Recollections of Mosman Public School

Posted by
Richard M. Pieremont
Military Road

I started school at Mosman Infants in Gouldsbury Street at the beginning of the first term of 1946. I remember a kindergarten teacher by the name of Mrs. Brewer, a kind lady, who to me always seemed to wear the same green cardigan every day. There was also a Mrs. McKell and in a later year, a Miss Hunter. Miss Hunter read stories to us from May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and similar children’s books. I remember too that Miss Hunter had a cat at the school called Socks that frequented the classroom whenever it felt it was necessary to do so.


I remember the long wooden seats on which we sat to eat our lunches had a special fascination. The wooden planks were actually quite shiny, where generations of little bottoms had been sliding up and down their length. Children were instructed to wait until lunches were eaten before they were allowed to go and play. In their eagerness to be off, boys and girls would succumb to the intolerance of waiting and would amuse themselves by playing a sliding game back and forth along the seat while never compromising the sitting position. There would have hardly been a child who had not spent time lying face down, while a parent dug copious quantities of wooden splinters out of their rear end.

We played all types of games at school in these early years. One of the first class participation games that I learned in kindergarten was Farmer in the Dell and not being curious enough to ask, it was some time before I actually found out what a “dell” was. The extended family of the farmer in this game was inclusive of his wife, his child, his cat, the cat had a rat and of course the rat was the possessor of a “cheese”. These characters were designated by election, to class members. Each character in the game had a reasonable status except for “the cheese”. The farmer had his wife, the wife had the child, and the child had the cat and so on until we got to “the cheese”, the last in the line. The “cheese” had to “stand alone” ringed by all the players while they chanted its unfortunate position in the scheme of things. Being the “cheese” was a daunting experience.

Playground games included an activity called “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” It was a game for girls really, but to play it the girls needed one boy whose purpose was to take the part of the wolf. It was not unusual to see a swarm of little females descend on some lone boy in the playground, to plead with him to be their “wolf”. Only a fool would decline! There would be groups of little girls all over the playground being pursued by boys sounding enthusiastic wolf noises. Safety was always found in the girl’s toilet block.

Another favourite school pastime, for me anyway, was that spent with a hairy lump of modelling clay called “plasticine”. These lumps of pre-loved matter were dispensed to the class from an old biscuit tin and each lump must have contained enough germs to mutate the immutable. Using an old piece of linoleum, which we had to bring from home for the purpose, we would roll and shape the stuff into all kinds of things, representative of the actual world in which we lived… that is, in our own minds at least.

Our teachers

The first four years of schooling up to and including 3rd class were pretty happy and carefree and things didn’t get too serious until we graduated to the “big school”, Mosman Primary, and 4th class. Here we met teachers of a different disposition altogether. No doubt some were Returned Servicemen, employed again as Teachers, after the war. They were mostly dedicated and patient with their pupils and I can remember only two with whom I personally had an issue. One of these had a reputation for throwing chalk at his charges and at least once to my knowledge, an inkbottle. His frustration levels seemed high and his patience low, but no doubt he had good reason at times. The other teacher, it was said, had a certain political persuasion that was unacceptable at the time and one day simply disappeared from his post without an explanation.

Teachers remembered at Mosman Primary were Mr. O’Grady, Mr. Leslie, Mr. Dasey, Mr. Avery, Mr. Shadbolt, Mr. O’Brien, Mr Bisley and an incomparable lady teacher, Miss Baxter. Mr Webb was the Headmaster. I was in Miss Baxter’s 4th class. She habitually turned her back on the class, placed a compact mirror on the top of the press and pretended to be putting on her make-up. She was in fact watching in the mirror for misbehaving pupils. The funny thing was that she didn’t think that we were aware of her ploy and it became a game to see who could get away with what and not get caught.

The Mosman Primary playground in those years was all asphalt broken in a few places by concrete mounds with gum trees growing from them, but these were removed in later years. I attended the Primary school until 1952, and finished the Primary curriculum in Mr Dasey’s 6th class.

