I should have posted this a week or so ago but the truth is I didn't even remember Empire Day until today. Geeze, I even had to Google to discover it was May 24th, Queen Victoria's birthday; I thought it was May 25th. All the sources I've read on the web indicate that Empire Day changed it's name to Commonwealth Day in 1958.
Be that as it may. I can remember as late as 1963 that we got it as a half-day off school. It was schools only and, frankly, we didn't give a damn about the Empire, it was time off from school. In the morning we were treated to an overdose of Rule Brittannia and they handed out little Union Jacks on toothpicks. At lunchtime we were free to go and wreak havoc as was our wont. And it was definitely called Empire Day. Of course, that might have been a reflection of the age of our teachers; in 1963 we were taught by Mrs Hodgson, who retired at the end of 1964.
She was a good old stick. At the start of 1963 we found ourselves assigned to her class and we went through the usual fear and loathing period. After you've seen this happen a few times you know the pattern. Slap the little bastards down at the start so they know who's boss and then back off. But of course, at age 9, we didn't know anything about that fundamental truth. By the end of that school year (Australian school years run February to December) we'd all reached comfortable accomodation, learned a lot and we respected her for being fair. If she gave us the 'cuts' we knew we'd deserved it. And if she had any doubt about our guilt she gave us the benefit of it. I, and most of my friends, were delighted to discover she was going to be our teacher in 1964.
As aforesaid, she retired at the end of 1964. I had one more year of primary school and found myself, in 1966, at Footscray Tech. And there, much to our surprise, we found Mrs Hodgson at lunchtime, standing by the gate, gazing at her former pupils. She brought us home made sausage rolls which we wolfed down. Pretty good sausage rolls they were too! She wanted every little piece of gossip we had and drank in our boyish prattle. At the time I didn't think much about it and, to be honest, haven't thought much about it since, but as I write this, I realise she must have missed her 'kids' and found retirement left her with time on her hands.
Surely she must be dead by now. Alive or not, Rest In Peace, Mrs Hodgson.