I couldn’t wait to start school. Every day as my elder sister, Jeannene left for school I would swing on the front gate and cry big crocodile tears. Mum would call me inside with the promise of a biscuit if I stopped. ‘Why can’t I go to school too’? I would wail. Thus when I was only four and a half Mum put my age up and I started Kindergarten at Middle Harbour Public School. Of course before long Mum was sprung but they allowed me to stay on as they needed the numbers back then. Although we lived only over the road from the current site it did not then extend into Hale Road so we had to walk around the block via Erith Street and then into Macpherson Street, which was then main school entrance.
I remember my very first day in detail. Miss Bradford was teaching her last year although she lived a long life after her retirement and deservedly so after all those years and myriads of children under her care. She reminded me of my Paternal Grandmother with her snowy white hair and her portly frame which she held like a member of Royalty. Thus I felt right at home. The Infants School playground was very dusty and it was hard to keep one’s shoes shiny after a game of chasings so we were in the habit of cleaning them on our lovely white cotton socks! Kinders had to have a handkerchief pinned to their frock or shirt. I now wonder how we were expected to use this as it wouldn’t look too good after use. Guess we had one for show and one for blow. We were frowned upon if we didn’t have our hanky attached with a little gold pin.
Was I the only one who wanted to start school? It certainly seemed that way. There were so many children crying, clinging onto their Mothers that I was mesmerised into watching what was going to happen next. Finally after the last Mother disentangled herself from her offspring there was only one small child still crying. Irennie Violantis, or Rennie as she was called. I remember her knickers were hanging below her dress which made for good dinner conversation later. I think her family were Turkish. Lovely people when one got to know them but even back then being different, well children haven’t changed that much. After Miss Bradford played some calming music on the piano and took a roll call it was time for Morning tea and we filed into the cloak room to dig into our leather satchels for some biscuits or fruit.
That cloak room was a mixture of smells, mostly rotting bananas and egg sandwiches along with smelly socks and wet woollen jumpers of past decades of boys and girls. These were the days of free ‘School Milk’ where each and every child received a daily small bottle of milk to drink. If this milk had been kept at a reasonably cool temperature we would have loved it but I’m afraid it wasn’t too palatable after sitting in the hot sun all morning! We were stood over to make sure we drank it all and I must say that I did gag on it most mornings.
We soon made friends and one of our favourite games was to play in the gigantic roots of the Camphor Laurel trees. These tree roots were the reason that no grass ever grew in the playground and were also the scene of many tears over skinned knees as both the boys and girls rushed to stake a claim to one part of the tree base to either make a cubby house or to play hidings or Cowboys and Indians. There were two of these trees and many other tall trees in the playground with wooden seats around some where one could sit in the shade at lunch time. Skipping ropes both individual and long ones where scores of girls would run in and out after taking it in turns to actually turn the rope. ‘All In Together Girls This fine weather Girls’ the rope would be turned very quickly when we did ‘Peppers’ and you would turn as red as peppers if the rope caught you around the legs! If any boys dared to run through we would pull the rope and trip them up! The ‘jacks’ that we played with then were called knuckle bones which one obtained from the local butcher shop and came from sheep. You had to leave these bones out in the sun to bleach white and then some people would colour or paint them. They were heavy and one could end up with bruised knuckles of ones own at the end of the day.
When the Infants had assembly it was usually held outside, weather permitting but in the wet the class partitions would be opened to make room for all the classes to fit in. First class was called ‘Transition Class’ back then and I did not want to leave my beloved Kinder class, or Miss Bradford either after a happy first year. Here every child had a turn some time in the year with a real scaled down dolls house complete with minature furniture and little dolls as well. Where a special little lounge chair was the special ‘Birthday Chair.’ All the wooden chairs were in a circle each painted a lovely bright colour. The Sand Tray complete with peg dolls all dressed as Arabs and lead animals and trees to play with. Plasticine which was the bane of every parent but which was a wonder world of squiggly animals, all grey but all very uniquely your very own. Felt mats that you slept on for an hour in the afternoons or at least pretended to. Colourful posters and of course the piano in the corner. Ah transition class was a bit of a let down I must say. We were now required to do a bit more than recite the alphabet. Where we had previously marched around the room wearing pretend paper hats on our heads or playing pretend trombones to Miss Bradford’s playing the piano we now marched silently into class and sat on dull seats with our arms folded or on our heads.
