When I was a country parson in the early 1960’s of the little country church in the little country town of Ararat, gateway to the Wimmera, I taught religious instruction each week in the one teacher bush school at Jacksons Creek.
Jacksons Creek was a typical one teacher country school that was still to be found in those days throughout the bush. The one teacher, who had been there for more that 20 years in 1964, was Miss Pat Bradley. She was a no-nonsense, country girl made teacher who had dedicated her life to the education of the children in the area where she had grown up.
Miss Bradley was strongly built with good arms, big hands that were used to milking for perhaps the previous 30 years. She wore sensible lace-up walking shoes with flat heels, lisle stockings, and it seemed the same dresses. She was a good hearted Christian who devoted her life to her pupils and when the weekend came spent Saturdays working with the church youth groups and Sundays teaching Sunday School.
Miss Pat Bradley’s whole life centred around children except for when she went back to her parents’ farm which she half ran under the watchful eye of her frail, failing father.
I was a country parson that came out to the little one teacher bush school to teach religious education each Thursday morning. I was a university graduate and had been teaching classes in secondary school for six years. After a week or so Miss Bradley saw that I could cope with the ten, eleven or twelve children who happened to be there and asked if I would mind taking charge for an hour or two while she would slip into Ararat to do the school banking and a few other chores she had to do. That worked well with me and I started a regular routine where I became the teacher for all of Thursday morning while Miss Bradley went into town to do whatever she had to do.
It was about 9 o’clock that Wednesday night when the ‘phone rang and Miss Bradley’s voice came through loud and clear. “Are you right for tomorrow?” “Yes, I’m right. I’ll be there no problems.” “Well I’ll tell you what I want you to do. You know what day Saturday is? It’s Anzac Day and the school always has a holiday on Anzac Day or the day nearest which means there is no school on Friday. That means we’ve got to have an Anzac Day service tomorrow morning and that is the morning when you’re due. So I thought I’d give you a ring and ask if you wouldn’t mind taking an Anzac Day service for me.”
I had never taken an Anzac Day service in my life and my memories of High School at Box Hill, were memories of old generals who came out and drew maps while we stood for long periods of time listening to the Last Post played by a school trumpeter and when the school orchestra played Ave Verum and we sang songs like “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget, lest we forget”. Anzac Day at Box Hill High School was quite a significant feature what with our orchestra playing the hymn tunes and the drums of our band muffled. It was quite a moving experience especially when Mr. Moody, our headmaster, came to speak. He had been gassed while a soldier at the Somme and had lost his voice. He always spoke with a gasp and a wheeze. Somehow in those days Anzac Day seemed to be quite real because in the 1950’s I was being taught by a headmaster who had been there.
But how was I to conduct an Anzac Day service at Jacksons Creek?
I said to Miss Bradley, “What do you want me to do?” And Miss Bradley replied, “Oh, just the usual thing. Salute the flag like we do on a Monday morning, say “I love God and my country”, and read them a story about the landing on Anzac Cove out of the Seventh Grade Reader.”
It sounded so simple as I agreed to look after the students the next morning for their Anzac Day.
Driving my old Morris Oxford out along the unmade roads to Jacksons Creek I kept thinking of how we used to do it at Box Hill High School and I decided that if we were going to have Anzac Day then we ought to do it properly.
I pulled my grey Morris Oxford up outside the school where the Bethridge boys were hanging around the school gates. I didn’t have to open the school up. Everybody knew where the key was and from under the big rock near the front door Tom Bethridge got the key and opened up and we trooped in. I spoke to Tom, “Tom, does this school have a drum?”
“Yes, sir, in the back room. None of us can play it though and when we try to Miss Bradley won’t let us. She says we make too much of a racket.”
“Well Tom go and get the drum and I’ll show you how to play it.” Three boys tumbled over each other with excitement to get into the back room where all the requirements for conducting a school were kept including the sports equipment, boxes of chalk and erasers for the blackboard, some kerosene heaters which were brought out during winter, and a whole host of things old and new – mostly old. Somewhere in there was a school drum.
