Jos had promised his mother, he would take care of her, but he must have been keenly aware, he could barely take care of himself.
Although my brother kept all acts of violence against him from us, I write of what I had witnessed.
Jos was a sensitive and darling brother. My mother said he would “give the shirt off his back”. As his sister, I witnessed at first hand, his caring and generosity. He was loving and thoughtful towards all of his friends and family.
He was a person of the arts, great at acting, drawing and painting. Dyslexia held him back academically, but he was not stupid. His father often humiliated him at home, in frustration, telling him, “You are only suitable for pick and shovel”. I can only imagine how he felt.
It is perplexing to me why he was such a target of hatred, by teachers and children. The worst of it started at the commencement of high school, like a time bomb, and continued until he left that dam school, and the school environment.
Teachers were mostly endeared to Jos, recognising his quiet and pleasant personality. But the first indication of violent and sadistic teachers was witnessed at Mittagong Primary School.
Jos was not naughty, he tried hard. He was not a mischief maker, those boys, were sometimes kept under control with a vicious cane, but mostly, they went under the radar, they were certain to keep their unsavoury activities when teachers or bus drivers deflected their attention elsewhere. The children retaliating or defending themselves were the ones caught and punished. At one stage, Jos was kicked off the school bus, because someone punched him. This became more like the vigilante punishing the innocent.
There were some teachers of note, who were feared.
Mr Jones the head master was vicious and callous. My sister Jane was bright, but if at any time she did not understand, what Mr Jones ineptly tried to teach her, she would have her head slammed against the blackboard, or her legs whipped. My mother went to the school and told Mr Jones, if he laid another hand on Jane, Mum threatened she would personally punch him in the head, the torture ceased.
At Mittagong Public School, some classes doubled up with different years. Subsequently I ended up in the same class as my brother for mathematics. I specifically remember Mr Mackay, the mathematics teacher.
Mr Mackay persecuted my brother with insane cruelty. I witnessed him targeting other students as well. I was a girl, about eight years old. What the hell could I do against this travesty. Still to this day, I am ashamed I did not intervene.
I see Mr Mackay before me, skinny, a slightly hunched frame, old wrinkled and snarly face, mean and angry all the time. He had Jos stand at the blackboard and asked him to solve mathematical problems.
Mum was good at mathematics, she outlined her methods to Jos that were easier for him to understand, and although he may have solved the problem for the teacher, Jos would have his head violently smashed against the blackboard, because it was not the way taught by Mackay. He would whip people around the legs, clip them across the ears and sneer and humiliate them.
Mostly, naughty boys, and the slow learners were sent out in the yard to pick up rubbish, therefore Jos missed a large amount of valuable lessons.
On his first days at Bowral High School, Jos frequently came home with cuts and bruises or wet from having his head put down the toilet. Often his neck would be bruised and red due to his tie being pulled tightly around his neck, it’s incredible he was not strangled. It must have been a hairs breath.
On the bus it was, the Levett boys, the Richard boys, the Aitken boys and the Alsop girls, who relentlessly bullied, punched and persecuted him.
Mum, often went to confront those boys and their parents, gutsy woman!
Jos left high school as soon as he was legally allowed, he didn’t wait until he turned 15, and the violence screeched to a wonderful halt.
Jane and I, left school as soon as we possibly could as well. We hated the institution, it was bad for our education. We prospered after school, not at it.
A school friend from Mittagong Public School writes:
“The loss of my father also was a blow to me, and my confidence and feelings of self-worth. I went into a slump and stopped trying at school and drifted…
Grade 5 with Mr Don Wickham was cruisy, he made us laugh, I was happy but was a tad lazy.
At the start of Grade 6, Mr Jones gave us a test on a Friday, long multiplication was not my strongest suit. Come Monday morning, to my horror, I had done very badly in the test, and he called me out to the front of the class (worst thing he could have done to me) and humiliated me and made me do the multiplication exercises on the blackboard. He yelled and screamed, but because I was so stunned by his raging, and embarrassed in front of my class-mates, my brain completely shut-down. I couldn’t take-in what he was showing me. He then started the beltings around the legs and man-handling me, which just made it worse. In the end I was just a sobbing mess, and he gave up on me after about 20 mins of torment, then made derogatory statements about my name, which was totally fucking useless!
I had many weeks of his close supervision, and many weekends I lived in fear of Monday morning rituals of being publicly shamed if I got answers wrong in his tests…I learnt to see how other ‘brighter’ kids like James Beattie did his work (he helped me) and formulated ways of thinking logically and practising my maths until I actually got good, and got back in his good graces.”