Tags: Dapto High school, doing Honours subjects, Intermediate Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Mathematics, New South Wales Department of Education, scholarships
Before World War II, the great majority of pupils who went to high school left at age fifteen or after the Intermediate Certificate in Third Year. Those who wanted a trade could then take on apprenticeships. Relatively few went on to matriculation at the Leaving Certificate (Fifth Year), and those who did were mostly from middle and upper rather than working class families, aiming for white collar jobs or to go to university and into professional employment.
However, between 1947 and 1961, with scientific and engineering advancements made during the 1940s, the proportion of the workforce in professional, technical and other white collar functions expanded. At the same time, in Australia, there was an explosion of immigration, mostly from Europe. This meant more students aiming for higher level employment and so going on to do the Leaving Certificate. Even so, at the end of 1963, three-quarters of the students in my cohort at Dapto High left school to find a job or an apprenticeship, leaving only two classes in Fourth Year – 4A & 4B, about sixty students.
After being in 2B and 3B at Dapto High, my Intermediate results put me into 4A. With a scholarship to pay my way for the last two years, I really settled into my work at Dapto High School. I had come to like the place – though not all of the teachers or other students – and I knew by now that my future would depend on my Leaving Certificate results at the end of Fifth Year.
In the last two years, our six subjects were set. Apart from dropping Business Principles, I followed through on the same subjects as the previous years. The teachers we had were of varying abilities and quality. In most cases, Senior classes were allocated to the heads of department or at least to experienced teachers. However that wasn’t always the case.
In 4th Year, I was one of only two girls doing higher level Maths, which was divided into two subjects: Maths I, based essentially on algebra and calculus; and Maths II, which was mainly geometry and trigonometry. Thus, Maths made up one-third of our whole academic course. Valerie, the other girl in my Maths classes, had gone through the first three years in the A class, so I hadn’t got to know her at all before then. We shared other subjects too, and she was studious like myself. She became the first real friend I’d ever had.
In Fourth Year, our Maths teacher was a young woman who had no idea of how to get concepts across to the class. I don’t know how experienced she was, but she also had no control over the boys. Valerie and I were upset that we hardly had any chance of successfully getting through the curriculum. It was so obvious, even to us, how having a poor teacher could result in devastating outcomes. Worse, we would be risking two subjects instead of one. Our results in that year’s exams pointed out the severity of the problem
At the start of our final year, we were extremely relieved to have a new Deputy Principal, Mr McKenzie, who was also Head of the Maths department. He took over the senior Maths I and II classes. We all had to work darned hard that year to catch up previous topics and to cover the new ones for that year. I wasn’t keen on the subject anyway, and many of the concepts I found hard to understand. In spite of my efforts, my half-yearly results that year were 50% and 40% – very discouraging. However, with Mr McKenzie’s help, I managed to almost get A in both subjects in the Leaving. Valerie aced it and went on to become a Maths teacher herself.
Students doing well in a subject were given the option of taking on extra classes to gain an Honours level at the Leaving Cert. I loved English and History, but wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. Valerie took the Honours classes in both of those I think, but I decided not to. However, I was doing well in French– top of the class in the Fourth Year half-yearly, and I also enjoyed Biology in spite of the teacher, so I took on the after-school classes I needed to extend my knowledge to gain the higher level. I was the only student in the school to attempt Honours in those subjects.
As well as the exam for the ordinary subject, Honours students had to do a second, more advanced exam. The Leaving Certificate was the highest level one could go to in a New South Wales high school. The curriculum and exams were uniform across the state, so results could be compared. Thus, a school could look at its overall performance on the basis of its students’ L.C. results, and employers could take on the best they could get.
We’d finished our exams by early December, but then had to wait for the results, which didn’t come out until mid-January. They were published in local newspapers – ours The Illawarra Daily Mercury – so it was rather a tense time. Our Certificates were sent to us later. The local radio station also gave out the names of the students who had the highest results in the region. I was astonished when I was one of just a handful mentioned.
I received an A for English, B for History, Maths I and II, and Second Class Honours for Biology and French. The Maths results, I found later, had been very high B, almost A. My dedication to study and to doing my best had paid off.
