Leaving High School – Hopes for the future

December 14, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, high school, History, Memoir | 9 Comments
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The Leaving Certificate exams were held In November 1965. These were the culmination of twelve years of schooling, and the results would determine much about our future. It was important therefore that we put everything into them we were capable of – at least that’s what I thought.

About October, the school held its end-of-year assembly and prize-giving. I won the senior public speaking prize for my Anzac Day speech -a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of VersePalgrave’s Golden Treasury of Verse. I also won the French Consulate prize for French – I don’t know whether it was just for our school or for the region. That prize was also a book, a history of life in France, La vie Francais a travers les ages. I kept and read both of those books for many years. In late 1989, just before leaving New South Wales for nine years to teach in remote areas of the Northern Territory, I boxed up most of my books so they wouldn’t get damaged and left them with a friend. Soon after that, the friend left the area and I never found him again – nor did I get my thirteen boxes of books back!

Before the exams, we had a week’s break from school for study. We called it StuVac (study vacation). It was our final opportunity to catch up on, go over, pretend, go into a panic, or hopefully understand and expand our knowledge of the topics we hoped would be covered. Most people know the stress that final exams can put onto a student. In those days, any assessments we received during the school year did not contribute to our final result. They meant nothing – the examinations were everything. Some students, not as motivated as others, took the week as if it were an ordinary holiday, or only did a minimum of work. Others, including myself, were determined to do the best we could. Some wanted high grades, whilst others just wanted to pass well enough to get that precious certificate. I set up a study regime for myself and spent many hours every day working to achieve the best grades I could.

Our last day of school before StuVac was ‘muck-up’ day for our cohort of students, a day to let off steam before the intensity of cramming and exams. The principal, Mr Stacey, had made it clear before muck-up day, that there was to be no vandalism, no damage done to any property and that we had to clean up afterwards ourselves. If those rules were broken, he said, our school references would be withheld – references that we needed to impress prospective employers.

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Gangsters at DHS

 

On the day, everyone dressed up in whatever we felt like, and did things like flour- or water-bomb teachers and other students. The science students made and released rotten egg gas – a staple. Dirk, who became my husband forty years later, was in the same year as me. He remembers more of the day than I do and told me more about what went on. One group dressed up as gangsters and their molls and drove around the school in a student’s 1940s car. Some of the boys picked up a teacher’s car – a Mini Minor – and carried it down to the end of the sports field and set it down sideways between the goal posts. They did return it to its place before leaving the school though, I’m glad to say. Some students held an assembly where ‘famous people’ made speeches, including an occasional satirical comment about the teachers. It was all good clean fun.

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‘Famous’ figures of fun

 Examination week came during an early summer season. We wrote them in our school’s assembly hall, which was next to a grove of trees. That year was a great one for cicadas and their strident noise almost made it impossible to hear the moderators give us our instructions. But once I began, all sound seemed to vanish as I concentrated on my exam papers. It’s weird that I don’t remember any of those papers now. The only thing that immediately comes to mind when I think of those days is that almost overwhelming noise of the cicadas.

Nowadays, students in this country who have finished their exams have what has become known as Schoolies’ Week. Many go off for cruises or to popular tourist spots, like the Gold Coast. Most have, after their six years of high school to our five, turned eighteen. They are legal adults, and in many cases the focus of their newly-won freedom seems to be an orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol. When we finished school, we were seventeen, still legally children, even though most kids our age had already been out in the workforce for two years or more.

On the last day of our exams we said goodbye to Dapto High school. Those who already had jobs to go to, started as soon as the exams were finished. Dirk began his on-the-job training at Port Kembla Steelworks as a metallurgist. Valerie and I among others were hoping to go on to further education, and we had our last summer holidays to enjoy. Val and I would occasionally visit each other’s homes and go for walks, where the topic of conversation often turned to our hopes for the future.

Val wanted to be a Maths teacher. As French had been my favourite Parlez-vous francaisesubject, I had decided I would teach languages. When we talked about the exciting possibility of overseas travel, my destination would always be France. I wanted to speak the language properly and see the country I often read about. Val previous results just about guaranteed her a place at university, but that was a prize I had never thought I could reach – nobody in my family had even aspired to those heights. So, although I tried to be optimistic, I didn’t know what the future really held.

