SHORT EXCERPTS FROM THE FIRST 3 CHAPTERS OF MY UPCOMING AUSTRALIAN DEBUT MEMOIR

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The Insanely Long Way Out to Bayswater

EPPING

In grade six I was made responsible for cutting up the fruit for inter-school sports in the staff room which was a huge deal because there were really only certain kids in my year that could be trusted with scissors, let alone a knife unsupervised.

I’d go to each classroom collecting coins for the teachers “Friday Flutter.” Because believe me gambling wasn’t an issue of the day nor were there too many politically correct police getting about back in Epping in the late 1980s. I was made bell monitor too until I pushed my luck and played Salt N Pepper’s, Let’s Talk About Sex as line up music.

Knowing I was prone to getting into mischief Mum and Dad were forever trying in vain to “straighten me out” and their thwarted attempts saw me bewildered at being sent off to Brownies (think Girl Guides with brown tunics and matching socks). It was here that I was expected to sing gayly and dance around a wooden toadstool with a stuffed owl. It was a tawny owl, but I used to call it the “horny owl” just to stir the leaders up.

They made us sing and pledge allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen. I was young but already knew I was a Republican and I wasn’t interested in sewing badges, collector’s badges or cooking up anything but schemes. I hated brownies. So, when it came time for camp I made it my absolute mission to ensure I’d never have to go back. My best friend from school and I hijacked the young “sooky” girl’s teddy bears and replaced them with ransom letters on their pillows. The hysteria and carry on that ensued was immeasurable even by our own hopeful expectations.

VAUCLUSE

I started year seven at Vaucluse College F.C.J in Richmond wearing knee high socks and an oversized green school dress I’d inherited as a hand-me-down from one of my less than fashionista sisters. The school was a fair trek from Epping and being quite young and having a few local girls from the area starting in my year and the year above, we caught the school bus. Dad would drop us off at the train station and my older sister would jump on a train just after seven in the morning and I’d shuffle across to the bus stop with the other year seven and eight girls.

Our driver was always at a loss as to how to manage a bus full of teenage girls and we played the gender card to our advantage. There were some wild rides on that bus and one of my favourite memories was peer pressuring the two year eight girls (with mouth plates in for their teeth) into having dry Salada biscuit races. They had to keep their plates in, strictly no water was allowed, and the aim of the game was to see who could eat their dry biscuits the quickest. The literal fallout was beyond disgusting.

I was a backseat bandit and managed to wrangle a corner seat by the window which came in handy that day when a few of us vomited as a result of what we witnessed. Another time we decorated the bus by hanging a tampon from the back of bus and watching the people behind us in traffic to commentate on their expressions when they noticed. In hindsight, I think at aged thirteen and fourteen your humour is pretty under-developed.

We used to laugh and joke about when that driver’s tipping point into insanity would eventually come, but in retrospect we were walking a fine line and playing with fire. How we stayed on the road while being regularly screamed and foiling his concentration that year is beyond me. A few times he was forced to pull over to reprimand our behaviour at which point some of us would turn on crocodile tears, they were probably really evoked by shock at how close to his edge we were actually pushing. We were a very naughty little group, constantly striving to outdo each other and to be honest, I was probably one of the head ringleaders of that little green uniformed school bus mafia.

In the later years, after a few girls inadvertently fell pregnant while undertaking their schooling, we did some progressive sex education for that day and age in a catholic school. We were taught how to apply a condom to a banana. I will never forget my horror when it was my turn. I managed to make a thwarted attempt at putting it on, albeit inside out, and the thing flicked back in front of the vice principal and all but hit me in the face. If they were trying to trick me into years of celibacy to follow, it worked. Although, I did laugh at the sheer horror, a family trait reserved for inappropriate occasions when the most serious of shit goes down.

Life at that little girl’s school was a mixed bag, like a few of our teachers, but mostly a lot of fun. In later years my entrepreneurial side kicked in and we had a side hustle for canteen money. We’d steal loose-leaf paper from every girl in the classroom and then when they ran out we’d sell it back to them at fifteen cents per sheet. It took a ridiculous amount of time for anyone to cotton on to that trick. And all the while we happily munched on our riches and spoils by way of treats from the canteen lady, Jan.

COLLEGE AT MONASH

Farrer Hall was notoriously the college of the naughty kids (which is why I applied), also home to the country kids, the drinkers and the party kids. It well and truly exceeded expectations in that respect. If there was a reality television show set in my old abode it would undoubtedly be dubbed, “Bogan Paradise.” But, in Melbourne’s South Eastern suburb of Clayton it also was my great escape from the far north of the city at the end of the train line.

Naturally, being a humanities student I was set to undertake a Bachelor of Arts, but it was my extra-curricular activities which inevitably won the day, far more so than any life of academia. I swiftly learned the art of beer bongs, smoking cones to moody melodies or more upbeat Bob Marley and going to class (or not) half gassed from the night before. On one occasion I recall me and a long- time friend Bec (who had been on that school bus back in the day) rocking up to a lecture in our ‘shared’ doona.

I drank until I passed out (many times). I was notorious for spewing and getting stuck straight back into it. On one occasion I had to return hungover to the pub the next day to collect one shoe I’d left behind as the local tradies and bar flies sat around raising eyebrows and remarking that, “Cinderella’s back (for her shoe).”

In O-Week I joined all the clubs and societies and was under strict instruction to keep in sweet with the law student’s society who held the best barbeques on campus. These were generally funded by law firms hoping to recruit the brightest of the bright article clerks by sweetening them up with satay skewers, vegie burgers and UDL cans. We were bought pretty cheaply to be honest, but I doubt the brightest of the bright were really out on the lawns drinking the UDLs before 2pm lectures. My college was always well represented though.

In O-Week we had initiations that were ridiculous. We rolled down hills, drank hot beers, ate sardines mixed with ice cream. Our tasks were almost everything you’d expect from American frat school inductions. I got so blind one night I ended up pashing three different blokes while walking home from the pub and earned the nickname “traffic lights” for holding up the boys on a mission to get home. We had a random coded gossip newsletter type publication in which my antics and choice quotes features many times, disproportionately so, actually.

ALBURY

At the time it seemed like the best idea, ever. And who wouldn’t clip the elderly people’s toenails or shave excess skin and remove callouses for upwards of eighty dollars an hour in private practice. I’ve learned a few things in life… but lesson one is this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! I ended up discovering six months into that podiatry course that not only was I not good at physiology and anatomy, but the chemical preservatives our laboratories put the dead bodies we dissected in aka “cadaver juice” gave me nausea. And as a direct result of one too many cheese like fungal infections I started to really hate feet. And, I was no good at practical either. On the first clinic we had an old dear came in and I let her get out of her seat while the overhead lamp was still in place. I swear the poor love must have had a headache for days.

We had some wild nights… op shop parties, bogan themes, we joined footy trips at the old Terminus Hotel (before it burned down) and I’m pretty sure it was my suggestion to theme our multicultural pick-up night. Which while not being overly politically correct, was undoubtedly progressive in terms of equal opportunities, at least from my perspective.

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