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Life in Tasmanian Primary Schools in the 50's
by Angus

The writer was born at Rosedene Maternity  (Inverness) in 1950, and after spending the first six years of his life in Caol, his family migrated to Tasmania, its new aluminium company recruiting many Scots from Kinlochleven, Inverlochy and Lochaber. In this tale he seeks to recreate a time in which primary school children were seen, but heard at the discretion of the authorities wielding power. A time in which children were taught under the rote system, and a time in which some of the then old guard attempted to rule by fear backed up by such instruments as the cane and T-square. Angus has compiled a number of articles depicting the early years of conversion to the Australian way of life. He has long term connections to the Aberdeenshire district particularly Aberdeen and rural areas up to and including Strichen, Maud and New Deer. His father was the eldest and first of a large family to break the mould, and eleven years after returning from Germany where he had been a P.O.W. for 5 years, he took his young family to the other side of the planet. His mother from age 6 was raised by an aunt and uncle in Stoneywood, Aberdeen, working for Wiggins Teape Papermill for about 15 years. The mill celebrated its bi-centenary in 1970, two hundred years after Captain Cook made his voyage to report on the suitability of New Holland becoming a British Colonial outpost. Feedback is invited, e-mail address


In Grade 6 I was taught by Miss Derry,  a quiet demure sort of woman, that is, until she was crossed. Mary Van der Klught, always on the rebellious side, met her match one day when she swore at Miss Derry who without stopping to tell the rest of us what to do during her absence, dragged a protesting Mary down to the girl's toilet. If only the walls could talk, but we did learn that our teacher was victorious and managed to force some soap into the mouth from whence the obscenities had spurted. However, that was not the end of the matter, as Mary ran home and after a council of war, Mrs. Van d K  decided to deploy her anger in a counter attack . She stormed into our classroom, to avenge her daughter's punishment, but Miss D. managed to force her out into the corridor where a furious row erupted the like of which I had never witnessed in my life before. The headmaster intervened (spoil-sport) and dialogue was transferred out of earshot. When Miss D. returned to class, she was very flushed, but her quiet, "butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" demeanour soon returned and both parties lived to fight another day.

The alternate Grade 6 was taught by Mr. Kerslake, who was the only male teacher at our school, and in line with the pecking order of the day, won the title of Deputy Headmaster. I can still hear the music chosen by him , played over the loudspeakers as we were frog-marched  to class after assembly ( no harm in a wee exaggeration). It was that old naval tune "Anchors - aweigh). The curse of that year was his son, David who for some reason fancied himself as a boxer and shaped up to me aggressively whenever our paths crossed .How I longed to up-end him with an uppercut to the jaw but I resisted the urge as even at that age I realised it was unwise to meddle with people who had connections to the Establishment. I was milk monitor, so there was no way I wished to have the  added burden of emptying the rubbish bins into the school  incinerator thrust upon me. What chance of a fair trial would I have had in Kerslake's Kangaroo Court  ( note the alliteration )? At that time I visualised the heading in the School Newsletter called "The Searchlight". It would read "Son of Scottish Migrants guilty of assaulting Deputy-head's son."

In Grade 5 my world changed again when Miss Dobbie became our replacement teacher . She had a perfect speaking voice which made you hang on every vowel and I worshipped the ground she walked upon. Of course by that time, I was a young man of experience, having worshipped Miss Fountain in Grade 3. When she married Max Triebe, I went down to the church to see her wedding procession and to show her I had accepted her decision. I regret to say that I never found out how they felt about me, as they couldn't divulge their true feelings in the end of term examination reports. I wonder what smouldering passion lay behind those hackneyed remarks, such as "He is a credit to you both" or "Must concentrate on English". The latter did not please Dad at all , and he made a comment to the effect that as an upstanding member of the Caledonian Society he would prefer me to spend more time with the newly arrived Scots families. He did not wish to have a son who spoke with a plum in his mouth.

My infatuation remained  strong after Miss F. had become Mrs.T. and almost caused a rift between my mother and I. Christmas '58 was upon us and as soon as the tearing of wrapping paper to unveil the presents was attended to I gathered up my pile and headed for the home of Mrs.T. who lived nearby to show her what I had received. This was done without wishing my parents "Merry Christmas", totally out of character but testimony to the strength of my devotion.

