The day I Ran Away From School

Update.. I found a piccie on the Net Of Mr Syer.

My fourth grade teacher was Mr. Syer.


Mr. Syer was in his late twenties or thirties (to a kid he was just old) about 5 foot 3, with thick black framed glasses, a Beatle hair cut and he always wore long socks, shorts, a checked shirt and a tie. I didn’t like him. In fact I hated him. He was my first example of a male teacher in my life and unfortunately he left scars that remain to this day.

Mr. Syer, in my opinion to this day was a cruel nasty little man that got his kicks out of corporal punishment and unlike many of the teachers of the 70’s, he didn’t restrict his physical punishment to the boys. He wasn’t one for discrimination, he hit all of us.

Pauline is centre of the three girls second top row. I am third from left second bottom row. I was blowing bubbles with my face in my cheeky way.Don’t ya just love my pigtails… I slept every night with hair rolllers and endured mum curling it around her fingers, spray setting it in pigtails with ribbons and doing that to me every single day for years. Love you mum..

love my messy hair now.



I always thought Mr. Syer had Hitler fantasies. All that was missing was a bottle of black hair dye and a cheap fake Hitler “stouche glued to his top lip and he would have been his hero all packaged up and sent down through time to haunt ME.

Of a day whenever a bell rang for break time, he would stand at the doorway with a monster wooden ruler and his arm would shoot out randomly to slap us kids hard on the back of the legs as we exited the room. Of course me being me, the kid that didn’t fit and didn’t “get it” I was always the target of his punishment.

At first.

As with anyone I had an issue with, even at such an early age I would retaliate, my behavior would get worse, I would refuse to do what I was told. So most of my time would end up being spent sitting at a little desk outside the headmasters office or I would be sent to the library for punishment. That one would have worked on any other kid except me. I devoured books faster than a starving child devours food. So in the end, I would act up just to be sent to the library.



I guess this punishment suited both Mr. Syer and I. He didn’t have to put up with me in class and I got to read whatever books I liked all day, so we had this type of unspoken truce. My friends and classmates weren’t so lucky, without me as his target he soon turned his fascist attention elsewhere. He soon began to slap around the quiet girls, the shy ones, the ones that wouldn’t fight back like me.

I would walk out of class of a day without a mark on me, without needing to feel the fear of the “lineup”. It always seemed to me like running the gauntlet and I would watch the fear in the other kid’s eyes as they slunk out of class, trying to avoid eye contact with him in case they raised his attention and his long ruled arm slapping away hard at the back of their legs as they passed him in the doorway. I would see the other kids limping with tears in their eyes and it hurt me inside just about as much as it hurt them.

As time went on Mr. Syer’s fury at us kids seemed to grow and his violence got worse. I would sit with Sue at lunchtime and we would count the bruised ruler marks on her legs and back. Then something began happening that terrified me. Mr. Syer started throwing his chalkboard duster at the kids when he thought they weren’t paying attention. My classmates were walking around with bumps and lumps on their heads and in constant fear mode. We all dreaded going to class of a day, who would be his next target? It could be anyone.

I soon learned to act up about 9.05 am, about five minutes after class convened but there were times that I just couldn’t be bothered, and that was how I witnessed the most horrid event of my young years.

I can’t remember which kid it was that he hurt so badly but one day he spun around from the board and just pegged his duster at the class, it cracked one of the children on the head, causing them to fall to the floor and nearly pass out with a huge massive lump on their forehead and concussion.

I don’t remember whether there was uproar from the parents but there was uproar from me. Some parts of me have always been there and a deep awareness is one of them. I was aware this was wrong, I was aware of what this was doing to my classmates. I was aware of something new in their eyes that shouldn’t be there. I was aware of their fear and I was aware of them sinking slowly and silently into a shell to hide from what was being inflicted daily upon them.


I complained to my parents and was rather shocked at the response.

“He is your teacher, you do as you are told”.

I went and climbed the Figtree to ponder that one. I still didn’t get the idea of having to respect someone that hadn’t earned it. I still don’t. I didn’t understand the idea of adults being right just because they were adults. I believed in truth even back then. Anything less just didn’t cut it. I guess that is why I could never negotiate the undercurrents of etiquette. I couldn’t understand fake smiles that didn’t reach the eyes. I couldn’t understand why someone was saying one thing and their body language was saying something else.

I was so finely tuned into nature around me at that young age that I could sense so much unsaid. Why are you smiling and saying you would love to come to morning tea, when your body language is screaming “get me away from this person”?

