My Primary School Years (2)

September 28, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Religion, Schooling | 6 Comments
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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.

Class 5,6 St Pauls 1956

Class 5,6 St Pauls 1956

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.

Junior Class St Pauls 1956

Junior Class St Pauls 1956

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.

Doxie 0604

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

My Primary School Years (1)

September 21, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, History, Memoir, Religion | 7 Comments
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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.

Linda & Pauline in their new macs, ready for school, 1955. Pauline is carrying her school satchel.

Linda & Pauline in their new macs, ready for school, 1955. Pauline is carrying her school satchel.

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.

St Paul's (then St Joseph's) school 1925

St Paul’s (then St Joseph’s) school 1925

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.

Bringing Back the Past

September 13, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Australia | 4 Comments

This is a post I wrote over three years ago about my novel, set in late 1950s Australia.
I mention towards the end that I am writing a second novel. This is taking longer than I expected it to. Also, the characters are different to what I originally envisaged – a follow-up to the first novel.
Instead, the main character is a 14-15 year old girl. The setting is still rural Australia, but a couple of years later – 1960-61. And my aim in writing is also similar to that in my first novel, though with a different theme.

Wangiwriter's Blog

    

  I have been writing a personal journal on and off for a long time – probably about forty years.

When I was a girl, I had one of those little diaries with a clasp and a key, a special gift I received one birthday when my parents had a little extra money. But you can’t write much in a few small lines, and we couldn’t afford more exercise books than we had to get for school. So, during my teens, I didn’t write much at all.

I wrote a little during my twenties and thirties, but my latest stint of journal writing has been a constant for the last ten years or so. It has been a great help in keeping me sane and in helping me sort out what my life is about. Now, it also helps me work out my writing problems.

I had always…

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Accentuate the Positive

September 2, 2015 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Family, Gratitude, Memoir, role model | 7 Comments
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Recently I read a post about inspiration on a writing blog that included the words to the song, Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive. (Music written by Harold Arlen; lyrics by Johnny Mercer; published 1944).

The blog writer said it was Frank Sinatra who sang it, but Bing Crosby actually first sang it in blackface in “Here Come the Waves”, and I distinctly remember Bing singing it with the Andrews Sisters. (Here it is, 1940s). Our whole family loved Bing Crosby, and I think it was because he sang it that I remember it so well from my childhood.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

And latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum

Bring gloom down to the minimum

Have faith or pandemonium’s

Liable to walk upon the scene

I have spoken before about my father and his positive attitude to life. Seeing the words brought back many so memories of Dad. In later life, when he was legally blind, deaf, physically ailing and often lonely (Mum had died many years before), instead of bemoaning his fate, he would sing this song and whoever was there would join in singing with him.

My dad, Ernest Thompson August 2007, aged 86

My dad, Ernest Thompson August 2007, aged 86

Whenever he was asked how he was, he’d say, “Top of the world!”, even if he wasn’t feeling that way. He said that always talking positive would make you feel better and that saying negative things only made you feel bad. So, he would always accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for the things he did have..

He was a great role model for us all, not just family and friends, but everyone he came into contact with. He has been physically gone for over two years now, but he will always be there for me.

Linda Visman

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