Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

School Days: Part 2

© 2013, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From February 1959 to December 1969, I attended 12 grades of school in 11 years. In Part 1, I reported my recollections of my time in Primary School (US: Elementary School). In this Part, I'll cover my high school years as well as my years as a part-time university student.

[Thanks much 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.]

An Introduction to Loxton High School

[Situated on the River Murray, Loxton was the center of the then Loxton District Council (US: county) local government area. It was surrounded by irrigated fruit properties, and the greater area probably had a population of 2,000–3,000 people at the time. Much of the council area was occupied by wheat/sheep farms of 3,000–5,000 acres. The average rainfall was 10 inches (25 cms).]

Motto: Scientia Crescat; Latin for "let knowledge grow"

I started there in February 1965, and was there for five years. On average, we had about 510 students each year, in five grades, 8–12, with the vast majority of students in Grades 8–10.

As was pretty much the case in all state schools, uniforms were compulsory. In winter, boys wore long, grey trousers, grey socks, black shoes, grey shirts, a grey V-neck jumper (US: sweater) with the school colors—maroon, grey, and yellow—around the cuffs and neck, and, optionally, a maroon blazer, which had the school crest and motto on the breast pocket. Girls wore grey, pleated tunics and white blouses. Although I recall girls having a hat, I don't recall boys having one. In warmer weather, boys wore shorts with the British Commonwealth-style knee-length socks. Girls had lightweight grey and maroon dresses.

Each year, we had about 20 prefects, 10 boys and 10 girls. They were the student leaders who kept an eye on us mere mortals, liaised with the staff and faculty, and organized the end-of-term socials (dances). They got to wear stripes on their blazers as well as an official-looking prefect badge. They patrolled the grounds during recess and lunchtime. Each year, all students from Year 11–12 nominated a slate of candidates for prefect, and then students from Years 10–12 voted for up to 10 of them. (I have no doubt that the faculty removed so-called undesirables from the final slate.) I was not a prefect, which suited me just fine. There were Head and Deputy-Head Boy's and Girl's Prefects, who were elected by the prefects themselves.

Unlike the school systems with which I am experienced here in the US, back then, we had no such thing as school counselors. Each student simply had to figure out for himself or herself (hopefully, along with help from their parents, which I did not get) what he or she wanted to do post-high school. I see now on the inside cover of my report card book from those years a half-page titled, "Choosing a Career." Yep, that was all the advice we got!

There were rules about any number of things. For example, couples could only sit (optionally holding hands) in the quadrangle, a large paved rectangle bounded on three sides by classrooms right in the heart of the school where staff and prefects could "keep an eye on them." Makeup was forbidden, as was most jewelry except for religious crosses on chains, and studs in pierced ears. Students were not permitted to leave the school grounds during class time without a signed note from a parent explaining the reason. In any event, the school was well away from the downtown area, so there were really wasn't any place to go.

Each student belonged to one of four Houses: Alpha (yellow), Beta (blue), Gamma (green), and Delta (red). Houses competed against each other in intraschool sports and other activities. When I attended, younger siblings were assigned to the same house as their older predecessors. As such, I was in house Alpha.

The school hymn was "These Things Shall Be" by J.A Symonds. The two versus I recall singing are as follows:


These things shall be, a loftier race
Than ere the world hath known shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls,
And light of knowledge in their eyes.

Nation with nation, land with land,
Un-armed shall live as comrades free;
In ev'ry heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.

We also had a war cry—which I only partially remember—that we yelled during sporting events against other schools. I seem to recall that it contained numerous Aboriginal words.

The canteen was run by a paid manager and assisted by parent volunteers and upper-level students. (I sold drinks and ice creams there in Year 11.) Although quite a few students brought lunch from home, the rest of us bought it. Each morning, we did that by buying plastic coupons at the administration building before school started. Then orders were placed with the local bakery along with some spares, and we lined up at lunchtime to get our food. I usually had a beef pie or pasty with tomato sauce and some kind of a bun or pastry, along with a carton of plain or coffee-flavored milk. Once all the orders were served, kids who had failed to order in the morning or wanted seconds could line up for any extras. I remember a pie or pasty costing one shilling (10 cents) and an extra penny for tomato sauce (US: ketchup). I don't recall if the canteen was open at morning recess time. At lunchtime, everyone had to have at least a short lunch break before heading out to the playing fields.