Of a morning I would catch the school bus to school, as mum never knew what time dad would start work but of an afternoon she would always pick me up from school along with the other mothers. This was a source of endless entertainment for me in my introspective way and it gave me a chance to observe human rituals and behaviors at close range. It truly amazed me. Mum had a group of friends who all had kids in my class. We pretty much stayed the same class of kids all the way through our primary years so the parents ended up doing the holidays together and the weekend BBQ’s trip.

What had me puzzled was that inside a classroom, out of sight of these parents, a mad man was venting his frustration about life on these peoples kids and all they were worried about was the colour of the wool they were using to knit items for the upcoming school fete. The kids would slink silently up to the parents after school with sad look on their faces, nursing limps from being never endingly slapped about and all jumpy and scared after constantly being on the alert for flying dusters aimed at their heads. It was ignored, everyone pretended it didn’t exist. The parents would glance at the red marks and bruises, I saw them look, I would watch their eyes and then they would grimace and turn away and change the subject. This was a teacher, this was then and this was ignored.

So I decided to go one step further. One day at lunchtime not to long after the duster incident and injury I was sitting talking to the other kids and the subject of Mr.Syer came up as usual. I think it was universal, no one liked him. Me, being me told the girls of my big bold plan. I was going to run away from school.

I had it all planned, I would catch the bus to school with extra food in my lunchbox and then I would not go in the gates, I would keep going. Of course fine details like “where” I was going didn’t cross my mind. I was going and that was that. One of the other girls stated that she had once heard (they were teen girls in training after all, good goss is good goss) that if more than one person runs away from a teacher, that teacher then get fired. We all thought we were so smart on that one and another girl Pauline and a few others volunteered to accompany me on the “Great Escape”.

We whispered together for the rest of the lunchtime and by the end of the lunchtime it was looking like Mr. Syer was going to be girl-less very soon.

The next day dawned a tad overcast and drizzly but that did not deter me. I snuck into the kitchen and found the match tin and poured a whole heap of matchboxes into my bag and I hunted around until I found some packets of tic tacs and threw them in with my lunch, picked up my raincoat and I was set. I don’t remember feeling excited or over adventurous, it was just something that had to be done to get rid of our teacher.

Off I set to the bus-stop. I was rather surprised to see one of my class mates missing when I got there and was further surprised when I jumped on the bus and found two more missing. I guessed by that stage that they had chickened out and taken the easy route and begged sick for the day. But Pauline jumped on at her stop and we sat together planning what we would do.

The bus trundled along it’s merry way towards school with many of the others looking at us with strange looks on their faces. Will they do it or won’t they? They didn’t know me to well if they thought I was going to chicken out. We arrived at the bus-stop and all climbed off and without a second glance back Pauline and I turned right instead of left and we set off down the side street. Off on an adventure to freedom.

Looking back it’s funny how my mind worked even then, we stuck to the side streets and crossed the backstreet pathways, headed to the big dipper ( a street of up and down hills) and then ultimately to the base of the mountain.

The red blob was the start of our journey at our school. Robson’s Road was the big dipper of hills.

By that time of my life I knew the entire area like the back of my hand. I spent my days exploring my environment so I was familiar with all the laneways and shortcuts that made our trip even quicker. All I knew was that I was headed for the mountain, what I would do next after we had arrived there hadn’t crossed my mind or even been thought off in any way shape or form.

Looking over Wollongong from The Mountains


Pauline whined a bit on the way, I don’t think she was as used to traveling as I was but in her defense, the hills were pretty tiring for an eight year old. Up hill, down hill, get to the bottom, cross the road and start climbing up hill again. It seemed never ending but eventually civilization petered out and we were surrounded by the foothill mansions that dotted the escarpment along the coast. We cut through a track behind one of my uncles houses and kept climbing up the mountain, the scrub getting thicker and greener every step we took. I was in my element now and I relaxed as the sounds of nature poured into my head. The birds singing around me in the trees drowned out the cars on the freeway which was now a faint ribbon stretching along far below us. I felt alive again.

We found a creek and I once again marveled at the differences between others and myself as I taught Pauline how to cross it without getting wet and where and how to get a drink from the running flow and not drink from the stagnant ponds.

We were hungry at this point and we devoured our lunch. It soon started raining so I climbed further in the scrub and found us a sheltered spot from the rain. I got my matches out and started a tiny fire and that is when I came up with what I thought was my best invention to date.

Roasted tic tacs.





By this time Pauline was starting to get scared and feeling rather guilty about the whole adventure. Mind you I don’t think I helped much when instead of telling her it would be ok when she was discussing the most likely punishment her parents would meter out to her that night, I told her instead that they would probably ground her for life and she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.

I just thought of mum breaking more wooden spoons on my butt and I envisioned burning all of mum’s wooden spoons on my little fire as I pondered what punishment I would warrant for this huge one.

