Sydney is a magical, magical place. It is by far the city that touches my heart the most. But I fucking hated it at first.
When I was first exposed to it — at about 9 in the 1980s on a trip to visit my mum — it was too big, ridiculously dirty and alien. But crucially, it was super, super dangerous. The news was just so much more epic than what I was used to at home in that country town called “Brisbane”.
The other big deal down here was the disparity between rich and poor. Up in Brisbane the rich people weren’t so rich and kinda stuck to themselves in the tiniest of niches…so tiny their enclave around Hamilton was literally invisible — at least to me. I can remember visiting super, super poor people in places like West End or Paddington but they had these incredible city views — just renting what they could manage and paying pretty much an average for that period.
So then suddenly I was living down there cause my dad got this job. My mum and sister were there already — but that was only a tiny consolation.
I was so, so scared. But then you just adjust and just being embraced at Glenmore Road Primary was no doubt the turning point.
So I was enrolled at Glenmore Road Primary. My sister went there and my dad was yet to find a place to live.
2 days after I arrived I was due at school. As that day got real I was expecting to be led into a class of strangers and introduced like some leper. “This is David, he is from Brisbane”. And I expected them to look at me like a freak. I was a ginger. I had super-red hair in those days. I was thin and pale and made very bad fashion decisions. Here is a typical pic of me on a typical school day:
But within minutes of arriving, instead of being led awkwardly into class like in Mean Girls, I was somehow shoved into a tiny sideroom near the office by a woman who looked and acted just like a teacher. Then she handed me a complicated looking test. The booklet was like a novel and she set this time limit for completing this exam that seemed impossible. Meanwhile I assumed she was an ordinary teacher from this school but in fact she was someone from the Education Department. See mum had worked it out that I could be eligible for Sydney High and when learning that I was moving to Sydney, mum had somehow schwanged-it with the school for me to take “the test for Sydney High”.
In Sydney they have this thing called “Selective Schools” or “Opportunity Schools”. And so they test kids and send them to these schools if they qualify academically. So through my mum’s proactiveness I got to take the test — and later I learnt this was ages after my new classmates had sat it.
So she handed me the test. And although she was lovely and disarming — she was literally handing me something that would determine whether I went to a deadshit school or the chance to go to Sydney High. And let it just be said — as a hopeless kid from Brisbane who worried about everything — I was so keen to get this gig. But again it should be said — I had no idea of the significance of what I was doing.
As I said before, Sydney was super scary to a little kid from Brisbane. I wasn’t even tough enough to survive Brisbane let alone this place — which I really need to say was 3 or 4 times the size of Brisbane in those days. Brisbane has had a super expansion in the last 2 decades — but back in the 80s — it was still just a glorified country town with a certifiably insane Premier. (And you know, somethings don’t change — right?)
But I smashed through the questions and I think I did a little better just cause I was relaxed, having no idea of its importance.
So then I was accepted into SHS. Only one other guy in the class made it too – and then a third, accepted later.
It felt amazing. As a kid I always felt “smart” — but this was maybe cause I was just a bit eccentric and different and had to grow up pretty fast in my circumstances. And it was always appalling I was never really “good” at school back in Brisbane. I remember getting the call while I was in Ipswich on Christmas holidays with my nan. I called up everyone I knew to tell them the news. While I was sure there was an element of them pretending to be impressed — it was hard for anyone to not acknowledge that I was going to “SYDNEY HIGH SCHOOL” — like literally the first high school in Australia. (not actually sure that’s true!)
Time goes by
My first day at High School I arrived super early. I have that hyper-punctual-gene and so it seemed did Ashraf Saleh. We turned out to be in the same class and so did a guy called Paul who was from Coogee where my dad had found a place.
I couldn’t even work my school tie and I used to keep it locked in a knot perpetually. But one day early on I pulled that knot out and horrified about arriving at school without a a tie I can remember sprinting down to the bus stop to grab my dad and get him to fix it.
Christ — I could have got someone at school to help me — but I assumed everyone else there was a deadshit like me or an asshole who would laugh at me.
And that was basically what school was like. In the beginning we were all deadshits like me. We shared that wonder of being helpless in an adventurous wonderland that seemed a bit more grown up. Even in year 8 we were still all friends when we were mixed up with the other 180 kids in our elective classes. But that bunch of inherent fucktards gradually came out of their shell. Year by year it got worse. By the end of school lots of those got rotten with power, a bunch were soon lost to drugs, many more were just sucked into a black hole of being academically insular and some were even just too pre-occupied with how well their hair was growing. (me).
Soon it was all over. I walked out those gates and I knew it was the last time and I tried hard to realise the significance — but I was happy to be rid of this place. I had 6 long years there and I was satisfied.