The principal, Mr Stacey, wanted his school to get a 100% pass rate in the Leaving Certificate that year. It was such a big thing with him that he actually tried several times during the year to persuade those he saw as the poorer performing students to leave before sitting the exam. I didn’t find out all this until many years later, and I found it hard to credit that a school principal would jeopardise the future of his students in order to get the credit for himself.
When I look at it now, it is an even better result in that every student, including those he’d tried to get rid of, did indeed pass the Leaving Certificate that year – the first time in the history of the school. The school’s Parents and Citizens organisation even put on a dinner dance later to congratulate the students.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Dapto High school, growing up in the 1960s, Intermediate Certificate
Having spent all my life in a religious environment, and all my education in Catholic schools, I was reluctant to go to Dapto Co-educational High school in 1962. The kids who went there were those who had chanted derisory slogans at the Catholic kids when we had to walk past their school. I could also still hear their chant, “Pommy-whackers stink like crackers”, aimed at anyone who came from England.
However, after the Australia Day holiday at the end of January, there was no option but to take the train to Dapto, walk the half-mile from the station to the school, and join my former ‘enemies’ in the classrooms. (Note: the Aussie school year is the calendar year, with summer holidays being six weeks over December and January).
In the academically streamed system then operating, I was assigned to the 2B class instead of the 2A class (I’d been in 1A the previous year at St Mary’s). This was a severe blow to my pride, even though the only reason for the assignment was that I had taken French but not Latin at St Mary’s (strange for a Catholic, I know). At Dapto High, the A classes for Years 1-3 were for those taking both languages; the B class was for those taking only French.
My subjects for the next four years were English (compulsory), Mathematics I and Mathematics II (the top level Maths), Modern History, Biology and French. I also did Business Principles, but dropped it after Third Year. During that first year, I did well enough in all subjects to be in the top five or six in a class of about forty pupils. I think it was my pride that kept me there as much as my ability.
However, I found it difficult to make friends. I found most of the boys to be rowdy and cheeky, and couldn’t understand why anyone would be interested in them. The girls’ constant discussions about boys, clothes and make-up held no attraction for me, so I ignored most of them and concentrated on my work. I did make friends with one girl in my class, Fay, who had also come from England, but we were never close and that faded by the following year.
I loved the History and English teacher, Mr Gordon. He loved his subjects, and enthused many of us. It was through him that I learned how to research and write essays, which became one of my strengths throughout my formal education. English grammar and punctuation was a breeze, thanks to the solid grounding I’d had at St Paul’s. French was another favourite subject at which I did well. I didn’t like Business Principles at all, nor did I like Mr Lynch who taught it. However, I surprised myself, and others, by topping the year in it at the end of the following year (1963).
During that same year, my Maths teacher, Mr Turner, made a comment to me in class that I have never forgotten. In response to something I had said or done in class, he said, “Linda, you have a chip on your shoulder the size of a log cabin!” It took a while for me to come down from my sense of high dudgeon at that, but when I did, I realised the truth of his comment. It was then that the message finally got through to me that I was being a right little sanctimonious prat, and that I needed to change my attitude. I began to accept my situation, the school, the people who were teaching me and those who were my fellow students.
At the end of 1963, at the Intermediate examinations, I did very well. Mr Turner, apparently surprised at how well I’d done in Maths (not my favourite subject), accosted me outside the classroom afterwards. He congratulated me on my results, and the cheeky response from this little grey mouse was, “Didn’t you think I could do it?” He smiled and walked on. I owe that man big time.
On the basis of those Intermediate Certificate results of 1963, I had been fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship to go on for the next two years, the first in my family to have the chance to graduate. If I hadn’t earned that scholarship, I would have had to leave school, as my brother had to three years earlier. Although Dad had managed by now to force his polio-affected body to perform well enough to return to his physically demanding work of concreting, he didn’t earn much. He was unable to pay the cost of my schooling as well as forego the wages I would have brought into the family by going out to work.
