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

 

 

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