The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 12
Females were directed to wear stockings. I did not initially believe it.
When I confirmed it was a directive, I asked did anyone know of requirement other than it?
Not any reference to style of presentation?
Nothing other than a directive that sounded perverse.
In tropical North Queensland? Nylon stockings?
I could not bear the thought.
I told another female student I had decided to not wear stockings. Her look of deep concern frightened me for her. I had expected a conversation.
She warned I would be in trouble.
Where but in a furnace of hell in every respect had I arrived.
I wondered I might even get expelled. The Education Department might find this as a reason difficult to explain. I would make it a difficult argument. I would present myself as immaculate. I chose a formal sun dress, new and fashionable,
discrete with an over the knee hem. The shoulder straps were wide and neckline high and straight. The dress fall allowed me room to move with ease. I wore a new pair of flat dress shoes. My hair was neatly pinned. My finger nails were immaculate.
No make-up. Nothing aggravated me more in Primary School than a teacher who spent repeated time every day at her desk with a make-up box open on it so she could look in its mirror and apply make-up. I spent more time that year standing outside on the verandah with my back strictly not in contact with the open door or wall we had to maintain our posture clear of. Being sent outside would only result in the Headmaster I adored catching sight of me and coming past to ask what my misdemeanour was. I would be sent back inside to sit down. I was pleased as I was naughty in that class. The teacher instead was miss goody two-shoes. She carried with her a change of shoes she slipped in and out of. I had found a cause.
I was reading a book, sir, because I thought it was free time, I wasn’t working, sir. I asked my friend for a rubber instead of asking Miss X for a lend of the one on her desk. I was talking to
someone, yes sir, and Miss X told me I should be working and to mind my own business, yes, sir, I’m out here a lot. I will be good, sir, no sir, Miss X put her make-up box away, sir, in her cane shopping basket.
Most days through that year, I read a book I concealed under the desk and went to the library the next afternoon to get another one.
A teacher looked up to regard where I was standing at the door of the staff room where I was now assigned. She supposed I was the teacher trainee. She was glad I was there. She was busy. Had something to do. I learned only the class was a Senior History class and asked the length of the period as she walked with me to the room, waved me in, but turned on her heel and left.
So much for the teacher who it had been said was waiting to receive us and would brief us, would help, don’t worry about a thing. I had received no training in the methodology of teaching history. I had received no training really, in regard to the wider
subject of education and its requirements. Nothing about legal status, safety, presentation, relationship with parents. Nothing.
I saw at first glance I was perhaps three years older than the students. They seemed to never realise how close in age we were.
They were stone-like. I was the enemy. Their faces frozen as if suspended in time simmered, pouted, stared at me in resentment. They sprawled, their legs spreadeagled under their desks, lounged sideways, were scrunched into themselves and one studied with apparent deliberate purpose out through a window, his elbows on the window sill where he had pulled a chair. I was not surprised. The students and their school had a reputation. I introduced myself and asked what were they studying.
They either did not know or did not intend to tell me. I would love to hear their names, however I demurred adopting pretence nothing negative had happened. I addressed each in return with a greeting and their name. I was naive of formal instruction in ice breakers. I was stalling for time to think.
Each responded on the cautious side. They were civil. What next
I was wondering. I had read ‘What is History’ by E. H. Carr. I hit on an idea. I would lead them into a tutorial. They, instead of my teaching them as I had nothing to teach them with, would fill the time by talking. My only purpose was to leave them happy with me. I would see if I could warm them up by saying something.
We should really look, anyway, at history. Seems to me, I said, we are best equipped to study history if we talk about what history is. We need to understand what we think it is. We need to know what each other says it is. We need a common understanding because otherwise we will not know what we are talking about.
Their insolent manner thawed. The sprawled, the lounging sat forward. Some turned part or entirely side-on swivelled towards me. I could not allow a feeling of surpise distract me and I set it aside.
They warmed as each spoke up, randomly, to describe what they thought history is. I chatted with each student in response. Nobody interrupted another person speaking or argued without thought. I did not need to urge anybody to speak. I wrote nothing on the board to not break the mood, stayed in front of the teacher’s desk, leaned myself back on it and variously sat on the desk edge with my feet on the floor. They had moved closer to each other and grouped.
I saw by the tableau they formed they were comfortable with each other, friends.
Amateur people watching was paying off. I was no longer filling time. I was deep in saving lives based on what I thought might be true of the reports I had heard of the students at the school. I steered them to look at human relationship in the context of today’s history and yesterday. We are contemporary history. History is less than a minute ago. Lives can be changed in less than a minute. Every year we go back, we have to rely on other people to explain to us what they experienced a year ago, a hundred years ago.
History is an interpretation of what happened.
They were studying The French Revolution they told me. They had not read the text for the day. One of them offered me their study book. I chose to not risk accepting a text I had not read, viewpoint my experience of the Physics text in High School. I might be aggravated by the content. My excuse was that as they had not done their homework it was their homework again so they were ready for their next lesson with their teacher. I suggested always so much better. Reading the text, they might like to think about the ideas they had come up with about history, what is history.
Let’s consider the French Revolution then. Fortunate I had read ‘The Crowd in the French Revolution’ by Marxist Historian, George Rudé. I ad-libbed, spoke about oppression of the
people’s voice and inequity, the nature of revolution and successive struggles, reducing revolution to human behaviour when people are without means of support and led by ideas of social radicalism that can reveal a result is not their liberty.