From the six or seven classes in our Third Year cohort, only two classes were left to go on to the senior grades. Most of the kids – we were all now aged fifteen, the official school leaving age – had left after the Intermediate exams. They would hopefully find trade apprenticeships or some kind of unskilled work.
Those of us continuing on to the final two years of high school hoped to be accepted into university or Teachers’ College or to at least get some kind of training for a decent profession. We were assigned to go into either the 4A or 4B class for 1964, and I was extremely pleased that I’d earned my way back to the A class. My pride was mollified by this acknowledgement of my ability and of the hard work I’d put in to prove it over the previous two years.
I had also become used to being at a secular school, and was a little more tolerant of others’ beliefs and values. I found that I was actually looking forward to returning to Dapto High once the 1963-4 summer break was over. Although still reserved and insecure, I was determined to make the most of the educational opportunity I had been given.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: belief systems, doctrines, ideologies, martyrdom, race
This may not be strictly memoir, but it is related to issues that writing my memoir articles is throwing up.
After I had written last Monday’s post about the things I learned as a Catholic child. I went through it and added the photos – including one of the Sacred Heart statue that sat in Mum & Dad’s home for 72 years.
The statue made me feel somewhat nostalgic, as did the photos of the holy cards I used. But my overall feeling after having written and thought through those things I learned as a child was a mixture of sadness and anger. Anger at what I was brainwashed into, anger and sadness at both what I lost as a thinking person, and at how my life has been blighted in some ways by the doctrines I believed were true when I was a child.
There were other feelings there too; anxiety and foreboding, but also an awareness and understanding of one of the problems we face in today’s local and international turbulence. Looking back at how we were taught Catholic dogma, kept within the confines of that one religion, and with no comprehension of what the real world was like, certainly makes me much more able to understand now how young people can be brainwashed by authorities into believing pretty well anything.
They are taught, and can come to deeply believe, that theirs is the only, the one true religion. That theirs is the only system that will save them and the world. That all those who don’t believe as they do wish to destroy them. And, therefore, that those ‘others’ must be destroyed before they themselves are destroyed.
The younger and more isolated they are from the outside world and its pluralist nature, the more easily children – and even adults – can be controlled, even to the point where they will freely give up their lives for the cause.
I look at how I believed, as a child, that I would have given my life for my faith if called upon to do so. I’d been taught that martyrs would be automatically granted entry to Heaven. And that is what the teachings of some other radical religious groups are. The fear of dying can be overcome by the intense belief that Heaven, Paradise, whatever it is called, is there, just waiting for you when you give this earthly life for the cause.
I am not doing research here; I am just looking at my own life then and now, reflecting upon it and seeing what could have been had the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s been as militant as it used to be only a few hundred years ago. As militant as some factions are today. And it is not just religious beliefs that can be this way.
What about other belief systems – political parties and governments; belief in racial superiority and inferiority; the ‘them’ and ‘us’ of any situation that human beings find themselves in? Look at what has happened in history – Communism, the Nazis, the KKK, and what is happening today in North Korea and the Middle East, among others.
This polarisation will continue for a long time yet – perhaps for millennia if we survive that long. Because, unless our brains and bodies evolve from the base animal instinct of fighting for survival against any group we perceive to be different, to an instinct that is more co-operative and supportive, I believe we will always see Them and Us.
But evolution takes time. So our species may have killed itself off – along with the rest of the natural world – before we manage to get to that stage of development. I only wish it could be different
Isn’t it interesting how small things, like remembering one’s childhood, can provoke deeper thought – even upon the essence of mankind and our future of the world!
Are these thoughts familiar to you? Do you agree with the deliberate inculcating religious or other beliefs into the minds of young children? Please play nice! J
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Catholic dogma, Catholic education, Fatima, green catechism, guardian angel, heaven and hell, missal, papal infallibility, prayer, purgatory, sin, Virgin Mary
Religion – the Catholic Church – was always an integral part of my daily life until I was in my mid-teens.
As well as Sunday Mass, there was regular Confession, attendance at special rites and rituals, and saying the Rosary – that last one was every evening especially in the bad times. A statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus) always stood in a prominent position. It had been a wedding present to my parents (I think it was from Mum’s parents), and I have it now as part of our family history artefacts.
