Saturday, November 05, 2011


150th anniversary book

My contribution to Arncliffe Public School's 150th anniversary book:

"My first year at Arncliffe Public School, 1964, was spent in the quaint sandstone building (now the staffroom) that straddled the infants and primary school playgrounds. Sometimes, when it rains, I can almost recall the smell of damp, wooden verandah, plastic raincoats, warm fingerpaint, and school milk in 1/3 pint glass bottles. The infants' Mothers' Club used to turn our school milk allocation into hot cocoa on winter Cocoa Days. All you had to do was remember your plastic mug! Other early, strong memories include child-height blackboards all around the walls (decorated chalk friezes by Miss Jones, our Upper Kindy teacher), little white chairs and tables, and an old wooden highchair, which was our Birthday Chair.

Kinder building, 2011
Kinder building, 2011. Now the staffroom.

"For the record, my other teachers were:
1A: Miss Dignan, replaced mid year by Miss Walters
2A: Infants Mistress, Mrs Ruth "Meg" McCarthy
3A: Mrs Robyn James, replaced by Miss Esther "Esie" Witheridge
4A: Mr Milton Mercer
5A: Primary Principal, Mr James Brown
6A: Mr Robert Young.

"In the 60s, boys' and girls' Infants playgrounds were separated by big trees down the middle (with bench seating around them). The boys had the 'Gully' side, near Avenal Street. If any boy attempted to play with the girls, he would be sent to sit quietly 'in the circle', a painted ring in the middle of the girls' playground. The primary department kept boys' ball games to the grassed area (when it wasn’t a dustbowl for marbles). The Segenhoe Street buildings, including Teluba, used to be the separate Arncliffe Girls' High School (until the girls moved to Tempe Boys' High in the mid 70s). Friday afternoon sport for Years 3-6 was always over the footbridge to the fenced paddock on the other side of Princes Highway. Between lunchtime and sport, there were weekly films, shown on a reel-to-reel projector by the 'film boys' in the assembly hall.

"The canteen was only open for lunch orders on a Monday, run by a parent, Mrs Mullampy. The cream buns and pineapple donuts were impressive! On the other days, a woman from a nearby 'tuck shop' would arrive in the playground with a bundle of paper bags to take our orders. When her shop closed down, the owner of 'Angelo's' Italian milk bar, delivered lunch orders. Eventually, our canteen was available five days per week. I'm old enough to remember when Sunny Boys, Razzes and Glugs - ice blocks in triangular pyramid-shaped Tetrapaks - were just five cents each.

"Coronation Hall was the venue for annual Speech Nights. A highlight of my time in 4A (1968) was when Mr Mercer greatly expanded 'The Mummers' Play of St George', in which I played a pompous doctor who raises up the seemingly-dead evil knight, Bold Slasher, so he can challenge the mighty St George in battle. We were the finale of the evening, and our parents weren't expecting the amazing greasepaint makeup jobs we all received backstage. The next year, 5A performed 'Alfie at the Circus', and I was thrilled to be cast as naughty schoolboy, Alfie. (I've used the script in schools many times since.) The whole class was seated on stage in rows, looking out onto an imaginary circus. I had to run out a side door, supposedly eaten by a huge, angry lion, go into the darkened street, around to the front of the building, and down the main aisle, to announce that I'd let out the snake charmer's pets.

Ian, Brian, Keith, 1970
Ian with Mr Chips, Brian, Keith with Mac, 1970

"There was also a visit from 'Skeeter the Paperboy'! In 1970, we had a fancy dress night, also held at Coronation Hall. The surprise judge was James 'Skeeter' Kemsley, whom we all knew as the host of Channel 9’s 'Cartoon Corner'. I was a pirate that night and my brother, Keith, was a skeleton (it took my family several nights to paint white bones onto black material). Actually, we both wanted to dress as characters from “The Wacky Races”, to impress Skeeter, but we couldn't work out how to make life-size, working racing cars out of cardboard. Between his career as Skeeter and his untimely death, James Kemsley was the cartoonist on 'Ginger Meggs' comic strips.

James 'Skeeter' Kemsley

"The school’s own hall, where Mr Mason’s classroom is today, was the venue of weekly primary assemblies, and numerous lunchtime plays. In 1968, 4A’s students adapted a Classics Illustrated comic of Shakespeare’s 'Hamlet'. During 1969, Miss Witheridge organised an operetta of "Snow White". There were two night performances for parents. While most roles were filled by Year 6 students, I was cast as 'Max', the head dwarf. Along with six younger students of small stature, we were told to wear our 'jammies' for dwarf outfits, and to make our own beards.

Miss Witheridge's piano
Miss Witheridge's piano

"I was sick with the flu the week of the 1970 school photos, and missed my big chance - as School Captain - to hold up the little 'Class 6A' sign. I was devastated that boys' Vice Captain, Peter Vandine sat in my place, alongside Jenny Hinton. I still can't believe there were so many of us in that class! How did ever fit into the classroom? Luckily, I guess, in those days the wooden desks were still bolted to the floor!

6A in 1970
6A in 1970

"Other memorable staff members during my time at Arncliffe were scary Mr Pearce (who used to serialise an amazing, original science fiction story each week to 3A, when Mrs James took on an interschool netball team), friendly Mr Proudfoot, my Year 5 craft teacher - and my first teacher-librarian, Mrs Janette McKenny (1967-1968), with whom I exchanged Christmas cards and phone calls for several decades. What a surprise when she married Milton Mercer, who had been my Year 4 teacher! In 1990, I retrained as a teacher-librarian, and still consider Mrs McKenny to be my inspiration!

"So many memories - and I didn’t even get to the excitement of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969!"

Ian McLean,
School Captain, 1970
(now teacher-librarian at Penrith PS)

Jim, Peter, Ian, 2011
Jim, Peter, Ian, 2011

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