First Day at Carnaun National School

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It was on an April Fool’s Day, probably in 1949, that I first entered Carnaun National School as a new pupil. It was a rather unusual day to start especially that it wasn’t a Monday, but I think, a Friday. I suppose there was some practical reason for me seeking enrolment on that day, like good spring weather, the availability or convenience of someone close to walk with me over the four miles of poor roadway, or improvement in my chronic ill health. Or perhaps it was just at that time that I had finally consented to enroll.
One’s first day at school is usually a momentous occasion and will probably remain memorable throughout one’s life for one reason or another. For me that day has remained fixed in my memory with easy recall for a rather unusual reason. I suppose that one day, or at least part of it, was the most distressful and traumatic day of all my time at school.
I arrived happy enough that morning accompanied by my favourite female cousin who, on the way, had kindly dispelled any lingering fears and anxieties which I still possessed by pleasant stories of the nice friends I would make there, and the various activities and games which operated to both amuse and instruct the children.
I became slightly apprehensive when after being introduced to a pleasant young lady teacher, my cousin departed to the next classroom.
But a combination of both the teachers warmth and tenderness and recognition of two boys from near home who excitedly beckoned me to join them quickly allayed my fears. They had already made room between them and the teacher led me forward to join them. Soon, with a slate and a coloured piece or chalk and a good friend on either side of me I was feeling as happy and secure as could be.

But that state of contentment quickly evaporated on the door opening to admit a middle-aged woman followed by a stern looking bespectacled bald-headed man. After briefly greeting each other all three began to converse in whispers while the eyes of the two strangers carried down along the room and became fixed on me. I momentarily became literally paralysed all over with the most awful fear. Now I knew there was real substance in the fractions of conversation I had overheard and vague answers received regarding the administration of health care through the school. Through these little snippets of information, I had come to the conclusion that children there were regularly injected and vetted for operations. Indeed, my knowledge of the kind of medicine given was so scant and erroneous that I was almost certain that children could have their tonsils extracted from their throats while at school.

I was convinced that man was the school doctor and the woman a nurse, both getting prepared to go to work on my throat, while I sat there in my little desk sandwiched in between the other children with little or no hope of escape. The friends sitting close to me were now more of a hinderance than a help. I was done for! The visitors quickly left the room, but despite their departure and the teacher’s patient efforts to exude warmth and security by lowering her face close to mine and in a soothing voice gently probing for the cause of my distress, I remained inconsolable for a long time. But after the initial outburst my crying had become less noisy but as intense and pitiful as ever. Even my friends’ attempts to distract me with April Fools jokes had little effect.

It was only my release from the room, some hours later, and on meeting my cousin again that I became more at ease and less disturbed. She explained the cause of my distress was in fact the master and the other assistant teacher and she also reassured me the doctor wasn’t due to visit the school for some months yet.

Without that reassurance I think I would have refused to return to the classroom and instead have attempted to make my way home alone. But even though still a little apprehensive and somewhat embarrassed by my outburst I was kind of looking forward to returning to write and draw with the coloured chalk and play April Fool.

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About this record

Written by John Caulfield

Published here 05 Feb 2021

Page 258 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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