Twelve years as a boarder at Barker College Hornsby, NSW, Australia
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
This blog post is not about sailing but as my grandchildren were interested in my early years I thought I would fill them in about my years at boarding school. Boarding school was very different from 1948 to 1959 from what it is now. One thing has not changed however and that is the friends you made then are friends for life. I regularly still hear from or see Archie Poulos (my ex-accountant), Micheal Ratard, Tim Lawrence, Phillip Ruddock, Herb Ridley, and Richard Walsh. Jack Little, David Prince, John Woollett, Bruce McKinnon, Sam Patten, and the late Tony Sherlock were in the Barker College military Band with me. But nearly everything else has changed. So here it is.
In 1947 my mother Agnes was stricken with tuberculosis and my father Bill was a pharmacist working seven days a week at Milson’s Point. I was sent to live temporarily with Walter and Doris Burke (my now wife’s parents) at Parriwi Rd Mosman. On the recommendation the Slack-Smiths who had a boy at Barker College, Hornsby NSW I was booked in at Barker. My sister Jill was booked in at Loreto Normanhurst on the recommendation of Loreto Milson’s Point next to the pharmacy. In December 1947 Doris Burke took me into Pepys at Wynyard Sydney to be fitted for my Barker uniform. In January 1948 Doris Burke took me to Barker to begin my 12 years of schooling as a boarder aged 6 years.
I was boarded at Plume House in Dorm A with ‘Skid’ Palmer as the housemaster and a Miss Austin, a large lady to look after us. I was stationed in a bed next to Bruce Mckinnon as we were allocated in alphabetical order. This existed for the next 12 years including my last year in 1959 when we were billeted together in a final year room for two in Carter House, again together. The thing I remember most about this time is on a Saturday evening when the senior boys were watching the films in the assembly hall we were engaged by Skid Palmer in a “guess the date of the penny” competition, the winner got to keep the penny.
Classes were held at Rosewood Cottage in Unwin Rd about 1 kilometre from Plume House. My first teacher was Miss Glover, a good sort as I remember. The third class teacher, a Mr Clegg had the hots for her. To get to Rosewood we had to cross a paddock, now Phillips and Taylor fields which were, in those days the cow paddock. At 6 am each morning the 6-year-olds had to round up the two cows and put them in the cow bales just north of the number one oval. On a frosty winters morning, it was very slippery and wet backsides were trumps. Bill Brown the oval caretaker would milk the cows for the boarder’s milk. On wet days we were not allowed to cross the paddock to Rosewood, we had to walk to Rosewood via the pacific Highway and Unwin Rd.
Another walk occurred on Sundays. As six-year-olds we assembled at the main entrance to the school (between Plume and Carter House) where we were required to write letters to home to our parents. The masters would then arrange to have them stamped and then we would each receive a threepenny piece to be put in the collection plate St Paul’s Anglican Church Wahroonga, one mile (1.6 kilometres) south of the school. This walk to the church was long and arduous on a hot summers day. If one straggled in the ‘crocodile’ (the boarding school walking train) to the church you could possibly be collected by the ‘Boss’ (W. Leslie the headmaster) in his Holden car and driven to the church. Only once or twice a year mind you, otherwise you would be labelled a malingerer.
Some years later, a ten-year-old could participate in a church cricket game. This began with yours truly visiting the Reverend Hugh Dickson (the devil dodger) on a Saturday evening at his home unit at the building opposite the school gates. “Who have you arranged to give the sermon tomorrow” I would ask? “Why Manning it is good of you to ask, you have an interest in the service?” was a reply. If it was to be the Very Reverend Cannon Payne I knew I was a winner. You see at the church service, if the officiates gave a cricket umpires sign such as “he spread the bread across assembled crowd” a broad sweep of the hand across the waist, that was a four, as in four runs in cricket. Similarly at the end of the service when the padre gave the blessing by placing his right hand at his shoulder that was one run, and so on. The nearest guess to the total score won the threepenny pieces that were pooled by the participating boys. (Note: On some Sundays, this was a bit risky as the threepenny pieces were counted at the end of the service.) Well, my days were made when the Very Reverend Cannon Payne always told the story of Jesus rising from the dead, with both hands above his head, six runs.
I can still remember most of my teachers' names, Mrs Garrett second class, Mr Clegg third class. We were moved up to the main school in fifth class with Mr Polkinghorne, Mr Billings in sixth. Mr Morris “Beaky” (because of his long nose) lived in Kirribilli and was later a customer of my father at the pharmacy.
There were free weekends of one or two per term. The first two free weekends I spent in the school infirmary (by the Pacific Highway tennis courts). I had contracted measles and chickenpox respectively. Just after World War 2 in the 1940s, there was food rationing and when I went home on a free weekend, we were given our two-day butter rations which I would invariably consume prior to arriving home. On free weekends I would often take a fellow boy home with me. This favour was returned particularly by country boys during long school holidays. In particular, I would go to Burren Junction in the September holidays and earn 7 shillings and sixpence per bale of wool, I pressed on a Curts press. It was a 5,000-acre sheep station approx 650 km northwest of Sydney. The property was owned by Evan and Nell Slack-Smith.
