Early Years – A Boy’s Life
The Magnet 1143, 11 January 1930. Source: comicbookplus.com
Among the boy’s magazines I used to buy was the Magnet. The best-remembered character from its pages is Billy Bunter, the fat boy of the Remove at Greyfriars School in England. A remove is a form or class of an intermediate nature between two different class years. The Remove form-master was Mr Quelch and the respected Head of the school was the Reverend Dr Locke. Billy Bunter was a real roly-poly who seemed to live mainly on cream buns. Every success over other form rivals was celebrated with a feast of goodies.
The Magnet and other papers for boys did have advertisements as well as stories. Many boys in Australia would have responded to a Lisburn and Townsend invitation to request a selection of postage stamps of “The World” on approval. Send twopence (2c) for postage and receive 225 different stamps free. Another advertiser offered magic tricks in parcels at 2/6 (25c) and 5/6 (55c). You could also buy a ventriloquist’s instrument for sixpence (5c) or get four for one shilling (10c). You could imitate birds, like using a gum leaf.
If you were being bullied by someone like those upper formers at Greyfriars the advert to catch your eye read, “Don’t Be Bullied. Take Jujitsu Lessons. Learn To Fear No Man”. The small print read “First Lesson – Postal Orders 1/- (10c)”. The same problem might have been solved in a mild-mannered way, by taking an amazing new course, “Be Tall In 14 Days Or Money Back”. This for 5/- (50c). If you were shy or reserved you could stop blushing or stammering by taking courses at a small fee. On the other hand if you wanted to break out, and become the life of the party, you could take up music. For 11/9 ($1.20) you could buy a Ukulele/Banjo with tutor.
The Magnet (price 2d) sometimes gave away free gifts to keep our interest in the paper going. Model planes were always acceptable. They would be made out of cardboard or balsa wood, with a twelve-inch wing, and were easily assembled. Powered by a rubber band a plane could fly up to 75 yards in 10 seconds. It would fly in a circle and then glide in to land. It weighed under an ounce. As I remember it, other gifts were a magnifying glass and stamps. Much of my spare time was taken up by my stamp collection. I learnt a lot about the world and its many countries and currencies from my stamps. Everyday issues were the geography teachers of my time. It is a pity that today’s kids do not see a stamp program on TV.
Early Years – Perth Boys School (1930-1935)
Perth Boys School (PBS) was in James Street opposite the State Library in the city (the site of what is now the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts). Mother had been advised by local people not to enrol me immediately as it would be easier to do that when the rush had died down. It was two weeks before I was enrolled. The tragedy of late registration was that it was “first in, best served” for the professional classes. When I was signed on at PBS Classes 7 A, B, and C had been filled as had the first two commercial classes 7D and 7E. I had to be content with 7F, just missing 7G. So much for good advice.
For many years the students of Perth Boys School had the good fortune to be at PBS when T.C. (Tommy) Chandler was Headmaster. He was in charge when I started in 1931 and when I left in 1933. I remember him from the many times he would stop and talk to the boys about their homes and families, and about their own sports.
My class teacher in 7F was Bill Skipworth, or “Skippy”. He was a hard taskmaster as I recall. He was not backward in dealing out a bit of punishment to troublemakers in class. Kids would talk and try to slow down the lesson with interruptions and he showed them that he ran a tight ship. A crack with a pointer or cane was to be watched for. One day when he was driven beyond his patience by Trevor Gunson, Skippy cuffed him across the ear really hard.
George Hagley from Victoria Park, who died a few weeks into 1984, sat next to me in class. He was to star in one of Skippy’s quick decisions when he and a lad named Sebo had an argument. It was decided by Skippy that a gloves-on contest was the only answer.
A boxing ring was set up in the school hall. After school the two boys entered the ring with Skippy who was to be referee and the three-round fight got underway with the boxers getting plenty of advice from their seconds and the spectators. George had the best style but Sebo battled on as they punched and puffed their way to a draw decision by the referee. No more punch-up arguments in the hall after that.
