(school­yard)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Melissa Coburn Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

In the 1970s my pri­mary school played pa­tri­otic mu­sic in the morn­ings as we marched around the white lines painted on the gravel oval. Gravel was an in­ter­est­ing choice of cov­er­ing for a school­yard: a fall at speed re­sulted in a wound to the knee from which lit­tle peb­bles had to be ex­tracted with tweez­ers be­fore a dose of bright red an­ti­sep­tic was lib­er­ally ap­plied.

Play equip­ment in­cluded ba­sic mon­key-bar frames and a piece of ce­ment pip­ing at which we ran, jump­ing at the last minute and slap­ping our hands down hard on its top to throw our­selves into a seated po­si­tion.

The grass oval con­sisted of tufts of hardy grass and com­pacted dust bor­dered by Aus­tralian bushes and trees. We col­lected long pointy seeds that fell from one of the trees and slipped them over our fin­ger­tips like long curved claws. We peeled open long grasses grow­ing un­der the trees and col­lected the in­ner seeds, pre­tend­ing it was wheat for mak­ing cakes.

The grass oval was used for play­ing mar­bles, races and ball games. We threw our­selves reck­lessly over the medium-sized fence sur­round­ing the school to col­lect balls that strayed on to the street, while else­where on the oval lit­tle two­somes of best friends shim­mied back and forth at each other, re-en­act­ing Grease, both imag­in­ing them­selves in the role of Sandy.

In pri­mary school I thought that if I could just stum­ble on the right spell I might be able to fly. The prac­ti­cal­i­ties of fly­ing were clear: three run­ning steps and a leap would launch me into the air and then, I knew, I would fly over the sun-touched red tiled roof of the school build­ing and be­yond into the sky over the houses and hills of the east­ern sub­urbs.

In the 1970s there were no “bounce back”, mind­ful­ness or bul­ly­ing pro­grams to deal with an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour at school. Lit­tle tyrants flexed their mus­cles in the school­yard. Once, I re­mem­ber watch­ing as one such tyrant di­rected that a girl on the grass oval be in­formed the tyrant no longer liked her. A girl with a thin smile trot­ted off obe­di­ently and re­turned to re­port the task had been done. The tyrant had al­ready moved on to the next bit of busi­ness but re­mem­bered enough to give praise for the ser­vice ren­dered. On an­other oc­ca­sion, at the tyrant’s urg­ing a girl fought a boy and was swiftly de­feated. The vanquished was still smil­ing at the end al­though her face was flushed bright red.

I won­der now where the teach­ers were that they could miss the crowd gath­ered to watch the fight. They also never seemed to no­tice the lit­tle girl with learn­ing chal­lenges who was chased through the school on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Ten years later I met the lit­tle tyrant again at univer­sity. She was nice, likable. She had no fol­low­ers. They had melted away.

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