We all had our missals (Mass books) with the words said by the priest and altar boys in both Latin and English. The congregation did not respond to any of the ritual in the Latin Mass. We also had the Green Catechism, from which we learned by heart the basic dogma of the Church, in the form of questions with answers. Eg, Q.1: “Who made the world? A:”God made the world”.
We were instead taught to accept everything the Church told us as irrefutable Truth. This dogma, well learned and integrated into young lives, was aimed at creating good Catholic children who would do good in the world and eventually carry the word to others. Here are some of the things that I learned and accepted:
- God was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
- The Pope was Christ’s representative on earth and the repository of God’s truth, therefore infallible; the priests & nuns were the teachers of this Truth to their, with the priests (bishops, etc) being the only ones who could forgive sins on God’s behalf.
- We are all born in a state of original sin due to the sin of Adam and Eve.
- Christ died for us, but it was our obligation to live a pure life; we would go to Hell when we died if we weren’t pure or committed a mortal sin that we didn’t confess, or to Purgatory if we had small sins on our soul.
- Satan was always there to tempt you to sin and you had to stay away from ‘occasions of sin’ so you would not be tempted to do wrong.
- We were given a Guardian Angel who we should always ask to help us stay away from sin. It was nice to think a lovely, white-robed angel with big white wings would always be there to help us, but I never felt really protected.
I always had feelings of inadequacy because I was not perfect; I wanted to be like the angels and saints, but thought I must be a bad person because I often sinned by getting impatient or angry or fighting with my siblings or disobeying my parents, etc, etc. I feared Hell but desired Heaven, whilst believing I was not good enough to go to Heaven.
- God’s Word in the Bible was to be interpreted for us by the Pope. We had only short readings from the Gospels and Epistles within the Mass, and were never taught what the Bible actually said apart from that. The Pope was the one from whom the Word of God came down to the people.
- If babies died before being baptised, they would go to Purgatory because they were in a state of original sin.
- Non-Catholic Christians could not enter Heaven because they did not conform to the original teachings of the original Church. I think they went to Purgatory too.
- Those who did not believe in our God had no hope of Heaven and would, instead, spend eternity in Hell.
- If we prayed to the Virgin Mary, she would always help us. She was a powerful ally and would speak to Jesus for us.
- If we said lots of prayers for the souls in Purgatory, and made little sacrifices for them, they would be allowed into Heaven more quickly.
We were constantly told of God’s love, but I at least always lived in fear of committing a sin. I didn’t question, but somehow lived with the inconsistencies of what we were taught. Also, because we were not to question any Catholic teaching, I never learned to question anything.
Our lives were focussed on religion – church, school, praying the Rosary at home, at school & at church, reading the lives of the saints. The only movie I saw until I was in my teens, aside from those on TV, was “The Miracle of Fatima”, based on the appearances of the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917. I wanted to be one of those children, even though they were treated badly by the authorities. I firmly believed the Miracle of the Sun had happened and that Our Lady had truly appeared to those children – and to Bernadette at Lourdes.
Making my first Confession and First Communion were special days that I believed would make me holy. I loved getting holy cards with pictures of Jesus, Mary, the saints, angels, etc. These would be given as rewards for doing well at school, for good behaviour and for doing special, extra things to help the nuns. I felt guilty if I missed Mass, even if I was ill,
Looking back, I have often realised that my Catholic upbringing had both positive and negative aspects. The major positive influence was the inculcation of a moral code together with development of a strongly developed conscience. I do not regret that aspect.
However, my religious learning was mostly based on fear, and what that created (in many others besides me) was a child ridden by guilt who had no ability to question what I was taught. The constant striving for perfection against the forces of evil, and especially the guilt of not achieving what I felt I should, adversely affected me in many ways and for many decades. But that’s another story.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Brown Scapular, Carmelite order, Catholis sacramentals, devotion to Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Mt Carmel, St Simon Stock
When I was writing about Catholic rituals (like Confession, Holy Communion, the Holy Rosary and the Children of Mary), there was another religious sacramental that I overlooked. The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the earliest of several scapulars, is a very old devotion to Mary. It is said to have been instituted by the Blessed Virgin herself in 1251 when she appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite monk.
