Punishments and Penalties

The teacher used to have a status that compared well with that of a policeman. Their authority could be challenged at your peril.

Many, if not all teachers had, or were reputed to have, a strap or a cane that was applied to the hand or buttocks of students who needed discipline when they stepped out of line.

Corporal punishments, such as the Cane, were permitted back then, but other punishments were often preferredSome of these "tools of torture" were legendary. Some teachers were said to soak their leather strap in vinegar or salt overnight. Others, who used the cane, were reported to have the end of the cane split into small strips to increase their effect.

The counter to this was the discovery (or claim anyway) that if you rubbed resin on your hands before caning, the cane didn't hurt. Also, when the cane or strap was descending, it was thought wise to move the hand downwards to lessen the impact. If the teacher spotted this, you may receive an extra whack.

An appropriate punishment for untidiness or littering was "magpie duty" where the offender was made to spend their "playtime" or recess picking up rubbish from the schoolyard.

Teachers also had the authority to keep disobedient children in the classroom during recess or after school.

The common "school-of-thought" these days is that punishment is not beneficial or appropriate. What are your views on this?

Dunce's Hat

If a student failed to understand something the teacher thought they should know, they could be given the "Dunce's Cap" to wear for the rest of the lesson. This was usually accompanied by standing in the punishment corner. Both of the above forms of punishment I feel we are better for ceasing.

Another favoured punishment was "writing lines". This was usually something like writing "I must do my homework on time" 50 times or so.

I recall on one occasion being given 50 lines to write, which I didn't do for three successive days so each time, the punishment was doubled, giving me a total of 400 lines to write. Eventually, my teacher (who didn't use the strap or cane) gave up but saved face by giving me "magpie duty" (rubbish pick-up) at lunchtime instead.

Some other punishments that were popular (with teachers, anyway) were standing in the corner facing the wall, and writing the child's name on the blackboard.

School Paper

This was a magazine put out by the school, usually monthly or fortnightly, and contained items from and about the school and other related items, like up-coming sports carnivals.

School Reader

Books called the "School Reader" were prepared by the Education Department. There were several levels of these, one for each grade level. They contained short stories, poems, and sometimes even a joke or two. The stories were read aloud in class by the students and poems selected by the teacher had to be memorized and verses recited by the pupils. Some poems would stay in our memory through our life. Go to the School Poems page to read some of these. To read about an iconic Australian song, go to the Waltzing Matilda page.


A small bottle of milk was provided free each day Each morning we were given a bottle containing 1/3 of a pint of milk to drink.This came in crates that held 12 or 24 bottles each.

One or two students were appointed "milk monitors" each day. Their task was to bring the crate/s of milk to the classroom and give one bottle to each child. The job was highly coveted because (a) it meant you left the classroom for 10 or 15 minutes, and (b) if there were extra bottles you were allowed a second one.


There were only a limited number of sports that were played at school. In Australia these were footy (Australian Rules football) in the winter and cricket in the summer (both for boys), and netball (which was called basketball then) for girls. In higher grades hockey was also played. Sports time was usually two class periods on a Friday afternoon.

From time to time there were sports carnivals where running, jumping and hop-step-jump contests were held. Sometimes these were local, between factions - often Blue, Gold, Red and Green, but others involved several schools competing for school honour.


Before school started for the day, students assembled in class-groups on the quadrangle, to be given a "pep-talk", update on special events etc. and to sing the National Anthem. This was followed by reciting the Oath of Allegiance ("right hand over the heart"). To be late for assembly was a crime, as was talking or chewing during class or assembly time.
After assembly, students were marched off by their teachers in order, lower grades first, to their classrooms for start of business.


The three "R's"

In early grades, we wrote with a pencil on a sheet of paper that was handed to each child. Before we learned "real-writing" (or "running-writing" as it was called later), we used pages that had ruled lines, plus a faint line in between alternate lines, to guide us to make all the letters a similar shape and size.

Picture of pen nibs, as used in pens at school back in the olden days Later we used a pen and ink. The pen was a wooden-handled implement that had a replacable "nib". At the top of each desk was a small hole that held an ink-well, a small ceramic container with blue ink in it. The nib of the pen was dipped into this and then held enough ink to write maybe half a line of text. We also had a piece of "blotting paper", an absorbent sheet that was used to dry the ink after writing, to prevent it smudging.

Spelling lists were provided, and we were expected to memorize the spelling of all words on the list. Regular spelling tests and spelling competitions were held to ensure this happened.

I didn't realize until years later that the English language is one of the most difficult and ambiguous languages on earth. Go to the English page to see some of the anomalies and weird rules that are applied.

We had "silent reading" sessions when we would read at our own pace, as well as reading aloud from our own essays or the "School Reader".

The learning of times-tables was considered very important and these were learned by rote, often with recitals in unison. The tables (up to 12x) as well as tables of weight, linear measure and a few other lists were printed on the back of most exercise books. Very useful, when you consider the inch-foot-yard-mile and ounce-pound-quarter-ton relationships. Go to the Weights, Measures and Money page to see some of the units we used and their relationships.


There were a few words for groups of items that were used, like couple (2), dozen (12), baker's dozen (13), score (20) and gross (144). Some are still used but others are rarely heard now. There are words that I, at least, never heard of for large numbers. I knew hundreds, thousands, and millions of course, and maybe billions. But it never crossed my mind that we'd one day talk about trillions, quadrillions, etc. right up to nonillions (1 with 36 zeros after it). Sure, we don't use them much now either, but they're there.

Nature Study

Most kids liked nature study, because it often meant we would get to go outside, to look for insects, plants etc that we could discuss or write about in class.

On one occasion, as homework, we were told to find an object, write about it and illustrate it in our nature study book. I forgot, and in a last minute bid to avoid punishment I "invented" and drew a very colourful moth that I named a pazla moth. Miss Laurie was very impressed by my find.

The School Bell

Picture of old school brass bell, used for signalling start and end of lesson sessions Classes were called into session and ended by the ringing of the school bell. This was a brass, hand-operated one in my early school days and was rung by either a teacher or an appointed student, usually a prefect. Later, a bell-tower type of bell was used, operated by a rope, then later when technology had advanced sufficiently, an electric bell or even a siren would be sounded. These days a siren seems to be the only method used.

Gould League

Nature Study classes in Australia often involved the Gould League of Bird Lovers. This was a non-government group with interest in protecting and preserving birdlife. Excursions to parks or swamps organized by the school with assistance from this organization were very popular with the students. We signed a pledge at school that said :

I hereby promise that I will protect native birds and will not collect their eggs. I also promise that I will endeavour to prevent others from injuring native birds and destroying their eggs.

The International Geophysical Year

In 1957 the International Geophysical Year was celebrated throughout most of the world, and great emphasis was placed on it at our school. We were given projects by the bucketload to complete, mostly the preparing of charts and small books about the events. I was never very good at graphical work, so most of my projects were in the form of cardboard sheets with cut-out pieces from the newspaper stuck on, with headings and a few bits of text around them.
Project books - books with alternate plain and lined pages - were very popular then and the best from the class were displayed on the wall after marking was completed.

Bank Books

I recall taking a BankBook to school and presenting it to someone, possibly a bank officer to make deposits or withdrawals.
From my research, it seems that all banking activity now takes place at home, and requires internet access to find your interest earned, current balance etc.
I guess this releases school staff for more important issues, and allows parents to more closely monitor what's going on. Comments invited.

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