Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

School Days: Part 1

© 2013, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From February 1959 to December 1969, I attended 12 grades of school in 11 years. In this essay, I'll provide an overview of the education system in my home state, South Australia (SA), during those years, along with my recollections of my time in Primary School (US: Elementary School).

[Thanks very much to Kathy E. for providing input on the state's education system in the 40+ years since I left Australia. Kathy worked in the SA State Education system for 40 years as a high-school teacher, Counsellor, Subject Coordinator, Assistant Principal, and Deputy Principal. Her final school was the alma mater of the then Aussie Prime Minister, Julia Gilliard, who visited occasionally with her entourage. Thanks much also for feedback from Roger M., who taught me in Year-10 in 1967. Roger taught high-school Mathematics and Chemistry, was a State Science Advisor, and a Deputy Principal and Principal. He also served as a Coordinator and Chemistry teacher in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.]

Education in South Australia in the 1960's

Public education in Australia was, and still is, the responsibility of each state government. In South Australia, this came under the control of the Department of Education. Formal education started at age 5 or 6 and ran from Year 1 through Year 12. (In some years, when there was high unemployment for school leavers, a Year 13 was offered, at least on a temporary basis.) [In the US, while a few states run education at the state level, most do it at the county/city/town level. As such, there are thousands of different school systems, each hiring and firing its own teachers, and each providing a quality of service that often reflects its tax base. Wealthy counties, cities, and towns usually have far more computers and equipment and higher teacher pay than do the less wealthy, which may be struggling to pay for the essentials. There are 13 years of formal education, K–12. (See below for an explanation of K.)]

Although preschool is common now, when I was of that age it was in its early infancy in my region. In any event, it was called Kindergarten, or simply "Kindy." I never attended Kindy; we lived outside of town and there was no way for me to get there. [Preschool is also common in the US. The first official year of school, however, is called Kindergarten (K).]

School was broken into two main year groups: primary (Years 1–7) and secondary/high school (Years 8–12). [In the US we have elementary (usually Years K–6), middle/junior high (often Years 7–8, but sometimes Years 6–8 or 7–9), and high school (usually Years 9–12, but sometimes 10–12).]

I seem to recall that education was compulsory from ages 6–15. [Roger: In 1963, the minimum upper age for compulsory schooling changed from 14 to 15. In 2003, it moved to 16.] Back then, there was no concept of high school graduation. There certainly was no stigma to leaving school before completing Year 12. In fact, the high school in my town did not even offer a Year 12 until around 1960. And one could only attend that year if one were university-bound. It was only some years after I finished high school (in 1969), that Year 12 became an option for students not headed to university. One simply left school whenever! For example, my siblings left school during or at the end of Year 8, 9, or 10. I was the youngest of five siblings and I was the first to complete all 12 grades. My parents both ended their schooling after the 6th grade. [In contrast, in the US, failing to complete Year 12 is generally seen as a big disadvantage, and high school graduation really is a big deal. Separately, since the 1990's, the American high school concept of Senior prom (short for promenade) has become popular in Australia, complete with rented tuxedos and limousines!] [Kathy: The aim now is for every school leaver in the state to obtain a South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE). This credential is overseen by the SACE Board. The reality is that even though the 'certificate' is very flexible not everyone leaves school having attained this. Re the prom, students go to a formal; some schools allow Year 11 and 12 students to attend, so it is not really about graduation.]

In my day, for the first two years of high school, tests to determine progress were prepared by each school as it chose. For the third year and beyond, there were two kinds of tests and corresponding course loads, which I'll call internal and external. The tests for external work were devised by the state's Public Education Board (PEB). (Any student with the aptitude for going to university, teacher's college, or some profession was put in the PEB stream.) There was one big exam at the end of the school year, which counted for 100% of one's grade. No matter how well one did throughout the year, have a bad test day and one could fail and have to repeat the whole year! [This is a lot like the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate (IB) program being offered in many countries around the world, including the US and Australia.] I didn't like that testing model then, and I'm even more certain I don't like it now. It's hardly representative of a student's achievement through the year. Internal testing was done by each school. [Kathy: Final results at Year 12 are no longer totally based on the exam result, but are a combination of what the student has done during the year and a final exam; however not all subjects have final exams.]