Our Lady said to St Simon:
“Take this Scapular. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire”.
She also said to him, “Wear it devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you are continually thinking of me, and I in turn, am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.”
This has become known as the “Scapular Promise.” There was also an additional promise, given later to Pope John XXII by the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in purgatory I shall free so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”
This is the “Sabbatine Privilege” of the brown scapular, named for the Jewish Sabbath. This saves the wearer from an extended stay in purgatory. There are certain conditions to be met.
- to obtain the graces and promises, one must be chaste according to their state of life (whether married or single);
- an action must be performed that shows the wearer’s devotion to Our Lady, such as praying the Rosary, reciting the Little Office of Blessed Virgin, or something else the priest may give at the time of investment.
Scapulars were once given only to the monks the Carmelite order. However, in the sixteenth century, the Carmelites began distributing Brown Scapulars to the laity. There is a requirement for its proper investiture during a simple ceremony in which a priest enrolls the wearer in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Once invested, the person wears the scapular as a visible sign of their devotion to Mary.
All of my family were enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular at some stage in our childhood. I don’t remember just when, though it would definitely have been when we attended St Paul’s Primary School. I certainly remember wearing mine then. Mum’d had hers since she was young I think. I don’t know if Dad actually had one. He became Catholic in 1941, when he converted so he could marry Mum.
A scapular, before and during the early Christian era, was simply an apron that protected one’s clothes from dirt. The religious scapular, from when it was first instituted in the thirteenth century, would also have been rather like an apron. I suppose the name has continued on since then. There have been some changes though since then.
When we were young, it consisted of two small pieces of brown woollen cloth with pictures sewn on. These pieces were attached to each other by brown cord, making a kind of necklace. The scapular went over the head, around the neck and (usually) under your clothing. One piece of fabric went to the back, the other to the front.
We weren’t supposed to take the scapular off – after all, we might just happen to die when it was sitting on the bed when we were in the bathtub, or in a bag when we went swimming. If we did die without it, we might go to Hell – or at least spend a long time in Purgatory. Although we believed in the efficacy of the scapular as we’d been taught, we kids didn’t like wearing it. It was ugly, it chafed, it looked silly (to us), and often poked out of our shirt or dress. In summer, when we wore light clothing, it was a real source of embarrassment when that happened among non-Catholics.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary in the form of wearing the scapular still exists in the Catholic Church, as does this traditional scapular. However there is now also a scapular medal, which may be worn as well as or, I’ve heard, even instead of the old cloth one. A medal, like a piece of jewellery, would certainly look better and be more comfortable. You can even get them in sterling silver!
I have no idea when I stopped wearing my brown scapular – probably after I went to a public high school. I don’t know where it went either, and I haven’t even thought about it for many years – about five decades at least, I’d say.
An interesting source of information on the brown scapular can be found here.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: 1961, Albion Park Rail, Dapto, polio, Wollongong
I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I wasn’t particularly happy that I had to leave St Mary’s College in 1961 after the polio epidemic. I was even less happy to be going to Dapto High – our nearest state high school – even though both my brother and sister had earlier attended there for between one or two years.
I hadn’t made any friends at St Mary’s, although I did talk with some of the girls at breaks. I always travelled to and from Wollongong alone as there were no other pupils from my school on the train, and nobody to accompany me on the half mile or so walk to and from the station at Wollongong. However, I hadn’t been unhappy there. I was comfortable with the school and its religious context, the learning style and how I was progressing in class.
The months of not being able to attend school due to the polio epidemic had been unsettling for all of us, and we’d been glad when the restrictions on our movements were lifted. But it had not been in time for school, and Dad was still struggling to get on his feet – literally. It also took a while before Dad was granted a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) pension. For many weeks, we’d had no spare money. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the charity of the church, the police and a few friends, we wouldn’t have had anything at all.
