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

Share Your World – 2014 Week 40

October 7, 2014 at 12:11 am | Posted in Australia, Culture, Family, Gardens, Nature, Reading, Writing | 12 Comments
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Share Your World blog badge

Every week, Cee, at Share Your World, posts a few questions for us to answer. This is a great way of getting to know others, and to let others know about our own world. Here are my answers to Cee’s latest Share Your World Questions.

You’re given $500,000 dollars tax free (any currency), what do you spend it on? 

I would give each of our eight children $50,000 to reduce their mortgages or, for one, to buy his own place at last. The rest I would use to pay off our own mortgage and to pay for us to visit the countries of our birth for the first time since we left them over 60 years ago.

What’s the finest education?

I must say that, of all the formal education I have received – primary (elementary) and high school, Teachers’ College diploma, a university degree and graduate diploma – nothing can compare to the education I have received from life itself. To be open to what is around you, to observe and learn to understand the world, its people and yourself grants you an education that is second to none.

What kind of art is your favorite? Why?

Although many people will say it is not an art, my favourite is writing. I have always loved reading. I love the worlds and the characters and the situations that are created by writers, and I have become one of them myself.

I believe that those who cannot be impressed by how words can be put together in artistic, creative and meaningful ways to create works of wonder and beauty – and even horror and violence – are missing a piece of what it means to be human.

Is there something that you memorized long ago and still remember?

When I was in primary school, I learned a poem that expresses much of what our country (Australia) is. That poem is “My Country” by Dorothea McKellar (1885-1968) when she was in England, and homesick for her own country. It was first published in 1908. It compares the softness of the English countryside with the starkness of the Australian. I love the poem, as I have seen so much of what it expresses.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Through the last week, I spent quite a bit of time in the garden. It is spring here in Australia, and there are so many plants and trees blooming that there is a riot of colour all around us. The blossoms also bring the birdlife, and I enjoy listening to them warble, twitter and even shriek through the trees that surround us.

In the week ahead, I will be spending plenty of hours with my writing group, being stimulated in my word-production, helping others with their writing, and hopefully letting non-members know what we can do to assist them if they want to write.

J is for Josephites

April 11, 2014 at 11:17 am | Posted in Australia, Family History, History, Religion, Society, Ways of Living | 6 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]


Sisters of SJ logo

In early 1956, Dad bought land by the shore of Lake Illawarra and moved our caravan there. By then we’d been living in the van for almost two years.

The four of us kids left St John’s Catholic school which we’d attended in Dapto to go to St Paul’s in Albion Park. Both schools were run by the Sisters of St Joseph – nicknamed the “Brown Joeys” because they wore a brown, rather than a black habit.

sisters of st Joseph

The Sisters of St Joseph had established St Paul’s Catholic Primary School in 1882 to serve the needs of the Albion Park Catholic community. Initially known as St Joseph’s, the single building school commenced with three sisters and fifty students. In 1940 the school assumed the name of the parish patron, St Paul.


St Paul’s Catholic School as it was in the 1950s.

St Paul’s Catholic School as it was in the 1950s.


When we attended there were still only three classrooms and three sisters teaching there. They lived in the convent house next to the school grounds.

The order of the Sisters of St Joseph was started by a woman who was officially canonised as Australia’s first saint in 2010. She was Mother Mary MacKillop, now known as St Mary of the Cross.

Mary Helen MacKillop, born in 1842 in Melbourne, was the first of eight children to Catholics Alexander and Flora MacKillop, who had migrated to Australia from Scotland. The family was poor but the children were all well educated by their father.


Young Mary MacKillop

Young Mary MacKillop


Mary worked hard to help the family and at age eighteen, went to Penola as governess to her aunt and uncle’s children, and also taught other local children.

In 1966, with help from Father Woods, her spiritual advisor, she set up a school in an old stable. Her sisters, Anne and Lexie taught with her. Later that year, Mary and Lexie dressed as religious postulants, their way of showing their dedication to God and to the education of poor Catholic children.

Mary McKillop

Mother Mary MacKillop


In 1867, Mary became the first sister, Mary of the Cross, and Mother Superior of a new order of nuns, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The order embraced poverty and their focus was to teach the poor and those in remote areas of Australia. The order grew to become one of the largest in Australia.

The Head Sister when I was at St Paul’s school was Sr Mammertus. She was very strict, and most children – and even parents – were afraid of her. My favourite nun was Sr Therese, who was young and considerate, quite different to the others. There were only three rooms in the school building, so all classes were multigrade.

Class 4,5,6 St Pauls 1956

My brother and sister are in this group of pupils at St Paul’s.