In January 1953 I moved to the senior school and Carter House. At the time the school was all boys and had about 600 students of whom 200 were boarders. At the senior school, there were always crazes such as photography, water pistols, eating specialties, etc. To this end, you had to obtain a position that allowed one out of school. I was the person who went to the Hornsby post office in the morning at 7 am to collect the mail and that allowed me to shop for the in-demand items. Also one could get control of a room where I had charge of the band instruments room in which the photos were developed, or have charge of a facility such as a boiler room where we operated the coal-fired boiler which enabled you to cook coffee and toast bread. I do remember the headmaster making a surprise visit to the boiler room at 7.30 pm at a coffee break (a break from prep) and pulling the tin used to heat the water out of the boiler, spilling it over the hot coals causing mayhem with steam, fire, and smoke.
One result of the boiler room duties was very black handkerchiefs. Another lark involved myself purchasing all the tickets at Hornsby train station for boarders to get to sports at other schools on a Saturday. This also involved knowing what was the sports program and recording the costs involved for each boy. It also included boys traveling home on holidays with their friends. At one stage I attempted to book my ticket to Burren Junction on the North West Mail train as a girl in the hope of accompanying a female in the sleeper cabin but to no avail. I remember Robert Warneford taking a wild piglet onto the return train trip to Hornsby, squealing all night.
One great difference from then to now was the caning of boys. Caning (or getting the sock as it was called) was endemic. Often we would be told, “I wish to see Little 3, Manning 2, and Poulos after assembly”. (You were always addressed as to the number of students that there were of the same name, there were 6 Littles and 2 Mannings for example.) This led to some bizarre situations on occasion. On arrival at the office, you were told what the punishment was to be 2, 4, or 6 canings and what for, then bend over (to be caned on the backside). “What is that in your back pocket?” “That is my boys' scouts manual” was my reply again to no avail. Each weekday evening there was 3 hours of prep (for homework) and at one time Mr. Votrabec (the French teacher) was the master supervising. He had an aversion to farting and if you were the culprit you got the sock. There were real and artificial farts. So developed a competition to see how many socks we could accumulate over 3 hours of prep. Barry Breeze the resident Geography master would come past and ask what was the current score, “42”.
Cadets were compulsory from the second year (1954) on. On the quadrangle, I was passing Sargent Major Timms, the seconded army representative, and Captain McCaskill a teacher at the time (later to be headmaster) at about 5 pm in my cadet uniform. “Manning” the Sargent Major shouted, “don’t you know to salute an officer when you pass”. “Fair go cadets were over one half an hour ago sir”.
In 1957 in the 4th year, the new Chapel was opened at the school. We attended 6 times each week. Three times on Sunday and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Sunday evening service there was always a rush to get to the 8 pm broadcast of the goon show featuring Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. Several masters were fans, in particular Mr. Simmons our economics master. Whenever there was a bit of humour or a disturbance in a class all those present would mumble ‘rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb’ mimicking the goons.
I soon figured that carrying a WW1 rifle at cadets was not for me so I joined the band as a bugler in 1955. We played at the Sydney Town HalI, Lindfield Church, and Hornsby RSL on ANZAC days as well as at school at cadets on Mondays. I was promoted to Corporal in 1957 and in 1959 to Drum-Major. In that final year the band contained most of the 1st XV and following an appeal from the Reverend ‘Devil Dodger’ Dixon, most of the Chapel choir. In 1958 Bruce McKinnon was the bass drummer. In 1959 he was nominated to be the head prefect. He was sent to officers' school in December of 1958 and left the band for 1959. At cadet camp the band was always placed in the middle of the lantern stalk exercise, to disrupt those stalking their opposition.
There were fewer sports available in the 1950s. Rugby football was my favourite. The highlight was playing Cranbrook at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1958 at the curtain-raiser to a New Zealand v Australia rugby test in front of a 40,000 crowd. We won 14 to 3 with David Prince scoring three tries (a try was 4 points) and Jack Hoyle kicking a goal. David Prince was later the Australian 110-yard hurdles champion and President of Athletics Australia.
Swimming, cricket, and athletics were also in the mix. Every boy had to run the mile (4 laps of the oval) and the cross country (down Hornsby Valley). Not all of us made every cricket match. Playing Trinity was an opportunity to visit the Ashfield picture theatre and eat ice creams run by Archie Poulos’ aunt, playing Waverley was a day at Bondi beach for example. Boxing was also a big event with Tommy Handily imported as the coach. I was always soundly beaten by John Ratard.
After 11 years as a boarder, I can say I had a terrific education at Barker. I was awarded 2 A’s and 4 B’s for my matriculation. The masters were terrific. In particular, Gordon Miller was my final year housemaster and tutor, Keith Anderson and Keith Jones were my English masters, Ted Bradshore biology and Mr. Simmons for economics rounded my education off.