Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, September 08, 2006

Teasing the "Wog" in School.

This morning I went down Memory Lane, Melbourne style.

Surrey Hills (where I was born) is unrecognisable. There were a few familiar sights in Box Hill, and Mont Albert. I found a house where my Uncle Laurie lived, In High Street, Mont Albert. I then had a very nice coffee break in the Mont Albert Village. Very fancy indeed.

However, I then set off to go the full length of Warrigal Road, which runs from Surrey Hills to Mentone, and goes past Birdwood Steet, South Oakleigh, where my family lived when I was between the ages of 4 and 9. (1953 to 1959). Those are critical years - the memories of my childhood start there.

Firstly I drove past the dominating facade of the Sacred Heart Church, Oakleigh, and the Sacred Heart Primary School next door. This was a school full of dread for me.

I loved Sister John, my "Bubs" teacher, but how she found time to care for me, as one of 101 kids in her class, I shall never know.

But the Headmistress, Sr. Alexis was a terror. We lived in fear of her.

The School Principal's Welcome Statement on the website proudly proclaims: "Families are drawn from a large range of ethnic backgrounds. We value and respect this diversity." Not in my day we didn't.

In about 2nd Grade (1954 or 1955) we were given a new classmate, a girl from Italy, a migrant, a "New Australian". This girl had no English, so was dropped back to a lower class than her age would warrant, so she could pick up the language - there were no ESL classes then. The population of the school were 99.5% Irish Catholic Australians. We knew straight away that this girl, who was so much older than us, who was already showing a trace of a delicate moustache on her upper lip, was not "one of us". And we teased her unmercifully. Eventually, Sister Alexis stepped in and told us that this girl was not a "Wog", nor an "Eiteye" (however that word is meant to be spelled), but that she was a Roman, and was to be respected for her family's culture and heritage.

Nice try, Sister, but hadn't the Romans crucified Jesus? And anyway, we soon worked out that the Romans had all died out long since. So we went back to teasing the poor girl. My memory fades after that incident. Perhaps her novelty wore off, and we stopped teasing her. I do hope so. We might very well have traumatised the poor girl to within an inch of her life. I hope she learnt some English along the way, other than Wog, Wop and "Eiteye".

I owe her a profound apology, as one of a group of kids who made this girl's welcome to Australia so difficult for her. Welcome to Australia, under Prime Minister Menzies, and Dr Mannix.

I truly hope that the Principal's statement is true, today. But when I look at the politics of John Howard, our current Prime Minister, I see little reason to believe that modern day migrant children are made welcome in our society. Indeed, I know they are not (especially if they are Muslim kids). The only saving grace is that the Muslim kids probably don't go to Catholic Schools like the one I attended. It was a disgrace to the Education System (in 1955).


Anonymous said...

Sister John?? I don't get it...

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Zoe.
She was real, and a woman, it is just that her adopted "religious" name was that of a male saint. I never really understood it either, but it was "legit".

That was not the main point of my story.