Grade 4 produced no tugs at the heartstrings , but I was brought back to earth one Tuesday afternoon when we had to line up outside Mrs. Fieldwick's room for Activities. I had heard she was a "bit of an old witch" but I didn't hear her cast a spell as she threw me across a desk, onto my stomach, and proceeded to paddle my backside with a large T-square, in rhythm with the words  "I said no talking and I meant no talking." Graham Rehardt was lucky I had a forgiving nature as the "talking" I was punished for was me reminding him of her warning. That  damn red hair of mine seemed to ensure detection any time I dared to take on Authority. Corporal punishment was alive and well and  although I don't believe it did a lot of harm, it did allow some of the less gifted teaching staff an outlet for their frustration. Somewhere in the good book it tells us there is a time for every purpose under heaven. That generation of teachers had their time and I don't believe some of them could have remained in the profession if the present day discipline code had been in place back then.

All in all, primary school was the best part of my schooldays . A few other experiences which come to mind are the Caning Episode  and the Friday of the Four Tens, both these occurred in Grade 5.

The Caning Episode (Or the day of the 1,000 cuts)
One weekend some of my friends got involved in a rock fight with a recently arrived Indian family, but my attempts to talk them out of it proved fruitlessness  they had just come from the Saturday Matinee at the local Picture Theatre so were all fired up for action. As a redhead I could not blend into the background and in an identikit-parade I was identified as one of the stone throwers. To this day, I don't know why, but I could not protest my innocence. Perhaps I was overawed at being in the Head's office for the first time, or I had lost my power of speech when witnessing Mr. K.M. Mallan  deal with other offenders. I had not seen the cane before let alone heard it, but I saw a steady procession of boys caned that day whilst the Head decided how he would deal with our case. One felt obliged to watch the wristy action of Mr. Mallan, and not flinch in case you gave away the fact that you were quivering inside. Thankfully, he must have tired out his caning action that day and decided that our parents could handle this one as it had occurred outside school times and environs.
Four Tens                                     
Each Friday we were subjected to an extensive test called the four tens. It covered Spelling, Dictation, Mental Arithmetic and Sums. The gaining of a perfect score seemed like an elusive butterfly to me, but one Friday I did the unthinkable and for once in my life I joined in the file to the Head's Office to receive his personal round stamp which read "For Good Work" K.M. Malone to which he added his signature. I was so proud I could have burst and at regular intervals over the weekend, I went to the buffet drawer where my exercise book wrapped in plain brown paper was placed, to ensure that it was reality and that I had not dreamt it. The Head's stamp was not lavish in praise but just to have it on my book was the highlight of that year.

You have been reading another selection from "Tales Of The Early Years" by AA.


My obsession with soft-eating licorice had nothing to do with the flavour or the smell of this item of confectionery. It had everything to do with Allen's enclosing cricket cards picturing Australian and English Test Cricket players in their packets of soft-eating licorice. The licorice was cut into small rectangular pieces and enclosed in a sealed cellophane bag, but the focus of our attention was the all-important card. The cost was ninepence, so on Saturdays if we sacrificed our matinee session at the George Town Picture Theatre we could buy three packets , and have three pence left for an icy-pole or a sherbert. This meant that keeping a low profile was a high priority, as we did not wish to meet or be seen by friends of our mothers lest word got back to our homes and a "please explain" be demanded of us.

I kept my collection in a small "Strepsils" throat lozenges tin , swapping was commonplace and they soon took on a "currency" status. For instance, I had to complete some of my brother's chores to earn the elusive Godfrey Evans ( England's wicketkeeper of that era). The keen competition to collect all thirty-six cards soon developed into a two horse race between Graham Rehardt and yours truly.
This is where John Murphy was in his element , possessing some of the guile and cunning of his father Paddy. He was a handy confidante as he persuaded the woman who ran the kiosk at the Pictures totake the "lucky dip" aspect out of it all by opening packets to allow inspection of cards. This must have saved me a small fortune. As we got closer to the target , I required two cards and Graham four, but he upset my applecart one  afternoon after school by announcing he had the full set. In a disbelieving tone I demanded proof because he certainly didn't pick up any new ones the previous weekend. He proudly announced that he had sent a begging letter to the address on the reverse of the cards. Naturally I followed suit, completed my set and I'll bet pounds to peanuts that unlike me, he still doesn't have them today, forty years down the track.