The school holidays of summer 1961-62 meant that my younger sister and I had a lot more to do at home. Our older brother and sister had managed to get work again and were gone all week. Sheelagh and I helped as much as we could, not always with the best grace, to help Mum with the housework. We also had our little brother, three-year-old David to look after and keep occupied when he wasn’t at medical appointments. He had to wear a calliper on his leg to support his polio-affected ankle and foot, though I’m not sure just when he was fitted with that.
Anyway, when the time came to go back to school at the end of January, it had been decided that the only school I could attend was Dapto High. My sister still had a year to go at St Paul’s Primary. I don’t remember any details of being enrolled at Dapto, nor of getting a summer school uniform. I don’t remember catching on the train for the first day at the school. Nor do I remember walking the half a mile or so from the station at Dapto up to the school with a bunch of kids whom I neither knew nor wanted to know.
What I do know was that I was resentful, sulky and as unco-operative as a usually obedient, religious thirteen-year-old could be.
(c) Linda Visman
How good are these photos from various WordPress blogs on the subject of change!?
Originally posted on The Daily Post:
Last week, we enjoyed sifting through your submissions for Kristin Snow’s “Change” photo challenge. From volatile skies to the juxtaposition of old and new, here are our favorite interpretations of the theme:
Freelance photographer Pete Rosos at 2812 Photography set up his camera to take multiple shots of a clock at one-second intervals. He then combined the images in Photoshop to create this fantastic image commenting on our perception of time.
Sarah Longes at Taking One Day at a Time stayed out through a misty night with her husband to capture this eclipse sequence of the super blood moon, in the North Downs, south of London, England. She captured about 90 images, all processed in Adobe RAW converter, then moved them into Photoshop to create the spiral sequence, which she designed after the Fibonacci spiral.
It struck me as I clicked away…
View original 331 more words
Tags: Children's library, Good Samaritan nuns, Illawarra Daily Mercury, St Mary's College, transport, Wollongong
When the summer holidays of (December-January) 1960-61 ended, I began my first year of high school. I was all on my own. Peter had completed his Intermediate Certificate at Dapto High at the end of the previous year and was working in the office at Garnock Engineering in Port Kembla. Pauline was repeating second year at Dapto High, although, when she turned fourteen that March, Mum and Dad got special permission from the Education Department for her to leave school early. She was needed to help the family finances as Dad was having trouble getting work, due to the building industry recession at the time. As soon as she left school, Pauline started work at Crystal’s Clothing Factory in Marshall St Dapto.
Peter had started at the Christian Brothers’ College in Wollongong but had hated it and ran away in first year. He then went to Dapto High. Pauline had stayed an extra year at St Paul’s before going into second year at Dapto High. I was thirteen years old and heading off to St Mary’s College in Wollongong, a Catholic girls’ day and boarding school; I was a day student. Having done so well at St Paul’s, and my parents wanting all of us to go to Catholic schools if possible, I was sent there instead of to Dapto High, even though it was farther away.
I travelled by train to Wollongong, then walked all the way down Crown Street to the school down near the beach. My parents scrounged to get my uniforms. In summer it was a beige uniform dress, belted, with collar and short sleeves. In winter the uniform was a royal blue box-pleated serge tunic with a beige shirt, royal blue jumper/ blazer, beret, gloves. The younger girls wore white socks, but the older girls wore beige stockings. We had to wear our white gloves and royal blue school beret at all times when we were outside the school grounds. We were also not allowed to speak to any boy whilst we were in school uniform. One girl in my class, Lynette, was expelled for doing that. I never did – I didn’t know any boys anyway.
It was difficult to keep clothes clean on the train. They were steam engines then, and the carriages were generally sooty. On a hot day windows were open, resulting in cinders in the eyes and soot on clothing and body. However I loved the sway of the train as it travelled with its rhymic clicketty-clack along the rails. I loved the varnished wood finish of the carriage interiors, especially of those that had compartments. They had sliding doors with half-windows, and four people could sit on each of the two seats that faced each other. Best of all were the black and white photos mounted behind glass with wooden frames above the seats. They depicted well-known landmarks and tourist places, most of which I had never seen. There was Katoomba and the Three Sisters; the Jenolan Caves; Sydney Harbour Bridge; Sydney beaches and other places around the state.
