A child’s life

By Aileen Wilson.

In addition to setting up and running the shop on Hideaway, I also looked after Joanne and the household – me and the housegirls.

When she was about 3 years old Joanne went to Judy Craddock’s kindergarten for a little while and then she went to the French school, Ecole Colardeau. Of course, which school she would be educated at was never an issue – it was always ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’, so we educated her in the French system.

Shortly after she started at Ecole Colardeau we moved from the flat we were in at Seaside up to a flat at Malapoa. It was one of two flats we looked after up there for an overseas owner. There was a much bigger French community living at Malapoa.

Joanne used to go to the Ecole Colardeau in the mornings (7:30am until 11:30am) and I used to keep her at home in the afternoons because, until she was six, they didn’t start school proper and I discovered that they were only sleeping in the afternoons and I thought she can do that at home.

Some of the other French families thought what a good idea and did the same. Then all the French kids in the neighbourhood used to congregate at our place in the afternoons, which was good for Joanne. The French parents complained that Joanne could speak French much better than their kids could speak English. Our house became the local play area. I remember one particular day when Claude Boudier, our neighbour, called out to his children, Antoine and Catherine, to come home and they refused. They were having so much fun they didn’t want to go home. Claude came stomping over to our house to get Antoine. I’m busy sewing and can’t find Antoine because he’s under the bed. When we finally found him, Claude had to physically extract him from under the bed.

We were in the flat at Malapoa for a few years and then moved closer to town, because it was a fair bit of travelling. We had the businesses in town, and taking Joanne to and from school twice a day and to ballet classes and then out to Susie Barnes’ riding school (or later to Ranch de la Colle) for riding lessons – I think I was about four hours a day in the car doing all of these deliveries. Mind you, later a few of us parents did engage a private bus to take the kids to the French school (Ecole Colardeau) and bring them back to Malapoa at lunchtime and at the end of the day, at 3:30pm.

The French schools had Wednesday as a half holiday and I used to congregate with some of the girls and we would take our kids over to Erakor Island which was another resort that was fairly new in those days. We’d have lunch over there and the kids would swim. We mums would have a few wines and then tootle home or to our various jobs or to work, but Wednesday afternoons were always the kids’ time.

For her first 18 months or so at Ecole Colardeau Joanne was the only English-speaking child – there were also French children, of course, and New Hebridean students as well. The schooling was free. A lot of the pupils would be picked up at lunch-time – 11.30am and taken to a canteen and then delivered back to school in time for school to start again at 1:30pm, but most of the expat kids would be picked up and taken home and then delivered back again. The teaching in the school was all in French. From an early age Joanne spoke three languages together; she spoke English, French and Pidgin all at once, that’s how she learnt. She played with New Hebridean kids from an early age and doesn’t distinguish any colour difference at all. She has grown up with black races as well as with white races, shoulder to shoulder really. No distinction.

When Joanne finished at Ecole Colardeau she went on to the Lycee at Anabrou for three years. That was also a school of a high standard. All of the teachers were French teachers from France which is why Joanne speaks fluent French without any accent and her French is what is called ‘Parisian’ or ‘metropolitan’ French.

We then decided to swap Joanne over to the English education system. After a month in France with the Boudier family we sent her to boarding school in Sydney.

It was great for children – growing up in the New Hebrides. Joanne made friends from all cultures and keeps in touch with many of them to this day.

Copyright Aileen Wilson 2016 All rights reserved