Hot milk, ink and the first frisbee

This week’s Friday Reflection was contributed by YourLifeChoices member John Gough in response to Dianne Motton’s Milk, Marvellous Milk article. He places great value on memories and vignettes, and shares these memories from school days in Warrandyte.


I remember school milk in primary school – for me, 1954 to 1959 – in one-third pint bottles.

Yes, the sun-warmed milk often curdled and was undrinkable!

I remember discovering, or being shown by classmates, that if you took the aluminium bottle top off carefully, and licked the inside clean, it made a marvellous frisbee – decades before frisbees were invented.

To ‘fly’ the bottle tops you gripped the edge of the cap between your pointer and middle finger, and then quickly twist-flicked the fingers, making the bottle top spin very fast – just like a frisbee, hovering delicately.

It was a great toy for boys who liked model aeroplanes and enjoyed the American TV adventure show, Whirlybirds, which was about commercial helicopter pilots.

Incidentally, we had wax-waterproofed paper drinking straws. In winter, naughty boys in a wet-day classroom at lunch time would light up a drinking straw like a cigarette and puff the waxy smoke.

In the last years of school milk, for me, special flavoured drinking straws were sold in grocery shops (no supermarkets then!).

These were either chocolate or strawberry flavoured. (Probably artificial chemical flavours!) The flavour was embedded in narrow strips of absorbent cardboard inside the drinking straw.

As you sucked milk through the straw, some of the cardboard flavour seeped into the milk as it went past the cardboard.

After you finished the milk, you could tear the straw apart and chew the cardboard, extracting the flavour. Or you could give your straw to someone else.

By sucking milk into the straw, and blowing it back to the bottle, and doing this a few times, you could concentrate the flavour in the bottle.

My school had milk monitors and also ink monitors. Their job before school started was to go around the desks topping up the small porcelain inkwells that sat in special holes. This involved using a special pouring bottle with a rubber stopper, through which there was a long, curved spout and a short air-hole pipe that stopped the ink pouring when you put your finger over the air hole.

Sometimes the ink monitors had to mix the blue-black ink from ink powder.

Ink was a continual danger, as were the sharp steel pen nibs of the dip-pens we used.

(High school students did not use inkwells and dip-pens, we graduated to fountain pens that we filled, at the start of each day from our personal ink bottles in our book locker.)

At my school, there was also the flag monitor. This lucky child, or couple of children (because two children were more trustworthy than one perhaps), had the task of putting up the school-crossing flags in the main road three times during the school day. First, for children coming to school, then for children walking home for lunch (a few lived close enough to school to walk home for this) and returning at the end of lunch, and finally for all the children walking home at the end of school. Most children walked to school. A school bus operated only for a few years in the mid-1950s, and then the service stopped.

There was no lollypop person then. No flashing lights. No 40kmh speed restrictions. No zebra crossings. If the red flags were stuck in the posts on either side of the painted strip on the road, then any passing cars or trucks had to stop if children or adults were crossing or about to cross. Fortunately, there was much less traffic then, in my sleepy outer Melbourne bushy riverside hamlet of Warrandyte, even though the school crossings were on the one main road through the township.

Some flag monitors used their duties as an excuse for being late to arrive at school in the morning, and at the end of lunchtime, when they leisurely strolled back to class after taking down the flags. Some flag monitors were eager to leave early at the end of the day. “Where’s Robert?” the teacher might ask, and one of the children would remind the teacher, “He’s still on flag duty, sir,” thinking to himself that Robert was probably still idly wandering along the riverbank, or strolling back from the local milk bar, or smoking an illicit cigarette in the bushes.

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