Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Off the rails

YOU sick of me telling you about all the beltings I got from the nuns and Christian Brothers at school during the forties and early fifties?
Righto! I'll move on to a few of the beltings I got away from school.
My old man, Martin, was a great bloke but pretty strict when it came to the kids misbehaving ... well what he thought was misbehaving, but it was just normal kids stuff to us.
We even got belted by my old man AND the nuns just for swimming. You see, we weren't supposed to go swimming in the surf or the fresh water creeks around Yeppoon when there were no adults around because they thought we might drown. Huh!
And to make sure we didn't go swimming by ourselves or with other kids without supervision, parents used to hide our prickly old woollen togs ... some of you might only know togs as swim suits, eh?
So there was nothing else for it but to swim in the raw ... the nuddy, that is. But we wouldn't swim that way on the beach because some stupid adult would see us and get the cops or something. So we used to swim in the small creeks on the outskirts of town.
There was a great creek pool, our favourite, not far from some houses in which we would swim going home from school every couple of days. Then one day some silly old woman saw us from her veranda and reported us to the nuns because she recognised one of my mates as one of her neighbour's kids and knew he went to the convent.
Well, next day at school we all got called out and each got six cuts across the hands. There was more waiting at home because the nuns told Dad we'd been swimming in the nuddy so I got about a dozen whacks across the bum with his belt, not so much for swimming in the nuddy, but because I had defied his instructions not to swim anywhere unless there was an adult watching over us.
Anyway it was enough to stop us swimming in the waterhole next to the old woman's place, so we moved out to a less attractive water hole in the bush where no one could see us. Out there you could swim in the nuddy with confidence, as long as you kept a sharp lookout for bloody snakes which were pretty thick in Yeppoon.
One time we had 13 cats and every now and then one would drag a squirming snake up into the house and drop it beside you to show how clever they were. That's how the lino got so many chop marks in it when we used a hoe to kill the snake.
So I stopped getting beltings for swimming in the nuddy, but it didn't stop Dad from belting me a couple of times for smoking cigarette butts I'd find around the Railway Hotel, which Mum and Dad leased.
Another time I got belted up by a couple of older kids just for being a convent kid walking home from school. I passed them as they were walking home from the state school. They also smashed my school bag and threw my school books all over the gravel road. I recognised one as a kid from the circus which was stationed permanently just outside Yeppoon during the war years.
That's about the only fight I ever got into in my school days. And it wasn't a fight, just a couple of older state school kids belting up a dumb little convent kid.
In fact I think I only saw one fight between school kids in my school days. And as far as seeing other kids carrying weapons such as pocket knives in those days, well forget about it.
But back to the beltings story. Did I ever tell you about the time I got three beltings for allegedly breaking the crane at Yeppoon Railway Station?
I was about 10 and was with a couple of mates playing in the railway goods yard across the road from Dad's pub after school. We started swinging on an old iron crane beside the rail track in the goods yard not that far from the station master's office.
We would stand on the rusty old iron hook and swing around under the crane shaft.
I was having a great time swinging out over the track when the bloody thing came loose, flinging me, the hook and the heavy chain out on to the railway line.
I was sitting on the track dazed when the station master started yelling and running down the platform. Of course my mates took off in all directions, but I was too dazed to move. Anyway the station master grabbed me by the ears, stood me up and marched me over the track and up on to the platform.
He tugged me by the left ear up to his office where, surprise, surprise, stood the local police chief. The pair had been yarning in the station master's office when they heard me yell out after the fall.
"This little bastard just broke the crane," the station master yelled to the cop, twisting my ear until it hurt like hell.
The cop looked down the track, saw the crane hook and chain lying on the lines, but still attached to the crane.
"You little bastard," he said, booting me a beauty up the bum and grabbing me by the right ear. "You'll bloody well pay for this. You're Martin's son, aren't you? Well, we'll see what your old man has to say about this."
So saying he dragged my by the ear across the road to the Railway Hotel and yelled out for my old man.
Dad had been bottling draught beer from a 10 gallon keg in a back room. He came out holding an uncapped bottle.
"What's up?" he said.
"This little bugger just broke the railway crane in the goods yard," he said, dragging me by the ear in front of Dad.
"Righto!" said Dad. "I'll fix it later but I'll fix him now. So get upstairs into your room," he said to me.
Up there off came his leather belt and Whack! Whack! Whack! went the belt around my bum for a minute or so.
It taught me an important lesson. If you want a swing, play on the swings at school, not on the crane in the railway yard.
That's one of life's most important messages and I've made it a golden rule.