I remember that we had two teachers in Transition but only remember one who was called Miss Birdswhistle. Now there is a name that’s hard to forget! I still loved going to school and I did not like school holidays back then when I missed all my friends. The Parents and Citizens of Middle Harbour Public School must have worked very hard back then as they put on a great Christmas each year for the Infants classes. Come December and there would suddenly appear a gigantic pine tree in the middle of the Kinder and Transition classes with of course the partition opened. Then magically one day it would be covered in beautiful decorations with a great star at the top. I could not take my eyes off this tree and I guess it made all the children extremely excited. The last day of school Santa came to school and off that beautiful tree he gave every boy and girl a present. I do remember one year getting a bubble and pipe set and was rapt. We were also given an icecream, cordial and a packet of lollies each, no mean feat I’m sure!
Miss Godfrey was Head Mistress of the Infants when I was there. A very stern lady who had me terrified but she had a big job as well as teaching a very large second class, as ours had became by then. I think over fifty children packed into that small class room. I ran into her many years later at a Children’s Home Fete out West and I would swear that she had not changed a hair and that would be around twenty odd years later. She remembered our year and some of the class and told me that Mrs Bradford had only recently passed away well into her nineties in a Nursing Home in Cremorne.
The school had grown in student numbers by the mid fifties and saw several portable classrooms erected in the southern end of the school, being the Primary boy’s playground, these being for the increasing post war students coming into the infants classes. By third class it was obvious that our class was too large for one teacher and so was split with a composite 3rd and 4th class moving into what had been both a storage room and the boys manual arts room at the end of the Infants playground and just before the Primary girls play field. It was a weatherboard single class room which was hot in Summer and freezing in Winter and this became my class until High School moving from a 3rd and 4th class to a fifth and six class etc. An English man by the name of Mr Brown taught us for those years. He was very strict on the boys two of whom tried his patience to the limit. Peter Harrison was one and I think his friend in crime was a Barry but together they notched up more canings than all the other students put together. I say students because it was quite often that girls fell under the whip of the cane for some misdemeanour or disobedience back then. I can remember these two boys betting each other that they could hold out the longest by pulling their hands away as the cane came down each time. This led Mr Brown to say that for each time he missed they would get twice the caning! They would not cry no matter how hard that cane came down on their hands but one could see the unshed tears in their eyes as they laughed their way back to their seats. This upset me terribly at the time and I would be hard pressed to keep myself from crying for them.
When one progressed to the Primary classes then we had our own play areas for boys and girls who were segregated with the girls having a rather grassy playground where ‘rounders’ were played before school, at playlunch time and then at lunch time. This was a very serious game similar I think to Baseball and two different teams were chosen on a daily basis with the leaders vying for first batting position by throwing the bat between them trying for the utmost top of the bat where they would then have to retain their grip whilst passing it around their hear three times. Of course if they dropped the bat they would forfeit their turn. If one didn’t get on a team for rounders there was little else to do except maybe play handball.
The boys had a rather red dusty playground with some area tared and this was the area where once a week the whole Primary School did ‘Marching’. We all had a House that we belonged to for Sports points and we marched in our Houses with the best marchers of the day receiving points for their own House. The Houses were Macquarie, Wentworth and Phillip. Phillip House seem to have all the best athletes back then and even seemed to win all the marching. I think we went home and went to sleep humming those tunes over and over in our sleep. For three years that I know of the same record was played ad nauseum and even developed a scratch which meant we knew the needle would get stuck and would wait to have it moved on again. In Summer we always slowed down when we came to the shady tree areas until the next House almost ran into us and then we would hurry on and around to once again get into a nice shady spot.
