Remember ‘Looking for Alibrandi’? * Sigh* Her latter boyfriend Jacob Coote was such a dreamboat. I’m a non-traditionalist and preferred the movie to the book. Mainly I suspect because I was 17 and the book was a required reader for academic purposes. I digress… Remember Josie? I was her. I mean, I went to an all girl’s school that was just like hers. You know those ‘mean girls’ she encountered? I knew them… Not actually in Sydney but rather it was right here in Melbourne. Those girls existed (and still do, I believe)! True to form, they weren’t very nice to me. There are exceptions to every rule but most of the white Anglo-Saxon children (complete with stereotypical ribbon in hair, T-bar sandals and of course, donning wide brimmed hats) of middle class generational wealth were just a little too much for me to get my head around.
I will never forget the day those peers shared a superbly obnoxious “in joke” about the time one of them inadvertently “pashed her postman’s son.” Wow, did that cause a ruckus. Being the daughter of a postal service worker who illegally rode to the train station in the back of a postal wagon, it took me a while to get that joke. The joke was that his dad’s occupation was delivering mail. Don’t worry if you’re not laughing… because I didn’t find it very funny, either. I’d take a salt-of-the-earth- postie dad over an embezzling Dad in greens, or a bankrupt and disgraced former banker / broker or lawyer you only ever seat the Portsea weekend house any day. But hey, that could be just me!
I was a fish out of water at an elite Melbourne private school and felt the suffocation. I was sent to my second high school almost by default, on a notion from my parents that it would be in my best interests (and potentially keep me on the straight and narrow). When the forced closure of my first secondary school was implemented, my status as a scholarship recipient saw me redirected to apply for MacRobertson Girl’s High School but I didn’t make the cut with regard to mathematics. So instead I was sent to my former school’s ‘sister school’ (in the polished and prestigious Kew of all places which was a far cry from Epping that was my home, and I don’t just mean geographically!)
My previously modest all girl’s school education had commenced in the multi-cultural melting pot of Richmond with girls from a wide variety of socio – economic backgrounds. We came from far and wide for the reasonable school fees and the promise of a great education. This was a promise which sadly many saw through, and ultimately spelled the school’s demise when a lack of enrolments forced the gates not just closed but turned into a walk way for a boy’s school instead. For the record, I have nothing against St. Kevin’s boys… In fact, no! No! That’s a story for another occasion.
Upon arrival at my new school there was no mistaking that we, the intruders from the Richmond school (some of our motley crew from the notorious Richmond commission flats) were indeed the poorer cousins to these other girls. From that first day on, it was a cultural experience and a steep learning curve. Like my original peers, I didn’t quite fit in at the new secondary school. I mean, I didn’t fit in much at all. I didn’t have a holiday house; my boyfriends were never Melbourne Cricket Club members and there was no BMW to pick me up at the front gate after prefect duties. Ha-ha, prefect duties… who am I kidding?!
These new girls seemed mostly dim, straight with a side of obnoxious to me. Although in fairness I did circulate with a few fun ones and manage to drag a little tiny- glimmer- of- hope- bogan out on sporadic occasions, a feat which I always viewed as a personal victory. Such occasions included the time I very nearly came to blows with a girl from Ringwood – a note-able highlight after she told people she would beat me, a word I stupidly took on face value and decided to up the anti and get in early.
I found the girls REALLY stuffy, alright, maybe a bit snobbish?! Yeah ok, actually… if I’m hitting with a straight bat I found them pretty flippin’ stuck up. I was their ‘other’ in every way. And it literally it took me until university to get my head around why I was probably the only girls in my history class who thought The Whitlam Dismissal was a bloody travesty.
I was not just from the wrong side of the tracks compared to these girls, I was worse… I was from the end of the bloody train line. And, I rode that train… every. single. day. I braved the elements of flashers, perverts, other irritating school kids, notorious bandits from the infamous Lionel Hall school (where being previously expelled is almost a pre-requisite of entry). Plus, there were the daylight heroin users in their prime… I mean, I may as well have walked 10kms in the snow, sans footwear, right Dad? I swear, I haven’t embellished this bit.
Anyway, the education itself at this new school was good, a fact there’s no denying… Although in fairness to public school peers we were spoon fed answers to assessments, as regularly as meals for consumption. I’m not complaining though, because that ultimately meant a respectable tertiary result for me despite the odds (and fact I had spent most of year 12 on msn messenger trying to escape the elitist torment).
It was that education side of the coin that thankfully got me into Monash University, where I promptly fled from the crowd I had been thrown into for those two years after my original school closed. And the next time I saw someone from that elite private school was when I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital and they were an esteemed member of staff… But that my friends, is a whole different story.
The two things that I learned during those two years during which I lived an imposter life in an alternate Kew reality were these: Firstly, as portrayed in ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ (through the character of John Barton) money does not equate to happiness. Some of those girls could have put the MESS in the expression MESSED UP and more than teen anguish there was a lot of dead-set misery. Secondly, another tip for nothing, apparently being tight with money ultimately means you end up with more of it. It’s a sweeping generalization (pun may be intended) but I’m talking you bought the $8.80 passion pop… so here’s $2.20 exactly since we’re having a glass each… kind of tight. They really took the word frugal to new levels.
And, I always struggled with the insidious unwritten expectation that you’d end up marrying someone from the private boy’s school down Cotham Road? Can you bloody imagine? Just in case giving up two years of a real life- living- spree, wasn’t torture enough. I suppose you wouldn’t have to cross to my side of the tracks then…. *sigh*. In all honesty, if Ja’mie King’s character in Summer Heights High wasn’t based on some of my former peers I could probably whistle Dixie on my head.
I need to say this I am super thankful that a subsequent tertiary education taught me that for the most part, no one cares how wealthy you are in the REAL WIDE WORLD that doesn’t end on either side of Burke or Glenferrie Rds. After all, tertiary students are generally poor as hell anyway. So thankfully, there’s no extra brownie point on university turf for holidays spent skiing in Aspin or carrying your old school bag as a status symbol.
Purely as an anecdote and in an ‘in your face’ moment of irony… I ended up marrying a private school boy from a far more elite school as it would happen. Who I might add, to level my credentials; works in the construction industry and is possibly the most down to earth guy I’ll ever meet… just like the kind Jacob would have grown up to be. *Sigh*… still a dreamboat.
Honestly, I don’t think about school days much anymore except when I boycott reunions, or my mum insists on passing on the alumni news magazine to me (because apparently, it’s mine to bin and it must travel halfway across Melbourne to end up in the correct waste). But on the odd occasion I find an old VCE school picture I can’t help but think of the ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ quotation, “photos are testimony that someone did live. A reminder of past we may have loved or hated. A piece of our lives.” That experience was a small piece of my life and was probably some weird form of natural justice for being a little bitch in the few years prior. I wasn’t from Kew (or far Kew even) and it was a challenge living a Josie Alibrandi parallel reality for two years. But, it would have been harder if I never grew up and moved on. I really hope the ‘mean girls’ of Kew did too.