HomeLifeWhen the playground could kill you

When the playground could kill you

Hands up who cheated death in their childhood playground?

Combine a lack of parental/teacher oversight, a singular absence of empathy for others, unrestricted access to some dodgy play equipment and I bet many of us can recall some truly horrific games and events that would probably get everyone swiftly arrested these days.

I went to a small country primary school, and the two that stand out in my memory are British bulldog and brandy.

Enrolment numbers were so small that apart from the preppies and grade ones, these games were pretty much whole-school events.

If you need a memory prompt, brandy involved throwing a ball at someone and if it hit you, you were ‘it’. Of course, there was no genteel piffing of a ball – get a decent-sized grade-six boy and they could do some damage with a well-slung tennis ball. Some sadists discovered it was even more effective if the ball was wet.

The aim wasn’t just to make someone else ‘it’, the object was also to inflict a nasty red mark, and hopefully an awe-inspiring bruise, hence the name brandy.

British bulldogs was the same. Basically kids ran between two lines, while those on the sidelines threw balls at them. The last person not to be hit was the winner. Once again, no lobbing involved, it was full-on Lord of the Flies stuff.

Not once did a teacher get involved and point out that heaving a ball full pelt at a teensy kid was perhaps not on.

Playground equipment was also a place of carnage. Almost every class had a kid who had broken a limb on the monkey bars. Instead of it being the basis of a clear-cut lawsuit, it was a mark of pride. Even better if you rebroke it.

The school trampoline was a wonderful rarity in the ’70s, but no life-saving nets for us. It was built into the ground and surrounded by a cement path. Fall off and you risked brain damage. It was a great thrill to bounce as high as you could and then land on the cement. Kids are stupid.

Our council playground was another case in point. We had a demobbed WWII anti-aircraft gun as part of our play equipment. Yes, you read that right. You could work those little metal winches and it would move around. Imagine that now. Frankly, I don’t know how one of us didn’t lose a hand in the exposed gears.  

We also had a contraption that consisted of a metal pole with chains hanging from the top ending in metal hoops. You grabbed a couple of these and swung around, touching down occasionally to speed it up. All the better if you could terrorise a smaller kid on the equipment by going faster than they could deal with. And don’t forget throwing yourself off at near warp speed. Did you land safely? Probably not, but you certainly gained the respect of your peers if you injured yourself.

Same with that carousel thing. Get a few decent-sized menaces running it around and kiddies flew off it like confetti.

The equipment was also just dangerous by its very existence. None of that soft floor, plastic ergonomic nonsense for us. Strictly punishingly hot metal equipment – quite possibly rusted with a nail hanging out – dirt landing areas hollowed out by use and imagination required to make any of it visually appealing in any way.

I miss it all dearly. 

What was the life-threatening play equipment favourite of your childhood? Why not share your memory in the comments section below?

Also read: Seven things your grandchildren won’t understand

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. British Bulldog when I was in the scouts was much rougher game than having balls thrown at you. One person would stand in the middle and all the others would try to go form one end on the space to the other, while the one in the middle targeted one boy to lift is feet off the ground. Gradually the number in the middle was greater than the ones trying to cross.

    It was very tough if you were one of those remaining- I was thrown through some swing doors once after being lifted.

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