School Days

I was probably five years old when I started school. Albuera Street State School was about one and a half kilometres from the bottom of Colville Street and I would have started in what was the equivalent of Grade One. The school was built in the early 1900s right on top of the hill alongside Anglesea Barracks, where Governor Macquarie sited the Military headquarters for the township in 1812.

My recollections of those early years are hazy but I do recall, as I got older, walking to school on my own, usually up Colville and along St. Georges Terrace past my other grandmother, Granny Mac (Mum’s mother Ellen McAllister) at Number 14. Mum always preferred this way to school to the Hampden Road route. I can only remember happy times at Albuera Street School. Teachers were warm and friendly and I can still recall one in particular, Miss Cole in about Grade 5. She was still teaching when my kids were there some 25 years later, having married and was then Mrs Nancy Tillack. The Headmaster during my time was Mr Buttsworth.

The old school, which has been converted to modern accommodation units, had very high ceilings. It was in a U shape configuration with an internal quadrangle where we gathered after the morning bell summonsed us from the playground, listened to an address from the Head, sang God Save the King, raised the Union Jack, saluted the flag and to the sound of recorded brass band music, marched in class order up the cast iron steps, made safer with the inlay of lead strips along the front edges, to the upper balcony and into our classrooms. Winter mornings after a heavy frost were spectacular in the playground. A white coating over the whole yard made it quite difficult to walk safely up the steep pathway although it was very exciting skidding down the slope before the bell rang because by the time morning recess came the heaviest frost had melted.

The school would nominate kids as ‘monitors’ for a period. There were bell monitors to ring the large bell at the school gate to start and finish morning and afternoon sessions, and ink monitors to maintain levels of inkwells in each desk in the classroom. There were fire places in each classroom but I can’t recall if we had a fire in them on a cold day; if we did it would be a school handyman’s job to look after that – a bit dangerous for the school kids. Just as primary schools are today, we had the same teacher for the year, in the same classroom. When it was built, in the early 1900s, Albuera Street School had no covered assembly room but in the mid 1930s a wooden hall was built on the boundary of the quadrangle, large enough to take the full school on a wet day and used as a gymnasium for indoor recreational classes.

By 1939 I was 7 years old and war had broken out in Europe. There was a general scare right throughout Australia and that had a flow on effect in Hobart. The block of land on the other side of the road in Albuera Street had originally been St. George’s Church burial ground and air raid shelters were dug in the area. Several times the whisper went around classrooms that ‘another grave had been found.’ We had a few trial trips to the shelters but of course never had to use them during an air raid.

There was no alternative to walking to school, even on the wettest of days, but I can’t ever recall using an umbrella or having other wet weather clothing. The thing I do recall is the cold winter mornings and being able to scrape frost from the fence line and pack it into a ball to throw. One of the joys of a wet day was also being able to race matches, or anything else that floated, along the gutters flowing with water. That would often delay our arrival home for lunch or make us later than normal after school.

It was standard practice for most working people to have a hot, main meal in the middle of the day and this seemed to apply to school movements. I would walk home for lunch (we always called it dinner) each day and back again for afternoon school. We had an hour and a half and this gave adequate time for a midday break. We called our evening meal ‘tea’ and supper was a drink and bikkie at bedtime. Mum was a wonderful cook and never lost her culinary skills, though our financial circumstances must have stretched her imagination to the extreme. Breakfast was usually Weetbix and hot milk, porridge, sometimes stale bread and hot milk in place of Weetbix, with plenty of sugar. I can only remember hot meat and vegies at the main meal, perhaps cold meat at night with scraps and other leftovers. I loved the straight after school snack of a round of fresh bread crust coated with a lovely thick dripping and plenty of pepper and salt. Dripping seems to be a thing of the past now in this era of healthy living but it didn’t seem to do a lot of harm to people at that time. Rabbit was one of the most popular meats and I think we had it at least once a week, often baked, mostly curried with a heap of vegies. In fact my memory seems to lean towards a lot of curries and stews all filled with vegies.

Wartime must have been extremely difficult with virtually all food rationed. Families were issued with ration books printed with coupons, which were to be cut out and surrendered for the food bought. I don’t think basics like bread and milk were rationed, nor rabbits, but butter, sugar, tea, meat and most grocery items, as well as petrol (which we didn’t need) were and at times things were difficult for most families. I look back now and puzzle how Mum and Dad managed with a young family of four and a very uncertain income. I think it was Mum’s wonderful management that got them through. Dad seemed to always have a packet of cigarettes and a glass of beer on Saturday night up at the Prince of Wales or Shippies.

Mum told me some years ago that Dad went to the races one Saturday, had a few wins (and a few beers), went to the dogs at the TCA ground that night, had more luck, came home giggling, woke Mum and emptied his pockets of money onto the bed. I have always had the feeling that Mum finished the night with a little more than her fair share of the winnings but if that is so, it must have gone a long way in helping to pay for all the bills that were building up at that time.

Mum also had the driest sense of humour. At a family wedding or birthday, someone called as the cake was about to be cut, ‘Make a wish.’ Mum quietly said, ‘Wish for money.’ This has almost become a family by-word since. Many years ago, during one of the family Sunday night card nights at Number 3, one of the boys was talking about a girl he knew with lovely big breasts. Mum quietly said, ‘Anything larger than a handful would be a waste.’ She would often tell our younger kids how she danced in the chorus line at pantomime shows at the Theatre Royal and would then stand on her hands against the wall of the house just to show she could still do it.

Both Mum and Dad were skilled tradespeople – Dad as a furniture upholsterer and Mum as a sewing machinist, clothing maker and in her younger days, carpet layer. I look back now on a tiny yard at Number 7, often filled with lounge suites waiting to be re-upholstered out in the weather and wonder what the rain would have done to the timber joints being glued with the only adhesive available at that time, the old hot melted ‘horses hoof’ glue which was anything but water resistant.

I remember Dad being in and out of work during my early years, which of course was during the 1930s Depression. I recall going with Mum to see him at Palfreyman’s furniture store on the corner of Liverpool and Argyle Streets where he worked as an upholsterer and also remember him telling me he worked on the building of the road to the top of Mount Wellington as a work for the dole project during that time. He told me once that he could remember a family who lived in a tent on the Domain because they couldn’t afford housing. It must have been an incredibly difficult time but they managed to keep their head above water and the family intact.