Posted by: Bruce | August 19, 2014

Corporal punishment in Australian schools (Pt. 1) – still hitting kids in 2014

Sometimes (often), with or without reason, my mind wanders. A few days ago I imagined meeting my 3rd grade primary school teacher (as an adult and he much older). We exchange some sort of greeting but then I grab him by his collar, bend him so that he is facing the ground, and with my right hand, belt him one on his bony backside, hard.

‘ What’s that for, you bastard? ‘, says he.

‘Grammatically questionable status description sir,  however that’s just what I thought when you belted me the same way. In front of the class, I was nine and used a pencil the wrong way. Would you like a pencil where the sun doesn’t shine?’.

Don't hit me - NoNeg ImagingThis thought bubble cameo, of past meeting present, was prompted by a news article. It referred to comments made by a Dr Kevin Donnelly, co-chair of the Australian Curriculum Review (Prof. Ken Wiltshire other co-chair). He said that he had no problem with corporal punishment if the school community was in favour and handled it correctly.

Corporal punishment in schools is not part of the curriculum review, just a personal view from Mr Donnelly expressed during a radio interview. The media grabbed his comments and ran with them. A misleading grab for headlines you might say; and it worked.

Now I’m writing on the subject and find, surprisingly, that hitting kids in schools is still happening.

From memory, I didn’t tell my parents of this confusing punishment. Not because they were mean but because I was a kid and kids don’t speak up for various reasons. When I grew up, parents smacked little kids to discipline, boys didn’t hit girls, you didn’t kick anyone when they were down (didn’t kick anyone anyway) and you shook hands after a fight. At school, teachers hit you with hands, rulers and canes in the quest for discipline. This status quo was not really questioned, it just, was.

I don’t remember other hits before the pencil incident but in my later school years, I copped the cane a few times. There were one or two dubious canings but most were for the usual things. It was accepted routine and, putting bruised fingers aside, humour managed to creep into this useless and questionable practice…

The Deputy Headmaster at high school had a reputation for being firm but fair and handy with a cane. A good rugby union coach too. His office was in the main administration building (old two storey Federations style), the building always seemed quiet and if sent to his office, you waited outside his closed door until summoned. Everyone who passed knew why you waited. A student could get anything from one to six cuts of the cane. I’m glad they were capped at six; three per hand could really hurt and last for days.

Brylcreem (a.k.a. chick magnet)If a few guys were sent at the same time (happened more than once), on the way to the office we’d look for a Brylcreem kid and run our hands over his hair. We left with slippery hands, he was left reaching for his comb.

The Dep. Headmaster, one of those with a naturally fierce looking face, had the habit of tapping the carpet with the cane and saying ‘right, yes, on that spot’. Knowing this, we stood on the wrong spot, more than once and he had to tap the carpet more than once. It frustrated the Dep. Headmaster, gave a laugh to the kids listening outside the door and made it tough keeping a straight face for the fierce face.

A favourite threat by another teacher was ‘I’ll cane you lad!’. On a particular day he  threatened one, then another, then in frustration ‘I’ll cane the lot of you if you keep this up!’. That was a mistake. We did and he had to. Around two thirds of the class had to be caned in the adjoining office. When he finished so had the class time. I think he was an okay guy and caning wasn’t really his thing.

The status quo: Kids compliance, school law and order. Well, I think differently now.

And among those different thoughts are those related to the teachers who actually hit kids. Was it part of every teachers job description, could a teacher opt out and could a teacher volunteer? The last one could be a worry I reckon.

Was there a caning training school? Hallowed halls of learning, alive with the sounds of canes ripping through the air accompanied by yells of ‘take that and that’ or ‘who’s laughing now?’. The mind boggles, but probably there should have been. A hit on the finger tips or high enough to catch the side of the thumb hurt a lot more than just over the palm or four fingers. If my physics was up to scratch I’d be able to calculate the speed of a weighty cane, 110-120cms in length, at the time of impact; I guess around 80kph give or take 10kph. Sounds a bit scary. No wonder it hurt and damage was done. If you know your physics maybe you can help here.

I’d also like to know whether teachers had a collection of canes in something like a quiver or golf bag? Depending on the kid and handsize, seriousness of the crime and prevailing weather conditions the choice might be a 1,2 or 3 cane or a hand wedge. Hooks and slices not allowed. While I’m on this tangent, were there favourite names like Stinger, Bruiser, Big Bertha and Knuckles or Lumpy, Bumpy and Slasher?

Equal rights - NoNeg Imaging

I may have digressed a little, so back on the serious level. What about girls? My high school was boys only so I don’t know anything about how girls fared in the area of discipline. I think there could be some pretty ugly stuff out there so if anyone has something to say, maybe you’d like to say it here. Please comment away and you can remain anonymous.

Catholic schools seem to have a bit of a reputation for dishing out the physical punishment in, not that many, years gone buy. I’ve heard a few stories that surprised me; changed my image of a gentle nun. Is this just an isolated reputation or widespread? Boarding schools of whatever denomination, don’t fare well either.

Excepting the bastard who whacked me in 3rd class, most teachers I had were just doing their stuff. I never really disliked any of them; some were great. That doesn’t mean I think corporal punishment is okay. I don’t.

Perhaps a teacher or two could venture some answers to the questions posed just above. From Australia or wherever; it will make it interesting.

Word for today;      corporal – (1) of the body       (2) a military rank

More to come;    Yes! Part 2 link below – same blog time, same blog channel


  1. There are teachers in my family who would wholeheartedly agree with you. You know my opinion on corporal punishment, Bruce. I keep writing about it. I didn’t smack my children, they don’t smack theirs. As for giving permission to have a stranger get stuck into my children or other people’s children – well, just let them try it. I had to smile when I saw the pink ribbon. It’s something I’ve thought of recently. If they brought back corporal punishment, what excuse could they give these days to let girls off?
    I get ;positively feral when I read about people wanting to reinstate the cane.

    On another matter, I hope you don’t mind me asking – it’s sort of school related – did you play rock paper scissors ever? I’ve been asking around and everyone seems to have done it differently. What did you say when you were doing the fist thing and the paper and scissors? Was it one, two, three, go? Or was it ‘rock, paper, scissors’ till you stopped? Or was it a silent showing of the hand? I’m getting different answers from whoever I ask.


    • Hi Mary, I’m glad you picked up easily on the pink ribbon. I thought I tied a fairly good bow for that picture. Pt2 will have a bit of the stuff that you have spoken of.
      As for rock, paper, scissors; I played it just a few times, usually lost. Pretty sure it was silent hands except if a ruling had to be made. I think girls mostly played it, the ones who remember things like Choo Choo bars.
      Maybe the teachers in your family can shed some light on those who caned as part of their duties? After all, there are not many jobs which involve the caning, hitting of kids.


  2. So, Bruce, what do you think of the teacher who sued for stress and won?


    • Do you mean the teacher Doulis? I just googled your words to see if a headline was there. If he’s the one you mean, then I wouldn’t wish chronic depression on him. Sounds like he had a hard time and lost. If he’s a genuine case, and the court thinks so, then his settlement will be some compensation for his lost earnings, although I’d say compo or medical retirement would have been happening for some time.


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