The Big Issue : Edition 457
20 THEBIGISSUE2–8MAY2014 Doreen Days ABOUT A YEAR after Mum died in 1947, and after many trials with ‘housekeepers’, Dad got married again – to Evelyn Mavis (Myrtle) Biscombe. After their honeymoon on Phillip Island, we were immediately uprooted from the city to the country and a little general store they had purchased in Doreen. Doreen is about 30km northeast of Melbourne. Back then, there was a general store/post office and a school. That was it. Dad become a petrol reseller, postmaster and shopkeeper; Myrtle a telephone operator and shop assistant. On settling in, we were taken to the one-teacher school to meet the schoolmaster, Pop Gregory. Pop was very flash: he had a postwar Ford Pilot V8. What a car! It was black and had white-wall tyres. There were between 18 to 20 students at the school at any one time. The school itself consisted of one large room with eight rows of desks: each row was a class, aimed at their own segment of blackboard. We used to walk to school every day, up and down a dirt road, looking at the neighbouring farms. It was important to find a stone to kick all the way to school; it seemed to help pass the time. Some kids rode horses to school. There was a stall for the horses to be tethered, fed and watered during the day. I started in grade three; my only co-student was young Miss Gregory – the teacher’s daughter. All sporting events were a total-participation activities, with ‘tippety-run’ cricket, football and ‘kick the tin’ the most popular. On Friday afternoons the entire school would embark on a walk through the rolling countryside – farming land on all sides – to shoot rabbits. All students were required to take their lunch each day and have a drink with them. We would set off before lunch, Pop Gregory with the boys from grade eight, who were allowed to take their rifles to school ready for the rabbit shoot. These were pre-‘myxo’ days; rabbits were plentiful. The task was to find the rabbit in a squat and to shoot it before it bolted. The shoot was well organised, like an inverted ‘V’. Pop and the senior boys, with rifles, were in the lead and younger ones towards the rear. We had to be as quiet as the field mice we probably disturbed while we walked. Rabbits with no bullet holes were worth about a sixpence each; dried skins sixpence a pair. We sold them to the co-op at nearby Mernda, then Pop would stop at Dad’s shop and buy lollies for the entire school. Doreen was an egalitarian place, with sweets shared equally across the entire school. I was one of four kids, and we were all in the schoolroom at the one time. When he was three (not officially old enough for school) my youngest brother, Rodney, was taken in by Pop and told to sit at one end of the room and “draw circles”. Pop had the talent of being able to keep kids in eight grades interested and motivated at the one time. He could draw the best map of Australia, play the piano and knew everything. Unfortunately, he also had a drinking problem. One term, after the holidays, he didn’t reappear. Concerned parents contacted the Education Department, which arranged for the entire school to be bussed temporarily to nearby Yarambat State School. We were only there for a couple of weeks. In grade six, my sister, Claudia, won the school prize, a Chambers Dictionary, for being dux. As I was in the same grade as Pop’s daughter, I came second in my year. Claudia went on to Eltham High School. 20 THEBIGISSUE2–8MAY2014 GEOFF GASKELL REMEMBERS A RURAL UPBRINGING.