Very few students drove cars to school, probably no more than four or five. In any event, one had to be 16 to get a driving license, and I didn't turn 16 until the week after I finished Year 12. Almost everyone rode a bus or bicycle.

When I started, the school was only six years old, so everything was still new. The core buildings were made of brick, but already, many prefabricated, wooden buildings had been added. The playing fields ran to 15–20 acres and were nicely grassed for field hockey, Australian Rules Football, cricket, and athletics. [For several years while I was there, my Dad was the groundskeeper.]

There was a very strong Parent and Friends Association (US: PTA) and it raised a lot of money for facilities, equipment, and the library, as well as prizes and scholarships.

In interschool athletics and team-game sports, Loxton competed once each year against three other schools, all in the Riverland: Renmark, Waikerie, and Glossop (the latter serving the towns of Berri and Barmera). [Loxton has dominated that competition for many years, and I believe is still on a roll of 30+ winning years in a row.]

Unlike many school systems in the US, in my hometown area, there were no inter-school sports leagues. However, Loxton High School did field teams in various leagues in which the townsfolk participated. These include field hockey, tennis, cricket, and netball. Students played basketball for the six teams in the Loxton competition.

First Year, Class 1A: 1965, age 11

In February 1965, at the grand age of 11 years 2 months, I started First Year (now called Year 8). We lived 30 miles from Loxton, and like older brother Terry and older sister Pat before me, I too boarded in/near Loxton, and only rode the bus to Loxton on Monday mornings and back home Friday nights. Over the weekends, I kept my bike at an uncle's house near the high school. I picked it up from there Monday night and rode three miles to a family where I stayed Monday through Friday for that year, from February to December. I shared a room with the owner's son, who ran her fruit property. Her daughter was three years ahead of me, and she also rode a bike to school. Each week, I was given an allowance of £1 ($2) and that had to pay for lunch each day as well as spending money at the school canteen. My constant problem was having all that money with me each Monday, resulting in my spending a disproportionate share that day. On subsequent days, I took the bare minimum needed for that day, barely making it to Friday.

In the first week of school, all First-Year students took an aptitude test to see where they would be placed. My year, there were four classes (US: home rooms)—1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D—with A being for the ones who tested best, down to D for those with the lowest test scores. I was in 1A. [Some years, if there were more than about 110 new students, there was a fifth First-Year class, 1E.] The A stream was the academic one in the sense that those students (along with some from the B stream) likely were bound for tertiary education. Only the A students were allowed to take a foreign language, and the only one offered was Latin. Farm boys like me who could not imagine the point of taking Latin took the alternative, Agricultural Science. Girls who declined to take Latin had to take Drawing. Boys could not take Drawing and girls could not take Agricultural Science! The A students also took one more subject than the others. And supposedly, being nerds, after the first year, they couldn't do any "practical" stuff like shop (boys) or domestic science (girls), or typing/commerce. The four of us coming from Taplan Primary School went into one each of the First-Year classes. My eight year-long subjects that year were: English, History, Geography, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Science, Agricultural Science, and Woodwork, plus Physical Education (PE).

My homeroom teacher was Miss Law, who also taught me English. She was also the school's headmistress. The headmaster was Mr. W.E. Falkenberg. [He was bald, and the students referred to him as "Desert-Head."] For the latter part of my five years, Mr. Treagus was deputy headmaster. We sat two students to a desk, but I don't remember with whom I shared that year.

Classes 1A, 1B, and 1C shared a long set of prefabricated classrooms called the Stage Block. At the back of 1C's room was the school's theatre (US: theater) stage, and the walls between 1C and 1B, and 1B and 1A folded up to make a large audience space once student desks were removed. As the theater was only used once a year, for the annual play, we only had to move out all our stuff that one time. The homeroom teacher for 1C was somewhat cross-eyed, poor woman, and she didn't see too well. One of that class's troublemakers was playing with matches in his seat up the back, when he flicked a lighted one up onto the stage behind him. Well, the stage curtain caught fire and the volunteer Fire Brigade (US: Fire Department) came and saved the building, but the curtain was destroyed. It was replaced by the Parents and Friends Association at great cost.

