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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The fortunes of Miss Mahony 1

Until my final year of primary school, which was Grade 8, I'd had only two teachers. Miss Turner taught Grades 1, 2 and 3, and Mr Curtis taught the other five.

   It must seem amazing these days. But as I went on up the grades, the teachers of Grades 1 to 3 changed, as Misses became Mrs and no longer taught.

   That's how it was. They slipped into a bridal gown of the purest white and out of teaching – often forever.

   One of these new teachers to arrive was Miss Mahony.

   As far as Assistant Teachers go, Miss Mahony was different. It seems she was not a Queensland girl, but came from the wilds of South Australia. She had been to Sydney; maybe even lived there for a while. From our point of view, that made her totally unpredictable.

   Well, something did. Oh, you can smirk. We knew how Assistant Teachers should look and behave. They were cloned, as far as possible as that process can be for young women, at Kelvin Grove Teacher's College in Brisbane, and then sallied forth, often into the terra incognita of rural Queensland blackblocks.

   Miss Mahony didn't wear teachery clothes. She wore what we thought were ballerina dresses, though none of us had ever seen a ballerina in the flesh, so that perception might have been skewed.

   Quite often she did unthinkable things, such as to come down at lunchtime and play in our game of rounders. This made the boys think she was adorable, but the girls weren't so keen. Ask my sisters – they’ll tell you. In a game, she'd be full-on for her team, hotly disputing whether or not Darryl Keyworth made it to base in time – just like any other good team member.

   It was good to have her on your side. She took subtle advantage of her authority for the sake of the team. Not so good when she chose the other side though.

   As to the parents, I can't say for sure how they felt about her. Amongst mothers, I heard "flibbertygibbet" bandied about in conversations that I had no business overhearing. I didn't know what a flibberty-thing was, but when mothers use an unfamiliar word in a certain way or with a certain look on their faces, you can be pretty sure whether it's good or not.

   I got the impression that it wasn't favourable.

   As to fathers, I never heard any criticisms, but I do suspect a blend of A and B; amusement and bemusement. Secretly, I reckon they liked her when she turned up at the Saturday night dance. For them, she was an interesting off-the-menu attraction. They'd have asked her up for a Gypsy Tap but that was diplomatically unwise when their wives were looking on.

   Hell, let's admit it – a wife's presence wouldn't have mattered because there were many other keen observers amongst the women who'd be sure to report back faithfully to an absent wife suspected of having been maritally slighted. The lily would have been gilded well and truly by the time it got back to her. The facts would have been embroidered like a Turkish peasant skirt for an extra-special wedding. It would have been very cold turkey for the over-gallant husband, who for a few days would find a fair-sized fence to be fixed up at the back paddock.

   So it was rare that any fathers were brave enough to ask her up, but there were many young unattached blokes who were happy to do the honours, and she just as happily flounced round and round the dance hall in their arms: hair, usually in a ponytail for school, swishing freely about her shoulders for the dances.

   And she could dance too – like a ballerina, which didn't endear her to the other unattached ladies.

   You see where this is going, don't you?

   It must be said that she never allowed any funny business such as clinging close in the jazz waltz; not to any of those cowboys, oh no. Maybe she would have liked to, but even she would not have challenged Calliope convention regarding teacher behaviour to that extent. It would have been de trop. Which reminds me; flagrant stories that she'd been overseas were in circulation. Lack of evidence was no barrier to the yarns. Au contraire. Sometimes she said words in another language. I think it was British – but her accent was almost faultlessly Australian, except for what I learned much later in life was that slightly-clipped Adelaide precision.

   Still, you have to admit there's something a bit weird about it all. Don't you?

   Amongst the men, Mr Curtis wasn't all that keen on her though. He was the Headmaster. I'm guessing that for him, Miss Mahony was too flighty. She didn't patch into the social and cultural mores of our fair township.

   Her stay at Calliope was shorter than average. I think it was a combination of things, some of which are alluded to above, that brought an inevitable departure date forward, but I'll come to that.

   A send-off was arranged at the Diggers Arms Hall. She didn't have far to go to attend, because she boarded with old Mrs Fergie who lived next door to the dance hall and was happy to take in a paying guest – especially a teacher. Her salary, although women were paid less for doing the same job as the men, was regarded as enviable compared with that of a barmaid or clerk.

   There were the usual foods for the party – sandwiches, butterfly cakes and lamingtons. Punch was made with whatever fruit was in season plus lemonade and ginger ale, and an extra pound or two of sugar dissolved in good tank-water to ensure it was sweet enough (which it was anyway, but no-one took chances on that).

   Some kids' games were played, Miss Mahony once again eager to take part.

   Then it was time to say a formal goodbye, and two utterly remarkable things happened, the likes of which Calliope had never seen before, nor would ever see again.

   But I expect you've had enough by now, so I'll leave that till the next time.



  1. Whilst I await the next episode I will ponder on the old Gipsy Tap which I had forgotten completely. I might enen try and see if I can remember how it went. Anne P

    1. Like riding a bike. Once locked in a Gypsy Tap embrace, it would all come flooding back.

  2. At this point I groan with impatience and selfishly will you back to your keyboard.
    What a delicious and evocative bunch of memories! Rather close to the bone for this old ex-teacher graduated from Armidale Teacher's College. My very first appointment as an Infants Teacher, at the tender age of 20, was to Cattai, a 2-teacher school in the rural backblocks of the Hawkesbury River, west of Sydney, in 1971.

    Thus ensued the loneliest, and most socially-dislocated year of my life.

    My heart is right there with Miss Mahoney, eagerly awaiting news of her fate!

    1. it's impossible for me to know how Miss Mahony felt about Calliope. All we have to go on it the evidence above and what I am about to start writing NOW!

    2. PS Seems given the vintage and the fact that it was a two-teacher school, you have a head start in identifying. It never occurred to us as kids that anyone could be anything other than as delighted as we were to be in our little Utopia.

  3. On the edge of my seat - wishing I'd found my way to Cattai in 1971


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