Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I was born to a godly Plymouth Brethren couple in the 1930s. My mother says I could recite Psalm 23 (KJV of course) when I was three! A text I memorized early: Proverbs 3:5: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths'. 

As a child I remember World War 2 air-raid sirens; catching (and killing, sadly) blue-tongued lizards; wandering away from home and getting thrashed with a military belt when I returned; a schoolboy friend riding his bicycle downhill out of control and into a bus. At Mortdale Primary School I remember watching an amazing athlete - Reg Gasnier - excel at any sport he chose (he later became Australia's best-ever rugby league centre); the Gould League of Bird Lovers' group practising their bird-calls (they won State competitions); being milk monitor and drinking up to seven cups of milk every day over a couple of years: I've never broken a bone, despite many sporting adventures! And I read all the Biggles, William, Deerfoot and R.M.Ballantyne books I could get hold of. I learned to play the piano, winning several awards until I reached 'sixth grade' by the age of 12. Whenever I hear Chopin's Military Polonaise or Paderewski's Minuet I remember with delight the joy of making piano-music.

Sayings from my parents come back to mind. One of their favourites: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child!' A variant: ''Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him!' My parents backed up a lot of things with a Bible verse. Of course, back then 'children should be seen and not heard!' My mother would scold us if we forgot something: 'You'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on!'

Books have always been a special part of my life. A boyhood friend in our Assembly, David Clines, now a professor of Old Testament in a British University, was a great reader, as was his father. They inculcated a love for reading and a thirst for knowledge which has been with me all my life. David was also probably the only friend I ever had with whom I could exchange ideas uninhibitedly. My father had about 100 books mainly by old Brethren authors (like C.A.C., C.H.M., J.N.Darby, and William Kelly).

I read today of the trial of a pedophile (who called himself a 'hebephile'). It reminded me of Frank Beckman from our street who lived with his elderly mother, taught us to collect (and sell) junk, and who took my brother Graham and me on long trips, and told us suggestive stories.. We could easily have been victims of a pedophile's abuse. He later committed suicide.

I attended Mortdale Primary School for the whole of my pre-secondary education, and can't remember an unhappy time there. Michael Hornibrook, son of a school principal, used to come first in the class, and I'd be second, and Malcolm Butters would be up there as well.

At recess and lunchtime we'd play 'cockylora' ('British Bulldog'), with two teams and a couple of taggers in the middle. We'd run from one place to another, and the taggers would have to catch and hold us while they said 'Cockylora 1-2-3'. Good training for my later Rugby Union years!

One of the tricks I learned was to shake hands with people holding some 'itchy powder' in one's hand (from a tree at the bottom of the school-yard). Or worse: put it down someone's back. Another trick: when some-one is chasing you down the hill, drop to the ground in front of them, curl up, and enjoy them falling over you!

On the way home to Oatley we played 'follow on' marbles. One afternoon someone on a pushbike ran over my precious 'connie agate' marble and I never saw it again. I vaguely remember a friend who lived around the corner - Brian Lutterell - and another who lived up the street - Malcolm Butters (and who was the only other boy from Mortdale Primary School to accompany me to Sydney Boys' High). I think he taught me to poke fun at Oatley's 'village idiot' - a sad man who walked the streets incessantly who when prompted with 'Clark Click' used to click his fingers very loudly.

The List of Principals during my time at Mortdale included Alfred Vaughan (1944) and William Edgar (1946). Those names are only dimly remembered (which probably means that I didn't get into trouble too much).


Some Christian songs (from our Oatley Brethren Assembly meetings) and secular/folk songs (from school) arrive without warning into my brain from time to time:

* Songs from Brethren meetings: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, 

* 'Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus; Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart Lord Jesus'.

* "Open My Eyes, That I May See"

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.


Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.


Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.



At school (Mortdale Primary) we had regular ABC school broadcasts, which emanated from a box on the wall at the front of the classroom. In Mr Farrell's class (3rd and 5th grade) and Mr Gardiner's (4th grade) we learned lots of songs - mainly English folk songs. Like:

* All Through the Night

* Where have you been all the day, Billie Boy?

* The Song of the Volga Boatmen

* Where'ere You Walk

Others I'll add when they come to mind!

1 comment:

Ben S said...

Hi Rowland. I hit your blog when I was searching for the itchy bark tree at Mortdale public school. I was In Reg Gasnier's year, starting 2A 1946. I think I remember you as I also went on to Sydney Boys High.
After 45 years in Canberra we are now back in Sydney.

Ben Selinger