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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