Secondary School (03) – Dapto High 1962-63

November 9, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, high school, Memoir | 8 Comments
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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.

Dapto High school badge. The motto means "Strive for higher things".

Dapto High school badge. The motto means “Strive for higher things”.

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.

chip on shoulder - wood on top

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.

My half year report for 1963

My half year report for 1963

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

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8 Comments »

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  1. Well done for avoiding Latin – a wise choice! By ‘eck you were ‘pleasing’!

    • OK Frederick, two people have mentioned my being ‘pleasing’! I only wrote the word once – was I TOO pleasing???

      • It’s on your school report! Nearly every subject – the tutor’s comments feature the word ‘pleasing’! I don’t know what you were doing, but it obviously gave them pleasure!

      • Funny how that didn’t sink in for me! Thanks, Frederick now I know how pleasing I was. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your reflection from the past. I like the one about the teacher saying you had a chip on your shoulder. Sounds like you owe him big time. I didn’t know you weren’t good at math. I always assumed you were.

    • Hi Paul, I’m glad to see you here. 🙂
      I was okay at Maths, it just wasn’t a subject I liked a lot. There will be a little more about Maths in the next episode. 🙂

  3. So much of what we get out of an education is based on what we put into it. For whatever reason, Linda, you were driven. It sounds like you have some great teachers too. Mr. Turner knew the exact words to propel you forward. I thoroughly enjoy your posts 🙂

  4. You seem to have demonstrated your ability in all subjects, Linda 🙂


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