A visit to the past and Burwood High

Donald Weston and I sit in his living room, talking about his school days 50 years ago. Donald, a former student at Burwood High kept a diary, and as he explains I felt myself going back in time…to a time when Burwood High School was located at the Nissan Huts…

1956: Donald Weston recalls school days at the Nissan huts in the Ashburton Railway yards, which were originally built to accommodate migrant railway workers. The huts did not provide appropriate shelter from the extreme Melbourne weather and summers inside the huts were steaming, he says, as the roofing was structured with corrugated iron sheets.

The Burwood High School students were soon relieved of this. On a historic Monday they were relocated at their “incomplete” new residence, where at last they had their new home.

Burwood High School
Burwood High School before bitumen was put down

But the “new home” had to be cleaned for occupancy. Donald points out that students burned rubbish at the school to destroy rats. The school grounds were so muddy that two bulldozers were stuck in the mud, while the rugged terrain with long grass led a student, Dawn Giltinan, to be bitten by a snake. Assemblies were held in the freezing “breezeway”.

Donald recalls how the headmaster insisted on the students wearing double-breasted suits and “caused no end of strife. He insisted that boys wear their caps and raise them when passing him. He pounces on us if he sees us coming to school not wearing them.” In the extracts he further elaborates:

“In October (1959) we held a protest meeting against him on the hill. The newspapers were tipped off and there was a great scene. He likes to have long assemblies, lecturing us about our behaviour. Often children faint”.

The boys hated wearing caps. “They rolled up the caps and put them in the back pockets”. Laughing he remembers how Mr Lloyd, the headmaster stirred up those who weren’t wearing them. Also the girls’ dresses had to be the “right” length, where the hem of the skirt had to touch the ground when you knelt down.

“Even in hot weather we have to wear our jumpers in the class. If a teacher lets us take them off we have to put them back on before the next teacher arrives.”

The boys looked forward to the lunch breaks when they played a variety of games: cricket was played with no pitch, but just a bat; hand tennis, as the words imply was played by striking the ball with the hand; a German boy had taught the boys a card game called Skat, and though forbidden, was secretly played anyway. And marbles – most of the boys were seen carrying bags full of beautifully designed marbles. They played “alley football” with marbles and about three marbles got broken every day. “I have no idea what the girls did though,” Donald laughs.

1956 saw the Olympic Games held in Melbourne and some students went to one of the Games sessions from school. The enthusiasm of the kids was displayed when the form 1A boys wore an “Olympic running track” in the grassy school yard.

In his diary Donald has many entries. He concludes:

“Lloyd strolled and announced that we could leave school (for ever) after 4 pm! Swiped the library “silence” sign and made my last trip to school, to clear out [my] locker. Did not wear my uniform.”

First matriculation exam in the exhibition buildings.
Had the physics exam…very hard! Stopped at Hartwell for jumbo cherry milkshake (2/-) on the way home. Rang Ms Appleby twice about Calculus questions on the old exam papers. Calculus and applied maths 1 exams. Fastened my school tie to Bob’s brother’s car radio aerial.
Last exam! Pure maths 2.
The last school social.

Bibliography: Barnard P., Memories of Burwood High School 1955-87.

Yoshanthi Wellawa
Return to Bulletin #100