When I chose this image for the college, I’d forgotten how extensively I’d written about my primary school in the 52 week series. So I’m going to let you read about the context in that post.
Just lately I was re-reading Hugh Lunn’s book Over the Top with Jim, on growing up in Brisbane. He captures the essence of attending a convent primary school only a few years before me. He even captures the same chants of learning the alphabet: a is like an apple, a says “a”; b is like a bat and ball, b says “buh”.
I don’t have especially fond memories of my primary school where I always felt like a fish out of water. In my first years at school, Australia, and the Catholics in particular, were in an uproar over the risk of the Red Peril coming from the north. Consequently one of the nuns felt she had to tell us (all of five and six years old), what the “Commos” would do to us if they arrived, with details of torture. No doubt it washed over many of the class but with my obsessiveness I took it all on board –and had nightmares for more than a decade after.
At least some of the nuns (all our teachers were nuns) were mediocre and often elderly. When I couldn’t fathom aspects of maths in about Grades 3 or 4, it was my father who helped me to make sense of it so that I had no further problems. It was Dad from whom I got my love of reading, but in retrospect I think he may have been dyslexic and so his spelling and grammar weren’t strong. English and social studies were my mother’s jurisdiction because she was very good at them and she especially loved geography ( I get my travel bug from her).
Scattered over the years I had a couple of excellent teachers, especially Sister Gemma who was young and taught our final primary school class, Year 8 or Scholarship. This was a vitally important gateway to high school, especially for working class kids, because not only did you need to pass before you proceeded (I wasn’t worried about that), but if you wanted a government scholarship to assist with fees and expenses, you had to do well in the exam (that was very important!).
Scholarship, as it was called, involved public exams, set universally for all children across the state. My memory tells me there were three components held in three different sessions: mathematics, English and social studies (history and geography). I distinctly remember going to visit Sr Gemma after the exams to talk to her about the questions that stumped me: one in particular was a “duh” moment as I realised I just hadn’t “translated” it correctly. Sr Gemma was definitely my star teacher in the nine years at primary school.
The delicious irony was that the Scholarship exams were held at the local state (government-run) school among those kids whom we’d loved to taunt (and vice versa!) as their bus went past. It was also the same school which my father had attended years before.
Between Sr Gemma’s excellent teaching, my mother’s many prayers and persistence with the high school, and my study, I got my scholarship and my gateway to the wondrous delights of my Catholic high school with its reputation for excellence. The next year the government passed legislation to cease the Scholarship exam for various educational reasons. It’s strange to think that mine was the last generation to complete nine years of primary school, including a Prep year (aged 5), and also sit for Scholarship.
For my overseas readers it’s likely that it seems unusual for students to wear uniforms. This has not been a passing fad and the schools which permit the students not to wear uniforms are in the minority even today. There are arguments for and against of course, but I must admit I’m glad that I didn’t have to worry about what to wear every day and it avoided the hazards of economic difference.