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The Rutherford Family

A Cobb & Co coach on the Western Plains
Etching by Lionel Lindsay

My school -- far western New South Wales in the late nineties.
Roslyn Riordan

The school was a single room weatherboard building set down on the flat in front of the workmen's cottages. Being clinker built and unlined, it presented an unending challenge to the boys, who could climb its walls and swing from the rafters with the ease and speed of a spider until over the teacher's desk, then they would drop beetles (?), etc on her. The teacher was a very beautiful Eurasian girl, who had come to Australia from India as a child, and had never been into the country before. Horses she knew from those in the Sydney streets, but cattle by the hundred and sheep by the thousand were a source of terror, as were the birds which laughed in the trees by day and others that hooted around the cottages by night. The eerie call of the curlew and bloodcurdling howls of the dingo often sent her screaming in the night to the bookkeepers wife, with whom she boarded, for protection.

There were about 20 pupils, the children of the station hands and four of the bosses little dears. The homestead was on top of a steep little hill which rose abruptly from the plain, on which were the cottages. Lying at the foot of the hill, between it and the cottages, was a broad shallow dam. At the beginning of the year the homestead children rode, all on one pony, to school each day, but as this required a man to care for the pony in the morning and again in the afternoon, the boss decides his children could walk to school. They scrambled down the face of the hill, to be confronted by the dam. For some days they walked around it, then decided this was too far, so waded through it, arriving at school wet and muddy, only to be sent home by the teacher for dry clothes. This was a grand lark, for they walked home by the road around the hill, taking half of the morning to do so. The Irish nurse was sympathetic at first, but when the same thing happened again, she applied the back of the hair brush. When this failed to change their habits, she reported them to the boss. The application of a riding whip cured that little game.

One day the eldest girl had been made to stand with her back to the class for some misdemeanour, when suddenly she saw from the window the dogs worrying a possum. With a yell to the children she dashed out of the school and after the dogs, followed by about 10 others. The mother possum was killed, but in its pouch was a hairless baby, which was taken to the homestead where it was reared with the aid of every member of the household and became the most mischievous member of the family. It was taken to school in my brother's coat pocket and let out at intervals, to tease the unfortunate teacher, who was terrified of the charming little creature. She had a magnificent head of black hair, and nothing gave Fuzzy-Wuzzy more joy than to scamper across the floor and up the back of her chair and from there leap onto her head. He would seize the great coil of hair and jump up and down, shaking out all the hair pins, then swing in the waist long hair. Meantime, poor teacher rushed screaming home to the bookkeepers wife to be comforted.

On one occasion she was chasing a boy around the room with her cane, when he went up the wall and worked his way along a beam until he was over her desk. The poor foolish woman climbed up onto the desk and made a mighty swipe at him, only to overbalance and come a fearful cropper on the floor. This was the last straw, and she went to the boss and complained of his children's behaviour. After a good thrashing with the riding whip, the little dears were sent to boarding school. So ended my first experience of school.

ps. When telling some of these stories to my son recently, he remarked "and they call the present generation delinquents!"

 
(Written by Roslyn Riordan for a meeting of the Olinda Branch of the Country Womens Association, probably in the late sixties.)
 © Roger Riordan 2004-2017

Roslyn Rutherford: Childhood