The school year ran from early February through mid-December, and was broken into three equal-length terms. We had a week off for the May Holidays and another one off for the September Holidays. Then came the summer holidays. (Years later, the summer break was shortened, and the mid-term breaks were extended to two weeks each.) [In the US, the seasons are opposite. The school year typically runs from late August/early September through June, and is sometimes broken into four nine-week grading periods. Students have a 4-day long weekend in November for Thanksgiving, 7–14 days off over Christmas, and then another week off for Spring Break in March/April. Then comes the (usually 10-week) summer holidays during which time many summer (not necessarily academic) schools operate.] [Kathy: We now have four terms per year.]

Parochial schools (that is, church-run schools) were quite common. Most of the country's population was contained in no more than 10–15 cities, and in those cities, numerous religious denominations had their own schools. However, outside metropolitan areas in my home state, the vast majority of church-run schools were run by the Lutheran or Catholic churches. My hometown had one of each: Loxton Lutheran Day School and St. Albert's Catholic School (known locally as The Convent).

Some private schools that were not affiliated with a church (such as Montessori schools) existed. Historically, private church schools were known as colleges. [In contrast, in the US, the word college usually denotes a 4-year university, although community colleges offer 2-year programs.]

Regarding tertiary (that is, post-secondary) education, the classic British Commonwealth Bachelor's degree was three years, and for the most part one specialized starting on Day 1. [In contrast, the classic US liberal-arts model runs four years and allows for a lot of experimentation before deciding on a major. I absolutely love that model.] Exceptional students were invited to do a fourth year, Honors. Masters' and Doctoral degrees were available, but if I recall correctly, a master's degree was viewed as a Poor-Man's Doctorate. Unlike the US, the demand for higher degrees in Australia was quite low. [Roger: The demand for higher degrees is now quite common, with there also being a demand for double degrees.] As such, if one went beyond a Bachelors', one did a Doctorate, falling back to a Masters' if one didn't complete the thesis or the entire coursework.

At the time, South Australia had two universities: Adelaide and Flinders. Adelaide University was modeled on the British lines with nice architecture and grounds, lots of tradition, including a military regiment. On the other hand, Flinders was quite new and more like a modern American liberal-arts college. Flinders definitely was the state leader in anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam War. [Australia was one of the main allies of the US in that war, and we had a military draft for men at age 20. In contrast, the draft age in the US was 18, which, by no coincidence corresponds to the age of the average high school graduate.]

The third main tertiary school was the South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT). [Interestingly, the student newspaper was called SAITUN, although I never did see any pointed ears or tails on the paper's staff.]

My state of one million people had quite a few teachers' colleges, most of which were independent, and after three years of training produced a primary [US: elementary] teacher with a Diploma of Teaching. Students who wanted to teach high school completed instead a 3-year university degree and then afterwards attended an affiliated teachers' college for a year to learn how to teach. It is worth noting that all students attending a teachers' college in my state who were being trained for public education were considered employees of the state's Department of Education. As such, not only didn't they pay tuition fees, they got a paycheck each week, which was enough to live on without having a part-time job. So, by the time they graduated, they already had 3–4 years of service counting towards their long-service leave. [In Australia, my wife attended a 3-year teachers' college. She took the same three subjects each year: History, Education, and Physical Education. However, when she wanted to become certified to teach in Virginia in the US, she first had to take several English courses, a US History course, a Virginia History course, and some other general education courses to complete a Bachelor's degree, and then complete a Master's degree in Education.]

[In 1991, SAIT and most of the teachers' colleges combined to form the University of South Australia, and the teachers' colleges formerly affiliated with the initial two universities merged with those universities.]

In my day, almost all classes in tertiary schools lasted for the whole academic year. However, many have since moved to the 2-semester-per-year model used in the US.

By the way, the more formally organized tertiary student residences are called colleges. These are not part of any university, however, and are not on-campus.