Then, in January 1966, I received my hard-earned Leaving Certificate. My results were good enough to earn me the choice of any one of three scholarships to university. After discussing it with my parents, I settled on the Teachers College scholarship that was tenable at university. The nearest one was the University of Sydney, the oldest and most prestigious in Australia. There, six weeks later, I would begin my studies to become a teacher of French and German in the public education system.

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

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High School – loving it

December 7, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Family, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, high school, Memoir | 14 Comments
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For whatever reason, many people look back on their school days with distaste. But I did truly like school and my attendance reflected that. I only missed an occasional day almost every year (except when we were quarantined for the polio) and, in my final two years, my attendance was 100%. When the time came, I actually regretted having to leave school.

It wasn’t the social side I took to so much, as I didn’t have many friends. What I loved was the learning and the rewards I gained from my own efforts. My parents supported me in my studies and as the only one in our extended family to have the opportunity of completing high school, I wanted to make the most of it.

 

 

David,Ernest,Linda.1964-350

Dad never had the chance to go through high school (he went to work at 14), but he supported me. Here I am at home in my summer uniform with him and my little brother in 1964.

 

My sisters and younger brother were much more sociable than me, and had friends right through school. I was self-conscious and I sometimes wonder if it was because of our poverty. Most of my free time was spent at home. We never had the extra money to go out anywhere, or if we did, it was only to church. I didn’t have new clothes very often, and Dad used a cobbler’s last to repair our leather school shoes.

In Fourth Year, I needed a new school bag. Instead of buying one, Dad, always good at making things with whatever he could find, made one for me. He cut up an old leather coat, and stitched it to make the outside with a flap over the top. He then glued plywood inside for the base, front and back, and also glued and riveted two straps around it. The handle consisted of a piece of thick round dowel attached to the straps. At first, I’d usually go to my locker when I’d get to school in the morning and leave in the afternoons, so nobody else would see it. However, once I got used to it, I was really proud of Dad’s ingenuity and skill, and I really loved that bag. It was a symbol that we were different, but in a way that I could accept. I really wish I still had it, or at least a photo of it!

A more realistic interpretation of my feeling of being an outsider was probably because I had many insecurities. I envied the girls who were confident, social and popular, and I felt so different that it was hard to feel accepted by them. I was a tomboy, not into makeup and fancy clothes, and I probably contributed a fair bit to their excluding me by my own attitude. Looking back with a clearer knowledge of humanity, I realise they probably thought I was stuck-up and too good for them.

When our English class put on a play, in spite of feeling excluded, I really wanted to take on one of the roles – even a small one. However, the teacher chose those who were confident and outgoing to play every part. My timidity didn’t allow me to even ask to be involved, not even in the support crew. My only friend, Valerie, didn’t get asked either, but I didn’t even ask if she’d wanted to be. I wonder if I’d been allowed to take part in the play it would have made any difference. Mmmm…

In my final year, I went, together with one of the top boys, Tony, to attend a Lions Club dinner and speak to them about our hopes for the future. I’m not sure, but I think it was because that group had paid my scholarship and Tony must have been the other recipient. I also gave a speech to the school at our Anzac Day ceremony in April 1964 about the importance to Australia of Anzac. Dad helped me write that speech, and I wish I still had a copy of it.

(c) Linda Visman

 

High School P.E. and Sport

November 30, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, high school, History, Memoir | 5 Comments
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Academic subjects weren’t my only focus at school. Sport is a regular part of school in Australia. It is part of the health curriculum, occurs within normal school time, and is for everyone, not just the better athletes. As such, all years and class groups (up to fourth year in my day) participated in a physical education lesson each week.

Girl with vigoro  2In my Catholic primary school, the nuns did the best they could to teach us games and a few skills. I remember playing ball games, and loved a game similar to cricket, but with an odd-shaped bat, called vigoro. However I do not remember the school ever having any sporting interaction, or any other interaction for that matter, with other schools. We also never went swimming – it’s probably pretty obvious why, I suppose.

However, at Dapto High, as well as our weekly forty-minute P.E. lesson, we also had an afternoon of sports – on Thursdays then for us, as well as for most schools in the region. The only time P.E. or sport would be called off was in heavy rain. All kids had to participate unless they had a note from a parent to say why they couldn’t. High schools had boys’ and a girls’ P.E. teacher, and kids were segregated by gender for all sporting activities.

