Monday, 15 August 2016

In Praise of Mrs O'Halloran

"School days, school days, dear old golden rule days." ~ School days, Cobb & Edwards 

I did learn the golden rule at school thanks to my Grade 4 teacher Mr Clancy. He also taught me the old gem, "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, all the rest have thirty-one except February alone which has twenty-eight and in a leap year twenty-nine.", which I still recite to myself today when trying to remember whether a month has thirty or thirty-one days.

I am also deeply grateful for the persistence shown by my Grade 11 and 12 ancient history teacher Mr Butner, in teaching his students critical thinking. I remember how stunned we students were when he asked us a question and one of the students gave the correct answer and Mr Butner said "How do you know". The student I think her name was Louise said "Because it is in the text book." And he said "Yes, but how do you know that's correct?" And many of us called out "Because it is in the text book," And round and round the conversation went in circles as he slowly brought us to see that just because something is written in a text book it doesn't mean it is correct. We discovered in those conversations that people write from opinions and sometimes ignore fact. Or an author could be writing from one angle when there are many angles to consider. Or subsequent facts might come to light that change the current version of the truth. Now when I observe people accepting what they are told or what they read without evaluating the information and asking themselves how much truth if any is contained in the information, I smile inwardly and thank Mr Butner for teaching me how to think.

But this post is in praise of my grade three teacher Mrs O' Halloran. My favourite teacher. I went to Humpybong state school on the Redcliffe Peninsula. How many of you were lucky enough to attend a primary school that was situated on the beachfront? I used to spend some recesses just staring out across the sea. Not a popular activity with my friends unfortunately, but is seemed to fill me with such a feeling of contentment and at the same time yearning.

I am not the first to  write about Mrs O'Halloran. Australian actor William McInnes also attended Humpybong primary school. He wrote about Mrs O'Halloran in his book "A man's got to have a hobby".  On page 124 of his book he describes her: "She was a tiny, round woman who wore dark glasses, and had purple- and grey-streaked hair coiffed into an immense balloon. She also had a whip for a tongue and her voice could cut through concrete". Hang on a minute, her hair was not like an immense balloon. But the rest of the description was pretty spot on. His description continues:  "Her tiny feet in her tiny high-heeled leather shoes" (I wonder how he knew they were leather?) "crackled on the floor as she strutted back and forth." Well I don't know about strutting, but she did walk about the room a lot, for an older women she had an air of vigour.  He also described her as "such a ferocious figure" and "her wail was so piercing it made quite afraid". Now before you go thinking the young William was a bit of a wuss, she did appear ferocious and yes she certainly could wail. He only had her as a substitute teacher for one day, so had no time to form any other opinion of her.

My memories of Mrs O'Halloran include the occasions when she was sitting at her desk and one of the students, usually a boy named Michael made her laugh. She would throw back her head and laugh heartily and her hands would slap her desk in delight. I also remember her showing us a place on the map called Vietnam and saying quietly and quickly that her son was over there, before moving off onto another subject. This was in the early 70's. I remember her saying Saturday was baking day, which impressed me because she worked all week and then baked on the weekend. My mother didn't work outside the home and she didn't have a baking day. I remember Mrs O'Halloran always wore a tussie mussie posy holder filled with what looked like violets. She often wore lavender hued dresses.  Perhaps she thought the colour complemented her blue eyes, or perhaps her hair colour.

After I moved on to grade 4 I discovered that some past students would during the lunch hour sneak back to their old grade three class room to visit with Mrs O'Halloran. I joined that group of students. She wasn't always in her room, but when she was we would circle her desk and chat away to her. She shushed us if we got too noisy as we were not supposed to be there. I cannot remember what we talked about. I do not know why she was so special for many of her past students. However I do know she could have been spending time with her colleagues but instead she made herself available to we children. I am grateful for her interest in us, and she seemed to sincerely enjoy spending time chatting with us.

A few years later when I was in grade 7 my teacher took a long period of leave. It was announced that for many weeks we would have Mrs O'Halloran take over the teaching of our class. Such consternation amongst my class mates who had not had her for a teacher in grade three. I felt no concern. I knew she would not tolerate bad behaviour, and that she had a sense of humour and delighted in having a good laugh. I knew she was fair. I had already learned the difference between those times she was giving and instruction that she expected to be obeyed and when she was merely expressing an opinion, though often vehemently. I respected Mrs O'Halloran very much and I am glad I was a member of her class.


  1. Its funny the people who leave an impression on us isn't it? I had an old school principal. Mr Young was his name. He was huge to me, and a deep bellowing voice.

    I vividly remember his lessons on grammar and punctuation. You're and your, witch/which, and the most vivid was the way he would say "etc, etc, etc...." Which was pronounced "exet-terah, exet-terah, exet-terah!" most grandly! I was really quite terrified of him, as were most of the small kinds, but he seemed to know this and never asked me a question in glass, probably knowing I would die of embarrassment, terrified I would get it wrong. He was always very kind to me, but if you were naughty? Watch out!! I actually really liked him, despite bing intimidated by him. He had a kind smile, bellowing laugh, and a twinkle in his eye and he would make me giggle. :) Full of theatrics!


    1. These people live on not just in our memories but in the way they have influenced us. They have possibly even help shaped us in ways we don't realise. Thanks Emma for sharing your memory of Mr Young.

  2. My primary school was also by the beach Sherri - at Swansea in Tasmania. I had a couple of lovely teachers, though none quite as colourful as Mrs O'Halloran. My Year 6 teacher features strongly in my memories but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. He berated me soundly in front of the class during a lesson on collective nouns. I had written a "murder" of crows and he said there was no such word. There is such a word...and to this day I hope that one day he realised his error and was sorry for yelling at me! Funny the things that stick in your memory.

  3. Hello Sherri: your word picture of Mrs O'H is spot on. She was my teacher in Grade 6 at Humpybong in 1957. The initials of her given names, on my report card, are U. M. I recall two personal stories she told us. Sadly, one was about the death by drowning of one of her children. The other was about how she kept her toddler children (twins?) occupied by putting honey on their fingers and then handing them a feather. The endless transfer of the feather from one hand to the other meant they were silent for ages.

    1. Oh that last account of the toddlers and the feather was wonderful Robert. I can just picture her telling it. Thank you for sharing.