How did one qualify for entrance to a tertiary school? Firstly, one had to be attending a version of Year 12 high school that used PEB exams. [Kathy: In 1970, some Teachers' Colleges allowed students into some courses after Year 11.] During my time, such students had to take five subjects, each for a full year. At the end of the year, they received a grade for each based on the final exam. A score of 1 was best with 4 being the lowest grade pass. Scores of 5 and 6 were failures. To gain admission to a university, one had to pass all five subjects; that is, get a score of 4 or better on each. However, for SAIT and the teachers' colleges, it was a bit more lenient, and a total overall score was needed. For example, two grade 5's could be offset by some grades 1 and/or 2. (This gets back to the lack of a concept of high-school graduation.) By the way, in the US, it is almost a rite-of-passage to attend a university in a state other than one's own. However, in Australia that was extremely rare in my time, especially given that all universities there had similar (and good) academic reputations.

In December 1972, Australia had a major change in Federal Government. Gough Whitlam became the new Prime Minister and he immediately implemented his two big campaign promises: make tertiary education free and get Australia out of the war in Vietnam. The former gave rise to the well-educated middle-class and really set in motion the idea that Aussies need no longer consider themselves second-class citizens. [Since about 1990, as budgets got tighter, tuition fees have been re-introduced and increased. However, they are nowhere near the levels of US colleges, except perhaps for foreign students.]

In the years that I attended primary and secondary school, one day each week a representative from The Savings Bank of South Australia came to school and allowed students to make deposits. The bankbooks were kept by the school or by the bank; I don't know which. In any event, each bank day, I'd head off to school with a one- or two-shilling coin (or, later, its decimal equivalent) tied into the corner of my handkerchief, so I wouldn't lose it.

Regarding apprenticeships and trade schools, if a student wanted to be a hairdresser or motor mechanic, for example, they left school as soon as they reached the minimum age, 15. They then were employed by a corresponding business as participants in a (usually) 3-year apprenticeship, during which time they received on-the-job training. They also attended several weeks per year of formal instruction at a trade school in the state capital. Later, trade schools became more prevalent and a vocational training program was set up in small towns all over the state. [In the US, many school systems have specialty schools that offer hairdressing, auto repair, and catering, among other things. Students attending those schools do so several days each week or every morning or afternoon, and attend their "base school" for all general academic work. That is, they do their apprenticeship as part of the high school system, which is why they are urged to stay in school and to complete Year 12.] [Kathy: Vocational Education still exists, and students can do some schooling and begin some work, which is counted towards their SACE certificate. This is what is described as the 'flexibility of the SACE.']

Historically, nursing was treated like an apprenticeship. Young women (since it was exclusive female back then) left school by about 16, and became attached to a local hospital as trainee nurses. They received on-the-job training as well as some weeks of formal classwork each year before graduating as nursing sisters after three years. Since the 1990's, nursing has been recognized as a profession requiring a 3-year Bachelor-of-Nursing degree.

Each summer, the Department of Education sponsored a state-wide "Learn to Swim" campaign, so that kids could earn certificates of many levels from beginners to lifesaving. Most instructors were schoolteachers, who like their swim students were on their long summer break.

Loxton Lutheran Day School: 1959–1961, age 5–7

Motto: Omnia in Christo (All things in Christ)

In February 1959, at the grand age of 5 years and 2 months, I started Grade 1. By all accounts, I was more than ready. My teacher that year was Miss Alsop. My Grade-2 teacher was Miss Garrett, and in Grade 3, it was Miss Dawn Lienert. (She married a local man and stayed in the area. Over the years, I've caught up with her and her husband at their place in Australia and at my place in the US. In August 2012, our paths crossed when we were on separate vacations to Split, on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. In 1961, Dawn was a 19-year-old, newly minted teacher at her first school, having had about two years of teacher training. I think she was a little bit intimidated, but then who wouldn't be with 25 or more little Rex's in their class!) At the end of the first term in 1961, we moved 25 miles and I changed schools.

