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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