My mother, in her late 90s in 2013, said one of the saddest sights she ever saw, was the reflection of my glum, close to tears face in the rear vision mirror of their rapidly receding Vauxhall car.
I don’t think I cried myself to sleep that first night, or thereafter, but I can’t remember for sure. And I didn’t resent my parents for depositing me there. I just never really liked the school until my final year, year eleven in 1959.
But I did grow to appreciate, through my seven years there, the privileged education I was getting. The school had been established nearly a century earlier, specifically to educate the sons of Western District farmers. I was certainly one of those and it was that free for all farm life, including driving utes and tractors, I missed from day one.
On that day we were issued with a specially made, dark blue Onkaparinga school rug/blanket and I quickly discovered, although it was summer, it was a vital piece of equipment. That was because our big, east facing dormitory windows, just holes in the walls really, were open to the elements; a canvas blind sometimes kept out the coldest winds. We wore shorts all year round for the first three years and just accepted cold showers, so I don’t think I really felt the cold at that age. Still don’t. And I was never cold in bed and had that rug for many years after I left school.
One of the first scholastic things we did was to complete an intelligence test: they were all the go at that time and for years afterwards. On the basis of those tests, we were allocated to class groups, presumably matched to our supposed levels of mental acuity.
My first class was Latin, a day or two after the term started. But presumably there had been a rethink about my intelligence and I was hauled out of that class minutes after it started. I really resented that insensitive act and still do.
My cohort did not come anywhere near learning a language other than English until year 10. At that time a hugely enterprising teacher, much against the wishes of the headmaster, wangled French lessons for us “dullards”. We embraced those lessons and enjoyed them and I’d like to think the headmaster eventually congratulated our teacher on his initiative.
I grew up from that time too in making friends. Until then nearly all my friends were cousins from nearby farms. Three were at school with me but they were one or two years ahead or behind me and we just didn’t mix because of the age difference. I was desperately shy anyway and it took me another decade before I more or less became a little less introverted.
So it was serendipitous that Donough O’Brien, a boy my age, took me under his wing as it were. He later became a doctor so I suppose there was a caring element in his make up.
He discovered I liked to take photos and he quickly taught me how to take better photos and then develop and print them. I don’t think we had cameras any more exciting than box brownies. But the developing of the films and then printing them was really quite exciting. Twenty odd years later, as a photo journalist, I really enjoyed too, the much more precise challenges of developing and printing colour films.
Donough also taught me how to seriously catch fish. Limeburner’s Bay which was only a 10 minute walk away, seemed under Donough’s tuition, to be chockfull of flathead and small sharks, because I think we always caught one or the other. We pretty much had that part of the bay to ourselves which helped I suppose.
And thanks to the school cooks, we and some of our friends, were able to eat what Donough and I caught. I know at least one of them, as an ex shearers’ cook, would never have cooked fish for shearers. We never had it at home then. Too far from the sea you see!
I know too that we all grew up, puzzled I’d have to say, in our second or third year when a special school assembly was called. There was a message and that was that boys – it was a boys only school - had been seen walking with their arms around the shoulders of their friends and that must cease. No explanation was given and I can’t remember when we discovered, that the inference was that we might have become gay if we persisted. Now like most schools, there are boys, girls, gay kids, transgender kids and everything else at the school. That is fine now but we all needed to really grow up in 1953.