The mountain we climbed from Wollongong harbour

I figured by this time that it was getting on to early afternoon so we decided to set off back down the mountain. The weather cleared and the sun shone warmly on our faces, drying our thin uniforms out and our wet socks. By now I had long tossed the cumbersome raincoat off me and it was sitting back in our little shelter where it had protected us from the rain.

The top of the mountain from Wollongong Harbour

Every now and then there was a break in the trees and the whole coastal plain would come into view stretched out before us as far as our eyes could see. There were many big coal tankers anchored out to sea near the five islands, all waiting to be cleared to come into port to unload coal or to pick up steel and be off again on their journeys to China and South America and other such exotic places. I always wished I could stowaway on those ships.

Way down below was the spawl of development creeping further and further up the mountain towards us, reclaiming more and more of the green and replacing it with concrete and tiles, a mat pattern of dull red roofs and various shades of grey. The sttelworks belched it’s thick grey clouds of polluted smoke over the city and the air was thick with smog.

I shuddered but kept climbing down anyway. I wanted to get home for the afternoon cartoons and I was hungry again. We soon reached the roads again and by this time Pauline was tuckered out. Her sister worked in a pharmacy near where we appeared from our bush hideaway so we made our way there, after deciding it might just be the best way to introduce ourselves back into society again with minimum yelling in our direction.

I was still full of the day’s adventures, I hadn’t quite come back to Earth and I had left a part of my head back with that never to be forgotten yellow plastic raincoat up the mountain. My shoulders slumped again and we made our way in to Pauline’s sister to face the wrath.

From the top of Mount Keira. My Mountain.

Pauline’s sister knew we were missing, apparently things had gotten rather frenetic in our absence, the police had been called, everyone had been out looking all day from 9am onwards when our classmates, who didn’t really believe we were going to do it, went and told all the teachers of our plans. The teachers promptly contacted our parents and a search squad soon set out. Which we had been completely oblivious to until that point.

Her sister drove us back to the school, it was end of day and the other kids had left but the police and all the teachers were there waiting for our return.

I had been informed by Pauline’s sister that Mr. Syer was running around like a headless chook having a nervous breakdown and that was enough for me to have a little smile on my face as I got out of the vehicle.

I was crushed by mum, who was beside herself and I just looked at her and told her I was fine. I sort of pushed her away from me and stomped up to where Mr. Syer was pacing up and down the footpath.

I looked at him with my hands on my hips and legs apart. He asked me where I had been and why had I run away and scared everyone. I peered back at him and said “What are you still doing here, Haven’t you been sacked yet. Don’t hit a kid again.”

With that I turned and tossed my stubborn little head and went and climbed into mum’s valiant, staring straight ahead with my arms crossed.

When we got home the lectures started. “Didn’t you realize the danger”, “What if you had been snatched”, “What if something had happened to you”.

I endured the experience of being sat on dad’s friend Mr. Police Officer’s knee, while he lectured me on what could happen to children.

I just looked at him, I couldn’t understand what he meant.

“If someone grabbed me, well let them try” I thought.

What danger? I knew where I was going, I knew what I was doing and besides couldn’t he see that I had a reason. I shrugged and switched off, parents would never get it.

What I guess I couldn’t understand most was the contradiction. On weekends I was allowed to wander and explore where I wanted. I knew to avoid danger. If I walked along the road I would walk on the side with the traffic coming towards me, so no one could sneak up behind me. I was acutely aware of Myspace and never allowed someone to come within my circle unless I allowed it. I knew where I was and where I was going. I knew just how far and how fast that object was coming towards me. I knew just where that invisible bird was, singing from the treetops. I was just aware. I knew how to clear undergrowth and how to make a break around my fire. I knew to put it out by covering it with earth and waiting until I was sure it was totally out. I had been taught that already on my many outback trips. I knew how to get water and to find food, although my roasted tic tacs rocked and I still say that to this day.

So I couldn’t understand why my protest and “great escape” went down with the adults like a ton of bricks. Why was a school day different? Why was I being trodden on for something I believed I was right in doing and that I did every other day anyway.

*Sigh* Always the why, with my in the thick of it asking.

Perhaps the desired affect was achieved; it sure lit a fire up Mr. Syer’s butt. I don’t remember him hitting anyone after that for the rest of the year. He wasn’t sacked though, I don’t even know whether he was ever spoken to about it, I’d say it was just put down to me being so naughty again.

I don’t know how the kids following our year into fourth grade faired with the ruler either, I can only hope the lesson he learned was big enough never to hit a child again but sadly I think it was his nature. A cruel little man..

Of course the parents all made the kids stay away from me all the more after that one and I was even more “Nigel no friends” than before. Always the weird outcast, which I couldn’t understand.


I knew why I had done it and now you do.

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