My Australia trip is finally a reality. After our lovely fourteen hour flight from San Francisco (preceded by four hours of getting there plus check-in and security/customs), we landed at Sydney at 6:35 AM. We now proceeded to spend two and a half hours getting our luggage, changing currency, and taking our shuttle bus to the hotel. We dropped our bags in the room, and went for a little hike in the rain to the local train station, where we boarded one of their electric powered trains and headed for Cronulla, another hour trip.
By the time we got there, we were already an hour and half late for our appointment with the principal of the elementary school that I attended in 1954-1955. I then proceeded to compound our problem by turning the wrong way out of the train station, eventually getting us to the Cronulla Public School, which unfortunately was not the right one. A very nice lady there got us straightened around, and after a two-mile hike (still in the rain), we finally arrived at the South Cronulla Public School, only two and half hours late.
Given how late we were, I fully expected the principal of the school to only give us a few minutes of his time. Instead, we got a shock. Not only did he take time from his schedule (very busy, as it was the opening day of the school term) to sit and talk with us, he dug up all the old records of the school (which stretch back to its founding in 1947, and even some records going back to 1943 when the school catered to infants only) and let us peruse them to our hearts content.
I couldn’t find any record of my own time there (the records were very sketchy for the first/second grades), but I did find the entries pertaining to my older brother Mike, which showed at one point that he had an injury that I’d was not previously aware of (a “poisoned foot”) that took him out of school for a couple of weeks, and a class photo of him for 1955 that I didn’t have in my current photo collection.
Mike is fourth from right in the back row. As far as I was concerned, this already made the trip a success. But the principal wasn’t done with us yet. Just after the kid’s lunch hour, he assembled all of them, put us in front of this crowd of bright, clean, and well-behaved students, and let them fire questions at me about what it had been like there fifty years ago. Then he had the students present us with some nice souvenirs of the school, and led us off to another conference, this time with just four of the upper grade students for some more in-depth questions. And then, as if he hadn’t done enough, he went and bought us lunch.
Now I don’t know how an American elementary school would react to having an alumni from fifty years back show up, but I must give a strong two thumbs-up to this man. He absolutely went far out of his way to make us feel welcome, and was genuinely interested in what I could tell him about my experiences in that school from so long ago. From what I saw of the students in this school, he also runs a pretty taut ship – I doubt if I could go to any public school in America and find such a bunch of decorous, disciplined, and bright kids. And this same feeling also applies to the teachers we met, as they were definitely set on working together to get the job done, and obviously were dedicated to seeing that the kids were getting the best education they could provide.
After we left the school, we took a short stroll through Shelly Beach Park. Back when I went to school there, this park and the beach were visible from the school grounds. Now there are too many buildings in the way. But it’s still a truly great park and beach.
This will have to do for now, as after finally getting back to hotel at about 6PM that night, we found we really were exhausted, with no energy left to do much else that day, and with the prospect of an early rise on the morrow for the first of our planned sight-seeing tours.