Scotland is not noted for a wealth of cricketing talent , so it is hard to explain why the sport became such an integral part of my boyhood. We played cricket at every opportunity, during recess, after school and of course most summer weekends. The latter often featured the big challenge, our street versus the rest. We seemed to have too many guns for them, despite even allowing them to bring in imports from the other side of the creek, which in those days cut Franklin street in two as far as vehicular access was concerned. The weekend games were played in a paddock at the bottom end of Davidson Street, and the local rabbit population kept the grass to a reasonable length.

No one had heard of the expression "couch potatoes'' , as we were dedicated outdoor types who all got some exercise even if for the "littlies" that consisted of sprinting home out of a sudden downpour. Early signs of entrepreneurial skills emerged when we devised our own version of " Test Match" long before Sands brought out theirs. Ours was borne out of boredom when rain had forced abondonment of play for yet another day. It was simplicity with emphasis, as the only things required were an egg cup, a dice and pen and paper. The dice falling on 5 signalled a lost wicket, and it was great to see people shaking the egg-cup with tongue protruding out the corner of their lips, as they sought to prevent 5 coming up .. The "big" outdoor events also brought good training in the field of mental arithmetic. Individuals' contributions to their team score were recorded on the score-sheet, usually the unused portion of an exercise book from a previous year of schooling. This was putting into practice the theory we had learnt about the sum total being the total of the sums. I was secretly thankful that my mother insisted on testing our arithmetic over the breakfast table, as I'm sure I saved our team  quite a few runs with a Scottish knack of auditing.

One of the biggest advantages of the pre-television days, was the reliance upon the radio (wireless) for our news and sports results. The pictures painted with thousands of words went a long way in the cultivation of fertile young minds. It was quite common when Test Matches were broadcast from our major cities for me ( in my mind's eye) to walk out to the pitch in the  centre of the ground and face up to each delivery and play shots as described by the commentators. Some of these microphone men were true wordsmiths the like of which we will never see again. They had the ability to hold your attention no matter what the state of play was, and my favourite, B.B.C.'s John Arlott could make a piece of paper blowing across the ground sound interesting.

Cricket is a game steeped in tradition and enough statistics have enabled the computer industry to laugh all the way to the bank.

You have been reading another selection from "Tales Of The Early Years" by Angus (of Tasmania)


In 1957, an Irish family moved in to the house immediately to the left of ours , and the son John, was in my class at school. Mr. Murphy's name was Tom, but he quickly became known to young and old alike as "Paddy". Although many of the adults in the neighbourhood regarded him as a "bit of a rogue", he was extremely popular with all the kids, because in many ways he was like a gang leader, and that made him one of us. He had a moustache, and a head of thick, black, oily hair. His cheeks were always red and if he asked you to join in some activity, whether it was picking mushrooms, checking rabbit traps or just going to the shops, you felt privileged or at least pleased just to be included. This sometimes came at a cost, as I can remember feeling quite uncomfortable, when he asked a shop assistant for the prices of items on high shelves. With her back turned to us, he would with impressive sleight of hand push confectionery into our pockets, while he calmly continued his conversation with the assistant. I felt certain that "we" would be sprung , and worried how I was going to explain to my parents that I was one of Paddy Murphy's associates. As we drove off in his old Ford, he used to say "the polis won't take us alive" and then chuckle to himself about shopkeepers who put stock so far out of reach.

Television sets were a status symbol or at least a barometer of popularity in the early 1960s. If your family had one, you only had to take someone home from a household without,  and your star was sure to rise, at least until the next falling out over one of the key issues of the day, such as who would act as "lookout" while water-bombs were set up in the school's toilet. There was more prestige in being one of the bombers. Needless to say, John Murphy, who was rapidly inheriting his Dad's sense of guile, was in the very thick of any trouble.