Second Year, Class 2A: 1966, age 12

There were three other Second-Year classes, 2B, 2C, and 2D. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Pedler, and our classroom was in another prefabricated block. Again, the headmaster was Mr. Falkenberg. And, once again, I had eight year-long subjects, but woodwork was replaced with a second science class. We sat two students to a desk, but I don't remember with whom I shared that year. By then, we'd moved from Nadda to Pata (only nine miles from Loxton), from where I rode my Uncle Paul Jaeschke's school bus each day.

The school play that year was the Hitchcock thriller "Dial M for Murder."

Third Year (Intermediate), Class 3A: 1967, age 13

There were three other Third-Year classes, 3B, 3C, and 3D. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Magor, who also taught me mathematics and chemistry. Our classroom was in the main building right next to the administration and headmaster's office. The headmaster was Mr. Anderson—who lasted only a year—with Miss Law still headmistress. Once again, I had eight year-long subjects, essentially the same as the previous year, except that Science I and Science II became Physics and Chemistry. Again, I rode a school bus to/from Pata each day.

[After I moved to the state capital, Adelaide, I played Australian Rules Football (see my essay from January 2020: "Football, Aussie Style"). Mr. Magor was a football umpire, and he umpired a few games in which I played in 1971–1972. He went on to umpire at the top state level and then to oversee all the other umpires in the state's top semi-pro league. I reconnected with him by email in 2011, and had a great lunch/reunion with him in 2015, 48 years after he started teaching me. We met again in 2019.]


As mentioned in Part 1, starting in Third Year (Intermediate) all so-called "academic" students took state-set Public Education Board (PEB) exams at the end of each year with the results being published for all to see in the state's daily newspaper. Grades 1–4 were passes. I passed seven of my eight subjects. As I was a farm boy and I liked Agricultural Science, I have no idea how I failed that so miserably [I got a 6!] Back then, English was still not only a compulsory subject, but one had to pass it to be promoted to the next year. Note that 100% of one's grade came from that PEB exam; there was absolutely no credit given for interim tests, homework, attendance, or projects during the year!

The school play that year was the musical "Salad Days."

Fourth Year (Leaving), Class 4B: 1968, age 14

There were two other Fourth-Year classes, 4A and 4C although 4C was very small. My homeroom teacher was Mr.  Eckermann, who also taught me Physical Education and Modern History. Our classroom was in the main building not far from the administration and headmaster's office. The headmaster was Mr. Haden—who lasted only a year—with his wife, Mrs. Haden, as headmistress. The number of subjects I took dropped back to only six, which were mostly hard-core math/science. My academic slackness (and no doubt young age and corresponding lack of maturity) in previous years finally caught up with me. I was put into 4B instead of 4A, which actually didn't upset me at all. Once again, I rode Uncle Paul Jaeschke's school bus to/from Pata each day.

I failed English and Modern History, but having passed four of the six subjects, I was allowed to go forward even though my homeroom teacher advised me to repeat the year. [Perhaps he felt bad for having me fail one of his subjects!]

The school play that year was the musical "West Side Story".

That year, I played football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team and we made it to the Grand Final, played in Barmera. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team ran in to kick the ball off the ground. He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.

As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the local hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to Loxton, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.

I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward!" Anyway, while I was in hospital, old Charlie Nicolai was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So, I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.

For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!

I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.

To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pickup by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles to Pata where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mum (US: Mom).

Fifth Year (Matriculation; formerly Leaving Honours), Class 5A: 1969, age 15

This was the only Fifth-Year class, and you couldn't get there without taking the "academic-stream" subjects. Our homeroom teacher was Mr. Bird, who also taught English. Our classroom was in the most remote prefabricated building, all on its own. The headmaster was Mr. Laslett, our fourth in five years! The number of subjects I took dropped back to five, which were mostly hard-core math/science. That was the first year the state declared that it was no longer necessary to pass English to pass the year, and they even made English optional. Those few students my year who chose not to take English still did an hour each week of English-appreciation. (As I'd failed English that year, and didn't enjoy it anyway, I should not have taken it either.)

That year, our annual inter-school trip with Kadina High School was hosted by Kadina. I represented my school on the basketball team.