Did they want to say anything. Time was almost up. I did not want to give them much more time to engage me in discussion. I did hope they would name the elephant in their room.
One said Vietnam War, Miss. I think we should not be there. That’s what the protests are, revolution.
A lot of people think so, I answered and a lot of people think we should be there and there was quiet reflection, some students nodded mildly. I thanked them for their attention and said how much I had enjoyed meeting them.
I asked them were they happy at school.
One beautiful lad stood as if he was the designated spokesperson
by previous group decision. I remembered my appointment at the same age. I remember, vividly, what he said and his ease saying it.
He said if all the teachers were like you, Miss, let us speak to them like you have, we would be happy; if they talked to us like you have, asked us questions, taught us like you have… he trailed off and added, rueful, it’s this school, Miss. He had half turned his head and looked out the window at other buildings visible through it and looked back at me. Every student’s face was serious. Everybodys’ gaze was steady on me. They might well have intended rebellion when I walked into the classroom. For now they had material to think on. I thanked their spokesperson without comment on the school and called class end.
The teacher had not reappeared.
I found her in the staff room and leaned myself against the door jamb. I had a question for her that was all I could think about. My words were confident, passionate, sincere.
“How can you stand the Education Department?”
She shot her reply walking towards me. Her mouth was tense, I interpreted bitter, you’ll be alright when they break your spirit.
She was in a hurry, no enquiry how I fared, what the content was. She added the one further friendly word thanks meaning my taking her class and she was gone.
I felt for the teacher and I liked her for all the little of her I
knew. My blood ran ice cold hearing the notion advanced my spirit would be broken.
How could I ever forget the details of this experience and the essence I have extracted and remembered given everything that had come before it. That the Senior student felt I had taught the class and shared the secret that was the elephant in their room identifies why I survived my life through regardless the Queensland Government’s fractious effect on my confidence and well being. Ameliorated was my extreme misfortune I contracted to and met some of the more poorly educated and ill defined, ruthless people I would ever by getting entangled by my matriculation in the lure of a Fellowship with the Queensland Department of Education.
Unbeknowns to my parents, I flew to Cairns most week-ends. As result of meeting the man who would become the father of my first three children, in the bookshop as it happened where I had applied for employment the summer holiday before I left to go to Townsville, I had attached to the midst of the alternate culture that was a disparate group of people living on a beach north of Cairns in rental houses, their own private properties, tents, Combi vans, caravans, eventually buses, boats on the high water mark and concealed in the foreshore scrub in grass thatched and corrugated iron lean-tos.
One week-end soon after my Prac, I extended my stay by two or three days. My neighbour in Townsville in the half-house attached to mine who rarely intimately spoke to me rushed to
greet me when she saw me walking towards our residence. Her face showed grave concern. Did I know the police had searched my place while I was away she asked me.
Fear of the Queensland Police Force was rife. Organised crime in Queensland was rumoured to be managed and protected by corrupt police. Police were said to offer favours to young women in return for sexual favour. Excesses of police brutality against leaders of the protest movement against Australia’s alliance with the United States were well documented. I primarily felt vulnerable because I travelled frequently to the beach where residents and young people and older, travellers from the south and overseas were attracted to the core group. Most were opposed to the Vietnam War and rejected Australia’s involvement in it.
My neighbour said of the police they were there for ages. What frightened me next was it did not look plausible they had been or had searched. I searched, to try to identify if drugs of any variety had been planted on the premises that I knew to be a common ploy. Finding nothing, I wondered if the police it was claimed had searched went to great trouble to cover their tracks they had been. I had no reason to disbelieve my neighbour. Had the police known where I was. Might they return. Neither could I as I saw it risk asking the TTC administrators had they phoned the police. Not a word had been said to me at College.
Here was tipping point thinking on the Teacher’s Training College. I felt very frightened. I packed up. My memory is blank what
arrangement I made for the transport of three years’ text booksand not either with the real estate agent, although I assume I handed in the keys.
I walked out without a further word to the Department of Education or to the College.
I have never known what assessment was awarded my first teaching Practical.
My parents were devastated. We were estranged.
My parents and I never discussed what happened that in less than three years I had dropped out. Years later I expressed regret to my father that I assumed he paid out my contract. He replied affably no, he wrote and asked to pay it and was told the file was closed. He had not paid anything. That was lucky, I said, confused. I’ll say, he answered affably.
My only real regret is in regard to walking out that it ever began. I regret I do not know what became of the children out of the only classroom in Queensland I taught in under contract. I
wonder from time to time how the other teacher trainees fared and where their careers took them.
At first my partner and I lived in his rental cottage with a beachfront view.
The beach side properties were far narrower than usual suburban blocks. The dwellings had been built as close to the front of their blocks as possible to advantage their access to the beach. Many of them beach-side as ours did had only for yard an eccentric length of grassed or only dirt car track that set their view from their back doors at some distance from their corresponding neighbours on the other side of an unsealed lane, their hotch potch of tiny front gardens. The view down the lane was of a higgle piggle and humble mix of sand and dirt, stray shell, of fences and no fences, fallen palm fronds, a coconut or two or husk, glimpses of multi-coloured leaves, overhanging end branches of mango trees, plain and simple old fashioned hibiscus blooms, here, there, an occasional frangipani.
An esplanade road had long eroded and its nature strip until the cottage sat in beach sand drifting through a lattice frontage that enclosed a verandah. The frontage adress was nullified. The address was the lane at the back of the property.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson