Photo: Australian Geographic
The first time I went overseas I was 11 years old and it was on a school exchange trip to New Zealand.
My dad had just got a REAL job after years at university, years struggling as a wedding photographer, a stint in the army reserves and another stint in hospital which resulted in me spending some of my schooling in Wagga Wagga. Anyway, traditionally every year our class has an exchange program with a group of kids from a very, very remote town in Far North Queensland called Forsayth whose whole school didn’t even come close to the numbers in just our classroom.
So year after year those kids that could afford it trotted off for a week in that wilderness and I had to stay home wondering. But then in a change in policy our teacher, Mr Jacobsen, blandly explained there was a proposition that a group of us might get to go to New Zealand.
And it was to a school called Heaton School in Christchurch. And it seems this exchange has lasted all these years later.
So I took the newsletter home to my dad expecting another disappointing, “We can’t afford it” tale. But bizarrely my dad said, “Maybe”. And as a kid I knew “maybe” was 99% of the battle. This was surreal. I tried my best not to get too excited, but I knew our circumstances were changing. We suddenly weren’t quite so desperate. Indeed we miraculously had a colour TV for the first time ever, and then a VCR — admittedly, the TV was an ancient hand-me-down from the grandparents and the VCR was hired.
Eventually things turned from “maybe” to “OK” and it was like Disneyland to a kid that had never even had glad-wrap, let alone cling-wrap to protect his sandwiches for little lunch and big lunch. And maybe that is why I am “DJ GLAD RAPPA” — just a little nod to how I grew up seeing that shitty strip of plastic as being grand and aspirational.
MY FIRST AND ONLY SLR
So then I was on a plane to NZ. My dad, a one-time quasi-professional cameraman (see above), gave me his best camera to use. It was heavy and important-looking and I had to spend hours and hours with him getting tutored in how to use the damn thing. It was so fucking complicated, but I dragged it along. And in our group, I was the only one with a camera. I even had to change rolls and that was almost more complicated than keyhole surgery to an 11 year old.
When I got home Dad said I hadn’t put enough people in my images and my “composure” was all wrong. He picked out one photo of a snowy scene at Mt Hutt that was OK which I thought (at the time) looked shithouse. He was right of course, but all I cared about was the fact I had actually managed to capture images on such complicated machine with so much expectation involved.
MY FIRST LOVE, VOMIT, SHOULDER PADS, AND MORE
So the trip was crazy. I am now used to the fact that when I get out in public things go wrong, but this trip set the bar — this was where it all began.
Just a few months before I had gone on a trip to visit mum in Sydney and she had given me one of her old shirts. It was blue and had buttons — something I had no idea about — but they were “female” buttons, the wrong way around. And they also had shoulder pads. I wore this shirt to the airport thinking I was quite important, not really realising I could take them out, then at the line up for customs thinking, “Oh shit, they are gonna think I have drugs stored inside!” I fretted for ages while they processed us, then ripped them off and threw them away.
We arrived in the middle of the night in Christchurch. The father of the kid I was billeted to (someone called “Hamish”) picked me up. “Hamish” was presumably asleep and couldn’t be bothered. So having some random guy with a beard picking me up from the airport and taking me home would possibly be something that would not happen these days, but to me — I was ecstatic that I had a bed to go to. See “Hamish” was still a mystery to me. All the other kids in my group had had letters from their billet, but I had none. “Hamish” was already a lazy deadshit and I hadn’t even met him yet.
At the “Hamish” home I got to sleep in his bedroom, a small consolation, but one that made “Hamish” resent me.
The next day we went to Heaton School and we rubbed noses (our ethic education) and had this big rock star reception at the school assembly. Then we went on a bus trip to some hills outside Christchurch with the whole of our reciprocal grade 7 Heaton class. But on the way home I got horribly motion-sick. And the bus stopped for me at one point and I walked out onto the road verge in front of everyone and felt like a complete douchecanoe — but even though I felt awful — I couldn’t vom. Meanwhile I could feel the vibe on the bus from the nationals — Aussies are such weaklings.
Then the bus driver said as we drove on, “Stay up the front with me, that always helps.” I proved him wrong. About 30 minutes later, while being stuck up there standing at the front of the bus like a statue of ridiculousness — I projectile-vommed all over the entrance to the bus, all the way down the stairs, and then vommed some more a bit later. I really made an impression on our new compatriots as they vainly tried to step over my epic-vomit.
But later that all seemed to be forgotten when this girl started talking to me. She was beautiful too — way out of my league. And I resorted to running away from her, just cause I was so embarrassed a woman would show any interest in me. But then she chased me! And she was a good runner!
Then a few days later was a school dance and it was amazing. Hamish begged to leave early and I stuck round and begged Hamish’s dad to pick me up later — thankfully he agreed.
Raewin even sent me a multi-page letter when I got back home, but even though I cherished that correspondence, possibly my first ever “love letter” — I never replied. I suck. And that effort she made is gone — I have no idea how or when I lost them. Sigh.
So I am going back to NZ tomorrow — this time to Auckland. I will keep you informed.