Tree roots caused a lot of the asphalt surface to buckle and break open into craters which were a bit of a hazard. Where once the senior boys playground was separated from the Infants by a wooden fence it was falling down now and was unable to be replaced because of the root damage so down it came. Now it was just some seating which separated the two. It was here that we had our Monthly sale of toffees, cup cakes, chocolate crackles and home made sweets to raise money for the Red Cross or The Far West Children’s Scheme. Most were only a penny each with the best going for tuppence each (two cents). If you forgot and didn’t have any pennies you could always borrow from a good friend. It was in this area whilst doing PE with cane hoops that I fell over and gashed my knee rather badly on a stone but it didn’t stop me from going to my friends after school which we had teed up days before. When Mum saw the nasty gash on returning home after five pm she nearly had a fit.
My friends and I had our lunch on some seats against the side fence in the top playground and one day one of the palings just happened to fall off and upon close inspection we discovered an old abandoned green house which we kept as our own private hide away cubby by placing the paling back and only removing it when no one was watching. It was Heaven in Summer, so lovely and cool among the overgrown ferns and cool shade. Some one, however had to remain on lookout and we drew lots for that!
The two mulberry trees at the back fence were the most gorgeous fruit trees I have ever come across. Not so much fun for Mothers who had to wash out the stains from clothing or for teachers who had banned children from throwing all manner of missiles to shake the fruit out of the high branches. I think there were a few children who sustained some injuries from this. I did manage to take home some to Mum on the odd occasion and she made some mouth watering mulberry pies with them. As these trees were so large and had a different type of leaf to the mulberry trees I have seen since I think they must have been imported from many years ago, and now they have long disappeared. The leaves by the way were much sort after for the feeding of silk worms which were lovely little creatures that eventually left you with their golden cocoons to thread onto cardboard pieces.
For the first four or five years we didn’t have any kind of Tuckshop but we ran down to the little shop in Ourimbah Road where we had ordered our lunch before school began to pick up our bag often stopping to buy some lollies or an iceblock. In Winter we were able to order a pie with sauce which was a real treat. The road where we had to cross was very busy even back then and maybe it was this that prompted the School to set up a Canteen at the back of the Senior Boys playground in an old storage shed at the back of the boys wash rooms. I remember for morning playlunch we were able to buy open faced slices of bread with various spreads. My favourite was this yummy chocolate spread, light and fluffy and this many years before today’s jars of chocolate spread. I saw the Ladies working there mixing it up in a very modern electric mixmaster One penny a slice. I would buy two and that would keep me going until lunch time.
Sports Days were always on Fridays and once one was in the Primary School one left the grounds and travelled to Rawson Oval in the Winter by double decker bus for netball or other ball games of differing sorts. These included tunnel ball and captain ball, base ball etc. In Spring and Summer we went to the Spit Baths for swimming lessons. No beach there and swimming was only pleasant at high tide when one did not have to come in contact with the grey sandy bottom which was covered in oysters and other molluscs, small rocks and tiny crabs :- very off putting to children. Many Olympic champions trained in these famous baths and their fading black and white photos adorned the walls around the entrance to the pool and the back of the little shop. I always imagined that the bottom of the baths had a great deal to do with the making of these champions as they would have learnt at an early age to dive in and swim from the back boards rather than walk in at the foot of the changing rooms which was the shallow end. Then one would swim across the pool quickly to avoid the jelly fish that floated in on the tide and got trapped The best part for me personally was when we were dressed and ready to depart for home we could purchase iceblocks, chips or sweets from the shop. These were the days before the baths were built at Balmoral. Rawson oval was a great venue for spots and I seem to remember that the field was always lush with green grass. Everyone was expected to take part in sport and only a letter from ones parents excused you from participation. Even then you were given a job refereeing or running messages for a teacher. Different coloured sashes were worn by children to differentiate between Houses so that points could be tallied at the end of each sports day. Our School sports uniform was just back shorts and a gold coloured tee shirt. Sandshoes were the only sports shoes then and we would clean them up before every sports day with that white chalky shoe cleaner.
Being a member of The Junior Red Cross was something that all children aspired to. I remember being thrilled when I acquired a white veil, just like a nurse’s veil but with a red cross sewn into the part that went on to the forehead. A white dress was worn and a little red cape or red cardigan was worn in Winter with the usual black school shoes and white socks. I don’t think that the boys had to go to much trouble but think they had black shorts or long pants with a white shirt. We also wore a lovely little gilt and enamel Red Cross badge to complete the outfit. The only time I remember going anywhere dressed in this finery was to the Annual Red Cross Fete held at the Town Hall in Sydney each year.
