Country Australia back then had many of us struggling with education. Coming to school was often much less educational than staying out, especially when one would also avoid getting the cane. That’s at least how it panned out for me in Muswellbrook. I could take schools’ caning on the flat of the stretched-out upturned hand but not on the knuckles of both hands. It did not help my writing letters of the alphabet. The sadism of ‘snotty nose’ rapping knuckles was not part of any kind of educational encouragement to improve my spelling nor was headmaster’s penchant for making me stand really close while inspecting the bruising on my hands. What have you done this time, Frankie, he said while stroking my hands? There was a strange breathing going on, which at first I used to connect with his tobacco spittled chin with labouring lungs. I understood more when all of a sudden he vanished, never to shadow school’s doorstep again. Rumours were rife. That fondling of bruised hands with one hand in pocket was a bit of a joke amongst the older boys. Fricking cheeky cheeky, they would snigger knowingly while imitating the movement of a hand inside their pockets…Hey Frankie, did he have his hand in pocket, they would ask?
Apart from our family being a bit hard on fibbing, we were all loved and cared for and we took to a bit of God fearing every Sunday when mum made us go to Sunday School. Mum’s sister’s name was Bellum who would also always be there for us and tried to kind of help me with some spelling. She was not as dark as grand-dad. Grand-dad had worked on big cattle properties way up north and used to smoke nonstop, tell us his stories from outback and sandy hills. He called those ridges the Channel country. It was way up north, he always told us. While rubbing his Capstan tobacco between his palms, he could look in a kind of sideway manner as if his tales of up north were visible for him again.
Aunt Bellum was rumoured to be a carrier of some kind of wasting disease that only boys could get and that’s why she never wanted to get married. My mum and dad married and had me and my brother and two sisters. My brother was eight when I finally gave up on school and started hanging out with other boys sitting on the wooden bridge. I had taken to earning some money having a paper run both in the morning and afternoon. Mum looked after my small earnings but gave me pocket money for the odd bottle of drink and a small packet of Graven A ciggies.
Looking back, while being at Long Bay serving two years with a minimum of 18 months for an attempt at robbing a truck full of electric fans but, unknown to me, included Ernie having a pistol. Armed hold-up, the Court called it. Having a pistol was serious even though there were no bullets. I sometimes thought I should have been listening to mum and Aunty, learned a trade. One has a lot of time while serving time. Indeed, jail makes you a servant of time just creeping by; each second takes a second to pass.
There were no more spitting rings in water from the wooden Muswellbrook Bridge.
(to be continued)