I don’t remember any particular nuns; of course there were no lay teachers at that time. The nuns were of the Good Samaritan order and wore black habits with a white cover on the top of the bodice, unlike the all-brown habits the Sister of St Joseph wore at St Paul’s school. They were strict, I do remember that, but there must have been some fun there too I think. We went to Mass, Benediction and Exposition at the Cathedral, which was just across the street. I often saw Bishop McCabe there, who had confirmed me when I was at St Paul’s.
We didn’t have a playground in the school; there was no space for that. There was just a courtyard within the school buildings. For Physical Education and Sport, we were taken out to the lawns that stretched between the back wall of the school and the street to the east, all the way along the block. Across the street was Wollongong beach, with the Surf Club building that also housed a small kiosk.
I mostly enjoyed my school work. There were new subjects (I even had elocution lessons!) and new ways of behaving; new expectations; new teachers, and a whole new set of classmates. I was in the “A” class, but as a new kid, and to me the older girls seemed very mature. There were no boys, but I soon got used to that. My new subjects included Science, Latin and French, as well as new areas of history that I had never studied before. I loved pre-history – the cave men and their weapons and way of life, and learning about the Australian Aborigines. I had never seen an Aborigine and what I was taught at the school reinforced my ideas that they were a primitive people who still lived in that way – if there were any of them left.
Wollongong Childrens’ Library was on Crown Street, and I used to pass it every day on my way to and from the train. One day, I went in and applied to join. From then on, it was a regular stop on my way home. If I called in, I would catch the later train home, getting into Albion Park Rail at five o’clock instead of half past four. I loved the series of books I found there about the adventures of a boy named Teddy Lester. He went to a boys’ boarding school in England and was a good cricketer, often saving the match at great odds. I was in the library one afternoon when a reporter from the Illawarra Daily Mercury newspaper came in to do a story on the library. I ended up with my photo in the paper as a result.
There were three 15 or 16-week terms then; it was some years later that the four-term year was brought in. We had Term Tests, and our results had to show we were learning and behaving, or our parents would be informed. I have my first term’s report card that shows I was above – in some cases well above – the grade average in seven of the nine subjects I studied. However, Sister Coleman’s comments were only: “Linda is making satisfactory progress. She has attained 19th place in class.” Makes you wonder what you have to do to believe you’re getting somewhere!
That October, when David, then Dad, then Pauline came down with polio, the rest of us were all put in quarantine at home. We couldn’t go to work or to school for at least two weeks after each diagnosis. As they were two weeks apart, we were isolated for six weeks. That took us to the end of the school year, so Sheelagh and I didn’t return at all that year. The following year, with Dad unable to work and money in short supply, I left St Marys and went off to be enrolled at Dapto High School. I can’t say I was happy about the situation.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Catholic schools, education, Primary school
By the 1950s, Albion Park was a prosperous, though still small town surrounded by dairy farms. Coal mines also operated in the mountains west of the town. The population of St Paul’s school numbered about fifty when we arrived there from Dapto in 1956. Sister Mammurtas was Head Sister, with two other nuns also living at the convent and teaching at the school. There were three classrooms that housed composite classes – Infants, Years 3-4 and Years 5-6.
The main thing I remember about my education at St Paul’s was the emphasis on rote learning. Spelling and Maths tables of course, but also the Catechism, Social Studies (mainly History – I remember learning passages about the first explorers), and Poetry, which I loved. We learned our grammar by doing many exercises. I was good at that, so I enjoyed it.
I really do not remember learning any science at all, though we may have. We had sport, but it was basically ball games like tunnel ball and Captain ball, and vigoro, which was something like cricket but played with an odd shaped bat.
I was usually in the top two or three in my class. The main competition was two boys; I don’t even remember the names or faces of any of the girls. I was pretty much a loner right through my childhood, and I suppose none of them really made any impression on me. I was a conformist in behaviour, afraid of doing anything wrong and getting into trouble. So the others probably don’t remember me either.
