Friday, August 31, 2012

Public Punishment at St. John the Baptist

Billy Critch


The Eleventh and Twelfth Commandments at St. John the Baptist were:

11th “Thou shalt not pimp.”

12th “Thou shalt not cry whilst enduring punishment.”

I was one of Sister Mary Clotilda’s Bursary Boys, the select group that she tutored so that we could continue our secondary education with a full-time scholarship at St. Joseph College, nearby. Photos of her successful students were prominently displayed on the wall in her classroom.

The good sisters were death on dirty jokes even if we didn’t understand what they meant; childhood smutty jokes we had picked up from older brothers or fellow classmates were anathema. Repeating dirty jokes was sinful and subject to capital punishment which would now be considered child abuse.

So we concealed our dirty sniggers and grins for those private times when we could escape the sisters’ ever-watchful eyes: on the playfield behind the small pavilion where the equipment was stored, or after ‘lights out’ in the dorms. Laughing was only for happy occasions such as an extra serving of dessert, the announcement of a student’s contagious disease which would close the school for a week or two as a precaution against its spreading.

Imagine my surprise when I was called to Sister Clotilda’s desk on the podium and calmly confronted with the report that I had been guilty of telling a dirty joke.

“Oh, no sister, I would never have said anything like that,” I said.

She pointed to one of my classmates who blushed and avoided my eyes. The rat had broken the 11th Commandment.

The inquisition lasted for what seemed like an hour and I suspect I must have admitted my guilt, as I was probably the kid who told the most dirty jokes in the history of the school. We were a simple bunch without radio, TV or Man Magazine, suggestive movies or access to Roy Rene at the Tivoli burlesque, but somehow I managed to acquire a great repertoire, which fortunately has lasted me through my entire life.

As her interrogation continued she became flushed and her voice became louder and angry. Finally she left her seat, opened her desk and produced what was the largest strap I had ever seen – a suitcase strap an inch and a half wide, and an eighth of an inch thick. With a flourish she threw back her veil over her shoulder grabbed my left arm and commenced to beat me on the backside. As she warmed to the task, I observed the 12th Commandment.

Sister Clotilda was not a tall woman, but born in a mining camp in Arrarat, Victoria, she was very sturdy and had the sisters fielded a Rugby team she would have been a Forward – probably the Rake. She laid into me with a fury I had never seen; classmates later told me I received over 40 lashes and would have received more but in her enthusiasm to root out evil, she made a tactical error.

A leg of the large, reversible chalkboard balanced on the edge of the podium caught the strap on the backswing of the 41st. stroke. The downswing pulled the old board on to the floor where it shattered, much to the amusement of the entire 5th and 6th Classes.

She shook me loose and fled the room. No one laughed nor broke the 11th Commandment by telling any of the other sisters.

And yes, I did pass the Bursary exam but having seen the Marist Brothers in similar punitive actions, next year I became a Riverview boy for, as everybody knows, the ‘Jacks’ were pussies.

If you believe that I’ve got a Sydney Harbour Bridge I will sell you!

St John the Baptist Preparatory School for Boys, Hunter's Hill. N.S.W. Australia