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U3A Writing: A Schoolboy's Memoir

J Leary, remembering his school days, tells why he can no longer eat scones, jam and cream for tea.

Sister Mary Columba was my teacher in year seven. She was an old lady, but very very talented. Her job that year was difficult, for she had three groups to teach in the same room. There were my class mates - fifteen or so year seven boys and girls, silly little creatures, really. There was also a group of year ten girls; they were called "the commercial class" and were preparing to leave school by studying subjects like typing and book-keeping so they could obtain employment in local offices and business houses. And there was a small group of year twelve students who were preparing for the matriculation exam at the end of the year. I think she was also teaching piano in her spare time. As I have said, she was a talented person.

With some shame I admit that my friends and 1 were not well behaved. We delighted in playing up and we made Sister Columba's life difficult. Suddenly, in the middle of the year she was replaced by a much younger nun, Sister Bernard. The new teacher set about bringing us unruly kids into line. "You've hounded poor Sister Columba nearly to death" she told us, "but don't think you can do the same to me. I'm tough, and you'll soon find you've met your match."

Life for us quickly became very different. Sister Bernard organised for the commercial girls to be removed from our classroom. They were shifted across the corridor to a room that was set up with typewriters and benches instead of desks. A lay teacher was employed to deliver appropriate programs for them. Sister Bernard introduced strict discipline, and we soon settled down to be well behaved students.

Unfortunately though, Sister Columba continued to deteriorate, and one Monday when we arrived at school Sister Bernard informed us that Sister Columba had died. There was no need for her to repeat her claim that we were to blame. We assumed this, anyway.

During that week, Sister Columba's body was placed in the Convent's Chapel and on the Wednesday, just before lunch, we were taken to the Chapel to say a last prayer for her. We were made to take a last look at our former teacher in her partially open coffin. I remember noticing that she looked far more peaceful than she had in the classroom.

When the bell came for lunch, I had to ride my bike home. 1 wasn't even out of the bike shed when a wild storm struck. Clouds of dust blew over Mildura, followed by thunder and rain that was almost mud. The British Government had tested an atomic weapon at Maralinga, and this storm was its aftermath. But in my schoolboy's guilt-stricken imagination I was certain it was God punishing me for my misbehaviour!

Mum had prepared hot scones and jam and cream for lunch that day, which was usually my favourite treat. I'm sure I don't need to tell you, I couldn't eat even one of them!

Even today, more than fifty years later, I cannot eat scones and jam and cream without thinking of Sister Columba.


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