Tom Bethridge brought it out. His young brother carried two drumsticks. The drum was in pretty fair condition and was tightened by ropes around each side. I guess it was what you called a side drum and the pigskin was not holed.
I didn’t know much about drums but more than 15 years earlier when I was in primary school, for a whole year I played the drums every morning as the classes moved into school. We had only one marching tune that we played in those days and I remember it still – Da dum dum, da dum dum, da da da.
As the kids began to arrive for school a strange sound was coming out of the classroom at Jacksons Creek. Inside was Tom Bethridge learning the tune. We played it over and over again until he got it right. He was amazed that in such a short time he could learn the eight bars which we repeated over and again which gave us the beat that I had used at primary school, heard again at secondary school and now, like the fount of knowledge, was passing on something that men have known over the generations and passed down from father to son, the marching tune of schoolboys.
By a quarter to nine everybody was in the classroom. “Good morning girls and boys” I said in my most authoritarian voice. And the reply came back as it did every time in the sing song of unmistakable rhythm and rhyme “Good morning Mr. Moyes”. I started off with my little speech, “On Saturday the 25th of April 1964, it will be Anzac Day. You know what Anzac Day means and tomorrow will be a holiday. There will be no school so this morning we are going to have a short ceremony to remember Anzac Day that occurred 49 years ago at a place in Turkey called Anzac Cove. I want you to line up outside near the flagpole because we are going to have an Anzac Day service and we are going to do it properly.”
The kids gathered around the flagpole as Paddy O’Rourke’s son Michael ran the flag up the pole. I quickly got the kids into two lines starting with the tallest up one end and going down to the shortest. “School, attention.” The school children smartly moved boots, shoes and a couple of bare feet through the dust of Jacksons Creek as they came to attention. I gave the official words “Today is an Anzac Day memorial service. We are going to remember brave men and women from Australia who died during the First World War, and particularly those people who 49 years ago landed on the beaches of Turkey at a place called Anzac Cove. Many of them were very young, not much older than you, and they were killed there. All Australia mourned for them. We are going to remember them today in this short service. First of all we will salute the flag.”
“School, the flag, Salute!” Each child thrust a grubby right hand to his forehead as they gazed at the flag flying at the top of the Jacksons Creek pole.
The salute finished, I thought the next best thing to do was to say our school oath. Placing the hand over the heart I led the school in repeating the words:
“I love God and my country,
I honour the flag,
I will serve the Queen,
And cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the laws.”
I was then faced with a bit of predicament. I didn’t know that I could say much about the landing of the Anzac. I knew that in the Seventh Grade Reader John Masefield had written a very graphic account of the landing. I remembered it well from my own school days but it was a pretty hot day at Jacksons Creek and the thought of reading the rather long description of the landing at Anzac was a bit too much. On the other hand I didn’t know enough about the whole thing to give a talk and explain what happened. So I turned to my old standby: The School Reader.
I looked at the kids of the Jacksons Creek school. “Now boys and girls I want to read to you a bit out of the Fourth Grade Reader that tells you about a very famous Australian and what happened at Anzac Cove. For this stand at ease.” The dusty shoes and the grubby feet moved apart and the children stood with hands behind their backs as I read to them the story of “Simpson and his Donkey”:
“During the Great War, many noble deeds of bravery were done. Here is an account of how a British soldier and his donkey saved many lives. Private Simpson went to war with the first Australian soldiers, and was among the first of our brave fellows to land at Anzac. He belonged to the Ambulance Corps, whose duty it is to render first aid to the injured, and bring them as quickly as possible out of danger.”
“Wherever the bullets rained the thickest, there Simpson was to be found bandaging the wounded or holding a refreshing flask of water to the parched lips of some dying soldier. For several weeks Simpson and his donkey ‘Murphy’ were known to every Australian on the Peninsula.”
