by Louise Roach
I was born on August 1st 1951. In this far more advanced age of digital genius, work health and safety protection, wellness, fitness and litigation, life on my catholic primary school playground could not have existed!
I remember my first day at school. I remember looking back to say goodbye to Mum and feeling very brave. I was not crying.
Oh the ritual of the morning milk! Stacked in wooden crates, a bottle for every child. Glistening in the morning sun as we came through the gate! One hundred and one in the shade in summer, howling, gusty arctic blasts in the winter, there they stood! Down the hatches of the kiddies they went before we embarked on the daily voyage of the getting of wisdom!
I loved school. One day in kindergarten, three of us were invited to go behind the blackboard, take a piece of chalk and write the alphabet and numbers up to twenty. We were immediately fast tracked into the next class. It’s called “accelerated progression” now. Sad though I was, I said goodbye to my favourite things in the kindergarten room, the magnificent dolls house and the wonderful, colourful wooden block set.
The playground! From the giant concrete “stink pole” that rose out of the tarred section of the yard, around which we tied the skipping rope “down the Mississippi, if you miss a loop you’re out”, to the recessed low, locked door at the bottom of the building that gave access to the basement out of which, every Monday, the trestle tables for the tuck shop were removed by the trusted sixth class boys, it was a never ending source of fascination.
Mums ran the tuck shop. One day a week only, providing sandwiches in cake tins and bakelite containers from home. Chocolate crackles, cup cakes with hundreds and thousands, and the universal favourite, stick jaw toffees. A challenge to eat without getting long, delicious strings of sticky, wonderful, disgusting, sugar laced globs down the front of your tunic.
Fig trees marked the perimeter of the yard. Daily, the boys would climb them, hang off their branches, swing from tree to tree. Some of the girls did the same, their modesty encased in navy blue Cottontails with tucked in singlets under their serge, box pleated tunics. Others kept a lookout for the “penguin” on duty.
Two netball posts stood on the gravel playground. The court was marked with brooms. It didn’t matter if the lines were not exactly straight. Competition was fierce and many a girl came a cropper, collecting bits of gravel in knees, palms and elbows. I expected the surgeon to find some long-embedded evidence of my netball career during bilateral knee replacement three years ago!
Each day, each classroom bin was emptied into a big brick incinerator at the bottom of the playground. On Fridays one of the nuns set it all on fire. At the end of each year, years six kids carried the oil barrels used as general playground garbage bins, donated by someone’s Dad, to a local quarry. I was lucky enough to do this once, gleefully throwing it over the edge.
It was quite a rite of passage, and there was no supervision. But we were never game enough to do anything to injure ourselves and earn the wrath of the “penguins”!
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