School Days

1972: 8 years old, 3rd class

Paul in 1972

A happy-go-lucky, carefree child with considerable freckle involvement, I lived in a world of my own, where my staple diet consisted of chocolate milk, cheezstix and my right shirt collar.

My teacher at St. Pat’s was Mrs. Whitby, who was nice enough, but she could never replace my beloved Sr. Luke, who I had idolised all the way through 2nd class. In her place, my attentions now focussed on Ronnie Boller, who had let me have a look at his thing one day behind a tree on the lower playground.

Ronnie and Paul

These were the dying days of the long dark winter of conservative government. In just a few months, Mr Whitlam would be Prime Minister, the boys would be coming home from Vietnam, and the world would be changed forever.

1973: 9 years old, 4th class

Paul in 1973

You can see the growing sophistication already. Not only have I learned to tilt my head, coquettishly, in the other direction, but I have stopped eating my clothes. The clip-on tie, however, was a mistake. It had cost 5¢ at the St. Vincent de Paul op shop, and I had always thought myself rather dashing in it, until I saw this photograph. I never wore a clip-on again.

By now my attentions had moved on to older men. The pop supergroup Sherbet had entered the airwaves, and I watched their television performances eagerly. My early fantasies were for the keyboard player, Garth Porter, but later my tastes matured and I found the drummer, Alan Sandow creeping into my fantasies. The raw power of his athletic thrashing of the drum kit, those muscles, that hairy chest … oh yes, by now the die was well and truly cast.

1974: 10 years old, 5th class

Paul in 1974

Clearly things have taken a turn for the worse here. 1974 was a difficult year, what with the Khemlani affair and the death of Vince Gair. No clip-on tie here, indeed no tie at all. My mother was away the day they took the school photos, and my father was too busy being a party apparatchik to notice tiny fashion details like shirt buttons. I guess it’s a miracle we got to school at all.

It was in 1974, too, that I had my first brush with the long arm of the law. Accused (falsely!) of looking up a girl’s skirt (as if!) I was called to the head of the class and summarily punished, without trial. My protestations, which included the fact that I was on the lower playground at the time, trying (unsuccessfully) to convince Ronnie Boller to give me another look at his whanger, did me no good as the cane whistled down onto my outstretched hand, six times.

One blow each to destroy my faith in the nuns, the church, justice, mercy, honesty and Ronnie Boller.

1975: 11 years old, 6th class

Paul in 1975

My last year in primary school, and the year my mother refused to leave the house until after the school photographs had been successfully taken. The confidence fairly oozes out of this photograph, as befits a young man who has reached the top of the heap, the most senior year of the most junior school.

By now Ronnie Boller was just a distant memory, as I studied hard under Sister Fergal, who taught us useful life skills including the Rosary, the Lord’s Prayer and the Angelus. A stern Irishwoman, she had joined the nuns after a long period as an army drill sergeant, and she ruled the school with an iron fist and a silver crucifix. It was she who had meted out the cruel and unusual punishment of the year before. Yet she was a kindly old penguin, in her way; better at least than her predecessor, Sister Tarcisius, who had (so the legend goes) once thrown a cricket ball at an unruly child, hitting him squarely on the head from a distance of 20 yards.

1976: 12 years old, year 7

Paul in 1976

From the top of the heap to the bottom. Such is the crashing injustice of the move from primary to high school. As a newcomer to the big bad world of Bega High, I was confused and alone. Many of my friends from St Pat’s had gone elsewhere, and now my world was filled with tough kids who’d gone through the state school system. Recess was a living hell; my only protection was to seek out my older brothers to protect me from terrorisation. I went home at lunch time and took a shower while my mother prepared food.

In the evenings, after watching Count Down in the hope of catching a Sherbet appearance, I would retire to my room and lose myself amongst my stamp collection.

There is a gap in the photographic record for the next few years — no-one seems to know what became of the photographs for 1977-1981; perhaps it’s a blessing that they’re gone.

1982: 18 years old, year 12

Paul in 1982

As you can see, by now I’ve blossomed into a real live human being. I’ve stopped going home for lunch; instead I now sometimes stop off at the RSL club after school. I’ve grown my first beard (and doesn’t it look lovely!?) and my stamp collection is looking rather neglected. Sherbet have broken up, and no-one seems to miss them much, not even me. Whitlam’s brief tenure ended 7 years ago; since then we’ve been inhabiting the fiscally-responsible and imagination-free Australia of Malcolm Fraser and John Howard. I’m sports house captain, on the debating team, a good student and an admired member of the community.

But I still wonder, from time to time, what became of Ronnie Boller …