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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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School 824 : Memories, Slate, Pencil and Ink


This was, of course, some 40 or more years before computers took over much of the learning process.

My recollections are that in Grades 1 and 2, slate boards and erasable slate pencils were provided by the school for arithmetic and other exercises where the results were of a transitory nature, but handwriting and basic English spelling - "Run, Betty, run" or "the cat sat on the mat" - was done in parent-provided exercise books with a soft lead pencil.

Grade 3 was all pencil and paper - lined Exercise Books - but there is a chance that this represented the general retirement of the antiquated slate across the board rather than just a natural progression through South Preston.

Grade 4 by comparison saw the introduction of every mother's worst nightmare - ink!

That is, ink, to be spread at random across children's hands, faces, shoes and clothing.  

The dual desks from this grade on had metal inkwells inserted in the front.  The old wooden pen and steel nib must have been in use for decades, but I seem to remember that during my fourth year, a rather fat plastic pen came into use, not quite like the more expensive fountain pen, but with some sort of device, probably a lever, that cause a quantity of ink to be sucked up into a reservoir within the shaft, thus eliminating the need for constant re-dipping into the inkwell.  [1]

But even these required ink and thus the "volunteering" of services to be an ink monitor to make sure that all the desk inkwells were filled prior to class. Similarly, there were also chalk monitors to clean blackboards before the teacher arrived.

The two were easy to tell apart - ink monitors had blue hands that would stay that way for weeks, while chalk monitors had white hair, white faces and dusty white clothing, most of which could be removed with a good scrub and a stiff clothes brush overnight.

For drawing and other artwork, the crème e la crème was a full set of English "Lakeland" pencils, the ultimate of which, drooled over by many small children with their noses pressed up against the Bell Street window of W. E. Green's news agency being a wooden box of three rows of carefully graded colours, 24 to a row, neatly priced at 72 shillings which probably represented half the weekly wage around Preston at the time.  [2]

There were occasional appearances of Lakelands at South Preston which inspired rank jealousy - they also came in boxes of 12 or 24 and just sometimes a doting grandmother or auntie would come to the party on John or Betty's birthday.

For most though, it was the cheaper Derwents, or Embassy coloured pencils from Coles, but the ultimate drawing weapon was the Black Magic - a octagonal pencil with a thick black-as-midnight lead ideal for shading or tracing maps or other outlines - also around a shilling each, but with the massive advantage of being available from Green's individually. [3]

(I seem to remember that in the very early grades, on your birthday you were given a coloured pencil and allowed to sit at the front of the class - stiff cheddar for those whose birthdays fell during the Christmas break)!

The rather more messy alternatives were Indian ink for black or VANA [4] coloured inks in blue, green or red with drawing sets available with various nib shapes and sizes.  Blotting paper, as it was in the pen-and-ink classes, was a mandatory accessory.

The jury remains out on ballpoint pens - again they had been available for several years, but their price tended to limit them to white-collar workers until the French Bic company revolutionised the market with a new type of ink and introduced a simplified version, I think in the mid-50s

Initially only available at either Coles or maybe Woolworths in High Street (one of the pair had a monopoly until competitors caught up), they were 1/6d and came in any barrel colour you wanted provided it was yellow, and in any ink colour you fancied (provided it was blue).