The Headmaster (US: principal) of the school was a gregarious man, a cricket player, and the son a Lutheran pastor. His name was Theofpholous ("Ophie") Gerhard Daniel Renner. (In 2012, at age 82, Mr. Renner was honored as South Australian Citizen of the Year.) Now I got to know him rather quickly. Before the first week of Grade 1 was over, I'd seen the inside of his office and got the cuts; that is, a hard whack across each hand with his cane. [I am happy to report that more than 60 years later, I am no longer in therapy over that.] The incident for which I was punished involved me riding on a fast-moving, metal playground device called a "chair-o-plane," from which I fell, swearing in the process. Apparently, swearing was not the done thing in Lutheran school! Fortunately, for the young girl in question, I have long since forgotten who "dobbed me in" (US: ratted me out); that is, told on me.

I don't remember much about my 2+ years there, but one thing does stand out. At morning recess, we each got a 1/3-pint (180 ml) bottle of whole milk, as part of a statewide health and nutrition program. [Now, many years later, I'm still a whole milk fan, and every now and then when I buy a gallon here in the US, the taste is such that if I close my eyes, I'm transported back to that shelter shed at Loxton Lutheran!] Oh, and speaking of shelter sheds, they contained taps (US: faucets) for drinking water at deep troughs. Rumor has it that children—almost always boys, I'm sure—who said mildly or really bad things, were taken there to have their mouths washed out with soap. So, how do I know that? Let's just say that, "the Devil made me do it!"

I do recall that we wore a school uniform that had blue and white stripes. This included a regulation jumper (US: sweater) and blazer, and for the boys, a skullcap.

The sandy road that came in from the main road to our house out at Loxton East was about a mile (1.6 kms) long, and it wasn't easy to ride on. From the road gate, it was about another mile (1.6 kms) to the junction where we waited for the school bus. I do know that I got my own bicycle—a spanking new 22" Super Elliott—at the start of Grade 2. I don't recall how I got to and from the bus stop the previous year, but my guess is that the older siblings "donkeyed" me; that is, carried me on the back of one of their bikes.

Our nearest neighbors were the Arnold's, whose farm was only a mile (1.6 kms) from our main gate. Now they had six kids—three boys followed by three girls—and all were in school at that time, with the youngest being my age. So rather than have them all ride bikes to the bus stop, the family had a horse and a large 4-wheeled cart. Each morning, the six kids rode that to the bus stop where the horse was put in a large pen nearby with food and water. Then, each night, they'd drive home again. I recall that on a couple of occasions, I was too tired to ride my bike, so they put it on their cart and let me ride with them to our gate.

When I talked with brother Terry about this period, one of the very few things he could recall was the time we went to the bus stop and he played in some pools of water left from a recent rain. He fell over and got his clothes all muddy. Rather than get on the bus to go to school, he went back home and hid under his bed all day, so Mom wouldn't know. [It's not clear how he avoided her not finding the dirty clothes later.]

Regarding the bus, it was a small one, and the windows were pulled up from inside the body using a leather strap that had holes in it that went on a metal pin to control the size of the opening. Near the place we boarded the bus at the end of each school day, was Mr. Jordan's shop, and there we could buy an "icy pole on a stick;" that is, frozen flavored water (US: popsicle). For some reason, I recall that sticks on which these and ice-creams came were known as "fro-joy" sticks, presumably because they held a frozen joy. Anyway, if one had a pin and used that to put a hole about halfway along such a stick, and then twisted each end half in opposite directions, one could make a pretty good propeller that fairly well raced around when held in one's hand out the bus window.

Each morning, the bus took us to the Loxton Primary School, as that was the hub for many buses. From there, students were transferred to the Lutheran Day school and to the High School. (We dropped off the Catholic School students right near their school on the way into town.) Each afternoon, we did the reverse trip, except that the last kids on in the morning—such as my family—were the last ones off at night.

The total student enrolment at the school was about 160. Being five years younger than my next oldest sibling, I only overlapped school attendance for one year with one brother, and two years with one sister.

One of my school workbooks from that era survived, a writing book from Grade 2. I also have my Grade 1 school photo, in its original frame, on the back of which is a picture I drew.