The cane was never far away if we overstepped the mark. I recall a day when a group from our class were taking a lesson in an open lunch shelter which had a gravel floor. Someone started throwing small pebbles across to our side and these were quickly tossed back. Our fun was short-lived for we were spotted by the teacher and sent off to report to Mr Skipworth.
We pleaded guilty without asking to ring our lawyers, or invoking the fifth amendment, or quoting legislation relating to individual rights or discrimination. One problem in our community today is that whatever the crime committed the guilty people never stop protesting their innocence as they move from one court to another. Even if the final verdict came from the heavens above they would lodge an appeal. We took our sentence of six cuts of the cane as stoically as possible. We tried to keep up a brave face in class but I do recall that it did hurt. I might say that I never had to face up to that again. Once was enough and I learned a lesson from it. Today the cane is reserved for serious breaches of discipline and in view of the nature of some of these modern transgressions the schools should still have its use as an option.
There was, of course, another side to Skippy. He was the sportsmaster and this meant that his involvement with the boys in their various sports was continuous. He enjoyed talking with the boys whenever the opportunity arose and it was while he was doing this, and watching lunchtime “kick to kick” football on the gravel schoolyard, that he was able to come to my aid. The smaller boys of the school had to shark the ball in front of the markers and kickers, so there I was picking up marks from short kicks and grabbing any strays that came my way, when something crashed into the back of my head and knocked me out.
Trevor Gunson, a good strong player for the school, had kicked a “grubber” which hit me right behind the ear. Skippy ran to me in a flash and tried to bring me around but no luck. I had to be carted up to the science room where well-known Sea Scout leader, Hal (“Tinny”) McKail was in charge. McKail had been with the school since 1913 so was familiar with schoolboy accidents. He was able to bring me back to earth and the excitement was all over. Trevor and I are still good mates and we have retold this episode many times to other members at the Yokine Bowling Club.
I took my first swimming lessons at PBS, and they will be long remembered. “Tinny” McKail and his helpers took charge of us down at Crawley Baths in Mounts Bay Road. The methods were simple. We lined up in turn and had a good strong rope tied around our chest with a good sea-scout knot. We then had to jump into deep water whether we could swim or not. I jumped in and started going down for the first time but did not get far as willing hands yanked the rope hard pulling me back up to the surface. I then had to strike out for the steps with everybody hoping I would make it but ready to give another heave on the rope to bring me to safety. A few lessons like that and I started going over to the “Springs” area of the Swan River over at Maylands where I was able to teach myself and gradually get some ability at swimming. Running attracted me for a while and I showed a bit of speed over seventy-five yards a couple of times. The other sporting activity we were always involved in was regular physical training in the schoolyard, under the eagle eye of big Reg McKissock. He had a physical culture school at about 130 William Street.
Other classmates of mine were Charlie Groves, Charlie Lanham, and Charlie MacGill who later played cricket for Western Australia. I think Laurie Kinsman was a classmate from 1931 year.
One friend who left before the end of the year was Harold Dick who got a job with the Daily News as an assistant to a News photographer. They had an assignment requiring them to depict a schoolboy in class, thinking ahead to having a lot of fun in the Christmas holidays. For some reason a red-haired, freckle-faced kid like myself, became the subject. The Daily News of 17 December 1931 (CORRECTION: 20th) will show me in a Page 1 photograph under the lead caption, “No need to give a penny for his thoughts”. One half of the photo shows me sitting at my desk day-dreaming about having a swim and the other half of the photo in the paper shows me diving into the water. The last part was taken as I dived off the jetty at the A.N.A. boat shed on the Swan River just east of Barrack Street.
Harold Dick was the son of Harold? Dick (CORRECTION: George) who was the racecourse detective for the W.A. Turf Club for many years. Young Harold was on a photographic assignment in New Guinea in World War II when he was killed in action (CORRECTION: Harold died in December, 1943 in an air crash in Queensland. He had been a wartime photographer in New Guinea for the Department of Information. Sunday Times, 26 December 1943, page 7).
