The teacher turns out to be a larrikin who loves to play outside with us and is averse to teaching lessons of any kind. He has nicknames for the boys, Nitwit, Bombhead, Dimwhit, etc. and loves to tease them. He has a small stick that he has been whittling to a point. He swishes it through the air. “This would shave bacon!”
One morning he says, “Okay, all you mugs, outside and I’ll challenge you all to a game of alleys.” He supervises the preparation of the marbles pad and the drawing of the poison ring in the sand. School requisites are now your lunch and a bag of marbles as we play most of the morning.
One wet Monday morning at the weekly flag raising ceremony, we stand at attention around the flag pole in the rain and salute the flag and recite. “I love God and my country. I honour the King. I salute the flag”, etc. It’s considered too wet today for lessons, which means too wet to play outside, so we clear the desks from the school room and play cricket indoors. King George the fourth, whose picture is still on the wall, cops a blow to the head as it is struck by a ball hit by the teacher.
“Sir”, as we respectfully call him, spends one whole day sitting in the top branches of a tall gum tree, wearing an army camouflage coat and reading a book. We play outside as usual. We know where he is, but don’t let on. Every hour we wander about, avoiding his tree, calling with mournful cries, “Where are you sir?” When it’s time to go home he lets us stew for a bit longer before he climbs out of his tree.
As a city kid coming from a girl’s school, I have never played football and cricket. I inwardly cringe every time we play football as I am the oldest in the school but will be the last one chosen for a team. I am trying hard to fit in.
For me, things take a turn for the better when the news on the grapevine is the inspector will arrive unannounced next week! Karma has caught up with us. A hurried first lesson on decimal fractions for the three older classes turns to disaster. We are told to go to lunch and after the break we will all be caned for being dumb!
Lunch is a silent affair with none of the usual banter. Then Laurie asks, “Bev’ley, have you ever had the cuts?” “No.” They teach me how to relax my left hand while supporting the hand and wrist with my right hand. I get explanations of the motion and force of the stick at different heights and the height that my hand should be held so that I won’t get the full force. The hand should not move. Do the wrong thing and you will get a second one.
We file silently into the classroom and lineup with a supported outstretched hand. When the teacher comes to the older girl at the end of the line he hesitates. Then he sees that I’m smiling and I cop a beauty! My stinging hand is a badge of honour. I have been treated as one of them.
One warm afternoon in a rapidly failing English lesson teacher says, “Okay you mugs! Get out your bikes and meet me down the beach for a game of cricket.” He leads the charge on his motor bike.
Playing on sand today, the rules are full toss of the ball, hit and run. I am always bowled out for a duck and as usual I have been chosen last. Laurie Dixon says incredulously, “Bev’ley’s their leading bat!” This is different, I’m standing in deep sand and they are throwing a cricket ball at my head. I bash it away in self-defense, throw down the bat and run before they can throw another one at me. I clock up a good score and the underdogs win.
Arriving back at school there are draught horses confined behind an electric fence to eat down the excess spring grass. “Beverley, have you ever had an electric shock?” “No, I haven’t” There are delighted shrieks of “Come on then” and “Laurie, grab the wire.” They line up holding hands and I am put on the end to receive the full charge. I am now accepted!
The result of all this non schooling was boarding school in Melbourne, but that year is what I call ‘my gap year’. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.