The next year 1953, saw me along with most of those with whom I had become accustomed in a class situation, thrust into High School. High School was a whole new ball game and the time when things began to get really serious. I remember a Mr Teasdale, but it was Mr Dixon who was the Headmaster during my years at what then was Mosman Intermediate Boys High School. Mr. Dixon was most conspicuous in his white dustcoat and with his glasses perched on his forehead, as he stalked across the playground or through the school corridors on some mission or other. His appearance earned him the title of “The Ice Cream Man”, but never to his face. He had a fair to middling type of temper and probably a blood pressure problem, as his face would be scarlet when in full flight. A water pistol craze once engulfed the school and water fights were regular and daily occurrences. Mr Dixon stormed into one classroom and demanded every school case be laid upon the desks and opened for inspection. He collected every water pistol in the room, piled them together on the floor and jumped up and down on them until the only thing left was a heap of smashed and broken plastic.

Mr Dixon’s reign was supported by some memorable colleagues whose endeavours to teach us I can only describe, as courageously dedicated. There was Mr Ryan that had been known even by subsequent generations, as “Ming the Merciless”. He really did look like the Emperor of the Planet Mongo character of that name, from the 1930s picture theatre serial, Flash Gordon. He had an unnerving habit of staring fixedly at one student while addressing another who may have been as far away as the back of the room.

There was too, the Library Teacher Mr Poole who gave the appearance of being good-natured, but completely mad. Entering the room and without so much as a preamble or explanation, he would begin to recite The Man from Snowy River or some other poetic piece of Australian literature, complete with flourishing gestures. We never knew whether to applaud or not at the end of his recital, but he would stand there in silence seemingly waiting for some sort of reaction.

Mr Strange was our Science Teacher, a gentle man who wore his cane down his trouser leg and would draw it out as if it were a rapier. Mr Barry taught mathematics with copious notes written on the board, which we were expected to transfer to our own maths exercise books. He enlightened us in the use of B.O.D.M.A.S. when solving problems in Algebra, which I have never used in daily life, from that time to this. Another Maths Teacher, Mr Barnett, so his pupils said, used to spend much of the maths period, relating his exploits in the Air Force during the war. Our history teacher’s name I can’t remember, but he was a short and stout fellow with a dark complexion and a beautiful speaking voice.

French was my best subject, but I always felt somewhat sorry for the teacher, who was female and battled to be in charge of a class of pubescent teenagers. Her name was Miss Harwood, a fairly diminutive woman who had been dubbed a colloquial name by the students that reflected the upper part of the female anatomy and she was the object of much mischief. She would stamp her feet in frustration while yelling at us, “3C, I will not tolerate this behaviour”. Those who do not stop at once will be sent to Mr Ryan.” She was almost too small to swing a cane but her male colleagues were not and she used them unashamedly. She drove a small green Austin or Morris with a soft top which more than once became a target for decoration with toilet paper and all sorts of refuse. She often gave the appearance of someone who was neurotic, but there must have been times when the poor lady feared to even enter a classroom.

Sing a song

A school song was introduced during my years at high school. It was a collaborative effort between our music teacher Mr Duffy, a gentle and dapper little man with a moustache and the Girl’s School music teacher, Mrs. Flanagan. The words went something like:

Mosman Inter High …of you we are proud
Of you we will sing
Mosman Inter High …we’ll shout aloud
And make… the welkin ring.
We’ll fight with might and main…we’ll try and try again…
No matter what the… something, something, something…
and I can’t remember the rest, but perhaps somebody else out there might be able to remember.

Mr Duffy instituted an event of which I can remember having been a part, simply to escape regular schoolwork. Mosman Intermediate Boy’s High School under the direction of Mr Duffy enacted a presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. Boys enacted both male and female roles and this caused a little angst among some, namely those who were to play girl’s roles. However it was explained that this was for the good of the school and all those who had an involvement should have a willingness to participate in whatever capacity was needed. Smaller individuals were given the unpopular female roles and I was glad that I was tall enough to escape the female casting and secure a place as a member of the jury. We were all amazed at the transformations of some of the boys into Angelina the jilted plaintiff and her bridesmaids. The production was a roaring success and the Mosman Town Hall was packed out for the performances. It’s a shame, but to my knowledge there were no photographs ever taken to keep as a record of the event.

