Of all the ignominies heaped upon me as a child, the occasional – extremely occasional – slap from the parents was the least of them.
Usually it was for doing something unsafe. Children on a farm are a walking hazard, to themselves and to others. I was the kind of kid who used to like exploring, and I’d occasionally wander off and see what the creek, or the bull paddock, or some similar thing, was like. Even – perhaps especially – if I’d been told not to go there.
I was also rather a dreamy kid. Dreamy kids and farms are accidents waiting to happen.
I also liked shiny levers. Especially the shiny levers on the hydraulic jacks at the garage which fixed our car and farm equipment.
I well remember getting bored with waiting for Dad and going exploring around the garage. On this occasion I spotted a jack all hoisted up. I knew what happened when you squeezed the shiny hand grasp – the jack came down. I always thought this was neat.
I don’t recall the young apprentice mechanic who was under the car giving his views on shiny levers. Perhaps he was never given the opportunity. I certainly wasn’t allowed to hang around to ask him. Fortunately he was quick witted enough to roll out before the car fully descended but I think he may have needed something to calm his nerves afterwards.
My father was not impressed. Another lesson learned.
Apart from that, and the odd swipe with the wooden spoon, my early days were relatively whack-free at home.
School was slightly different. I worked out by the time I was six that full frontal defiance was the route to a thumping, and that quietly doing your own thing would usually go unnoticed. This was probably the most important lesson from my first year at school and one which I have never forgotton.
I did get the strap at the age of six, for reasons which now escape me. I’m not a softie on corporal punishment but I do think six is a little young to be strapping kids.
Senior school – standard 3 to form two – had a thing called the “Green Bag”. This bag held the strap and those who got “six of the best” got their names written on it.
In retrospect, it added a certain mystique to the whole thing, but it was also kind of warped. Someone, somewhere, was getting their jollies out of all this, of that I’m now sure.
I copped it twice, but never six of the best. The first time – again – I can’t recall why, but the teacher was certifiable anyway (seriously: the guy had a breakdown on us), as well as being a drunk, and it didn’t hurt very much.
The second time arose out of a drama lesson in Form II. We were told to form groups, grab some costumers from the store available, and make up a little play to go with the costumes.
I was with a bunch of mates and we were all fascinated by stories from World War II We made a beeline for a bunch of Roman Soldier uniforms.
Brandishing cardboard swords, we trooped onto stage, and at the cry of “Advance like Italian Soldiers!!” we marched offstage.
That got us one strap each for being racist little sods. It was worth it.
We had failed to notice a culture change in the school. The previous head teacher – a returned soldier who had been at Salerno – would have loved it. Also, although he was not afraid to brandish the green bag – he strapped a bunch of kids in front of assembly one time for bullying, and he was genuinely angry about it – mostly he didn’t need to. Like a lot of blokes from that generation, he could fry you with a look and that was usually enough.
When the new head teacher – who was more what we would now call PC – took over the number of strappings must have doubled. No air of authority, and kids smell that sort of thing a mile off. He was forever whacking kids, with an increasing air of desperation.
But even with all that crap, none of it did any harm. The worst torture of all was inflicted pretty much every year of primary school supposedly for educational purposes.
Folk Dancing. This was part of the bloody curriculum, for crying out loud.
I mean, why? What the hell was this meant to teach us? It was the most seriously warped thing I ever had inflicted on me in my childhood and for, so far as I can see, no useful purpose.
One year we even had a joint school folk dancing day, on the footie field. To add insult to injury, it was the day of the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974. And I mean it when I say “injury” because I sprained my right ankle that day and it has never been the same since.
So sod the odd whack or two: this was the true crime. A crime with many victims, no obvious motive and no real reason behind it. Bizarre.