A couple of people have asked me in private messages to lay out the details of the second time I was flogged at school, so I've decided to do so here. It happened to me at the end of Form III, when I was still 12 years old - I was getting close to 13 at this point, and it was richly deserved in my opinion looking back on it - though at the time it seemed to me like a serious overreaction.
It was coming up very close to the end of the school year - less than two weeks till Christmas. Most of the years work was over, and it wasn't getting dark until quite late. Because of this, our normal evening study regime was far looser than it normally was - after school, we were basically free to roam about until 8pm or so.
Now I was trying to be good. I'd been trying all that year. My first two years at the school, I really was a troublemaker, but I started to see the light a year or so earlier - and I really was doing my best to behave, to follow rules. I didn't always succeed - and I had my fair share of punishments throughout the year - generally when I didn't think through the consequences of my actions. As happened on this occasion. I had a very good friend - call him William Connolly here - and he persuaded me to participate in his planned misbehaviour. I told myself I was only going along because I couldn't let him do this alone - but in all honesty, I was up for it. He wanted someone's autograph - a cricketer. I think he needed it to complete a set or something - I just remember he was very intent on getting it. And he was convinced he had a chance to get it this afternoon.
We were located a reasonable distance outside of the city of Melbourne - a little bit over an hour by train if I recall correctly. He worked out that if we could be outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground - the MCG - at 5pm, we should be able to get this autograph. We looked into it - we needed to get a train into the city, move from one train station to another, and catch another train out a little bit to get to the MCG. We looked at times - and we were confident we could get to the cricket ground, get the autograph and get back to school in time to avoid detection.
The plan looked perfect on paper. And it worked to start with. We headed to the train station nearest the school and got aboard. We headed into the city of Melbourne and got off at one of the two main train stations there - the way the Melbourne rail system worked back then, we then had to head across the city to another station - and neither of us had been in Melbourne unaccompanied before. We quickly realized we didn't know our way around as well as we thought we did. We did manage to find the station by asking a few people for directions. But we were later getting there than we expected to be. We asked the station staff which train we needed to catch for the MCG - and we were told which platform to go to. We felt we were back on track. William had been to the MCG many times before, always getting off at Richmond Station so that was our plan. He thought Richmond was the first station just outside the city - so we were a bit worried when we saw the first station was signposted Jolimont - as we were discussing this, we came into a second station, after only a short distance - West Richmond. All right - this made sense - we were heading east towards Richmond, so naturally we would pass through West Richmond first - the next station was North Richmond, then Collingwood - and we started to panic. Or rather William started to panic and I caught it from him.
William came from a very wealthy family - even by the standards of our school, his parents were loaded. He lived a pretty isolated life - but neither of us really knew that much about Melbourne. We knew the name Collingwood - because it's the name of a very prominent, predominantly working class, football team. Collingwood was, to us, the type of place where boys from schools like ours - and we were in uniform - would be beaten up by the local kids if they found us there. We started arguing about what to do - I wanted to get off the train and wait for a train back to the city, from where we could head back to school. William didn't want to get off the train we were on.
What had happened was pretty simple - Jolimont station was just as close to the MCG as Richmond Station - they were on different train lines - William had always got off at Richmond with his family because they lived further out on that line. When we asked where the next train to the MCG was, presumably a train on that line was leaving before the ones on the line he was used to. West Richmond and North Richmond were on the line we were on - Richmond wasn't. So we never went near the station we planned to get off at. And once we were on the wrong train, William was just too scared to get off - because as far as he was concerned we were lost and we were in dangerous territory. I was only slightly less scared to be honest, but at least I could work out that going further and further away from school wasn't helping matters.
I finally managed to persuade him to get off the train at Ivanhoe - because of all things, we both knew there was a fairly well known school at Ivanhoe, so he was willing to be convinced that private school boys were unlikely to be lynched from lampposts there.
We changed over to the other side of the platform and waited for a train back - we got back into the city and headed for Spencer Street Station - again, we got a little lost and a little delayed. And by the time we reached the station, we knew we would never get back to school before the evening roll call.
William fell to pieces at this point - he was no angel (I mean, would a well behaved boy have done this!) but he had never been in really serious trouble before. I, on the other hand, had been. Knowing we were going to be late to school - knowing that we would be in dire trouble when we returned, he dug in his heels and decided he wasn't going back to school. And no matter how I pleaded with him, he wasn't going to budge. His plan was to head back to the station we'd just come from and get on a train to his family home. I didn't think that was a good idea at all, so to try and convince him not to do that, I told him that trains didn't run that late to where he lived - I had no idea if that was true or not but I was getting desperate - all I accomplished though was to convince him the only thing he could so was spend the night in the city and catch the first train home in the morning.