Grab some grub

In High School the tuck shop became much more accessible, but for me, being able to buy your lunch had always been a special treat. The tuck shop was situated in a position that put it between both Boy’s School and Girl’s School with a counter in both domains. A kind and motherly lady named Mrs Aubrey operated the establishment. Lunch times would see a throng of students assailing the counters sometimes five or six deep, all yelling out their orders, “Mrs Aub, Mrs. Aub! A cheese and pickle roll please and six pence worth of port wine jellies”, they would yell, or some other such request. If one hadn’t been wise enough to place an order prior to morning assembly there was a chance of missing out. School romances sometimes took place through the tuck shop between one side and the other. There would be waving and giggling and swiftly beating hearts as individuals thrilled to glimpses of those that they either knew, or more likely, wanted to know.

A lot of memories were created during my school years for which I am grateful. It is true too, that I owe a debt of gratitude to those who were responsible for what I did manage to learn. There will always be a certain fondness for Mosman Public School.

Richard M. Pieremont · 9 November 2010

Your comment

Well Richard we must have passed each other in the hallway(s) of both the Infant, Public and High schools. I too started school in 1946, in the Infants, I was in love with a Miss O’Hara, a dainty brunette with an engaging smile.

In 3rd class I started out with Mr. Leslie as maths teacher and he could be very menacing, though not a big man. I also had Miss Baxter in 4th class, she insisted I was anaemic as I had a fair complexion and a mop of blond hair, so when the government ruled that we should all have a small bottle of milk at playtime Miss baxter would send me out to empty the left-over bottle or two, (even if by the time I got to them, they were often left out in the sun for a fair time!). I had Mr. Shadbolt in fifth class, our room was in the bottom high school building as we were bursting at the seams around that time. In 6th class I had the popular and thoroughly likeable Mr. Dasey, and had the pleasure of being in his class when we did a play called (I think), “The Un-invited Guest” at the Town Hall. The same “Guest” turned out to be Robinson Crusoe ,(well played by my vociferous classmate
Dennis Fogarty). My role was a “Charlie Chaplinesque” character who was constantly “not amused !”

Our class, 6B was renowned for putting on a top show each year and those people who were fortunate enough to be chosen as cast, spent many hours (of class time) being coached, in numerous “re-hearsals” called by our Director/Producer, Jeff Dasey!.

In later years I played senior rugby and had the great pleasure of meeting Jeff at a Saturday match… he was still the dry, likeable gentleman I once knew, a good man.

On to Mosman High School and I think you have just about covered all the teachers, except I had Mr. Pugh for science, (I do recall that he and Mr. Strange shared the science classes – he was not as swift and threatening as Pugh, who carried a short round stick that we called “The B** Stinger!”…(short but scarily effective!). The rest of the Teachers were much as you describe, (in about 1970 I attended a joint boy-girl school re-union and was amazed to see Miss Harwood on stage, in her last year at the school!). I think the dark complexion and dapper voice belonged to Mr. Whittenbaker, who taught me geography, a very intelligent man, also, he was the only teacher that had a brand new car!, (a two-tone Hillman Minx as recall).

I repeated 3rd year and Mr. Dufty, little as he was, was driven to distraction by the boys and would regularly “lose it” when confronted by the raffish manner and behaviour of this ill fated class!. I was a model student from then on!… and still run an advertising agency in 31 years of working for myself.

Mr. Dixon was also referred to as “The Boss” and he and his deputy Ming Ryan, were a formidable pair… the only difference was that the Boss missed some things due to poor hearing – but Ryan missed nothing!.