20 years later
Our 20 year reunion. Woah. I was super excited. Unlike many of my comrades I had to organise flights and hotels and the time away from loved ones and work. No big deal. I was all over this shit. This was going to be amazing even if it got fucked up.
Inwardly I knew I would be the one that looked not much different from back then. Obviously my confidence skills had improved and my drinking skills and my wardrobe — but then I reckon my social skills were still stuck (as usual) in prehistoria.
So I hooked up with my mate Paul (as mentioned before) — and Paul and I were besties until I moved to Marrickville and he moved towards other stuff that was outta my comfort zone. And to be quite honest — I was hyper “sober” in those days. Sober in the sense that I was concentrated on school and TV and just not confident enough to go out at night and wear clothes other than school uniforms or anything practical like grandma-made knitted jumpers or tracksuit pants.
Paul and I met at his mum’s place in Kensington and we laughed about our collective adventures. We got braces at the same time and place. We both swapped two girlfriends. Both shared first car stories and all those other school adventures.
Though we fell apart at the end of school it wasn’t through design or actual differences — it was more through circumstance and that thing you do when you grow up. Sometimes you do it too fast or too slow or just too much.
So we spent a good 2 hours reminiscing and then we walked over to the event passing the place Matt and his band first played a gig. Matt was the guy that got me playing guitar and he got me into guitar musicians like Hendrix and Clapton. Although he was somewhat a dickhead back then I was super so hopeful he would be there that night just so I could say how much he meant —despite the fact he kinda sucked — but unfortunately he didn’t turn up. I even made a point of visiting his old house in Roscoe Street in Bondi just to show him I cared.
But getting back to the night.
Paul and I arrived there just on dusk and we started pointing out stuff around the playground. But when it came to deeper memories it seemed I had a bigger hold on stuff. I don’t have any super-human savant photographic memory. No. I think I just run over those memories. But more on that later.
Just backtracking a bit again — this is a story of how Hugo Weaving and I shared a MOMENT.
It was October in 1993. I was on my way to my first exam of my HSC and I was walking up Barcom Avenue in Darlinghurst ridiculously early (as usual). And if you are reading Hugo: “Hi! I am totallly a big fan. (Rock on!)”
Anyway, you were suddenly there as I casually looked up in my internal-gloom and malaise of this bullshit that confronted me. I was sick with worry and just skimming over any revision I could do in my head as I stumbled towards the exam hall.
So Hugo just appeared as I rounded a corner and he was nursing a tiny baby. He was dressed quite decently and we were all alone together in this tiny one-way street that would normally be completely devoid of any activity at that hour. I knew Hugo only from the movie “Proof” — which I fucking adored.
(not my photo!)
But there you were. I was in my school uniform and just too fucking worried and preoccupied and buzzing with all that revising in my head that I soon needed to FUCKING remember. But you still had that star-power to pull me into RECOGNITION. As I looked at you and we touched glances I could not help but display a FEAR in my eyes. Obviously it was the fear of the HSC, not of you personally. But then I remember you looked at me with a “fear” too. I assumed it was just a fear of fame-recognition. Like you were being exposed. But maybe you were just scared at being a dad. Maybe. Regardless I was convinced I was more afraid. See I believed at that point in time no one could feel the FEAR I felt. The fear of the HSC. The fear of failure and the FEAR of ruining everything you had done in the 13 years of school.
“Shit-scarred” just doesn’t cover it.
So Hugo went on to do The Matrix and Lord of the Rings and other cool shit. I went on up that road and didn’t do much “cool shit” apart from somehow making it through.
(Again — not my photos — but this is before and after)
Coming into the Great Hall I approached the registration desk where Melody was in charge and I was not on THE LIST. Horribly appalled I stressed I tried to pay but it became clear I had somehow fucked up the payment. Later I realised I had got the BSB wrong and the payment had bounced back into my account unnoticed. But I was allowed in and gifted some semblance of my dignity back by our awesome hostess — Melody — and I genuinely told her that I would make things good. She didn’t need the details but in my head I knew I could forgo dinner. No big deal. But I really did need a buzz. Again I could work that out somehow — even if it meant dashing off to the nearest bottle shop. But later I was told there were a few no-shows so I was in the clear. Phew.
I still didn’t eat much — and that made me even more “excited”.
Naturally I made quite a few faux-pas and talked too much, danced a little too hard and was generally a bit too WILD.
I remember talking to a guy whose surname was “Bognar”. And I was just joshing around in the spirit of the occasion and pretty much the first thing I said to him was, “OMG — How did you survive school with a surname like yours?” And he looked at me quite puzzled and didn’t quite get my attempt at LOLS and soberly replied — “What do you mean?”