I don’t know if it was any harder being taught by the sisters, but the kids at St Paul’s, which has grown enormously, are now taught by lay teachers. With the turn away from religion by many, the religious life no longer holds the attraction it once did, and there are not many nuns now. Even where they do exist, most no longer wear the hot, drab and bulky habits of their predecessors.

What has been your experience of religious nuns? Do you remember the (almost) light-hearted animosity between children at Catholic and non-Catholic schools?


© Linda Visman 11.04.2014 (566 words)

Writing Skills are Necessary

September 27, 2011 at 3:06 am | Posted in Writing | 2 Comments
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Here is part of an interview I gave last week. The question was:

Do you have any advice for new authors?

This was my reply. I have added a little more to it as well.

One of the things I would say to new authors is “follow your dream”. However – and this is where the former teacher comes out – you cannot follow that dream without the skills and tools you need to do it well.

There are too many self-published writers out there who do not have a real grasp of even the most basic writing skills – grammar, punctuation and, often, vocabulary.

Writers also need to be able to tell a story in a way that can be understood by the reader. It is no good putting in lots of action, or having unusual characters and/or setting, when your story does not flow, where the reader wonders what is going on, who is who, or why events are occurring.

You want to put the reader into the story, so you must make it logical and believable within its context. This may be contemporary, historical, fantasy, alternate, whatever.

So, if you need to write, want to write, and have a story to tell, then learn the skills that will help you to tell that story to the best of your ability.

It is hard enough to get your work out into the world when it is well-written, and when it has appropriate and realistic setting, context, characters action and story. Most discerning readers will put aside a poorly written novel in favour of a well-written one.

You can always write for yourself, and then the skills don’t matter. But, if you want to write for others, you must master the skills of writing. To be a writer is hard work. It doesn’t just happen.

These days, getting out there is extremely difficult, even if you have a perfect story, perfectly written. You cannot submit your writing to a publisher or an agent and expect them to fix up the grammar, the punctuation, the spelling, and the problems in the storyline. You have to get that right first yourself.

I suggest that you get yourself a book that will teach you about sentences, about grammar, and about setting out your dialogue. These basic skills that are not often taught in school any more, and that is a serious omission from the curriculum. If you can’t write well, you cannot communicate the exact thoughts that you wish to. So, if you want to write well, you will have to teach yourself how to do it.

© Linda Visman


Looking at Photos

March 5, 2010 at 5:18 am | Posted in Society | 1 Comment
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It’s an amazing world, when a T-shirt allows the U.S. Dallas Cowboys  to intersect with indigenous kids in a remote community in Central Australia. It’s great that, by looking at my photo album these kids can also connect with another culture within their own country. But it also highlights the differences between what we see as ‘normal’ western living and life in the real bush.

It is November, 1991. In my photos, the kids see my British-Australian family, who live well over a thousand kilometres away, in homes quite unlike the tin-shed shacks or brush-and-tarp shelters they live in. My five sons pose before backgrounds of sea or mountains, clear creeks and dense, tall bushland, so very different to their flat country of red sand, spinifex, wattle and mulga. My children engage in activities that these youngsters may never have a chance to even know about.

The five girls are in my Education Department supplied caravan, which sits with two others behind to the school grounds at one end of the community. In my van, I have a couch, table and chairs, an electric frypan, a washing machine, a refrigerator, a television, even a fizzy drink maker; in fact pretty well all the ‘necessities’ of modern life. I do not have a telephone though –the school office has one, but a phone service only became available there four months previously.

The girls’ families have none of these common conveniences in their homes, not even a TV. They do not have electricity – or showers either. The kids shower at school, before class. After their shower, they change into school uniforms, and the cleaner washes their clothes in the school washing machine. At the end of the school day, the kids change back into their own, clean clothes. The teachers wash the uniforms, ready for the next day. The girls in the photo came to visit me after school, and are wearing those clean clothes.

Things have improved there in the last eighteen years. They now have power and television, satellite dishes and telephones, though no mobile phone service. They have greater access to vehicles and a well-stocked store with petrol bowsers – no more having to travel to the cattle station to stock up on basic rations. They have council offices and work sheds – but very little work. The school buildings have been upgraded, but the level of service is still dependent on the individual teachers who go there. Education is still not highly valued, because there is no incentive to learn.

I look at this photo and remember the hard work and the joys, the despair and the hope, the struggles and the achievements. Mostly though, I remember the kids – their brightness and their smiles, their openness and their enthusiasm, and their trust. I think of the things they didn’t have – those I have already listed, but also no grog and no petrol sniffing.

 When I think of the things they did have – an open-air lifestyle; bush tucker to supplement the basic foodstuff they could buy; a joy in simple things, like making a toy from a piece of wire and a tin can; their traditional family and social structures and ceremonial life – and I think that, in many ways, they had it better then.

© Linda Visman, March 5, 2010

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