I wanted to go back to school - or to phone the school and tell them where we were. I knew we were in deep trouble, but I knew that if we came clean now, we had some hope of mercy. But he wouldn't go along with my plans and I couldn't leave him.
Eight o'clock passed - and all hell broke loose at school. We weren't there of course, but from what other people reported to me later, I found out what had happened. Basically when the evening role was called, our absence was noted immediately. This wasn't a major issue in itself - people were late occasionally, just because they'd wandered a fair distance from the school - but they started their routines to find out when someone had last seen us.
Now, from what I can work out - and I wasn't privy to all the information, earlier in the afternoon, a second form boy who I'll call Larry McKenzie, had seen a day boy fighting with his father when he was picked up from school - apparently he'd wanted to stay back at the school and go swimming with his mates - but his father had wanted him to come home. It had ended with his father yelling at him to get into the car right now.
This second form boy had told his friends what he'd seen but the story got embellished - into a story of a man forcing a boy into a car against his will. A prefect had overheard the conversation and when it emerged that William was missing (it's not that I wasn't a concern - it's just that William was the reason this was taken seriously) he told the headmaster what he had heard. The second form boy was summoned and asked what he'd seen - and for some reason, maybe because he thought he was in trouble for lying, he told the housemaster the embellished story.
It's probably worth pointing out that in 1960s Australia, kidnap for ransom was a genuine nightmarish fear for wealthy parents. There'd been a very prominent case at the start of the decade which ended with a dead child after his parents won a lottery. Wealthy parents were aware of this type of risk - and William's parents were very wealthy. The school, with a large number of wealthy boarders, and a couple of years earlier to deal with a specific threat against a specific student, had developed detailed plans to deal with such a situation - and they put these plans into effect immediately. I don't really think they really felt William had been kidnapped, but they weren't taking any chances.
Back in the city, William was getting very nervous. Occasionally boys ran away from school - and they were nearly always caught. One of the places they were caught was at the train station - so William didn't want to hang around there. The only place we could think to go was to a large park south of the city - we didn't know our way around that well, but this park was near two of the schools we did sports against - and we knew how to get there. We walked there - and we sat down in the shadows of some sheds.
We were picked up by the police around 2am. Taking to a police station, checked over by a police doctor and then a senior constable was detailed to drive us back to the school. It was about an hours trip at that time of night, and this officer spent the whole trip telling us about the problems we'd caused everybody including the police and expressing a fervent hope that we'd get 'a bloody good hiding' when we got back to school - he also told us that a few years earlier he'd have done it himself, and he seemed rather disappointed that police could no longer get away with dispensing summary justice.
When we got back to school, it was nearly 4am - we were met by the headmaster, our housemaster, and the matron. We were sent straight to bed - and told that we would be dealt with later. If I hadn't been so tired, I doubt I would have slept. As it was, I slept until I was roused around three in the afternoon. I dressed and then William and I were taken into the dining room and given tea and bread and butter - first food we'd eaten in about twenty four hours - we ate because we were starving but I doubt he was in any more of a mood to eat than me. We'd been told we had to report to the headmasters study at 3.30 - and I was pretty terrified.
We arrived there at 3.30 - and there was a second form boy already there. We didn't know about what had happened at the school the previous night - he was the boy who'd made the false report that had sparked off the major alert - and he was in as much trouble as we were. Like William, and I suppose like myself, he looked absolutely ashen. And then we were called into the headmasters study.
I'd been flogged once before - and as I entered the room, I immediately noted that there were two canes sitting on the headmaster's desk. An old armchair was off to one side, with a footstool placed behind it.
The headmaster gestured to the rug in front of his desk and we stood there - he quite literally had us on the carpet - and he began to lecture us.
He didn't seem angry - at least not in the sense that he was yelling or screaming. Really his whole demeanour was one of sadness - more sorrow than anger. He was calm as he explained to us - the three of us - precisely how much trouble we'd caused. The police across the state had been alerted because William was missing, and because Larry had lied about what he had seen. Our Masters had all been pulled away from their homes, and all the Prefects had been sent out to scour the grounds in case we were somewhere around the school. He singled William out by stressing how distressed his parents had been when the Head had phoned them to tell them the news - and Larry had to hear a variation on the boy who cried wolf theme.
