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School 824 : Memories : Day One

School 824 : Memories : Day One

There does not appear to be a surviving image of the newer South Preston school post-1920s (small sections of the front perhaps show in class photos), but from what the author remembers of the building of the early 1950s, the section to the right extended forward to the protruding centre frontage in the postcard and this was the main entrance with the staff room in the newer section and the Honour Board on the left-hand wall of the corridor.

The discovery of a school class photo after compiling the original was a surprise and revealed that it must have 1952 when I just turned six when I started - without ever spending a great deal of time pondering the question, I thought it was a year earlier, but based on a "known" that I was 19 when I finished my Diploma, this - with the help of fingers and toes - works out to be correct.   

I thought five years was the minimum starting age - the 1952 year started on Tuesday, 5 February and there are references to 5 year-olds starting, but as a result of the post-war "baby boom", South Preston like most others in Melbourne was so overcrowded at the time that only those children of something like six-and-a-half were accepted at the Hotham Street precinct.

A couple of warnings by Teacher's Unions the previous year had suggested that with something like 14,500 children starting in 1952, there would be many situations where children would be turned away;  there were an estimated 250,000 children in the school system at the time.  At the time of the opening of the school year, there were predictions that while a class of 40 was "normal", sizes of 60 or 70 would not be uncommon.

The younger five year-olds - I was 6 and two months on February 5 - were sent instead to a wooden hall behind the Yann Street South Preston Methodist Church (now Greek Orthodox); both the building and the date palm which I clearly remember were still there around circa 2010 ago and clearly visible behind the church.   During my time, a number of horse stalls extended inside the property down Seymour Street and part-way along the western border and I remember a grassy area to the west of the church, either a vacant block or an unbuilt section of the church property.

Another recollection is walking home with a couple of others, taking the short cut via the lane parallel with the houses on the north side of Young Street only to find that Bransgrove’s Farm had a high-wire fence topped with barbed wire and signs with the indecipherable words “Trespassers Prosecuted” - someone thought they meant “don’t come in or the bull will get you” - smarty-pantz me knew they meant “don’t come in or the police will get you (thanks to Mum’s explanation while walking the Bell Street side a few days before.  The construction of PANCH met with a false start - although the land was cleared, funds dried up and it wasn’t until 1955 the construction proper began.

There were around 25 of us at Yann Street, a bit less than the size of each of the two classes in Grade One, and although referred to as "the bubs", it was a teaching environment (officially, a Preparatory class)  and I can remember the basic arithmetic tables - "once two is two, "two twos are five" - and learning the alphabet I remember I always got “S” the right-way round ‘cos Superman had it on the outside of his pyjamas, always found which direction “B” and “D” went tricky until I worked “B” faced the side I kicked the footy with..

I recall being transferred up to Hotham Street in the middle of the year to enjoy the atmosphere of the open garbage tip which later became Cochrane Reserve.  I think I was the only one "promoted" at that time, but there was another kid, Leigh Sinclair, who I remember being in my grade both in prep. and at the main school, so I'm guessing he may have got the nod a little later.

The net effect is that throughout my entire schooling, I was around six months younger than all of my classmates - a big disadvantage at five years of age when six months or 10 percent of your life can mean a big physical advance, but it did have some benefits later on when sports teams were based on age and I could usually compete against kids that were in the Grade below me.

I'm not sure how long the "preparatory" class continued - there were no structural additions to the buildings in Hotham Street during my time other than a small library along the southern boundary just after I left at the end of 1957. I thought it may have been for a couple of years until the "baby boom" ran its race and the resultant number of new pupils decreased, but postings on the school’s FaceBook page show Preparatory Class photos in the early 1970’s (apparently taken at Hotham Street - of how long Yann Street was used I have no idea.