A nostalgic journey through the school days of the 1960s

Sep 10, 2023
Looking back, my school days were filled with laughter, the gift of true friendship and many adventures. Source: Getty Images.

The time inevitably came for me to attend school. I was turning six in May 1964 so I was required to start my education in the Queensland public school system.

My first uniform was purchased from a popular department store in George Street Brisbane, called McDonnell and East (long gone unfortunately) The uniform was a royal blue pinafore with a belt, the school emblem was embroidered on the breast pocket, and a white shirt could be worn under. Of course, it was purchased a few sizes larger than necessary (to hopefully fit me for more than one year) The hem was taken up quite a few inches, hardly noticeable to a very excited, first year attendee.

Mum had an account with that store, as well as Waltons in Fortitude Valley, as I’m sure many a Brisbane household did in those days. Account holders were able to make weekly/fortnightly payments to ease the cost of living and uncertain wages back in those days. Waltons even had a travelling salesman call to your house with an array of clothing, homewards and bric a brac to tempt the home-maker.

The first day of school was probably hot, being January, in 1964. I was up early, very excited and dressed in my new uniform, black shoes and white ankle socks on my feet and a little school bag that one wore on their back (it was made of dark brown, durable cardboard, unfortunate if they got saturated in a summer storm, they fell apart quite easily). Google tells me, it is approximately a one and a half kilometre walk to that school from our house, but it really seemed an extraordinarily long way that first day. Mum held my hand that morning, realising I was feeling a little apprehensive. My two brothers, of course, came along as well and were running and playing with sticks while Mum reassured me that all would be ok and that I would make new friends.

I can remember all my teachers from primary school, and I have stayed in touch with a couple of special girlfriends up to this day.

We laughed and played in our special groups during our lunch break, no hats worn in the sun, or sunscreen. Lunch consisted of a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, a couple of biscuits and a piece of fruit, placed in a little plastic lunch box. A cordial drink was in a little plastic screw-top container with a cup that fitted over the top. Usually, a group of close friends and I would sit together under one of the huge trees around the perimeter of the oval. Here bull ants thrived in their hundreds and would give you a sharp bite on any part of your anatomy they could sink their teeth into, and let me tell you those bites are still well remembered.

For a special treat, usually for our birthday, we were allowed to order a little lunch and big lunch from the tuckshop. Mum would place some money (usually the correct amount) in a paper bag, on the outside of each of the bags was written your name, class and either ‘Little Lunch’ or ‘Big Lunch’, and what was required. I always had a cream and jam donut (real cream I might add) for ‘Little Lunch’ and a meat pie for ‘Big Lunch’. School monitors would collect these paper bag orders, at the beginning of the first class in the mornings and take them down to the tuckshop ladies. The monitors for the day would then be sent to collect them at the correct time for little lunch or big lunch and return to the class room, with the most incredible smells filling the air as they were distributed to the lucky children.

Of course, most baby boomers will remember that the government provided free milk to primary school children. These little bottles of milk, sometimes even flavoured milk, would be delivered to the school and placed, hopefully, out of the sun, until each class or year was allotted their turn to march down and be handed a little bottle of usually warm milk, to enjoy. I didn’t mind it warmish, but it didn’t sit well with some of the others and I believe may have even turned them off milk for the rest of their lives.

Looking back, my school days were filled with laughter, the gift of true friendship and many adventures.

Sport was softball and netball for the girls and boys usually played cricket and football. Our school was one of a few that had a pool, the water and sides of which were a little green and slimy some days, but that was rectified by the janitor adding a copious amount of chlorine which you could smell in the air as you tromped over the uneven dirt path from the class room.

Being a natural blonde, my hair turned an unusual shade of green, caused by the chlorine, during these summer months. Skin turned a golden brown, or red, depending on your skin type, untouched by sunscreen until years later when we were told about the damage exposure to the sun can cause.

Those first seven years of primary school seemed to pass so slowly for us way back then, but how quickly time does pass in retrospect.

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