We celebrated Arbour Day each year and I only remember this because we would sing ‘Trees, Trees, beautiful trees, Plant them and help them grow’. I remember something about a Bird Club where children could purchase little shiny coloured cards with different birds for one penny. I think you then became a Member of the Bird League upon the purchase of these cards. Maybe it was an incentive to stop boys from using their sling shots to injure birds as well as to educate us on the wonderful heritage that is ours and the interesting fauna that abounds in our Country. Each May the whole school would march to the Orpheum Theatre for our Empire Day Celebrations. There we sang patriotic songs and promised our allegiance once again to God, Queen and Empire. There was always some high ranking member of the Education Department invited to give an address and afterwards cajoled into declaring a half day holiday so that we could go home at lunch time instead of returning to school. I still don’t know if we were being hoodwinked or not on that one. I loved Empire Day. Of course the evening’s fireworks had a lot to do with that as well.
Middle Harbour School Fete Day was an event not to be missed. Only as an adult can one fully realise the work that went into putting together this gala each year by students, teachers and parents. Everything got under way around lunch time with a Parade from Cremorne Junction down Macpherson Street to the school grounds. .Can you visualise this now? The parade itself was a major event consisting of decorated bikes, dinkies, scooters, dolls prams, billycarts and just about anything that sported wheels. Crepe paper was in great demand as the main decoration for vehicles as well as for fancy dress with the local newsagents doing a good trade about this time. I think the parents who decorated one boys billycart as a ‘Treasure Island’ complete with dug up treasure chest oozing a heap of jewels with a large palm tree and the same boy dressed as a pirate should have received an award of their own it was so memorable. If you were not going in the parade with a decorated ‘something’ then you would be Marching in your sports shorts and top and wearing your particular House sash.
Several pipe bands were encouraged to give their support to the day and to bring anyone within hearing distance along to the Fete. There was little excuse that anyone could find for being ignorant of what was happening in Mosman on that day! There were different sections for judging the best decorated vehicle and money prizes were given out to encourage children to spend it on the day. As each child arrived in the gate on their decorated masterpiece they were directed to a part of the play- ground where they would be judged in their correct section. I decorated my little sister Nancy’s three wheeler bike one year when Mum was sick and we were both thrilled when she won a first prize. The stalls were very colourful and beautifully stocked with all kind of goodies to attract both children and parents. There were ice creams ( kept cold in those green canvas insulated bins with lots of dry ice) for sale and cold cordial drinks. Toffee apples, coconut ice, cakes, biscuits, the inevitable chocolate crackles and wonder of wonders a Fairy Floss machine spinning fine sugar into cotton wool candy. The Ladies of the P and C Association had done themselves proud with all their fancy sewing and the second hand goods stall was doing a roaring trade too. One year my Dad bought a ticket in a raffle and won the prize, a delicate blue and white china tea set which was given to me. No I have no idea what ever happened to it but I don’t still have it, pity!
Apart from the Annual School Fete I recall there being a Fancy dress ball or two over the years that I was in Infants and Primary classes. One year my Sister Jeannene went as a Hula girl with real grass skirt flowered lei and ankle circlet. I remember her not being too impressed by the artificial tanning cream that she wore. Can only think it must have been in Winter but it came off on everything, not at all like today’s lotions. I went as Little Bo Peep and was a bit miffed to discover there were two others with the same idea. We had a lovely time with a supper following the judging. Some years these were held at the school although I do now believe that the Mosman Town Hall was used on several occasions. When I was in 3rd class there was a Talent Quest/ Concert but I can only recall the auditions. A few friends and myself included thought we would try out but as the only thing we knew how to sing together was out of the School Broadcast Book and I believe the song was ‘Land Of Freedom’ the teachers eyes must have rolled over in their heads at the choice if not the actual singing. I do not recall going on any excursions at all when in school.
