We start school on Monday 5 February 1973 and our new school is also the brand new school for Rowville. Rowville Primary School.
Mum puts out my school clothes the night before.
“Can’t I wear my new flares mum?”
“No! You’ll get them dirty.”
I look down at the miserable clothes. White shirt, grey tunic, white socks, new brown school shoes.
I dress reluctantly. There is no point saying that we don’t have to wear school uniform.
“Mmmm,” Mum appraises the outfit when I sit down for breakfast, “You’ve grown quite a bit this summer. But it’ll have to do for today.”
The tunic is tight and quite short.
“Everyone in the car!” Mum calls as the ABC News tune starts. “Daa Daa Da Da Da Da Da Da Daa dadadada Daa…” Matt sings in unison out to the car.
Bags and legs bang together and we slam the doors.
The school is not so far away. Along Wellington Road toward the quarry and then left up a long road which soon turns to dirt and gravel.
This is not like my old school at Mulgrave which was big and white with a steep green roof and the smell of years of chalk and hot shoes and old fruit.
The bush completely surrounds the new school on three sides with only an apron of tarmac around the main steps.
On the far side towering pine trees and a barb wire fence separates us from paddocks overlooking Mt Dandenong.
Inside the new building a corridor runs right down the middle with classrooms to one side and a big art room and a new library on the other.
The corridors smell like plastic, fresh earth and glue. The classrooms have new plastic chairs and small tables that we can move and make into different shapes.
Mr Martin is my new teacher. He has a beard and a sports-car.
At lunchtime the CFA* fire truck arrives. The firemen and some of the teachers take a great length of rope and throw it over one of the boughs of the big gumtrees near the teacher’s car-park.
Beside the tree is a monster-sized mound of clay and rubble left over from building the school.
They tighten up the rope and one of the big firemen climbs to the top of the mound and yells, ‘We’ll see how she goes!’ He swings wildly out on the rope and wails and laughs as the rope creaks and whines.
With eyes and mouths open we clamber up the mound and line up to have a go. “One at a time,’ calls Mr Martin.
I watch the other kids sail out – they twist and squeal and the new rope squeaks and squirms in protest.
My heart is banging in my chest. The rope is thick and shiny – ‘Just jump out and hold on,’ someone yells.
Away I go – I’m high in the air, my new shoes slip on the thick knot and I cling on hard. The sky comes up to meet me as the rope pulls and brakes, turns in a jolt and spins me back toward the mound.
*Some readers will find the term ‘pants’ a bit offensive, eg in the UK this usually refers to underwear – in Australia it means ‘trousers’
‘Undies’ was the common vernacular for underwear although we may be more likely to say ‘knickers’ or ‘jocks’ these days.
A history of my old school, Mulgrave Primary School was written by Roy Stubbs for its centenary in 1979 and is available on request from the State Library of Victoria:
Ref: A history of Mulgrave Primary School No. 2172 : centenary of the “Little old School” in Wellington Road, Mulgrave, Victoria / compiled by Roy Stubbs. Sadly this little old school burnt down not long after and the new Mulgrave Primary School was re-established at a new site to the south of Wellington Rd.
A short history of Rowville Primary School can be read at http://www.rowvilleps.vic.edu.au/index.php?page=history. Although the page states ‘the school still retains some of the native bushland, and great care is taken to preserve the relaxed rustic nature of the site’ in fact the pressure to expand and to share the site with a new secondary school has made this remnant very small indeed (perhaps only an acre of what was once at least 10 acres of rare bushland).
Inevitably the two schools are now entirely encircled by housing estates. Luckily for the first kids at Rowville the entire bushland was our playground (although we weren’t allowed beyond sight of the school building). We endlessly explored, developed our own team scenarios and created a world for ourselves, free from adult intervention – except of course for the wonderful rope swing.