When I was fourteen I moved back to Canada from Australia. I enjoyed a wonderful 4 ½ years in the land-down-unda. I miss it still. I have relatives and friends there but also, sadly, many forgotten friends. Who would I be today if I’d stayed I wonder?
My school years spent in the suburbs of Sydney were full of experiences that I will never forget. It was all so strange and different when I first arrived. Kids mocked my accent and called me a Yankee in the beginning, but it didn’t take me long to develop an authentic Aussie drawl and fit right in…kind of.
We wore school uniforms, which I loved. You could fit in a lot easier when you looked like everyone else. We all carried school cases – mini brief cases, and I recall that I placed a sticker of a flag of British Columbia on the outside of mine; forever a proud BC girl. I’m sure no one understood what the heck it was and that was ok. I knew.
The school ground had a line painted down the centre of it. One side was for the boys to play on and one side was for the girls. At ten years old that suited me just fine. Boys were not that interesting at that stage. The next year however, saw us take turns to cross the line and run behind the dunny (bathroom) out of the Prefects range of sight… to kiss each other. So really the painted line wasn’t like barbed wire or anything. Prefects, by the way, are mall-cop-like kids that teachers appointed to watch over the rest of us – they wore a special pin that gave them way too much imagined power…and they liked to use it. You may have guessed I was never asked to be a Prefect. Damn, I wanted that pin!
Before classes began each day we lined up (and I do mean lined up) with our bags in front of us. Each line represented one classroom. A teacher or the principal would take the microphone and bark, “Att..en..tion!” and we would jump to attention and stand as stiff as a board with our arms at our sides. You could hear the black school shoes click together in unison. After a pause, he would say, “Stand at ease” and we would relax slightly while sliding one foot out to shoulder width and clasp our hands behind our backs…in unison, of course. If there were any special announcements they would be made then followed by us all murmuring the Lords Prayer together. Then we were asked to stand at attention again, then told to bend to pick up our bags, then stand upright again, then “right turn!” and finally “march!” At which point we marched like good little soldiers, knees high, and arms swinging to our class rooms. We did the same thing after recess and lunch. I believe it was after lunch that we sang the national anthem and God Save the Queen as well. Every. Day.
If anyone goofed off during this whole procedure you could bet they would be called up to the front of the room for a couple of strikes across their palms with the cane. It happened all the time. No big deal. Certain boys must have had some pretty calloused palms because it never seemed to deter them from goofing off that much. And this is where I stood out because I’m sure my eyes were wider than dinner plates the first time I saw this happen. I was never caned. I’m a rule follower. March you say, then march I will. Happily. (I’ve just had an ah-ha! moment. I understand now why I get so freaked out about breaking rules.)
Every experience we have in life helps to shape the person we become. Perhaps if I’d never lived in Australia and had stayed in Canada I’d have been arrested for trespassing or walking on the grass when the sign clearly states not to. We’ll never know.
High School Years…to be continued. Join me here next Friday for a look back at how going to an all girl’s high school in Australia helped shape me.