Later I made an even bigger faux pas which I am TOO EMBARRASSED to relate. Let’s just say — I reactivated my facebook just to apologise.
ASIDE: (this is an account from a patron of that night from the Girls School)
Things NOT to do at your 20 year high school reunion:
- down a whole bottle of champagne, with a friend you haven’t seen for years, within a little over an hour, while getting dressed and doing make up
- comment on how you didn’t recognise an ex at first, since he ‘had more hair back then’
- pretend you remember people you actually don’t
- forget to ask people what they do or how many kids they have
- excessively frequent the open bar
- dance to Vanilla Ice
- head bang to Metallica
- squeal loudly when Love Shack comes on, and drag an ex (with hair) onto the dance floor
- stagger to a bar afterwards flirting with miscellaneous men you didn’t actually hang out with in high school
- stay up til 3am
- fall asleep in your bathroom
MEMORIES and a RECURRING DREAM
I have a good memory. And it seems I might be a little bit lonesome in that regard. I think it is cause I am a natural story-teller and memories only stay in your head if you revisit them every so often. Our brains apparently store memories in electrical pathways and the only way they can stay solid is if you drag them out occasionally. And I revisit high school all the time whether I like it or not.
See I have this ONE recurring dream. It has haunted me for 20 years. Indeed this reunion was also the reunion of THAT dream. And the dream goes like this:
I am re-doing year 12 (which was a possibility the school tortured you with if you fucked up your HSC the first time around) and it is late in the year and I haven’t gone to any crucial classes and more importantly…I haven’t done my major work for ART — a very labour-intensive aspect of the course. The feeling is EVIL. I am about to be failed, exposed and my life ruined.
Then I wake up.
I have had this dream so many times I feel I should just try learning some lucid dreaming techniques so I could have an awesome trip back in time every time it occurs. But it has ceased to really bother me. I have discovered just by accudent that ALL my dreams are nightmares. That may seem strange to you — but it is nothing to me. My dreams are more DRAMA than “nightmare”. It’s just what I indulge in. And I used to drama. How else would I dream? How boring and dismissive would dreams of running through fields of flowers with a Sound of Music backdrop vista while stuffing my face with a piece of cake and listening to awesome tunes be?
The event at school that was brought up the most was the fight between Goren and Steven. It happened at recess behind the Art blocks — the point in the school that was the safest from teachers who would have the impetus to stop or recognise the significance of what was going down.
So hundreds of kids gathered — an utterly unprecedented gathering — and we were all screaming “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT” and clapping in sync. It should be said we would do that clapping and shouting “FIGHT” all the time. It was almost an everyday occurrence somewhere in the playground— even if there was no prospect of an actual physical battle. See we were almost always just being ironic. It was hilarious to escalate the drama through a sudden crowd (cause when that chant rang out heaps of boys would come running to see the fuss) and we felt good/satisfied after as a collective even if the fight had dissolved into just shoving or nonsense as it invariably did.
So I found myself in the front row that day behind the art blocks. (Remember I have this hyper-punctual gene). And just like everyone else I was clapping and chanting “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT” probably more enthusiastically than everyone else. And Goren was there already just waiting and getting some encouraging pats on the back. Of course all that “encouragement” was just enthusiasm for the “fight”.
He was much taller and I think we all thought that would be the end of it. But Steven came up at maximum walking pace and the crowd spread like the red sea and he just arrived and started smashing. 5 punches in and I felt sick and immediately stopped clapping and chanting and a few punches later when blood started flowing I turned around and walked away. To this day I am not sure how the fight ended. But I am pretty sure I wasn’t the only one horrified at everything. Soon there seemed to be an awkward half-silence and everyone just walked away without much talk. Just this collective “Woah”.
On arriving at Bondi I saw this guy get arrested. FULL ON!
As a kid I remember seeing something like this. Scary place.
So then I did the coast walk from Bondi to Coogee:
Then I went up Sydney Tower just for LOLS
That is school over there with the orange roof taken from my time up in Sydney Tower
Saw this bus getting towed and the bus driver got all up in my grill wondering why I was taking a picture. Like REALLY UP IN MY GRILL.
I wasn’t scared or anything but annoyed all the same. So I said: “I am a tourist taking a picture of a bus getting towed by a truck — it’s funny”. All matter of factly.
The bus driver suddenly got coy and quickly retreated. Later I was all like, “why the fuck does a bus driver confront someone taking a photo in a stupidly public space of a pretty innocent scene?”. Fucking hell. What kinda world do we live in?
That’s the bus driver just hidden on the right in case you’re wondering.