The P.E. Teacher was Les Peterkin at the time and together with Ron Smith (maths teacher and first grade school rugby league coach), guided our team to Inter High school Premiers.

The only teacher I can think of who was missing may have been our bright, ginger-haired English teacher, Miss Ingle – a fire-brand at times but a great communicator.

Richard,I may be incorrect re some of the above content, but your story was a detailed account of what I now realise, was an enjoyable journey and I could not resist revisiting those good old school days with a fellow school mate.

— Bruce M · 19 January 2011, 18:02 · #

Great recollections of what I still consider to be the best time to be alive in this country of ours. Your descriptions of the Mosman Primary Teachers brought back many fond memories of those great years, and do you remember how Miss Baxter used to warm herself?

— maudlin · 25 April 2011, 11:55 · #

I was at Mosman Primary from 1953, 3rd class Mr O'Brian, 4th Class Miss Baxter, 5th Class Mr O'Grady and 6th class Mr Gadd. Miss Baxter had a screen she continually went behind, I didn't realise she was looking at us through her mirror! My best remembered teacher was Mr O'Grady.

— Graham Elliott · 18 July 2011, 16:13 · #

Thanks Richard for these wonderful memories. I was always confused when remembering which school was which. You unravelled these memories beautifully for me. So Mosman Infants was in Belmont Road. Was Mosman Primary in Avenue Road or was that the high school? I seem to recall a dark brick building with small windows and a playground divided from the girls’ school by a high wooden fence which kept falling into the girls’ school due to boys standing on each other’s shoulders and leaning against the fence to talk to the girls. I can recall most of the teachers you spoke of. They certainly were a lot of characters.
I also went fishing on Mosman Wharf for yellow-tail and bream while keeping out of the way of the ferries churning up the water and also swam at beautiful Balmoral Beach and every year was dragged off to the Scottish Mass Bands Festival in a park at the southern end of Balmoral Beach as my dad loved the bagpipes!!

We lived at 131 Avenue Road in a converted shopfront and moved to Brisbane where I married and moved to a northern suburb, Lawnton, where we still live.

Aah. Sweet memories. Fondest regards, Alan.

— Alan Bishop · 3 November 2012, 08:18 · #

Hello Alan,
Thank you for your comment and I’m pleased you enjoyed my school memories. When I read your name it seemed very familiar to me, but I could not put a face to it. One of those instances when you can remember the name, but the face escapes you. However when I dug out my school photo of Miss Baxter’s class 4A, taken in 1950 and began to try and put names to all the faces, I think I have identified you. If you have a copy of this photo I believe you are in the second row up and second from the right. After all this time though, I understand that I might need to stand corrected. If you don’t have this photo and would like a copy, I would be pleased to email one to you if you let me know. You should have access to my address after this is posted on the Mosman Memories Site.

I would be pleased to share more wth you Alan, about those times and places of our childhood around Mosman, but will not take up space here. I look forward to perhaps hearing from you on the email in due course.

Regards to you,
Richard Pieremont

— Richard M. Pieremont · 17 December 2012, 12:38 · #

Great memories, Richard; I had forgotten all of this but it came flooding back.
Bruce’s comment on milk was a memory I’ve never forgotten – warm milk made bearable by re-packaged jelly crystals on sale at a store in The Avenue.
The coming of Woolworths Variety store – a wonderful place of exploration for a small boy; it was much later that I realised how small that store was. I can’t remember who was the unfortunate teacher but a science lesson on ‘pressure’ tempted me to jam a small apple up the exhaust pipe of a teacher’s vehicle. The principle worked (the car was hard to start until the blockage was overcome). What I and my cohorts didn’t understand was the principle of a moving object meeting a stationary one. The apple went through the radiator of the car behind – another teacher’s car. I am really sorry about that. And I remember being ‘poor little Buttercup’ in a G&S.

— Richard Beard · 26 June 2013, 08:39 · #

I read this account with great interest, because I am Les Peterkin , the PE teacher mentioned . I was there for 5 years from 1954. And thanks for reminding me of the names of most of my colleagues on the staff at the time.

