Tuesday, August 17, 2010


My daughter has just talked about her days at primary school in her blog and it made me begin to think about my own school days.

While we still lived on the farm in Narrikup I did correspondence lessons so was able to write and read a little when we came up to Perth several months before I turned 6.

We were renting two rooms in a very large two-storey house at the top of Wellington Street and my parents decided to send me to the nearby state school. I don't remember much about it but apparently I became ill and the doctor said it was a sort of nervous breakdown (what? at age 5? never!!). He must have been a very wise man 'cos he asked lots of questions about what had happened in the past couple of months. He was told about us having to leave the farm because of mum's poor health and also about me beginning school. He asked lots of questions about that in particular.

As it turns out (and I am sure he was correct in his diagnosis) I had been placed in a Bubs class as I was (under state school jurisdiction) too young to be in Standard One. He came up with the idea that my young mind had rebelled at being taught things I already knew and was causing this "illness" I was displaying.

I have no idea how mum and dad afforded to do so but they enquired at Victoria Square College (now Mercedes College) in Goderich Street near St Mary's Cathedral to see if I could be enrolled to attend their school. I was accepted (although a protestant) and they had 3 stages in the Bubs class so I was in Third Bubs and could go on learning new things.

I loved that school so much and although all but one of my school friends were Catholic it made no difference at all. I loved the nuns that taught us (even one who could be a bit cranky at times) and was devastated when my mother, in her infinite wisom, made me leave at the end of Standard 6 because the school insisted that from the following year ALL students in future would have to take religious instruction. She had been bought up a Baptist and although she didn't attend church, back then she definitely didn't want me to become a Catholic. It was so silly as Shirley (she was the other protestant in the class) and I always sat at the back of the classroom when the lesson was Catechism so of course heard all of it anyway. If after six years I'd given no indication of wanting to become a Roman Catholic what on earth made my mother think it would happen if I partook of those classes.

In Standards 1 and 2 (they used to have combined classes) we had Sister Mary Leila and she was as real sweetheart. Of course back then the nuns wore full habits so you only saw their facea and hands which made it difficult to determine their ages but I think Sister Leila was quite young and wonderful with young children.

In Standards 3 and 4 we were taught by Mother Aliquot, a very tall woman and quite strict but a very good teacher. Like my daughter we did sewing and Mother A always used to say my stitches looked like hen's teeth, whatever that meant. She wasn't over keen on my writing either so although I had very good grades there were obviously some things at which I wasn't completely perfect. We of course used dip in pens with inkwells set in the desks.

It was during those years that we also learned to knit and we used to knit articles to send to our soldiers who were away fighting in World War Two. I actually learned how to turn the heel of a sock which held me in good stead in later years when doing serious knitting. We knitted socks, scarves and I think balaclavas as well and it was a lot of fun. I often wonder what the soldiers thought of our efforts.

In Standard 5 we had Sister Mary Ligouri (not sure of spelling) and she could be quite cranky but also lovable as well. She was older (she had lines on her face) and I was fortunate to be an excellent speller as she would give you a smack on the hand with her little wooden ruler for each spelling you got wrong. One girl (Pat) just couldn't spell and poor thing was always getting little sharp smacks with the ruler for her mistakes. She was a bright girl but just not good at spelling.

Apparently I was a bit of a talker and Sister Liquori was say "you could talk the legs of an iron pot my girl" which I thought quite a strange expression but I knew what she meant and tried to keep quiet. The females in our family do have the gift of the gab so guess it is a genetic thing. I tend to write the same way...sort of gabble on a bit.

The war was hotting up and we had this underground air-raid shelter outside our classroom (I am sure there were others as well scattered around the grounds) and I can remember having air-raid practice. The bell (or siren perhaps) would sound and we'd all have to scamper to the shelter and sit in there for some time to get used to doing so. Although northern parts of our state (and Darwin) were bombed by the Japanese we were fortunate that they never made it south to Perth.

Our Standard 6 teacher was Sister Mary Norbert and she was very young and fresh out from Ireland. She was a very devout Catholic and in fact gave Shirley and me some "holy pictures" which none of the other nuns had ever thought of doing. Mum found mine in my school bag and was furious and I often wonder if this was the beginning of the end for me at Vic Square.

I used to gaze at the buildings which housed the classes for Junior and Leaving students and dream of the day when I would be part of it (we littlies were never allowed in that area) but the bubble burst and the dream was no more. I do feel that had I continued at that school I would have gone on to do my Leaving and even university perhaps. How our lives can be changed so significantly.

The memories of my just over six years at Vic Square are so vivid and so happy too. I attended a reunion a couple of years back and actually met Sister Mary Norbert who had taught me in Standard 6 and yes, she did remember me. Maybe because I was not a catholic but I don't think that was it entirely. Teachers do tend to remember students from year back. She of course by this time would have been in her early 80s and was living in a retirement village but it was still nice to meet up with her and we had a really long and interesting chat.

At the reunion I learned that several of the girls I'd known so well at school had died which was sad but as we are all getting much older it is of course inevitable. I am glad I attended the reunion but the school had changed so much that I barely remembered it which was a pity. As they say "You can go back to the place but not the time" which was the case on that occasion.

My sincere thanks go to those 4 nuns who played such a large part in my life for six years, the formative years. I am sure they taught me a lot that was good and I am glad I attended a Catholic school as I think it made me more tolerant of other's beliefs and faiths. You don't have to all believe exactly the same thing but you can still get on well together and respect other people regardless.

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