It appears that even the history book doesn’t remember me. In the fiftieth anniversary booklet for the Sisters of St Joseph in the parish, there were photos of class groups. In one 1956 photo were my elder brother and sister in the senior classes. In another of the same year was my younger sister in the little kids’ classes. There was no photo of the middle classes where I was. Ten years later, there was a photo of my little brother’s first communion class.
I must admit that it was hard to accept that I, as the family historian, was the only one of the family who didn’t appear in a class photograph.
In Catholic schools at the time, when students reached the end of sixth class, they undertook an examination called the Primary Final. This exam, i9f passed, resulted in a certificate that showed whether the pupil was ready for high school – in a Catholic school of course. I am certain that state schools didn’t have such a certificate.
I had hoped to beat the two boys who were my main rivals for top marks, but instead came second or third, I’m not sure which. However, I was the female dux of the school, which was a sop to my juvenile pride.
Mostly as a child, I felt I didn’t have much going for me. I was acutely aware, thanks to the nuns’ teaching and the priest’s preaching from the pulpit, of my sinfulness, and my inability to be as good as I thought I should be. We were poor, so we didn’t have any of the luxuries that some of the more well-off families had. Indeed, there were times when my parents couldn’t pay the nominal amount expected by the school for our attendance. However, school gave me the opportunity to do well at something. It was a way I could gain some recognition of my abilities.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Albion Park, Catholic schools, Sisters of St Joseph, St Paul's school
I had started at St Mary’s Catholic school back in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, after their summer break (August or September) in 1953. I had just turned five years old. My brother and older sister were already there, and we walked the mile or more to and from school together – rain or snow or sunshine. The only thing I remember from then is that the girl sitting next to me had head lice.
After we arrived in Australia in March 1954, the three of us attended St John’s Catholic school in Dapto. My younger sister was about to turn four and would start the following year. Apart from wagging school and getting punished for it, I have only a few vague memories of school.
One memory is of walking from the coal truck that dropped us on the main street up the hill to the school, carrying our home-made cloth school bags. On one of those days, my sister Pauline was stabbed in the leg by the nib of her pen that had poked through the cloth; I think she still has a blue mark where the skin was pierced. After that, we got leather satchels for our school books.
We moved to Albion Park Rail in 1956 and once again we were sent to the local Catholic school, St Paul’s, in Albion Park. That was about 3-4 miles away, so we caught the school bus. St Paul’s school was in a small, four-room brick building, and was situated on a 3-4 acre block at the western edge of town. It had a large playground that sloped down to the road. To one side of the school building was the weatherboard convent, where the nuns lived.
On the other side of the convent stood the two-storey presbytery, the priest’s house, and the church was after that. Beyond the Catholic church when we attended, was the Church of England, and across the road was the Presbyterian church.
* The area known first as Terry’s Meadows had been settled by the 1830s; and in 1859 the township was officially named Albion Park. There was mixed farming at first, but gradually dairy farming became the largest and most profitable primary in much of the Illawarra district (apart from coal and in the 20th century, steel).
The original Catholic Church, built of weatherboard, was established in 1867, but there was no school until parishioners wrote to Mother Mary MacKillop in 1881, requesting her to staff a new school with her ‘hard working Sisters of St Joseph’. The foundation stone for the convent school was laid in September 1881, and school began early the following year with about forty pupils. For about fifty years, the school was named St Joseph’s, for the Josephite order who taught there. Later, it became St Paul’s.
Schooling in the early days at St Paul’s consisted of the three Rs; the traditional Reading, Writing and ‘rithmatic, but with an added fourth R – Religion. Religion was what made it different to state schools, drawing Catholics together in a common faith and community.
Many children at that time would walk or ride horses up to four miles each way to school, and that was after having helped with milking and other work before school, and then again after school.
(c) Linda Visman
* Historical material sourced from Daybreak, a history of the Sisters of St Joseph in Albion Park, 1883-1983, a publication to commemorate their centenary, 1983.