— Les Peterkin · 17 August 2013, 12:39 · #

Hello Richard, I like your writing style and enjoyed reading your lovely childhood memoirs which gave me a nostalgic trip back into the land of forever. Your mention of the wooden benches reminded me of crates of silver topped milk bottles sitting outside classroom doors until play time, when ‘little bottoms’ sat shuddering until every drop of warm the curled substance was consumed. Yuck!!! Do you remember the sweet spicy scent of purple lantana that was rampant throughout the area, long summer rambles through winding dirt tracks where tiny lizards scurried quickly from sight and big lizards stood their ground pretending they weren’t there at all, being hummed off to sleep to the sound of cicadas, the deep emerald colour and distinct smell of Mosman Bay and being totally mesmerized if we were lucky enough to catch the ferry home after dark? We were very lucky kids really. Thank you for sharing your memories & best wishes, Narelle

Narelle Marie McDonald · 21 August 2013, 20:41 · #

Hullo Graham, I was in all your classes at Mosman Primary, with the exception of 4th class (when I was in Mr Lake’s class). As I recall, Mr O’Grady nicknamed you “Frankenstein” (for reasons I cannot recall) and thereafter you became Frank. O’Grady was apparently fond of nicknames: he named Rod Ewings “Sphinx” because he sat in class for what must have seemed like centuries without blinking, moving or speaking. He and I played rugby together for the Mosman Junior Rugby Union Club in 1959-1960.He was the captain and he certainly blinked, moved and spoke then.

— Ian Campbell · 12 October 2013, 15:13 · #

To Les Peterkin, PT teacher and associate of Ron Smith who was the coach of the all conquering High Schools rugby League side, led by the then school captain, John Kingsland. That team fostered a group of us who went on to play 1st grade Rugby League and Union, many reaching NSW representative status, (I played most of my rugby at Northern Suburbs R.U.C. winning 3 Grand Finals, where after many years, ran into “Mr. Dasey” at the bar of the Norths Club.
I remember you and “Mousey” (Ron S.) putting on a dinner at Georges Heights Military Hall for the team, where we were allowed to have one beer each (and even have a smoke!) as rewards for our victory. Jeff was the best teacher I ever had – and I had some good ones at Mosman Inter High.

— Bruce Manuel · 11 December 2013, 16:54 · #

Les Peterkin was PT teacher when I was at Mosman. Ron Smith (Alias “Mousey”) was my maths teacher and doubled as coach of the all- conquering Government Schools 1st grade Rugby League side, Captained by John Kingsland, (who was also School Captain at the time). We defeated Hornsby High 45-0 in the competition final and a number of the team ultimately went on to play 1st. grade League and Union with Norths/St. George.
I remember Les and Ron putting on a celebratory lunch at the Georges Heights Army Hall for the team where we were allowed to try one small beer each, but there weren’t many takers (lemonade was the drink of the day).

Bruce Manuel · 12 December 2013, 16:39 · #

Hi Bruce— thanks for your comments. I remember you well. but I’d long forgotton about the dinner at the Hall you mentioned. I have no idea what happened to Ron Smith either. I have been contacted by two guys from back then , Dennis Francis and Viv Moran. ………………Les

