School Days in the 1940s

My school days started at the Central State School, at Townsville in 1943. We all walked to school. Girls wore shoes, but none of the boys did. Few kids had bikes and hardly any parent had a car, or petrol if they did have one, so we walked to school in ones and twos and small groups. Little kids tagging along with big kids. Hats on our heads with distinctive hat bands being the only identification of the school we went to.

School bags on our backs contained our lunch, usually sandwiches, with egg, cheese and lettuce, carrot or peanut paste, wrapped in grease proof paper and placed in a brown paper bag. No plastic in those days. That did not come till much later.

Little children at primary school sat at little wooden desks, two to each, with folding seats that squeaked loudly when we stood up. The back of the seat was the front of the desk behind. We wrote on slates with slate pencils until we got up to grade two or three. A thin, smooth piece of slate with a wooden frame to protect it, about the size of a sheet of A4. The pencils were of a soft grey slate material, and we used to sharpen them by scraping them on a cement wall at little lunch. We cleaned the slates with a damp piece of cloth or old towel, kept in a little tin or bottle with a few drops of Dettol to kill germs.

Teachers wrote with chalk on blackboards that were green, shouted a fair bit, and made us repeat tables and spelling over and over again, until somehow they were satisfied that some of them had soaked through our thick skulls. In fact, time proved that most of them had. Teachers used to say, “Sit up and put your hands behind your backs!” Teacher's word was law, never to be questioned. You did as you were told or suffered the consequences, which might be to stand in the corner and face the wall, or stand outside the room until told to come back in.

A few of those early teachers were never to be forgotten. Our grade II teacher, Miss Poultney, for example, was the only teacher who drove to school. She had a smart, blue, 30's vintage tourer, with a dickie seat at the back, which she used to park in the school ground, under a fig tree. A strict but kind teacher, who used to read to us if our work had been good. I recall her reading 'Hereward the Wake', the story of a Saxon hero rebelling against the Norman invaders in the Fens of East Anglia. Rapt attention from the young boys of the class.

Another memorable teacher was Mr. Jim Parsons, who had a strong opinion of the American influence, spreading into Australian culture even in those days. I remember Mr. P. flying for a boy who made the dreadful mistake of answering, “The White House,” to a question about the name of the Prime Minister's home in Australia. I wonder how many ten year old Aussie kids would know the right answer if asked the same question today.

Other teachers were the kindly Harry Sager and our Scholarship teachers, Sam Dutton and Gordon Sandbeck. Sammy Dutton, (of course we would never call him that. He was always, “Sir!” or “Mr. Dutton”) was a very strict disciplinarian who demanded top results. Boys who failed to achieve at least 8 out of 10 for arithmetic could expect to feel the sting of his cane on both hands. Ouch! The memory lingers yet. There is no doubt in my mind that the threat of getting the cuts was a great incentive for boys to try harder.

The loud ringing of a hand bell meant that it was time for parade. All the kids would rush to get a drink of water or to hang their school bags and hats on the rack outside their schoolroom if they had not already done so. There was much pushing and shoving and there were never enough pegs on the hat racks, which meant that some of the hats and bags would have to lie on the floor, where they might accidentally be kicked or stood on. This overcrowding no doubt led to the old saying, “As full as a State School Hat Rack.” Once we were lined up on parade, the Headmaster would make school announcements, the Australian Flag would be raised while we all stood to attention for the playing of The National Anthem, “God Save The Queen”, and we would all be marched to our respective classrooms for lessons.

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