I was reasonably athletic and co-ordinated, though certainly not outstanding, and liked getting outdoors as a change from the classroom. We all hated our girls’ P.E. uniform, though it was much better than our regular school uniform. It was a square-necked, sleeveless plain cotton tunic with no pleats in school colours of maroon (the actual tunic) and gold (two strips of braid near the bottom), with a white shirt under it and a cloth belt that few wore. The tunic came to less than half-way down to the knee, and we wore maroon bloomers under it for decency. Footwear was the ubiquitous white canvas tennis shoe of the times (called a sandshoe) with short white socks.

Girls softball team 1964

P.E. lessons in the cooler months covered track and field or ball game skills. In summer we were expected to go to swimming lessons. In the track events, I was a sprinter and not a stayer. I enjoyed the field activities: long jump, though not so much high jumps; javelin, discus and shot putt. The ball games – captain ball and tunnel ball – were fun.

On sports afternoons, we were allowed to choose one of the activities available. In the winter months these were usually football (rugby league) or basketball (what we then called International Rules) and soccer for the boys, and hockey, basketball or netball for the girls. In summer, the options were cricket, tennis, squash or swimming for the boys, and softball, tennis, squash or swimming for the girls. Athletics was also available for both boys and girls.

I loved hockey and softball so usually chose them. In Australia kids were expected to be capable swimmers by their teens, and students were encouraged to learn and be tested for life-saving medals at various levels. However, I couldn’t swim and had caught my mother’s deeply ingrained fear of the water, so I completely avoided the sport of swimming.

In fourth year at Dapto High, the choice of summer sport for girls was broadened with the addition of cricket as an option. We were a cricket-mad family, and played whenever we could – just ours and Mum’s brother’s family – at the park, the beach, or in the back yard. When England and Australia played a Test match, the radio was on for us to listen to the play. So, when cricket was offered, I jumped in with both feet, even though the teacher who took us was the Economics teacher I didn’t like. That didn’t matter – I could play the game and I loved it.

 We were actually the first high school in our region to allow girls to play cricket in the first summer at the start of 1964. Because we could only play within the school, and there were not a great many girls who took on the game, we were limited in our competition. However, skills grew and, with the start of summer at the end of 1964, a few other schools had had started up girls’ teams. Me and a girl called Isabel were the stars of our team. When our school’s team (with me and Isabel in photos) was featured on the sports pages of our local rag, The Illawarra Daily Mercury, we said we’d play any other girls’ team that would accept the challenge. We couldn’t play the boys, of course. No school accepted that year.

 Mercury picture Linda playing cricket 1964

Team games were my preference, as I had very little chance of doing well against the more actively sports-involved girls. I never made the school softball team, and only once was selected to play hockey in an annual inter-school sports competition with Arthur Phillip High in Parramatta. It was even held at that school the year I was involved, and we were billeted with the families of students there.

In Fourth year, I gained my hockey umpire certificate. I also joined the school hockey team that played in the regional Saturday (not school) hockey competition. I almost always played the centre forward position, which I loved. It sure was a change for me to play with some of the more popular girls of the school – the only time I really interacted with them.

Each summer there was a swimming carnival. I don’t remember ever going to one. Each winter, we had an athletics carnival, where I competed in several different events, but was never placed. One of the features of school sports carnivals was the cheering for the representatives of your ‘house’. When each student started at the school he or she would be assigned to one of four houses on the basis of their last name.

Clive Churchill medal for GFman of match

Clive Churchill, with the medal in his name that is awarded to the man of the match in the Rugby League Grand Final each year.

 

The houses were Bradman, Landy, Konrads and Churchill, named for Australian sporting heroes of the time: Don Bradman (cricket); John Landy (long distance running); John and Illsa Konrad (swimming) and Clive Churchill (rugby league football). Their colours were red, yellow, blue and green. I belonged to Churchill – surnames from S-Z, but I only recall that it was green, not which belonged to which other house.

The houses competed against each other for points, and the champion house was the one whose athletes got the most at the end of the comp. So we had to cheer them on with silly war cries screamed out as loudly as we could.

Altogether, my academic studies and the sport made school both challenging and satisfying. There were a few other aspects that I found a bit more difficult to get into.

 

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

Secondary School (04) D.H.S 1964-65 – The Academic Side

November 16, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 13 Comments
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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.

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

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.

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

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.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

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.

My Leaving Certificate

My Leaving Certificate

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

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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