Friday, January 15, 2010

Twisting the dial

RIGHT-HO! I think I've told you enough about the recently published crap quoted by a southern author about the 1861 Cullin-la-ringo massacre, so I'll go back to Yeppoon and those wonderful days as a brilliant student at St Ursula's Convent during the war.
Things went pretty well for the first couple of years at St Ursula's even though I was a very poor speller and a terrible reader. Well, things went reasonable well until about the age of about seven when I went into a class which had a young Irish nun in charge.
She seemed to hate all things Australian. I found out later she never wanted to come here and was sent out against her will by the church.
And even though I was a saint of a kid she took an instant dislike to me. That got even worse a couple of days after the new class opened when she discovered what a shocking spella and reader I was ... make than "I am".
The bad turn started when she called on Kavanagh to stand up and read a piece from our Reading Book, Grade 2 or 3, I think.
I stumbled along guessing at the bigger words and shaking with nerves and close to crying. But I was closer than I thought because pretty soon she threw the blackboard duster at me, hitting me on the forehead with the wooden section.
And you won't believe this but I dropped the reading book and started crying. Weak little bugger that I was. She ignored my crying and pointed to another kid to take up the reading where I left off.
Things went pretty well for the next couple of days until the next reading and spelling section and I was once again told to stand up and read. The same thing happened only this time she followed the flying duster down between the desks and belted me a couple of times across the knuckles with a wooden blackboard pointer stick.
And guess what? I started crying again so she grabbed me by the ear, dragged me across the multiple classroom and threw me out of the place.
The whole incident was seen by the six other nuns and classes in the huge school room. I sat on the steps outside the room crying. A minute or so later a nun from another class, who had witnessed the incident, came out and sat beside me, put her arm around my shoulder, said she was sorry for what my teacher had done, and started crying too.
Naturally I didn't say anything about it when I got home, but when mum saw the bruising and swelling on my knuckles she immediately took me back to school to complain to the head nun.
Things settled down for me and the Irish nun after that ... the bitch simply ignored me, which was excellent.
But there were still some rough times ahead for me in school days ... and mostly I deserved them, except for just one day in sub-junior at the Maryborough Christian Brothers College.
I was about 15. This particular day our regular maths Brother was sick and was replaced by a very old Irish Brother who was living in retirement in the school accommodation.
Years before he had taught in the Bronx, New York, which was appropriate because he was a tough nut and a mad boxing fan. He had actually boxed in the ring while he was teaching in the Bronx.
Anyway, during the algebra lesson he chalked up a problem on the blackboard, looked around the class of about 14 kids, pointed to me and said: "Get up here and work this out, Kavanagh. And the rest of you do it on your pads."
I didn't mind because I was OK at algebra.
So out I went to the board and breezed through it, and stood there smiling. Why not, I got it right, see?
The old bloke turned to the class and said: "Stand up those who got it wrong."
I got it right, so I sat down on the floor. The class started laughing.
He was surprised and turned around to see what they were laughing at.
"Get up Kavanagh," he said sternly. I got up still smiling. When I was fully upright he threw the most beautiful right cross to my chin, knocking me out as cold as a maggot.
They told me later I was out to it for about five minutes while he went on with the lessons. When I finally came to on the floor under the blackboard, he simply said:
"Get back to your desk, Kavanagh."
But as I said, back then sometimes I deserved to get the cuts, but not all the time. Well, you be the judge of what happened to me in my final year, Junior, back at St Brendan's by The Sea at Yeppoon in 1951. I was still living with my parents in Maryborough and before I left for Yeppoon one of my great mates, an apprentice electrician, which I wanted to be, asked me to take his self-built one valve wireless set back to Brendan's to see how many stations I could get from around Australia. You see, Maryborough is very flat and he couldn't get many radio stations there, yet Brendan's is in the hills overlooking Yeppoon and the ocean.
But it would need a very high aerial so we spent a lot of time looking around the dump and finally found a couple of hundred yards of ancient electrical wire which he said would do just fine.
I would have to get permission to have a wireless (no kids had wirelesses in those days) at Brendan's, so when I arrived there I went straight to the principal's office and asked permission to put my aerial up on the very, very high school water tower. He wasn't too happy but finally agreed as long as I didn't use it after 5pm when we had tea (that was dinner back then) and night study. I agreed.
So I risked my life climbing up the water tower, put up the aerial and plugged it into the wireless in my locker under an old army hut. The first afternoon I turned it on I could only just get Rockhampton ABC and the commercial station. I wrote and told my mate in Maryborough and he wrote back saying I was a bloody idiot because you can't get proper reception before dark.
I thought about it for a while, then one night decided to take a chance. So after "lights out" in the dormitory one night I crept out of bed, down the stairs, across the yard under the mango trees and into the locker room.
I put the powerful headphones on and switched it on and started twisting the dial. The noise just about sent me deaf, hearing voices and music like thunder. I twisted the dial for about half an hour and got 25 stations from all over Australia. It was great. But I better not overdo it first night, I thought, so I switched it off and crept back under the mango trees, up the stairs and into bed.
Next night I had another pile of new stations written down, so after half an hour I switched off and crept back under the mango trees to the main building.
Suddenly out of the darkness came a shout: "Kavanagh! Get over here." Two Brothers grabbed me and dragged me into the principal's office.
"You promised not to muck around with that wireless after 5pm," the principal said.
"Touch your toes."
I got six of the best on the bum, then three on each hand with his stitched four-ply leather strap. A couple of days later a young Brother told me what had happened. They were listening to their favourite radio programs in the principal's office when suddenly all hell broke loose on their set.
"The noise was terrible," he said. "It was like a cross between air raid sirens wailing, trumpets blasting and bulldozers roaring. We couldn't hear our program because of you mucking around with your wireless trying to get so many different stations and interfering with ours. When it happened two nights in a row, well we knew it was you mucking around with your set."
Next day the principal made me rip down the aerial and threw it and the wireless into the dump.
Ah! For the good old days.