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Miracle Story


John Hinwood

Mister Barrelguts

Submitted into: Miracles of Lessons in Life Category,

On: 2007-11-07

In Australian Schools, up until fairly recent times corporal punishment for misdemeanors for boys by either the cane or the strap was acceptable.

I can still remember, and feel, the outcome of poor due diligence on my part on my first day of secondary school in January of 1959.

As I was dyslexic (unknown in those days) I didn't do too well in primary school and was deemed as not being able to cope in High School. I was sent to a secondary technical school where I was to be given basic education and expected to be sent out into the workforce with or without an Intermediate Certificate at 15 years of age.

In the primary school my dyslexia meant I often asked fellow classmates for clarification or help with something I didn't understand and this meant I was often caned for talking or being disruptive.

My problem did help me in that once I learnt something, I developed a steel trap memory around the entity. This meant I could be sent on messages around the school and the teachers would be pretty sure I would deliver the message correctly.

As I spent quite a bit of time outside the classroom or outside the Headmasters Office for being disruptive, I was used as a message boy.

On the first day of Secondary School, the Deputy Headmaster Mr Kelly came into our maths class and asked could he please have a boy who was good at running messages. As soon as I heard was good at running messages I thrust up my hand, beamed a happy smile and said pick me Sir. My enthusiasm secured the job for me. I was so proud of myself. The first hour of classes and I was the first boy to be picked to run messages.

Mr Kelly gave the written message to take to Mr Kennedy who was a Woodwork teacher I was told. He occupied a small portable building on the far north western boundary of the school grounds.

I was to learn later that Mr Kennedy specialised in teaching General Activity (GA) classes. These were boys of very limited intelligence who found even very basic primary level English and Maths to be a major task. Manual subjects were their saving grace. These GA boys were often the trouble makers in the school. Some were petty criminals on bonds and some were downright thugs.

Unbeknown to me at the time of delivering this, Mr Kennedy was a very distinctive individual. He was in his mid 60s, of medium height, wore thick horn rimmed glasses and weighed well over 300lbs. He was gruff, poorly shaven (most unusual in those days), wore a grey dust coat with wood glue stains all over it, his breath smelt like over-cooked cabbage and he always had a well worn felt hat on his head whether he was inside or outside. Due to his excessive weight, his nickname by the boys was Mr Barrelguts'.

When I arrived at the woodwork room there were several boys about 14 years old standing outside. They had been thrown out of the class by Mr Kennedy for inappropriate behaviour and were spending the lesson time standing in the yard. These boys were just filling in time until they were fourteen years and ten months old and then would be able to finally leave school.

Just as I was about to knock on the door I realized I had forgotten the teachers name. Being totally naïve, twelve years old and coming come from a small primary school where I was cock of the walk', I wasn't aware that boys may tell you an untruth when asked a question. In my previous school environment I had not met boys like this.

I asked the question of these delinquents, What's the teachers' name please? The answer came back in resounding voice from the four boys, Mr Barrelguts.

I knocked on the door, a gruff voice yelled out from inside, Come in. I opened the door and saw a dozen boys working at woodwork benches and the teacher. What do you want boy? I was a stutterer of note when nervous in those days. My answer, I ha-a-ve a no-no-note fo-fo-for you Mr-Mr-Mr Mister Barrelguts.

It appears he knew he'd had this nickname for many years and he hated it. However, no one had ever called him Barrelguts' before to his face.

The next thing, all hell broke loose', the dozen or so boys in the room broke out in contagious laughter, and smoke and steam seemed to blow out of Mr Barrelguts' nose and ears, as he took on the role of a very angry dragon.

His immediate reaction to my innocent greeting was to scream at the boys who were doubled over laughing, Shut up, shut up, shut up you idiots. Then he called me from where I was standing just inside the door, get over here boy.

The next few minutes were a whirlwind. His fury was frightful and he said, put your right hand out, move over into that open space. He then reached behind a tall cupboard and pulled out the longest and fattest cane I had even seen. I was used to being caned in the primary school for talking and being disruptive, usually one cut, and occasionally two cuts. Once I received four cuts from the Headmaster after being in a fight. Six cuts I had never received; only a boy who was expelled from the school had received six cuts.

Mr Barrelguts'-Kennedy, screamed out to me as he raised the cane for the first time, I'm giving you eight cuts you ignoramous. Swish went the cane the first time and I received a stroke that was far more severe than any I had ever received in the primary school. Put the other hand out he screamed. Swish went the cane again as I received cut number two. On his fifth stroke of the cane I pulled my hand back just before it connected with my stinging hand. That was a big error on my part as he was very fast and adept with the waddy' and slammed my knuckles on the way back up as I put my hand out again. This reverse action broke the skin and my knuckles started to bleed. I then realized it was best to take the four remaining cuts of the cane on my fingers and palms.

Mr Kennedy was huffing and puffing and very red faced as if he was about to blow a fu fu' valve after the eighth stroke of the waddy. He said to me get out of here and never ever speak to me like that again boy. I'll remember you!

Bruised, battered and bleeding I made my way back to my 1M classroom. When I arrived home that afternoon my father asked me what I had learnt from receiving those eight cuts of the cane. I still remember telling him that I learnt that other people don't always tell you the truth when you ask for some information. He then asked me what else I had learnt. My answer was that I would never, ever get the cane again at school. I would move forward.

This episode resulted in some MIRACLES happening for me in my life from there on.

Taking these eight cuts of the cane and not crying elevated me in the minds of those delinquent boys, as someone who had some guts' and they left me alone.

I never did receive the cane again in my school career.

It also did something for me in starting a process that saw my stuttering move from marked to quite a manageable level over the next two years and at the start of my third year I was named School Captain and Head Prefect.

Mr Barrelguts'-Kennedy even became my rugby league coach in the Under 14'A' Team in 2nd year, and he made me Captain also.

And my resolution stuck. This incident set me on a new path to making sure I was the Athletics Champion, Dux of the School and also the winner of the Citizenship and Leadership Award in my final year. I still have the Parker fountain pen and inscribed case that I received as my award at Speech Day in 1961.

Dr. John Hinwood
Casuarina Beach, NSW, Australia