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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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School 824 : Memories, Sports (local)


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Many of the sports we know today originate from the English public school system of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, particularly those of Rugby and to a lesser extent, various forms of football that developed into the "British Association" game, now known world-wide as soccer.

There may have been an occasional game of something akin to soccer played with a "new Chum's" head (just joking), and none of the local South Preston sports ever made it to the best of our knowledge into Hoyle's Book of Games, but they were an integral part of the recreational life at 824.  [1]

Within the school-ground itself - and this is something a sexist recollection - the games other than football or cricket were the usual hide-and-seek (the Tip was out-of-bounds), "chasey" aka "tag",  "hoppo-bumpo", where partners would piggy-back and try to knock the "jockey" off their rivals, sometimes with eight or ten partners going at each other; a form of British Bulldog where one team would try and defend a base against another team, plus one which I'm sure was purely a local invention, "wall ball".

The northern wall of the school, the newest section, had a row of bevelled bricks about two feet above ground level.  Two teams of about five or six played, the objective for the "bowling" team to toss a tennis ball at the angled edge so it would fly in the air. If one of their team caught it, they scored a point, but if one of the "fielding" team took the catch, then they earned the right to bowl.  [2]

The game was usually played against the wall of 3C - games were not allowed closer to Hotham Street from a line along the back fence of the neighbouring terraces, so there was just enough room to have two matches going at once, some of which lasted for several lunchtimes until one team reached an agreed number of points.

Various versions of marbles were played - two I remember (although not the name) was one where one marble was placed in a circle, the objective of one team to fire from outside the circumference to try and hit the centre "aggot"  out of the ring, the other to keep nudging it back towards the centre so it stayed in play.  

A second game was effectively a version of lawn bowls where a large marble (aka a "tombola")  was placed ten or twelve feet away and whoever landed his marble "nearest to the pin" was the winner.  Extreme versions of this were played where "winner takes all", meaning one with either luck, talent or an unknown method of cheating could walk away with a treasure-trove of others kids precious marbles - provided he didn't meet the losers on the way home!

The asphalt section of the boys playground was about a foot above the gravel section and the slight incline was ideal for a third form : a series of winding grooves about half-an-inch deep was scratched into the dirt, the idea to shoot your "alley" as far as possible along the track, but if it didn't stay within the groove, your shot didn't count. Although it was somewhat considered to be "dirty pool", it was legitimate to knock an opponents marble off the track, meaning he would have to start all over again. Along the length of the incline, there were probably half-a-dozen tracks of various complexity, the only problem being that heavy rain could easily wash away all of the dedicated earlier construction work.

We mentioned earlier that the eight-sided Black Magic pencils were perfect for desktop cricket, a staple on rainy days.

This was hardly original - it was in fact a simplified variation of a popular John Sands and Co. board game, Test Match.

A section of paint on each side of two pencils was scraped away - one was the batting pencil, the eight blank spaces marked something like 0,0,1,2,3,4,6 and ? designating the number of runs, or in the latter case, an appeal for a dismissal.

Landing on the ? meant rolling the bowling pencil; it was labelled something like NO (2 by Not Out), C (2, caught), B(owled), S(tumped), RO (run out) and LBW.  I doubt many of the "players" went on to wear the baggy green cap of the Australian Eleven, but again lots of fun and usually extended over the full four innings of our pretend Test matches of the day.  

Scorecards were kept in the back of exercise books, each "player" taking it in turn to either bat and bowl, and if it contributed nothing else to the academic world of the time, it probably helped develop skills in 'Rithmetic and perhaps later to a youngster's ability keep a scorebook at a live match (believe me, a much more more complex task than it may appear and requiring a considerable level of concentration).

Not exactly a sport, but the other annual event, and compulsory for fifth and sixth graders was a ball at Collingwood Town Hall, perhaps best remembered by yours truly as having drawn at random the same partner, Eileen Coates in both years.  Why Collingwood?  Not sure, I can only assume the Preston City Hall in Gower Street wasn't big enough.

The girl's playground was on the southern side and none of the boys ever ventured there because it was a well-known fact that if you did, you caught "girl's germs" (sorry, ladies).

I remember "rounders", similar to softball but I think played with something akin to a tennis ball and an elongated table-tennis style flat-surfaced bat and the main girl's sporting activity as I remember, the home base between the fence and the rear of 1B with the diamond  extending diagonally to the north-east.  

The other logical recreation would have been netball/basketball - a clouded memory thinks there may have been posts at either end between the girl's shelter shed and the Tip fence, but other than that, nothing comes to mind.  

There would undoubtedly have been equivalents of the passive pastimes such as marbles and desktop cricket - were dolls allowed to be taken to school? - but like the 1950’s and today, girl's and boy's activities were worlds apart.

Most of these recollections probably seem somewhat passe in today's electronic and Internet age, but they were fun and realistically, probably a great deal more beneficial to the physical development of the kids of the time than sitting behind a games console or an X-Box!

Except perhaps for The Curse of the Free Milk!

Herewith endeth the lessons on part of the first hundred years of 824 - my ghost or whatever looks forward to gazing from above or perhaps below (fires underground at the Tip again) on the second centenary.  

[1]   "Hoyle's Book of Games" was first published by Englishman Edmond Hoyle in 1672.

A tutor, writer and lawyer by trade, Hoyle was best known as an expert on the rules and strategies behind card games and board games including chess and backgammon, hence the common phrase "According to Hoyle".  It is still published today with rules of many of the popular computer games included, along with a number of games produced by the current-day company - sadly, however, the producers have yet to update their editions to include South Preston State School's immortal wall-ball.

[2]  I remember an alternative “wall-ball” version courtesy of 2nd Northcote Scouts. In this version, two teams lined up on either side of the hall (still adjacent to Thornbury Station) and chucked something akin to a padded sock or soft rubber ball at each other - if you got hit, you retired, the last main standing occasionally took some minutes to decide as the last pair faced off … but I digress (again)