The Department Of Education Broadcast Book came out annually and we were told to take them home to cover them and then they were to remain at school. Every child got one of these but I think that we paid a few shillings for them. Once a week on the A.B.C. radio station all schools would tune in across the land and learn how to sing a new song with some weeks given over to revision. Old Australian favourites like ‘Click Go The Shears’ and Waltzing Matilda, Irish songs and patriotic songs were featured. School Magazines were given out each month to every boy and girl and we would be thrilled to get it each time and we couldn’t wait to open them and start reading new stories before we did so as a class. They came in black and white only but in a ‘free’ period we would be allowed to colour them in. It was very competitive to see who could have the most colourful magazine in the class. In Infants and Primary classes we were supplied with our writing books which we would take home to cover in brown paper. Lead pencils were also supplied plus a school ruler and pen and nib for primary class and one blotter. We had to buy very little in those early days.
There were no carpets or linoleum on the floors just grey floorboards with the occasional splinter protruding that would catch unwary little fingers reaching to retrieve something from the floor. In Winter we had coke burning fires in the front corner of the classrooms. These kept the teachers lovely and warm if they stood right in front of them but did not penetrate throughout the whole room. One of the monitors was responsible for keeping the coal shuttle filled each day. I think that by sixth class these were being phased out though I don’t recall that there was anything at all to take their place. The toilet blocks were pretty rustic, as all school toilets were and are I guess.
I only have two school photos now, Kindergarten and 2nd class. Like all school photos taken back then we look like a bunch of terrorised children too unhappy to crack a smile. When this was pointed out to me recently I came up with the answer. We were all placed in our positions by the teacher who told us, with great emphasis on the dire consequences to befall the disobedient, we were NOT under any circumstances to move a muscle for five minutes. Yes that’s right it took that long for the photographer under that blanket with the camera on a tripod and holding that spoofy powder( whatever one calls it) to get the shot set. If we could have held a smile for that long at five, eight years or even twelve then we would have better photos I’m sure. It was an ordeal for teachers, children and photographer alike. Viva la modern school photography!
Before each and every school day we would line up in our respective class lines and have a mini assembly before marching into school. The Lords prayer was recited followed by the singing of God Save the King or God save the Queen. We would then recite ‘I honour My God, I serve my Queen, I salute my flag’. Two boys would take it in turn to bring out the flag each morning. The Infants classes I don’t think did this but we did every morning in the Primary and all the teachers would be there also to take part. Following this any school news would be given. The school bell was rung every morning, morning tea end and lunch time end by a second class child who had accomplished some amazing feat to qualify for the honour. In Winter we would be shivering some days by the time we marched up the steps and into class. If any children were talking or moving about then we all suffered and would all have to stand until they stopped before the signal to move off.
School Uniform. In my Infant’s years there really wasn’t one due to W.W.2 just coming to an end and clothing of any type was still in short supply for several years. Most children wore casual clothing of whatever they had at home to wear. If girls had a hand me down navy uniform from an older sibling then they wore that with a white blouse under it and considered themselves most fortunate. Boys wore grey shorts or long trousers with a white shirt. I think that under Head Master Mr Hutchinson the M.H.S. uniform came into existence with the colours which I think are still the school colours of today, black and gold. With clothing and uniforms now becoming more plentiful both boys and girls took an added interest in their appearance. Not that there was a dramatic change straight off but a striped back and gold tie and a school badge were much admired and sought after additions to the more austere navy and white. We thought we were very swish just having black shorts for sports with a yellow top. What luxury!
Children collected things back then, maybe this came from parents who had to be thrifty and never threw out anything from newspaper to a piece of string. Autograph books were for getting your friends and teachers signatures along with a little verse or piece of nonsense rather than tracking down celebrities. We collected marbles, not always for playing but because there were some truly lovely ones up for swapping or buying. Glass beads I remember collecting and would not mind betting if the original flooring remains that some are still in cracks of the floor boards today. Making things out of plastic string which we would swap for a different colour. Plastic foam sheets which were used for making all sorts of things all in beautiful colours. Playing cards with beautiful pictures on the backs.
Mostly my years spent at Middle Harbour Public School were very happy. It was a completely different world than the one we live in today.
Brilliant memories of a lovely little school! Was your Kindergarten Class 1948?
