Archive for February, 2018


February 10, 2018

I came back to Canary on a lark. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re bored and feeling morose. The Lachlan Valley School was opened in 1932, that’s what the sign says. I grew up in this school for better or worse, better at the beginning, worse at the end. Devo, the old groundskeeper, let me in. There were no students anywhere, no meetings to interrupt. A former student, graduated years ago, taking a look wouldn’t come to harm in these circumstances.

It’s strange how the most familiar places become strange over time. Each new class, each new group of students leaves its indelible mark. “Amy and Daz, 2017” written in a heart that’s been crossed out with a black marker. “For a good time, call Amy” carved into the side of a toilet stall, a telephone number carved below. I’d happily put $10 on Daz having written it in a pique of adolescent rage.

Looking at the walls and at the worn wood floors, polished but never replaced, puts things into perspective. I left 15 years ago, the floor has been polished at least that many times, the walls have been painted at least 4-5 times. But the past doesn’t go away entirely. The desks remain the same, graffiti from 20 years ago carved in. Declarations of eternal love, defaced by time and the anguished ex-lovers, can’t be easily removed from the bark of trees. The old tables outside won’t easily be replaced. There’s not enough money in the budget for a rural school.

Mrs Jenning’s classroom, room number 5. But it isn’t hers anymore. I met my first love here. The view out the window is the same, but… It’s now Mr McLachlan’s room. Who is he? His picture by the school office door didn’t reveal much. A bland, smiling man in his early 30s, a graduate of the University of Queensland. “How did he end up here”? I thought to myself. But then, sometimes it’s best not to go down those ambulatories of thought. The answer might be simple, a desire for a quieter, predictable life. Or, perhaps, it’s something else… The desperate decision of a man growing embittered by his failure to live up to his expectations, a retreat into a world where he wouldn’t be judged by too high a standard.

Those are the lessons that aren’t learnt from textbooks, editions of which that were published well after my time line the shelves waiting for the new school year to begin. When we’re young, we’re arrogant. We know nothing of pain, only inconvenience. Our cruelty and caprice, our flippant disregard for ourselves and for others comes because we, in a perverse way, know that we’re safe. Our parents support us, they protect us. Well, most of the time they do. We rarely have to fall, only stumble with the implicit assurance that someone will be there to soften the blow. We are cruel to others because we are yet to feel pain, to know what it’s like to hurt. We’re confident in our knowledge and ability because our failures result in inconvenience at worst. It’s when we’re away from these walls, away from this shelter that we start to become human – and when we start to find a way to protect ourselves from the knowledge that the world doesn’t exist for our benefit.

I’ve seen enough of this school. “2:21”. One night in Canary, tomorrow I will go back to Sydney. The streets of Canary haven’t changed. A few people have moved, a few have died. Some have moved in. But has Canary changed? No, I don’t think it ever will. A Gullah calls, a budgie flies past. The scent of eucalyptus hangs in the air. Those are the things you remember, the things you didn’t really find memorable. It’s like the scent of incense at a Catholic mass. It’s a part of the ritual that barges into your consciousness years later. But I must keep looking forward, I must keep going on with my life. No matter how frustrating the present, there was always a reason why one leaves a place behind.