Later that year, the whole class took a day trip to the state capital, Adelaide, where we visited a career fair at Flinders University. [This was the new, very liberal school that was at the forefront of opposition to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War with one Brian Medlin, professor of Philosophy, leading the charge.]

For some reason, grades went from being numeric to alphabetic, with A–D being passes, and E–F failures. I got an E for Physics and an F for English, so I did not matriculate, per se. However, having gotten "Four E's or better" I was eligible to attend the South Australia Institute of Technology. Although a couple of my classmates did repeat that year in 1970, I was in too much of a hurry to move on. Besides, a spot was waiting for me on a junior team at a semi-professional football club in Adelaide.

[Having failed English in both fourth and fifth year makes it surprising that 15 years later, I started writing for publication, and over the following 10+ years made a nice secondary income from writing technical features, columns, books, and a newspaper column. And then once I started to learn foreign languages, I was forced to go back and actually learn the English parts of speech. Coming to high school from a 1-teacher country school, I was assumed to have a solid grounding in English, which I did not. For some of my thoughts on "English and Writing" see here.]

The school play that year was the musical "Bye Bye Birdie. Ironically, the lead actor dropped out of school that year, and our class teacher, Mr. Bird, took over his role.

My Time as a School Athlete

Each week, we had a PE lesson, separated by gender. Depending on the season, we played a number of things, from football, cricket, tennis, field hockey, and athletics. Each year, we had a Sports Day between the four houses. During my five years there, my house, Alpha, did very well in athletics, and I contributed significantly. Individual events were classified by age, as follows:

  • Sub-Junior – Under 13 years-old
  • Junior – Under 14 years-old
  • Intermediate – Under 15 years-old
  • Senior – 15 years-old and over

As I was 11 years and 2 months old when I started Year 8, I spent two years in the sub-junior ranks, and in Year 9, I won the Boy's Sub-Junior trophy. In Year 10, I placed second in the Boy's Junior competition, and in Year 11, I placed third in the Boy's Intermediate competition. [Do you see the pattern?] In Year 12, I was up against all those guys who were 16, 17, and even some 18-year-olds! I do remember that in Year 12, my Dad bought me a set of spiked running shoes, and although I actually used them on race day, I hadn't had them long enough to really get used to them. My biggest event was high jump with triple jump and long jump not far behind. I was pretty good at flat races of 100 and 220 yards, but not very good at hurdles or longer distances. In later years, I threw the discus and javelin as well. We did have a 1-mile race, and that was held the day before the main Sports Day. I only competed in that once, in my final year, and I dropped out at the end of the third of four 440-yard laps.

In the last few years of my time in high school, cross-country running was introduced, and I competed once, in Year 12. The best I can say in retrospect is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time!" The school was located on a main highway near high cliffs overlooking the river flats below, and to make it interesting, competitors walked down a dirt road to the bottom of the 500-foot cliffs, and we started the race there. Yes, we ran back up that damned hill, then for some three miles on a flat, packed dirt track, then down a cliff track, across several miles of muddy river flat/swamp land and then back up that damned hill again, to finish at the school. As the old saying goes, "Nothing is a complete waste; it can always serve as a bad example!"


More than 50 years later, I still have all the yearbooks from my time in High School, my report cards, class photos from Years 10–12, my sub-junior athletics trophy, my school tie, my trusty fountain pen complete with school crest, my slide rule, my Year 12 Differential Calculus textbook, and the character references several local businessmen wrote for me when I headed off to work and study in the state capital.

My most recent visit to Loxton High School was in January 2019, during their summer holidays. While the original brick buildings from 1959 are still there, all the prefabricated ones from my time have been replaced with very nice permanent structures. The old asphalt quadrangle has long since been turned into a garden with many large trees and shrubs. The original prefabricated canteen has been replaced with a nice facility, and a very large hall with stage has been added to service both the school and the town. [Some years ago, I addressed the then student population there at a general assembly, as a "local boy who'd done well!"]

The sporting facilities are still some of the very best at any high school in the state, and the school continues to produce sportsmen and women who go on to compete at the state, national, and international level, including medalists at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

Parents in the region now have the option of sending their kids to any high school in that region, with buses provided, and for some years now, Loxton has regularly attracted students from other towns.

