Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 9: Primary School Days

4 x 7UP collage

At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10.
At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10.

When I chose this image for the college, I’d forgotten how extensively I’d written about my primary school in the 52 week series. So I’m going to let you read about the context in that post.

Just lately I was re-reading Hugh Lunn’s book Over the Top with Jim, on growing up in Brisbane. He captures the essence of attending a convent primary school only a few years before me. He even captures the same chants of learning the alphabet: a is like an apple, a says “a”; b is like a bat and ball, b says “buh”.

I don’t have especially fond memories of my primary school where I always felt like a fish out of water. In my first years at school, Australia, and the Catholics in particular, were in an uproar over the risk of the Red Peril coming from the north. Consequently one of the nuns felt she had to tell us (all of five and six years old), what the “Commos” would do to us if they arrived, with details of torture. No doubt it washed over many of the class but with my obsessiveness I took it all on board –and had nightmares for more than a decade after.

This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school.
This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school. If you recognise yourself, why not leave a comment?

At least some of the nuns (all our teachers were nuns) were mediocre and often elderly. When I couldn’t fathom aspects of maths in about Grades 3 or 4, it was my father who helped me to make sense of it so that I had no further problems. It was Dad from whom I got my love of reading, but in retrospect I think he may have been dyslexic and so his spelling and grammar weren’t strong. English and social studies were my mother’s jurisdiction because she was very good at them and she especially loved geography ( I get my travel bug from her).

From my autograph. The unusual spelling of my name has always been a challenge.
From my autograph. The unusual spelling of my name has always been a challenge.

Scattered over the years I had a couple of excellent teachers, especially Sister Gemma who was young and taught our final primary school class, Year 8 or Scholarship. This was a vitally important gateway to high school, especially for working class kids, because not only did you need to pass before you proceeded (I wasn’t worried about that), but if you wanted a government scholarship to assist with fees and expenses, you had to do well in the exam (that was very important!).

My father at a similar age. Unfortunately I can't find one of my mother.
My father at a similar age. Unfortunately I can’t find one of my mother from her school days.

Scholarship, as it was called, involved public exams, set universally for all children across the state. My memory tells me there were three components held in three different sessions: mathematics, English and social studies (history and geography). I distinctly remember going to visit Sr Gemma after the exams to talk to her about the questions that stumped me: one in particular was a “duh” moment as I realised I just hadn’t “translated” it correctly. Sr Gemma was definitely my star teacher in the nine years at primary school.

The delicious irony was that the Scholarship exams were held at the local state (government-run) school among those kids whom we’d loved to taunt (and vice versa!) as their bus went past. It was also the same school which my father had attended years before.

Between Sr Gemma’s excellent teaching, my mother’s many prayers and persistence with the high school, and my study, I got my scholarship and my gateway to the wondrous delights of my Catholic high school with its reputation for excellence.  The next year the government passed legislation to cease the Scholarship exam for various educational reasons. It’s strange to think that mine was the last generation to complete nine years of primary school, including a Prep year (aged 5), and also sit for Scholarship.

Kelvin Grove State School c1930. My father is in the 2nd back row looking rather pugnacious.
Kelvin Grove State School c1930. My father is in the 2nd back row looking rather pugnacious.

For my overseas readers it’s likely that it seems unusual for students to wear uniforms. This has not been a passing fad and the schools which permit the students not to wear uniforms are in the minority even today. There are arguments for and against of course, but I must admit I’m glad that I didn’t have to worry about what to wear every day and it avoided the hazards of economic difference.

Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

7 thoughts on “Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 9: Primary School Days

  1. Students in many Catholic schools in the US would have worn uniforms when I was a child. Students in public schools didn’t wear uniforms. In recent years, children in a few public schools (especially schools in poor neighborhoods in cities) wear uniforms.


  2. Am wondering which of those “pugnacious” lads, in that row, is your dad Pauleen… and guess it may be 3rd from Right? 🙂
    I was SO grateful that, until I got to High School, I didn’t have to wear one of those horrid uniforms like my estranged “Catholic cousins” were required to do 😉 … and therein lies another “family story”.


    1. Well spotted Catherine..he is indeed #3 from right. I actually liked wearing uniforms -would have driven me mad having to think what to wear. Look forward to the family story.


  3. My grandkids wore uniforms at their old schools – one was a church school and one was a public school with a largely African American population. The schools they go to now have dress codes but no uniform. One is just moving back to New Orleans and i think they have uniforms. I think it would have relived my mind to have a uniform in middle school. I never felt my clothes were right. I notice some of the boys in your father’s class were barefoot. I wonder if country kids here went barefoot to school in my parents generation.


    1. I can quite understand about clothes not feeling “right”…I’m sure I’d have been the same. When our kids had uniform free days, to raise money for a charity, there were some girls in designer clothes, some in Target, some in Myer (department store). Uniforms saved all that. I don’t think that being barefoot was probably as much of a big deal here because even though it was an urban school it is also a sub-tropical climate. Some of it might have been weather-driven, some financial constraints and some perhaps parental indifference. I just don’t think in those days it was probably as unusual here and that some children would perhaps have only had one pair of shoes anyway. I know one of my grandfather’s younger brothers who was fostered out after the parents died, supposedly didn’t have shoes until he was 12 or so (he was in the country). Thinking about it too, the country was heading into the Depression around this time so that may account for the lack of money …hadn’t thought of that before. Not a chance, mind you, that Grandma would have let Dad out without shoes as you can see from his other photo. Whew, that was a long response, sorry.


      1. You don’t have to apologize for a long response, I appreciate it. Yes, I can tell by your father’s school photo he never went to school barefoot.


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