High School Years in Australia

Last week I wrote about being in elementary school in a suburb of Sydney, Australia.  The time I spent in Australia was short, only 4 ½ years, but those years had a profound effect on who I am today.

High school begins in grade seven in Australia.  I was very fortunate to be chosen to go to St. George Girls High School.  It was, and still is, a selective high school which means students write a particular exam and are accepted into the school based on their academic merit. (Did I just hear you utter a confused “huh”?  Whatever! They let me in!)

St. George Girls High School has a reputation for excellence and a proud heritage since it’s beginning in 1916 and I was very proud to have been a part of it while I attended.

A highlight of going to that school was the close bond made with the other girls.  We were all so terrified on our first day.  We were entering into unknown and apparently quite strict territory and I believe this helped form some of our close and lasting connections.  I’ll never forget that first day of school.  My classmates and I all arrived in our crisp full summer uniform with our hems at the specified “knee” length and our high white socks pulled up and our black shoes polished.  If our hair was past shoulder length then it was tied back, off of our faces and pulled away from our wide eyes.  We were eager to please.  By the next year we had relaxed a little. You can see in our class photo that we had found ways to push the boundaries a little.  Our skirts were shorter and most of us had chic new short hair cuts.  We’d also plucked the hell out of our eye brows and were wearing a small amount of subtle makeup.  Mascara and lip gloss was about all that we could get away with then as I recall.  Still, we wore our uniforms proudly.  We were lectured on how we represented the whole school when in those uniforms on and off the school grounds.  The same concept would appear in my life again when I worked as a flight attendant many years later.

I'm second row from bottom and fourth in from right

I'm second row from bottom and second in from right

We moved back to Canada when I was just starting my 9th year.  I had a wonderful group of girl friends at school that gave me a fantastic going away party.  On my last day of school everyone signed their name on my white uniform shirt. What the heck, I was never going to wear it again.  This made me both sad and thrilled at the same time.  I had such an amazing time at that all girls’ school and I will always cherish the fond memories I have of that time in my life.  Memories like singeing off my eye lashes and arm hair when lighting the gas ovens in cooking class, memories of going to swim meets where one of our students, Michelle Ford, won everything because she was a future Olympic gold medal winning swimmer, memories of competing with the gymnastics club, of buying those delicious vanilla slices at the canteen, learning Indonesian and Latin (I remember learning but I forget all of it now), of the horrible bloomers that were part of our sports uniform, and of hiking our uniform up and pouring baby oil all over our legs to tan during lunch hour.  Yes, it was the seventies and we loved our baby oil no SPF anything for us!

I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I had stayed and graduated from SGGHS.  Who would I be today if I had stayed?  Would I have had an influence on the friends I made there and if so would their lives be any different today?

I’ve recently been able to re-connect with a few of these girls through the magic of Facebook (I love you Facebook!).  My closest friend from those days and I have been chatting up a storm on FB.  We’re even planning on how we can get together in person.  Thirty four years have melted away and we are giggling fourteen year old girls again.  Sweet!


Who Would We Be Today?

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.


Earth Hour 2009 – Vote for our Earth!

Tonight at 8:30 pm in whatever time zone you live in please turn off all of your lights for one hour.  I’m going to quote straight from the official “Earth Hour 2009” web site to explain it best:



This year, Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

We all have a vote, and every single vote counts. Together we can take control of the future of our planet, for future generations.

VOTE EARTH by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

Saturday, March 28, 8:30-9:30pm.

I participated last year for the first time and I will definitely be doing it again this year.  In fact, I am calling my local Mayor and Councilors to ask how they plan to participate.   Notice I said “how” and not “if”.

How about you?  Will you vote EARTH with me?