Growing Pains


factory workers


The owner of the second factory and wooden leg had a curious way of dealing with others. His mouth did not just contain a fag with brown spittle leaking, but mouth was also set permanently at twenty past eight o’clock and he would spend the day creaking around the factory floor with gammy leg, sneering and leering at the cavorting going on. At times he would get into his strides and gun for me. He would grab my hair and pull my head towards the floor. ‘You forgot this bit here’ he would say. Look at it, you bastard, ‘here’ and he would spit a lifetime of smoking induced load of phlegm onto the floor.  Those unfortunate experiences were tolerated when considering that the pay off, at least, was not having to join in any buggering in front of the capstan lathe machine. 



Again, at some time later and another job, as an apprentice spectacle maker in Clarence Street, Sydney, the initiation for the young and upcoming workforce was for the adults to get Ultra marine blue or Cobalt blue dye in powder form and after taking the pants down of the uninitiated, rub this powdered dye around the genitals of the hapless victim.  This dye was so strong it would stain legs, genitals and clothes for weeks. Later on when I found out that this was widespread and tolerated and accepted as an almost essential part of ‘growing up’, I knew that there was a serious and serial kind of bullying going on. Of course, at that time I was also astonished to observe young kids going to schools in quasi army uniforms and with mock rifles slung over their tiny shoulders. Was there a war still? Girls, in the middle of hot summers with black skirts, black tops, black hats, black stockings and even black gloves. Was there some connection between all that and bullying?

Cobalt blue


My younger brothers and single sister in the meantime were enrolled at different schools. Some at the primary school locally, and two brothers to a catholic high school, called ‘De La Salle’ College. It was not long before our parents found out that the punishment of whacking her children with a ruler or cane was not all that rare, so off the ‘chief of staff’, (mother) went to confront the Head ‘Brother” of this ‘benevolent’ College wanting to stop the bullying by physical violence of her children. The practise that was commonly used would be the voluntary holding up of the palm of hands, whereby the kindly ‘brother’ would sweep down at full throttle and hit the upturned palm with the ruler. Another much liked version was the hitting of hands with the knuckles up. This was popular because it inflicted so much more pain and was even more effective in installing subservience and non questioning education in pupils.

 Another perplexing insight in this new country was given that for children to move up to the next level of education, this did not depend on having passed examinations on subjects, but rather on how much someone had grown up? The younger ones did not have the advantage that Frank and I had of having had a few years of English back in Holland, so it was perhaps much harder those first couple of years for the younger brothers and sister to stay in front. When it was suggested that John should perhaps spend another year at the same level, the answer was that John was so tall he could not possibly spend another year in the same class.


One Response to “Growing Pains”

  1. Adrian Says:

    Gooday Brother Gerard,
    Another good write up again. Remember the Kingsgrove school well and you are right about the punishment. Mind you, it wasn’t always the ruler. Br. Fabian (French teacher)had a leather strap called a “waddie”. Maybe it means somethingin French?, never did find out. All I know is that it bloody hurt on those cold mornings.
    Saying that, I most probably deserved it as I was a bit of a mongrel in school. Conformity was not one of my hghlights. Aadje


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