My Primary School Years (1)

September 21, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, History, Memoir, Religion | 7 Comments
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I had started at St Mary’s Catholic school back in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, after their summer break (August or September) in 1953. I had just turned five years old. My brother and older sister were already there, and we walked the mile or more to and from school together – rain or snow or sunshine. The only thing I remember from then is that the girl sitting next to me had head lice.

After we arrived in Australia in March 1954, the three of us attended St John’s Catholic school in Dapto. My younger sister was about to turn four and would start the following year. Apart from wagging school and getting punished for it, I have only a few vague memories of school.

One memory is of walking from the coal truck that dropped us on the main street up the hill to the school, carrying our home-made cloth school bags. On one of those days, my sister Pauline was stabbed in the leg by the nib of her pen that had poked through the cloth; I think she still has a blue mark where the skin was pierced. After that, we got leather satchels for our school books.

Linda & Pauline in their new macs, ready for school, 1955. Pauline is carrying her school satchel.

Linda & Pauline in their new macs, ready for school, 1955. Pauline is carrying her school satchel.

We moved to Albion Park Rail in 1956 and once again we were sent to the local Catholic school, St Paul’s, in Albion Park. That was about 3-4 miles away, so we caught the school bus. St Paul’s school was in a small, four-room brick building, and was situated on a 3-4 acre block at the western edge of town. It had a large playground that sloped down to the road. To one side of the school building was the weatherboard convent, where the nuns lived.

On the other side of the convent stood the two-storey presbytery, the priest’s house, and the church was after that. Beyond the Catholic church when we attended, was the Church of England, and across the road was the Presbyterian church.

* The area known first as Terry’s Meadows had been settled by the 1830s; and in 1859 the township was officially named Albion Park. There was mixed farming at first, but gradually dairy farming became the largest and most profitable primary in much of the Illawarra district (apart from coal and in the 20th century, steel).

The original Catholic Church, built of weatherboard, was established in 1867, but there was no school until parishioners wrote to Mother Mary MacKillop in 1881, requesting her to staff a new school with her ‘hard working Sisters of St Joseph’. The foundation stone for the convent school was laid in September 1881, and school began early the following year with about forty pupils. For about fifty years, the school was named St Joseph’s, for the Josephite order who taught there. Later, it became St Paul’s.

St Paul's (then St Joseph's) school 1925

St Paul’s (then St Joseph’s) school 1925

Schooling in the early days at St Paul’s consisted of the three Rs; the traditional Reading, Writing and ‘rithmatic, but with an added fourth R – Religion. Religion was what made it different to state schools, drawing Catholics together in a common faith and community.

Many children at that time would walk or ride horses up to four miles each way to school, and that was after having helped with milking and other work before school, and then again after school.

(c) Linda Visman

* Historical material sourced from Daybreak, a history of the Sisters of St Joseph in Albion Park, 1883-1983, a publication to commemorate their centenary, 1983.

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