At Perth Boys School I was now nearly halfway through my second year. My class was 8E and it was in this class that I was able to meet Jock Campbell, who was one of the best teachers at the school. A solidly-built man with a little moustache, Jock kept us at our work but at the same time he had a sense of humour. He had occasion once or twice to send an early morning city purchase out to his home in Dyson Street, South Perth, before he was due home after school. I usually got the job, having my bike at school.
The boys in this class were not the same group from 7F. Some of 7F left at the end of 1931 as they were now 14 and wanted to find a job. Other new boys came from suburban schools which had a first year high school class such as Shenton Park and Subiaco. Names I can recall include Ron Pight, Bill Cairns-Hill, Joe Campbell and Norm Rapley. If I were to see the school rolls then I could put names to many faces still around the city and suburbs. Jock Campbell later became Director of Art Education.
My main sport at school was football. We played other classes from our own grade level, and occasional visitors. I played a bit of cricket but did not maintain my enthusiasm for it. I can remember bowling left-hand spinners to Laurie Kinsman down at the Wellington Square wickets, and hitting the stumps a couple of times. He was the class opener but I could sometimes get him by surprise. I was sent to the grade or the school team practice on the Esplanade, although I really did not know much about cricket. I do remember going out with a single pad on, and that on the wrong leg. The Christian brothers, Ron and Arthur, were bowlers that day, and I recall slogging a couple of their deliveries up in the air, and getting told off for careless play by Pud Stallwood, the cricket master. I decided to stick to swimming and did not play any more cricket. Like the boy taking his bat home?
I played a bit of tennis after Mum bought me a racket which I am not sure we could afford. I had a few school games over at the Robinson Park courts in Fitzgerald Street but gave up after a while and passed the racket on to my sister. Boys were not keen on tennis in those days. I might say that I was a left-handed server and also a double-handed player which was unusual at the time. Double-handed players came more under notice when such Australian players as Vivian McGrath and John Bromwich had first-class match success in the mid-1930s and later.
The 1933 school year at PBS saw me move up into Ted Huck’s 9E Class. Our new classroom was in the front of a house across James Street from the main school. The house, which was two doors east of the Police Traffic Department building and two doors west of the tuck shop area on the corner of Museum Street, is long since demolished. The main buildings, which housed Perth Boys School from 1897, and Perth Girls’ from 1897 to 1936, are still in use.
Teachers I remember from Perth Boys School include my own three teachers, Bill Skipworth, Jock Campbell and Ted Huck. Others were “Pud” Stallwood, Steve Bye, Roy Peterkin, Roy (R.G.) Grace, and the second Roy Grace, the teacher in English. There were about eight hundred boys at the school in each of my years 1931/32/33. These high attendance figures probably reflected the jobless Depression days, when older boys stayed on at school rather than idle about.
Hundreds of boys meant many teachers. Maybe there were thirty or more. I can recall more names that I can put faces to, and these are Neil Traylen, Dick Halliday, E (“Ecker”) Elliott, and Cyril Rossiter. Bert Schorer was the senior manual training instructor. In his section I was occasionally in trouble because some of the tools and equipment were not kind to left-handers. I still have a scar on my thumb from trying to saw wood back to front. The shed where we did our carpentry is still in the school grounds. Bert died on 19 January 1987 at 91. He was the father-in-law of Don Sanders of the ABC Perth/Darwin who is well-known to me.
Now I use a few lines to move out of the school onto Roe Street just to mention the old wooden steps which led up to the footpath on the Horseshoe Bridge. Thousands of young (and older) feet had walked up and down those stairs during their school life years. When I last saw the steps they showed the “well-worn” signs of the heavy pedestrian traffic over several decades. Many of Perth’s most distinguished citizens did pass that way in their early years, and it was a great pity when this stairway from the school to the outside world disappeared under the heavy weight of some administrative decision that replaced them.
I was not too unhappy about the move (to Muchea) at the time (being halfway through the Junior Certificate year) but it did mean that I would not sit for the junior examination at the end of the year. On my classwork tests and general work I would have gained my certificate easily. Also I was not able to take up an offer to cox a crew from the Swan Rowing Club, down out the foot of Barrack Street, in the coming rowing season.