We started getting an alteration to our daily dose of entertainment. Instead of radio serials such as  "Dad and Dave", "The Five Find-outers" and "Hop Harrigan", a whole new world was opened up to us when "Father Knows Best", "My Three Sons", and "Leave It To Beaver" brought American accents into some homes every night. My parents were determined that my brother 's education was not to be tainted by the "box", so any decision to bring one into our home was deferred. I managed to get my quota of  T.V. shows in a manner that demonstrated that you could learn some lessons from the Irish. This involved my midweek job delivering the "Tamar Courier" to every home on my round. It was a free paper and despite its humble beginnings people started to look for it. I gave Paddy the royal treatment of delivering his copy to the front door, and invariably I would be invited back for an evening's viewing .
Paddy would have been 41 years of age when he first came into our lives, and perhaps it was fitting that he retained his boyish sense of fun, as he died seven years later. One version of his death was that it was due to a miniscule fragment of schrapnel which he had "copped" during wartime service in the Middle East. This was said to have finally lodged somewhere and created critical damage. Looking back now, I wonder if the flushed cheeks were a sign of untreated hypertension. The former cause of death would probably have been Paddy's choice to be remembered by. I seem to recall some controversy surrounding his funeral. His widow decided to return to the U.K. (she was English)  and would take his ashes with her. Apparently many Catholics could not attend the funeral as cremation was unacceptable to them at that time. (I am unsure of this.)

I felt the loss of Paddy as strongly as if he had been a close relative. I wept uncontrollably when I heard the news.

This is another tale from the early years by Angus.


Have you ever walked around your current  neighbourhood, or do you simply call home the place where you eat, sleep and invite friends to visit from time to time? Have you ever returned to the place you called home in early years only to find that you know few people if any? Of course changes occur, but memories can come flooding back  if you start  thinking about people who came in and out of your life. They may have left  an impression on you for all the right reasons ,or on the other hand you may remember some people for their dependence on alcohol, their heavy-handed treatment of offspring, physical abuse of one partner, or the cavalier manner in which money intended for household expenditure was diverted to a bookmaker because of a tip  received about a certainty running in the fourth at Randwick Racecourse. In 1956 , as immigrants my  family settled into a new life in a new land.
Initially, we were allocated accommodation at a Single Men's Quarters pending the completion of a house at the top of a street of about 38 homes.  One of the lounge windows gave a pleasant view of the Tamar River some two kilometres away. Construction of homes was taking place all around us, and I recall the smell of hardwoods used in the frames of those houses. In fact, sometimes all I have to do is close my eyes and I am back there as a six year old waiting till the workers downed tools for the day and drove off in their utes. No sooner were they out of sight than we clambered up and down in the shell of each house and as work progressed on them, they became more suitable for hide and seek. When the tin roofs went on they were even better as we could stay longer on rainy days.

The soil was sandy and good for nothing, Dad  rotated the spuds/lawn until  lawn finally got a hold. After that, the front of the house was left in lawn as was half the backyard. The other half gave way to spuds, tomatoes (read more about these later) carrots, peas and onions not to mention the area set aside for the fowl-pen. For obvious  reasons, trees were continually cleared, making blocks to be built on. They were bulldozed and set alight, burning for days, whilst giving the outward appearance of just being ashes . As one of my mates found out "where there is ash there may be fire" One of his feet sunk into the ash and he received a nasty burn, but the rest of us learnt a lesson. We should have thanked him for being the guinea pig of our ever increasing "gang". I use that word with no similarity to what it became in later decades.

Another memory is of  the kerbing and guttering being put in place. The street at this stage was not sealed, and connections to a sewerage system were still a future proposition. This meant adjusting our life-style to the outside "dunny". Dad would tell us quite regularly that those who did not concentrate on their schoolwork would end up working on the nightcart. This was the name given to the old lorry, used in the removal of the excrement which amassed in the "can' in the "dunny". One of the early years was almost biblical in the harvest of tomatoes forthcoming from Dad's labours. I tried to find out why this particular season was better than any other. I asked my teacher but she said they were probably planted at  just the right time, after the last frost for the year. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Or your Dad may have stumbled on to a new fertilizer. " Say no more", I thought to myself, "that's why the night-cart driver is in and out of our property, quicker than you can say "Australian made fertilizer." Using the dunny in the dark was another test of your manliness, particularly if a light globe chose your busiest time to expire in. Of course there were times you were plunged into darkness when human forces intervened to enforce the black-out ordered by imaginary authorities  patrolling the streets and bearing an uncanny resemblance to my brother Irvine.


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