Nadda Primary School: 1961–1962, age 7–8

At the end of Term 1 of 1961, we moved to Nadda, where I finished Grade 3 in the second and third terms. The 1-teacher school was held in the Nadda Institute, a large stone building with a huge room with open fireplace, a small room attached, and separate boys' and girls' dunnies (US: outhouses). (In South Australia, many small towns had an institute—sometimes called a hall—which served as the place for social events such as dances after football games in winter, annual Strawberry Fetes, end-of-year school plays, and 21st birthday parties.)

One of my school workbooks (arithmetic) from that era survived.

The total student population was no more than 10, and was spread over the seven grades. I recall that one teacher, a divorced woman, boarded with us for a term. I also recall a male teacher who boarded with a neighbor. The school closed in May of 1962—at the end of my first term in Grade 4—when we got down to only three students. [In 2014, when I visited that area, a friend presented me with a colored photo he'd taken on the day the school closed. It's one of only a handful of photos I have of myself during my primary school years.]

To get to school, I rode my bike three miles each way on a dirt road. [Unlike a popular saying in the US, it was not "uphill both ways!"]

One incident I recall involved my taking some empty 180-lb (82 kg) wheat bags to school, and we stitched them together to make a tent in which we played out in the yard. Some bright spark (pun intended) decided to make and light a campfire out front of said tent. However, while we were back in class the fire got out of control, resulting in us being rendered "tent-less."

During this time, I and other boys took up smoking, Aussie-bush style. This involved finding a mallee tree (a form of Eucalyptus tree native to the area), digging up some of its lateral roots, stripping off the bark, lighting up one end, and then sucking hard on the other. I recall it being hard work getting the smoke all the way up a 3-inch mallee root, and the taste wasn't so good either. But, hey, we were cool! We hid our matches along with some store-bought fags (Aussie slang for cigarettes) someone had "borrowed" from their parents, in an old, seldom-used structure across the road in the railway yards. [I note that store-bought is a US term. I recall that back then men referred to cigarettes one bought as tailor-mades, versus those that were hand-rolled with paper and tobacco.]

Calling Nadda a town is being generous. Although a township had been surveyed, when I lived in the area, Nadda consisted of a combination general store and post office with a house attached, some outbuildings, the public Institute, two tennis courts, and a railway siding. [In much earlier times, there was a football oval.]

Although the railway siding was unmanned, a train with freight wagons, one or two passenger carriages, and guard's van (US: caboose), came through several times a week. Machinery and fertilizer were shipped in, and bags of grain were shipped out. A locked box was used to hold the mailbag that the postmistress put there for collection and recovery. Bread also came several times a week with unsliced "sandwich" and "hi-top" loaves roughly sewn into one or more 180-pound wheat bags. At one end of the rail yard stood a locked phone booth that train staff could use.

Taplan Primary School: 1962–1964, age 8–11

After the Nadda School closed, I rode my bike a half mile to the corner near my house and then took a bus eight miles each way to the primary school in Taplan. This was another 1-teacher school with seven grades. Although I'd completed one term of Grade 4 at Nadda, not too long after I arrived at Taplan, the teacher put me in Grade 5 (so I went from being, on-average, six months younger than my classmates to 18 months younger). I completed Grade 6 in 1963, then Grade 7 in 1964. The most students we had at any time was 28. There were four of us in the same grade.

As was standard in South Australia, all Grade-7 students sat for their Progress Certificate (PC) at the end of that year. The results of this determined if one could go on to high school. [I still have that certificate.]

Two male teachers taught there during my time, and each lived in the house provided by the Education Department for married teachers.

Across the road from the school was the main store, which was run by Mrs. Harvey. I don't know if she had ever taught school formally, but on the rare occasion the teacher was absent, she took over.

All seven grades were taught in parallel by the same teacher, a feat I have trouble remembering how it worked, yet it did. We sat two-to-a-desk on one wide seat that tipped back on a hinge. The sloped desktops had holes on the right side of each student for the ceramic pot inkwells. [No lefties catered for, thank you very much!] I seem to recall that being inkwell (or chalkboard) monitor was a reward rather than a punishment.

Taplan had a large railway yard in which stood a number of wooden houses where railway gangers (workers, that is) sometimes lived. At one time, one of them was occupied by an Aboriginal family, a rare thing in my area. And although they had only small children, an older relative came to stay with them for an extended period. She was a big girl and a grade ahead of me, and she sat next to me, taking up a good piece of our shared seat.