Yes Bev it would have to be 1948 as I was born in November 1943.
What a great article... I enjoyed reading it so much. I have been teaching senior primary classes at Middle Harbour since 1988. 2011 will be my final year and it will be a privilege to end my career at such a great school.
Farewell and happy retirement David - I was sad my girls were never taught by you, and so were Christie and Pip! I remember you in a tartan kilt for the teachers' number in a school musical. Fun times, and so memorable. P.S. Great article, wish there were more...
I can remember watching the Moon Landing on a small black and white TV in 1969 and rushing out a morning tea to beat the birds pecking through the milk bottle lids
Miss Godfrey was in her last 1-2 years at Middle Harbour Infants when I started there in 1954. I remember the name but no physical impressions. I can’t remember the Kindergarten teacher, but she was young, tall (compared to my mother) and had dark hair, curled or waved I think. The rest are clear: Trasition – Miss Pollak (spelling?); 1st class – Mrs Marion Meldrum (stayed in touch with her and family until my my 20s); 2nd class – Miss Buttsworth (also Infants’ Head) who diagnosed my myopia.
Then primary: 3rd class Mrs Cooper (whom I met again years later when I coincidentally went out with her daughter for a while), and Miss/Mrs McDonald while Mrs C was off sick for several weeks; 4th Class – Miss Beresford one class and Mrs Hales the other; 5th Classes Mr Neville Moodie (also Head) and Mr John Sherwin (I remember Mr Brown, but he’d gone by 1960 when I was in 5th); 6th Classes Mr Dan Geraghty (deputy head) and Mr John Hatcher. John Sherwin also trained the 1961 6-stone-7 football team that cut an undefeated swathe through primary school rugby union that year. The ones I was lucky enough to have from 1st to 6th were dedicated, enthusiastic and gifted teachers, despite class sizes always 30-plus, sometimes 40. We were lucky at MHPS. There were also some part timers for e.g. “Nature study”. The only one I can recall is a Mrs Bonyhady. I note there is present day writer with that surname. Related, perhaps?
During my time there, the swing barriers at the Macpherson street crossing before and after school (manned by 6th class boys who had high status with us littleys thereby) were replaced by push-button traffic lights, and the assembly hall was built and inaugurated at the northern end of the primary boys’ playground.
I read your wonderful story with great interest.
Just recently I posted photos here of the shops in Ourimbah Rd. One of these was purchased by my grandparents in 1960. While the photos are from 1970, the buildings I assume would be the same as when you attended the school. I'm assuming these are the shops you wrote about.
I was born 1948 and only recently developed an interest in going on line or checking the internet so it was interesting to read the memories and comments of ex students at middle harbour school. I am surprised and amazed at how much you all remember. I remember a lot of the teachers and agree they were excellent compassionate human beings except for one who was a bully to the boys who couldn't stand up for themselves. I had Mr Geraghty, miss hales, and miss beresford and loved them all. My first teacher was miss mactaggart not sure how to spell it. I remember Mr. Moodie and his daughter Terri who also attended and was in my class. I loved the long grass in the girls playground and the smell of it when they mowed it. I remember also the canteen but instead of chocolate on slices of bread l purchased a roll with chocolate spread and it was the most heavenly tasting thing i ate apart from the smith crisps i had for the first time there. They don't taste like that now, wonder what changed in the process. I wish you all well and thank you for taking me down memory land for those few moments.
Mark – I was in the school hall in 1969 with the black and white TV watching the moon landing also.
I remember arriving at MHPS at the start of school in 1959. We were re located from Japan to Sydney and to say I felt very strange was an understatement. However, just as children are children, I made very many friends and stayed friends for a long time. I too am amazed at how much previous people remember of the school. I was there for 3rd, 4th and 5th class before moving to the Northern Beaches. I remember Mr Moodie as our Headmaster, Mrs Bonyheady, Mrs Hales, Mr Sherwin, Mr Geraghty and Mrs Beresford. I am trying to remember my 3rd class teacher’s name. I was dubbed “The Chatterbox” as to me it was so foreign to hear English all the time I was making up for lost time. I do remember the Hall being built and opened. My daughter went to a ballet school there years later.