19 October 2022

Punishment book unsealed as oldest alumnus discovered at Beelbangera school centenary bash

| Oliver Jacques
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Russell Raymond holds cane

Russell Raymond sets the record straight on his caning. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

An infamous punishment book was unsealed, a historic HMAS telegraph bell rung and the oldest living alumnus discovered at the Beelbangera Public School centenary celebrations on 15 October.

Past and present students came together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the small public school that was established on the outskirts of Griffith by 50 farming families in 1922.

Barry Romeo Jr recreates father's pose

Barry Romeo Jr wears the school’s 1973 soccer premiership jersey and recreates his father’s pose (insert). Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A highlight of the festivities was the opening of the school’s “Punishment Book”, a written record of every student who was caned between 1922 and 1979, including reasons for punishment.

The last person recorded in the book was then-10-year-old Russell Raymond, who received one “cut” of the cane on 11 June, 1979, for “wrestling in classroom while teacher was absent”. Mr Raymond was there on Saturday to set the record straight.

“My side of the story is that he punched me [first] so I pushed him through the door and he landed on the teacher’s feet,” he said.

”From my point of view it was self-defence … that was the first and last time I got caned.”

READ ALSO Romeo Jr recreates Dad’s glory for Beelbangera school centenary

In remembering a bygone era, book records were displayed next to a black dunce hat, which misbehaving students would sometimes have to wear in front of classmates. The dunce cap disappeared long before corporal punishment was banned in NSW public schools in 1987.

David Heath, who when aged 11 received two cuts of the cane in 1975 for “insolence”, was also able to plead his case.

“I was a model student and it was totally unjustified,” Mr Heath said, before conceding he might have been naughty every now and again. He was prouder of the role he played in restoring a historic naval telegraph bell for the school’s centenary event.

David Health rings bell

David Heath rings the famous bell. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

In the 1930s, Albert Shipton, a parent of children at Beelbangera, was concerned the school didn’t have a bell. He wrote to authorities to request a naval watch bell, but instead they delivered an engine telegraph bell from HMAS Sydney [naval ship], which was subsequently rung every day between 1933 and 2010, when it stopped working. Mr Heath, his son James and Aaron Hall repaired the bell. John Vasta returned it to the school in time for the festivities.

“Everybody wanted to ring the bell … the first question every ex-student will ask is ‘Does the bell still work’? The ship fought in the First World War and the sister bell is in the War Memorial in Canberra,” Mr Heath said.

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In keeping with historic themes, assistant principal Lorene McRae was on a mission to discover the identity of the school’s oldest living alumnus. Just before the centenary event, it was believed that honour belonged to 90-year-old Bill Raymond. But 95-year-old Mavis Gow (nee Forrest) attended on Saturday, revealing she also went to the school with her twin sister, Jean. She informed Ms McRae that Jean’s husband, 101-year-old Ron Jackson, attended the school in 1933, thus making him the oldest known living former student of the school. Ron and Jean now reside in Newcastle, while Mavis remains in our region.

Mavis Gow in front of old photos

Mavis Gow is the oldest living ex-student still in the region. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Ms Gow also recalled receiving the cane, indicating there was no gender bias in corporal punishment.

“I got it on the back of my legs,” she said.

Further information on the school’s 100th-year celebrations can be found on the Beelbangera Public School Centenary Facebook page.

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