The school grounds consisted of a large yard covered in crushed gravel, which was known locally as crusher dust. Most outdoor activities took place there. Down a back hill, we had a large vegetable garden, which we tended in season. At the bottom of that hill was a reasonably flat space for the boys to kick a football during recess and lunch breaks.

Next to the garden was a large patch of bamboo, and from that I carry a large and permanent reminder. From time to time, we'd cut down lengths of bamboo for use in a variety of activities, leaving behind jagged stumps about three inches (7.5cms) out of the ground. The Taplan football club oval (playing field) was nearby, and one Saturday during a game there, some other kids and I went over to the bamboo patch to "mess around." Somehow, I fell over and got one of those sharp, jagged stumps stuck in the front of my right, lower leg, right down to the bone. There was a lot of blood, yet I never did have it stitched.

As one went up the front steps of the school, to the left before the front door, there was a woodwork room. To the right was a large space enclosed on three sides by sheets of corrugated iron. That was where we sat to eat our lunch and played in inclement weather (a rare thing in that area).

At different times, different local people tendered for and won the contract to provide the school bus service that ran the 16 miles, going from Taplan to Nadda on the west road and then from Nadda to Taplan on the east road. One of those was my godfather, Albert Obst, who lived in Taplan and had a General Motors Holden panel van, a sort-of station wagon, but with the back having a higher roof and organized for commercial hauling rather than passengers. One night coming home, I caused some sort of problem, and as punishment, Albert put me off the bus about a mile from my stop, so I had to walk home. A second incident occurred with another driver—whose son I had teased—put me off some two miles from my stop. [Some 40 years later, I met that same man and the first thing he spoke of when he met me was how I'd teased his son. It was clear that he'd failed to "move on" with his life.]

Once a year, we competed in the Brown's Well district inter-school sports day. This involved schools from Taplan, Meribah, Paruna, Alawoona, and Peebinga, among others. We mostly competed in individual events, because with only 28 kids in seven grades, we never had enough of the same age/size to make up a boys or girls' team.

At the end of each year, we put on a school play, which was held on the stage of the Taplan Institute. We did it all: acting, singing, comedy sketches, and operating fund-raising stalls.

Back then, rural schools each had a Welfare Club, the forerunner of today's Parent-Teacher Associations, and they raised money via a number of means. In the case of Taplan, one very popular activity was the weekly Card Night, held at the school during winter. The game played was 500, a bidding game somewhat like Bridge and Euchre. There were four players to a table, and the head table had a bell. When one pair at the head table reached 500 points, they rang the bell and the current hand at the other tables was completed and the leading pair from each table moved to the next, but opposed each other there, while the losing pair stayed behind, but opposed each other. At the end of the night, prizes for the lowest (booby prize) and the highest score for men and woman were awarded, and hot drinks and snacks were consumed. Throughout, a roaring fire heated the cavernous room.

Another student and I were the only kids who attended and played. Now most people came to have some fun, but old Emil Schneck took it very seriously. He was a retired bachelor, and apart from attending St. John's Lutheran church on Sundays, this was his only other big weekly event! So, when I sat at his table, I had to "bid and play properly." Each person's score was recorded and at the end of the season, the top scorer got a folding card table. [In April of 2000, during a trip back to my hometown, I recreated a 500-night just as I'd remembered it from Taplan School. With 12 players, we made up three tables.]

I finished at Taplan School in December 1964. At the end of 1967, Taplan, along with all the small regional schools, closed with the students being bused to the Browns' Well Area School in Paruna, which supported Grades 1–10. [In 2007, 40 years later, that school also closed, with the students being bused to Loxton.]

Before bulk handling of grain and silos were introduced, Taplan had huge wheat stacks where many thousands of 180-lb (82 kg) bags were piled high, ready to be taken away by train. The town had a post office with a small store; a second, larger store; a church; a cemetery; a school; a teacher's house; a football oval; plus 20-odd houses.

In Part 2, I'll cover my time in high school and university.