OFF TO SCHOOL!
The photo below was among my mother’s ‘treasures’ for many years. It was taken by the Tasmanian Advocate nearly 60 years ago. The children are from the Ulverstone Central State School’s kindergarten class of 1956. I am the chirpy looking kid standing up on the far right. It’s just as well I was confident at that age, as on my first day I simply caught the school bus with my siblings.
I wonder if any of my playmates will recognise themselves? And where are they all today? Reading from left; Jennifer Edwards, Rosanne Burke, Jean Temple, Pippa Hunt, Bruce Dolbel, Denise Willis, Gregory Johnson, Dale Dolbey, Craig Martin, Janet Wickham, Brian Burke.
By the way, I seem to be the only child wearing a school uniform. I have a feeling I told Mum that everyone else was wearing one. What a little fibber!
The kindergarten teacher at that time was a wonderful woman called Mrs Harris. In 1956 she was nearing retirement, but her heart was big enough to hold every one of the many children fortunate enough to have known her.
Mrs Harris was like a second mother to us. Every childish upset would be soothed with an understanding word and a warm hug. She gently attended to bedraggled children on wet days, and heated our free school milk on cold winter mornings. This lovely lady even provided my pocket money. Each week I took her a jar of fresh cream from our dairy farm. In return, she gave me a shilling; sixpence for me and sixpence for my sister, Robbie.
On one occasion she made a special trip to buy me a pair of knickers, after I had accidentally dampened my own. This awful incident occurred because I happened to have strayed into the ‘big school’ yard, but tried to make it back to the familiar little ‘Kinder’ toilets when nature called. I still treasure the note Mrs Harris sent home afterwards, in which she described me as; ‘A dear little girl who reminds me very strongly of my own daughter at her age.’
Shamefully, I repaid my teacher’s great kindness by stealing a little blue car from the top of her piano. Afterwards I didn’t know what to do with it, and guiltily threw it into a shrub. I hope her generous spirit will forgive me.
Unaffected by class or creed, Mrs Harris must have been horrified by our snobbish little social codes – no doubt passed down from our older siblings. It was considered beyond the pale to take one’s lunch to school in a paper bag, or to have brown bread sandwiches; particularly if they were filled with plum jam. ‘Only poor kids eat brown bread’ I would tell Mum. She would smile with amusement and say; ‘Well we’re poor!’ I suppose we were, but thanks to her good management and self-sacrifice we were never aware of it.
The 1950’s brought many post-war Dutch migrants to the Ulverstone area. Fascinated by our new classmates; the first ‘foreigners’ we had ever met, we would tell Mum; ‘They don’t just talk Dutch, they talk DOUBLE DUTCH! Mind you, it seemed only a few weeks before they were chattering away in perfect English.
I found the ‘big school’ a bit overwhelming. Instead of our soft kindergarten lawn , the playground was asphalt; littered with bobby pins, metal toe caps and lost hankies. Mrs Harris would collect the handkerchiefs and take them home to be boiled and ironed. Later she would hand them out to runny-nosed children.
At Easter Mrs Harris filled our decorated eggshells with jelly beans, and hid them in the garden. Oh the excitement as we followed coloured strings to find our treasure. The seasons were celebrated in style too; particularly autumn, when we had a party. I famously told my parents that we had seven potato bags of walnuts, one of my earliest examples of poetic license. We made little animals from pears and matchsticks. I still get the urge to do this;
During winter we put on plays. I was once given the role of Red Riding Hood’s mother. I had to fasten up her cloak and say; ‘Hurry off to Grandma’s, don’t tarry in the woods.’ Unfortunately I had no idea how to tie a bow. I started to cry when an assistant teacher suggested that someone more advanced in life skills should replace me. Thankfully, Mrs Harris smiled and said a loose knot would do. Afterwards she taught me how to tie my shoes with double bows.
She joined in our games with an enthusiasm that belied her age, leaping about with abandon. We even staged our own version of the Olympic Games, held that year in Melbourne. Mrs Harris could also produce a rollicking tune on the piano. When she shouted; ‘Join in everyone’, we belted out a discordant orchestral accompaniment on drums, tambourines and triangles.
The school year in Australia ends just before Christmas. Under Mrs Harris’ supervision we made presents for our parents. I remember paste splattered calenders, candles cemented into ice cream cups with plasticine, and cards made with equal quantities of pride and silver glitter. She also taught us Christmas carols, though for some time I mistakenly sang; ‘Sing choirs of angels, sing in eggs sultanas.’ I vaguely connected this line with the plum puddings Mum was busy making at home.
There is always a pang of nostalgia and a degree of envy when I watch children heading off to kindergarten. Ahead of them lies a magical twelve months under the wing of their own ‘Mrs Harris.’
NB…Somewhere between kindergarten and high school I lost a good deal of my self-confidence. It meant that my secondary schooling was far less carefree. If you want to know what I mean, click here.
DO YOU HAVE YOU OWN MEMORIES OF THAT FIRST SCHOOL YEAR? IF SO, PLEASE SHARE IN THE BOX BELOW. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM THOUGH.