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.

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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

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