Having traveled extensively around the world, and seen more than a few school systems, I have to say that Loxton High—and the Loxton area, in general—was a pretty good place for a teenager to be from 1965–1969, and likely still is.

[I edited this essay in July 2019 on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which begs the question, "What was I doing at that time?" Although TV was broadcast to Loxton at that time, as far as I can remember, the High School did not have a set. In any event, our TV signals had to travel 150 miles to reach us; they were black-and-white, with a lot of "snow."]

South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT)

SAIT grew out of the old South Australian School of Mines, which was founded in 1889. [In 1991, SAIT and most of the teachers' colleges combined to form the University of South Australia.]

After high school, at the grand age of 16 years and 2 months, I began as a part-time student taking classes in chemistry and related fields, including scientific photography and glassblowing. In December 1972, right around my 19th birthday, I was awarded my Science Technicians Certificate. However, when I joined the state civil service in 1973, this caused a problem regarding pay scales, as no one under 21 had received this award before. [Of course, I never have been considered normal!] During most of my time in this program, I was working at a vegetable oil factory where I ran the quality control lab. I also attended a "Summer School in Microbiology."

In 1974, a new subject was offered to science students, Computer Programming, as by then, minicomputers were affordable, and an increasing number of science labs were buying them. Without a doubt, that class changed my life! After about 15 minutes of the first lecture, I knew what I was meant to do, and that was to program computers. We learned to program in BASIC-PLUS, a very powerful and heavily extended version of BASIC for Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP-11 computers. And everything was interactive; none of this batch crap—submitting a job overnight only to find some silly syntax error the next day! Not only did I spend time in the computer lab writing and testing programs, but I also bought the manuals for the operating system (RSTS/E) and BASIC-PLUS language. I also bought reels of special 10-track magnetic tape on which to store my programs and data. We used interactive VT105B video terminals and ASR33 teletypes that printed, and punched and read paper tapes. I quickly developed a rapport with the American lecturer (who actually programmed the same computer for the business office of the school), and he allowed me access to the computer room to mount and use my magnetic tapes.

The computer lab opened each weekday morning at 6 am, and closed at midnight. As the state Chemistry Department where I worked at that time was only a half-mile walk away, for many days of the term in which I took that course, I was in the computer lab when it opened, then went to work. Then after work, I went back to the lab until it closed. I simply could not get enough of it! For the first time in my life, I was passionate about something!

I was so affected by the exposure to computer programming that I set out to move to that field, which I finally did in January 1976. However, I still had the final year of my second 3-year Chemistry course to complete. However, my heart just wasn't in it. As such, I withdrew from the final class, half a year short of completing the course. And I have to say that I've never regretted doing so for one instant!

In the mid 1970's, the South Australian state Government had an acute shortage of computer programmers, so they had SAIT develop and teach a 3month training program to be run in the summer when the campus was otherwise empty. I was one of the 25 applicants chosen from a field of 500, and starting in January 1976, we all spent 12 weeks as full-time students—on full pay and benefits—to learn COBOL on CDC mainframes. Along the way, we also did a bit of Fortran. I was just 22 years old, and I got married one weekend early on.

Each student in the program was assigned to a state government department, which for me was Highways. My contact there happened to be a former high school teacher, who just loved teaching. And in that respect, he did a great job in helping me program in the real world. He also came to visit me on campus on a regular basis to see how things were going, and to bring pens, paper, and coding pads.

After the course ended, we went to our respective departments for six months of on-the-job training, at the completion of which I became a Computer Systems Officer I. [For those of us—like me—already on a salary and benefits packages more valuable than that, we kept our old pay grade.]

In February 1977, I started a 3-year "Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Studies." I was a part-time student with paid time-off from work to attended classes. However, none of the credits I'd earned from my 6+ years of science studies transferred; I was starting from scratch! [In that respect, I very much prefer the US 4-year liberal-arts university model.]

The aim of the course was, "to provide the basis for a professional career in Computing and Data Processing. Students may specialize in one of three areas: management and commercial applications of computers in private or government administration; scientific, industrial and engineering applications of computers; management applications of computers with a supporting sequence in political aspects of government administration". I chose the first option. [By then, I'd had enough of advanced mathematics and physics, and lab science, in general.]

By the time I left Australia in mid-1979, I'd completed one full-time year of that program, and I never did finish.