Amongst Mum’s repertoire of schoolgirl memories was the oft-repeated story of Alice and her lollies. Alice sat next to Mum in the one and only classroom, consisting of Grades 1 to 8, at St. Joseph’s Convent School, Cora Lynn, West Gippsland.
The story went something like this:
“Alice’s parents had a shop in Nar Nar Goon and nearly every day she’d bring in a bag of lollies,” Mum said. “We used to open up our desk lids and eat the lollies behind them so the teacher couldn’t see.”
“Did you ever get caught?” I said.
“No. Never.” Mum said, with a hint of pride.
The Alice story usually segued into the story about wet boots…
“Once, I got punished for walking in the puddles and getting my boots sopping wet. I had to stand at the back of the class.”
And then, on to the horse stories…
Little Meena, was a one time racehorse, and Mum’s favourite…. “I loved getting up to a gallop on her”;
and, the not so favourite old horse… “There was a cranky old horse that used to jib. Wouldn’t go to school, only back home. So that’s what we had to do”;
and, the time her sister, Joyce, fell off the back of the horse Mum was riding… “I wondered why she wasn’t talking. I looked around and she wasn’t there. I turned the horse around and went back the way I came and there she was lying on the ground, crying. Her arm was really badly broken. Mum and Dad had to come home from the (Melbourne) Cup”.
I loved these stories. All of them painted a picture of schooldays that were so different to mine. Growing up in suburban Melbourne in the 1960s, I didn’t have to be able to ride a horse to get to school. I could walk. It wasn’t far. There was one similarity though. My school friends and I had a cheeky little note passing habit that went on under our desks and right under the teacher’s nose. I don’t believe we were ever caught. There was a sense of fun in getting away with it.
Back to Alice…
According to Mum, Alice was a chubby girl, the inference being, she ate a lot of lollies. Over a lifetime of hearing the story, I imagined Alice was a very chubby girl, one who perhaps struggled to fit behind the desk. I also imagined that the two of them would be stifling giggles as they scoffed the likes of jelly babies and aniseed balls behind the open desk lids. There was never any mention of coercion by either party; it appeared to be a mutual scoffing.
Why am I recalling this story?
I’m recalling this story because a photo appeared in my inbox recently that lends weight to the Alice story. Not that I ever doubted Mum but it made the story more real. My cousin has been going through some old photos her mother, Mum’s sister, had left to her. She’s been very kindly scanning and emailing them to me. Some I’d seen before and others I hadn’t. This one, I hadn’t:
It’s a photo of unidentified children in the classroom at St Joseph’s Convent School at Cora Lynn in the 1920s. (The highlighting of the two girls in black and white is my doing).
I instantly recognized Mum—the girl with the short bob and fringe—as she’d identified herself to me in a school photo taken around the same time (see photo below), possibly taken on the same day.
Seated next to Mum in the classroom photo is ‘a chubby girl’. Could this be Alice? If it is, which I suspect is the case, she’s not quite as chubby as my mind’s eye had imagined her to be, but she does have a bigger frame, shall we say, than Mum. And looking at the desk the two girls are sitting at I can see it’s the type where the lids open up, perfect for hiding behind.
I wonder if Alice had a stash of lollies in her desk this day? Perhaps they’d already scoffed them or they were planning to once the photographer had left.
I can’t help but smile as I look at this pair. They look so delightfully innocent. But I know their secret and I get the feeling that if I wink at them they’ll wink back. They haven’t as yet, but they might after I’ve had a couple of wines.
It is eerie to see the story materialize in a photo, especially an image that’s now over ninety years old. Not something I ever imagined would happen but I’m glad it did as it’s kinda cute.
Having another look at the photo above, I can now identify Alice as the girl standing to Mum’s left. It’s nice to finally meet you, Alice, after all these years. And thanks to my cousin for sharing her photos with me.