“It was on the second day after landing that the two met. About one hundred donkeys had been brought ashore to carry tins of water to the soldiers, and ‘Murphy’ was among them. The animals did their work very well.”
“From the moment of their first meeting, Simpson and Murphy became fast friends, and were afterward always to be seen together. Every day they set out with a tin of water, and on their way back searched for some poor wounded comrade who might be lying on the ground, perhaps bleeding to death.”
“Sometimes they would succeed in bringing back fifteen soldiers in a day. On reaching the top, Simpson used to leave Murphy just under the brow of the hill, while he himself dashed forward, under heavy fire, to save the wounded. After giving first aid, Simpson, with the help of the donkey, took them to a place of safety.”
“Day after day the two did their noble work. The animal seemed to know that he must tread carefully to avoid the bumps and jolts over a long and tiresome road. Had he not done so the journey would very likely have meant death to a badly injured soldier. Often a man would be lying wounded, perhaps with a broken leg, and no one else would know of it until Simpson found him or the donkey scented him out.”
“For some time this life-saving work went on, but one day the animal was struck by a bullet, and had to be left behind. Then Simpson and some of his comrades half dragged and half carried the poor beast back to the lines. A few days later, Murphy, although slightly lame, was again at his work and as keen as ever.”
“One day, however, he came down the gully carrying a wounded man on his back, but his master was not there. As soon as he had delivered his burden, he trotted back again up the gully. Not long afterwards, he was seen sniffing at a form lying quite still on the ground. It was Simpson, who had been shot through the heart while returning slowly with a wounded comrade.”
“Thus died one of England’s noblest sons, and deeply did the Anzacs mourn for him. Though his voice is now silent, he has left us an example that will never die, and the story of Simpson and his donkey will long be remembered among the bravest deeds of Anzac.”
Just the telling of it in the bush setting was powerful in its impact. Nothing more needed to be said. I then asked the children to repeat the words “Lest we forget” after I had finished saying the ode:
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will, remember them.”
We stood for a moment in silence and then together said:
“Lest we forget”.
The Anzac Day service was over. The kids weren’t quite sure whether they should give up a cheer, or start to run around, or what. I thought the best thing to do was to finish it off properly with a good march. “School, attention. Right turn. Quick march.” And then Tom Bethridge started on his new tune on the school drum: Da dum dum, da dum dum, dum dum dum. Round the small dusty playground they marched once and then up the stairs and into class.
Tom Bethridge finished his playing and looked at me with a huge smile. He was just so proud of being able to drum the school in. “Well Tom, you did a good job. Do you think you can teach your brothers to play that same march?” Tom was sure he could and it seemed like that Anzac Day started a new tradition in the school. A tradition of drum playing that would be passed on from brother to brother in the one teacher bush school at Jacksons Creek.
When we got into class everybody was sitting and had started with the regular routine. They knew what happened next. I would come in and start with Grades 1, 2 and 3 together and teach them the next stage in the story of Joseph as it was told in the Old Testament. Grades 4, 5 and 6 would open their School Reader and Grades 7 and 8 would take the Seventh Grade Book which was still a bit beyond both of the Bethridge boys and slowly work through the next reading item.
The kids might have been ready to settle down to their normal procedures but I wasn’t. My heart was still at Anzac Cove with Simpson and his donkey. Something about that hot April day when the school yard was so dusty and the Australian flag hanging limply at the flagpole, moved me deep within. It could have been kids just like Tom Bethridge who marched off to Anzac Cove – a bit older perhaps but I’m sure Tom would be as tall as some of the lads that went.
I had the feeling that these kids were understanding of the real meaning of Anzac Day: that we remembered young men who died long ago in a place far away, but that we also had a sense of commitment to a country that was here and now. Simpson and his donkey could very well be coming down the unmade dirt road, crossing Jacksons Creek, and walking up to the one teacher bush school.
The School Reader was my constant friend in those days when I lived in Ararat and taught the eight classes in the one teacher bush school at Jacksons Creek.