Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My first school

I started school at Thornton in the Laidley Valley in south east Queensland, before the Ward family farm was sold and Grandma and Aunty Dolly moved to Sandgate to live and we moved to Nudgee, 3 train stops and a bus ride away.

Recently, at my aunt’s funeral, a second cousin introduced himself and said he had gone to school with me. Before I could respond that I’d only gone to school at Thornton for about 6 months, he said, “You started school at Thornton, didn’t you?  I was there at the same time.”  I’m sure if I had Ron’s memory, I would have lots more interesting stories to tell!  I wasn’t there long enough to have many concrete memories of life at a small country school.  It was a one-teacher school with Mr Titmarch the teacher. My introduction to innuendo was hearing the emphasis placed on the "Tit" by the older kids and admiring their naughtiness.

My two ambitions in first grade were to swim as well as the big kids and to really ride a horse. I don't recall any desire to read or write or do sums. My transport to and from school was on the back of Marion Gerke's horse.  Marion was a "big girl", probably 12 or 13, who lived down the lane and across the creek from my home.

Dsc_0037 Marion lived where you can just see a roof on the left hand side of this photo, which was taken from in front of the Ward family home.

Because she had such a small passenger she had to sedately plod the mile to and from school instead of galloping fearlessly as I knew she could. I thought she was the nicest person I'd ever met and I was aware I was a responsibility who spoilt her opportunity to receive the admiration which was her due from the younger pupils.  I so badly wanted to be able to gallop and win the race to school.

Instead I sat behind her on her horse with my arms wrapped around her. She had lovely long hair, which I liked to feel on my face. When it rained she would put her raincoat around the both of us, so I had no chance of getting wet with my own coat, and hers as well, to protect me.  In the late 70s Marion came to visit us at Te Kopuru (my grandmother had stayed in touch with her family) and I was happy to discover she is indeed a lovely, gentle person.

The creek (the same one which ran behind Grandma and Grandad Osborne's house and the other side of which Marion lived) passed by the back of the school, and served as a swimming hole at lunch time when there was water in it. I was mortified that I was a "baby" and was only permitted to play in its shallows and not able to win the races to the other side and back. (Where does competitiveness come from? I know I had it at five.)

But I remember the creek more clearly than anything else at that, my first school. Further up along the creek, by Grandma and Grandad's, the swimming holes were stony bottomed but here the banks were muddy and, although the water looked clear when we first rushed into it, it soon turned very dirty and muddy with all 14 pupils swimming, jumping and thrashing around. These days, children would not be allowed to swim in it for fear of them catching some dreadful disease but it served the purpose for us. We would emerge a lot dirtier than when we entered, but we were cooler and had used up a lot of energy.

After lunch another child and I (the new entrants) were sat at the back of the classroom and instructed to have a short sleep, leaning forward, with our arms folded over the desk. It was a matter of principle with me to stay awake longer than the other kid and, if possible, not go to sleep at all!

One afternoon a week the teacher’s wife, Mrs Titmarsh would come to take the girls for what I suppose was called 'Handcrafts' or something similar. Once again I was considered too young to do needlework like the older girls and would be given a sheet of thick grey paper and a few crayons and instructed to draw something. I used to draw trees, maybe because I loved them but more likely because I couldn't draw anything else (and still can't!). Another possible reason was it gave me an excuse to sit by a window and look out at the trees instead of in my usual mortifying position in the front row.

The school at Thornton is now a Bed and Breakfast Country Retreat – they even offer a massage!

thornton school
The old Thornton school, photo copied from the Country Retreat website.

Who would have thought?


  1. Our first schools have vivid memories - perhaps because it is such a right of passage. Mine was a Victorian brick building perched high above the sea that on stormy days would spray onto the windows- Rockcliffe Primary School. I would watch the fisherman from the window, and sometimes we had services when a boat was lost.

  2. What wonderful tales of first-days at school. You're right - there's no fun for children anymore because of fear of litigation. We used to skate on our lunch time - on whatever flooded surface we could find. Nowadays all that is forbidden unless it's on a supervised outing.

  3. Oooohhhh I might go back and visit my first school when I get the chance!

  4. Gorgeous memories and photos! And back to school with a massage - just what every Mum needs!


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