught us to think, to question, and to understand, not to rote-learn.  They also provided role models of intelligent, capable, working women long before feminism came to the fore despite perhaps not quite intending this outcome. For me the excellent teachers outweighed any poorer teachers and I owe them a great debt of gratitude. So many of my positive life memories come from my high school years.


[i] This refers to standard at Year 5, but the exam was taken at the end of year 8 when I completed it.

[ii] For anyone interested there is some information on education in this timeframe at http://education.qld.gov.au/library/docs/edhistory/assess/assess-01-14.pdf

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: week 39: Least Favourite Food: Smoked cod is yellow and yuk.

The topic for Week 39 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Least Favorite Foods. What was your least favorite food from your childhood? Did your parents make you eat it anyway? Do you still dislike the same food today? How have your tastes changed since your youth?

This was an easy question. Without a doubt my most disliked food was Smoked South African cod compounded in dislike when combined with white sauce. I don’t know why I hated it so, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to practice my dislike. As Catholics in the pre-Vatican II era, we had to abstain from meat every Friday. Consequently that nasty yellow fish would appear on my plate with monotonous regularity, and not liking it was no excuse for not eating it!  As you can readily tell I have not changed my mind about this food despite the passing of decades and I’ve never once eaten it since I left home, and will avoid white sauce whenever possible too.

My current food tastes differ significantly from those of my childhood reflecting the changes to Australian cuisine. I’ve talked about this previously under Week 5, Food.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 40: Trouble and Punishment in the “olden days”

The topic for Week 40 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Trouble. What happened when you got into trouble as a child? What was punishment like in your home?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, but, like the nursery rhyme, when she was bad she was horrid. On one occasion when she was horrid she must have been given a bit of a smack with the razor strop (those heavy leather belt-like items that were used to sharpen old fashioned razors). Not being too fond of being smacked at the best of times, she didn’t like getting the strop so she decided to do away with it. She dug a hole in the dirt under the house and buried it. From that day to this it has never been uncovered and luckily when the carport was put in, the concrete was laid on the other side under the house. Is this a true story or fiction? I’ve often wondered myself: one day I may have to turn archeologist just to find out. But then a negative result would spoil a long-held memory.

This story should not be interpreted to mean that childhood in the “olden days” was a violent experience, because it wasn’t. Really I have very few specific memories of being punished so I guess if/when I was smacked it didn’t have any lasting impact. I do think most children then knew a smack meant parents were serious about an infringement. I think the fact this memory centres on what happened to the strap is important –it’s not the fear of being smacked, or the pain, that’s stuck in the mind but the insubordination of burying the strap….and seemingly getting away with it. Nor can I recall ever getting the strap at another time, so perhaps the story really is just a fairy tale. A more common form of punishment was being in the dog house, something I really didn’t like despite the fact that no physical punishment took place.

Like Cyndi over on the Mountain Genealogist, discipline was neighbourhood-wide so that if a child misbehaved in another person’s house the parents would certainly reprimand you and you’d know full well that your parents would hear about it soon enough.

Household punishment can be seen in the context of the era by looking at school-based punishments. Swipes of the cane were delivered regularly for comparatively minor misdemeanours. “Sixes” (six hits of the cane) were reserved, generally, for the naughtiest child, often a boy…something to be avoided at most costs, though it was always a matter of honour not to show pain or defeat.  I certainly avoided the cane as much as possible and in fact have no recollection of copping it. Flying blackboard dusters and bits of chalk were alternative forms of attention-getting by teachers in those days.

Violent and aggressive punishment, depending on your point of view I suppose, certainly in 21st century terms, but in some ways more honest and quickly recovered from, when not excessive, than covert forms of bullying or alienation by other children or teachers. These behaviours, while always somewhat evident in the playground, seem to run rampant in the modern day life of children.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 38: Hooked on Hobbies: books, shells and photos

The topic for Week 38 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Did you have any hobbies as a child? Which ones?

This little book was my guide when collecting and identifying my shells.

My childhood hobbies depended in part on circumstance. Throughout my life reading and books have been my constant leisure time activity. Life just wouldn’t be the same without books in any form. This topic was my theme for Week 23 in the 52 week series, so I won’t go back down that path. The other lifelong hobby which I’ve enjoyed has been photography – this love affair started with my first camera when I was about 10 and has continued every since: hence all those images I still have to scan.

One of my favourite hobbies was collecting shells but this of course depended on being near the beach, so it was a periodic hobby rather than an everyday one. I was lucky that every few years we would holiday on Magnetic Island, which I’ve already talked about previously. Although quite close to Townsville it also has off-shore reefs and tidal flats where it was possible in those days to see and collect shells. While we stayed at Picnic Bay, the best place for shell hunting and collecting was usually Horseshoe Bay where low tide exposed rocks and reef and shells. Cowrie and olive shells were especially prized for their glorious sheen and colours while the potentially deadly cone shells had to be treated cautiously. Their poison darts had to be carefully avoided so there was definitely a right way to pick them up. Also on the tidal flats were quite a lot of stone fish which are nigh on impossible to detect until your eyes adjust to spotting them. With their poisonous spikes they would inflict a major injury if you were unwary enough to stand on them.

The beautiful book I bought with my shell cataloguing prize money.

Now I cringe at the environmental impact of collecting the shells, but in those days I suppose we didn’t know any better. The smell of decaying molluscs in the sun is an abiding childhood memory. In high school I catalogued a series of shells for a science show and was proud to win a prize though it was pretty tame in comparison with the high-tech scientific experiments which others presented (most of them boys I have to say, also reflecting the era perhaps).Still I got a £7 (today about $160) prize from the competition (thank you the donors Peters Arctic Delicacy Co) and with it I bought a gorgeous book on Shells of the Western Pacific. On my shell wish-list is seeing live paper or pearly nautilus shells “swimming” – they are just so gorgeous.

Some of the lovely shells we looked at this afternoon.

I still have some of the shells I collected (and in a few cases bought) and my grandchildren enjoy seeing them when I unearth them from the cupboard. Perhaps because the shell book was on the table today my eldest grandchild wanted to see the pictures of the shells then look at the real thing so we spread them out and inspected the different varieties….building up memories I hope.