— Les Peterkin · 26 January 2014, 16:04 · #

Hi all, I was there for my high school years 1956 -7-8 1b 2b 3a used to jump on the tram ( toastrack ) at Crows Nest & alight in Military Rd then walk through the primary section. Remembered some of the names Les ( pe ), Dixon( hm ), KIng ( maths )remembered Mousy but only as footy coach ,Ms Ingles ( carrots ) was history teacher Ms Harwood ( tittsy ) French , I went to the school mid 2008 to enquire about a 50th reunion, also where are the photos which aligned the walls of the library, I remember one of 1957 all conquering footy team, one of the team Brian ??? played 1st grade for Norths Nobody there at the time knew. Anyone with class photos I would appreciate a copy
I remember classmates ?? Smee , ?? Bowerman, Brian Kent , Ron Flute ,Chris ?? Hey Les I remember you well, standing beside the springboard as we went over the horse , trying to do the mickey finn
all fond memories… I went on to North Sydney Tech for the leaving but only lasted 3 months ,( same year as Dick Smith,) did fitting machining trade in Surrey Hills then Toolmaking, been in trade ever since .At one of the school assemblies in 58 the Lord Mayor was in attendance and addressed the school …GOOD MORNING BOYS… to which we all replied in unison GOODMORNINGSIR… was obvious we were taking off the radio serial on air at the time Yes What ( we had to go through the greeting again )
Also remember school sports carnival at Mosman Oval when in 2nd year , marching to left right left etc while the third year boys marched to root root root etc They (3rd yr boys ) used to get upstairs in a room next to the library where they could see the girls playground & signal to the girls, 1 finger for a pash 2 for … up to 14 Cheers Mal

— Malcolm Taylor · 8 February 2014, 14:42 · #

Hi to Malcolm. So nice to think you remember me so well. I’m still alive and kicking to. They were good days for me in my early days of teaching PE.
some of your memories are still quite alive in my mind too. Cheers —Les

— Les Peterkin · 18 February 2014, 16:02 · #

It was great to find these messages and see all the names of the teachers Les Peterkin especially as I remember him being an excellent PT teacher and a man very handy with the cane so it was best you did not play up.
Its nice to know that there are still many past students still alive and kicking.

Regards to all

— Ron (Nobby) Noblet · 26 July 2014, 09:02 · #

I remember both Graham Elliot and Ian (Crunch) Campbell from my days at Mosman Primary and beyond. Went back to Mosman a few years back and didn’t know the place. Very different from when we were boys.

— Rod Ewings · 29 November 2015, 18:03 · #

Spending my early school years at Middle Harbour PS I moved onto Mosman High School. I remember my very first day like it was yesterday, looking up at those unfamiliar buildings and seeing a sea of unfamiliar faces was terrifying.

I quickly made friends and settled into high school, we use to meet most morning in the milk bar opposite the school. Sometimes after school we would gather again in the milk bar and chat over ice cream and chocolate sauce.

I had favorite teachers, Gail Esmond comes to mind, we caught up just a few years later. I walked into the hairdressing salon for a cut and there was Mrs Esmond sitting at the front desk. She had just bought the business and was horrified to see me, I was very pregnant at the time. Gail said to me “you are making me feel old”, I smiled and said “I can make you feel older, this is my second”. Gail had a very dry sense of humor, I enjoyed attending her Commerce classes.

Mr Connolly our art teacher was great fun, he made art so very exciting, I always got an A+ in Art. I continued with my home art, it disappeared once I became a single mother and started working full time. One day I will drag out that easel and start again.

Then there was our history teacher, an older lady with red hair, I cannot recall her name but I just loved her history classes, still love history and am an avid researcher of ancient history.
As for home economics and sewing, well only if I had to, nothing much has changed.

Lots of good times, also a sad time with the loss of a close friend through a motor vehicle accident. I still think of him and how he use to wait beside my locker so he could carry my books for me.

These were our formative years, well for some, I guess I could have been a better student, but I had other things to do. I have never been a fan of school, strangely since I spend a lot of time working in them these days.

Now I happily sit with my grand kids in their class room on Grandparents Day, or Grand Friends Day as some schools call it. Thankfully most of my grandchildren love school, although not all, yes a couple do take after me.
Great to hear all these stories, if you happen to know ex pupils of either schools get them to connect with this site.
Cheers Robin (Webber)

Robin Corban (nee Webber) · 23 June 2016, 14:41 · #

This will be my 3rd attempt for contact I was at Mosman Home Science in 1958/1960; it then became coedand lots of memories. Mrs Rosenthal was Headmistress, Miss Gray Maths and Biology. It would be great to hear from you if you remember Laraine Harwood

— laraine sutherland · 14 October 2017, 17:45 · #