I actually got off fairly lightly in the lecture stakes - because William tried his best to get me out of trouble - he said I'd wanted to come back to school, or phone the school, and I hadn't because he'd been too scared. It didn't do me any good when it came to the actual punishment, but I think it might have disrupted the Head's planned lecture to me - so I just got lots of generalities directed at me.
The lecture probably went on for about half an hour - and at the end of it, the headmaster stood up, and walked around the desk picking up one of the canes. He directed Larry to the back of the armchair, and up onto the footstool, and instructed him to lower his shorts, and then his underpants and bend over.
I didn't have a perfect view of what was happening - it was a bit off to one side - but I could see quite a bit. I could see that Larry already a couple of almost faded marks on his backside. I also noticed how small his bottom seemed - how small and vulnerable. He was shaking slightly - I think he was already crying. The head took up position, put his legs slightly apart and he slammed that cane into Larry's bottom. Larry almost screamed. The Head paused for a few seconds and then repeated the action. Larry took the second and third strokes better than he had the first - but on the fourth he stood up and his hands shot around to his bottom.
"BACK DOWN. BEND OVER." The Headmaster thrust in the middle of his back and pushed him down. "Stay down or you'll get extra." He actually used his left hand to push Larry down as he delivered the last two strokes.
"Stand up, and step aside. Connolly, come here!"
William walked unsteadily over to the footstool and stepped up onto it.
"McKenzie, get dressed properly and wait by the door. Connolly, lower your shorts and your underpants. All the way down."
I watched as one boy pulled his pants up, sobbing like a baby, and another lowered his. There were some lines on Larry's backside - but only a shadow of what would appear later. William stood there for a moment with his shorts and underpants around his ankles as the Headmaster flexed and examined his cane.
"Bend over - all the way over the chair, get your head down."
Again, he slammed that cane into William's bottom - I was watching - as he jerked. As his fairly pale, small buttocks were marked with what seemed to be to be a white line that in my mind seemed to radiate pain. I forced my eyes away at this point and looked forward. I didn't want to see it anymore. I knew I was next, and I didn't want to look at it. I couldn't stop myself hearing it though - the swish and crack of the cane, the gasping for air coming from William, the tragic sobbing in the background from Larry - and to my shame, I realized I was crying as well in fear, even before my punishment had started.
"Rysher. Come here! Connolly, step aside."
I forced myself to walk over, William had stepped off the stool and was almost facing me. He still had his trousers around his ankles, and his hands were behind him. Tears were absolutely streaming down his face. I stepped up onto the footstool.
"Connolly, get yourself dressed, Rysher, pull down your shorts and your underpants - you've been here before."
I complied as quickly as possible. I wanted it over.
"Bend forward as far as you can, and stay down."
And he hit me - he caned me - and it was agony. I was already sobbing - but it got even worse. The second stroke was the most incredible pain I had ever felt - and it was one of the worst moments of my life. Being in that position - in absolute agony - was bad enough. But even worse was the realization that I'd only had two. There were four more to come. It wasn't even half over - it was the worst pain I could imagine, and it was going to get even worse. And it did - the third stroke was pretty much at what I felt was the limit of human endurance - but I had to go further. I didn't have a choice. The fourth stroke - I just couldn't believe the pain. The fifth took me by surprise - I think he sped up the strokes. And the sixth pushed all the air out of me - so my bottom was on fire, but I was more or less winded as well.
I staggered up.
"Get your trousers up - and the three of you can go - I suggest you see your boarding house matron - no, actually I insist you do."
William and I staggered across the quadrangle towards our house - Larry was in a different house. We headed into the infirmary. The Matron took a look at our faces, and got us some tissues - then she told us both to lower our trousers so she could have a look at the damage.
She made a few tut-tutting noises about what she could see - and then to my absolute shock, she smacked me once on the back of each thigh - below the caned area. It didn't hurt anywhere near as much as the caning - but it was a shock.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again!"
William was backing as hurriedly as he could with his trousers and undies at half mast. She stepped across the room and got him as well.
"Pull your trousers up. You'll both live."
She stood there looking at both of us, shaking her head.
"You boys - you're the reason I haven't got any but grey hairs. I know you won't do this again - will you?"
We assured her we wouldn't. And believe me, I meant it - I was still in some fair amount of pain - it had been perhaps twenty minutes since I'd been caned, and it was fading but it was still there, and the memory of the worse pain I'd received - well, basically, that memory stayed with me - and served as a reminder to me when I thought about breaking rules. Sometimes I still broke them - not often - but generally speaking, I stayed on the straight and narrow because I couldn't handle the consequences if I didn't - and I knew I couldn't. I'd been taken to my limit. Some canings you could shrug off - not this one.
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