Yesterday, marked the end of Year 12 in our high schools, and was what’s colloquially known as “Muck-up Day”.
“Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day, like a photograph coming into focus.”
As the name suggests, muck-up day spawns a lot of pranks, including the almost obligatory egg throwing at cars and shops. Indeed, at its worst, it summons up visions of Robespierre’s reign of terror, albeit in school uniform. However, for the students themselves, it means saying goodbye to school, friends, teachers and in many ways, plays one of the last notes of childhood. Yet, it’s also the first step towards liberation and a lot of fun…as long as nothing goes wrong.
By the way, knowing most of you are visiting from overseas, I should point out that Year 12 is the final year of school, and after students have completed their Higher School Certificate exams (HSC), they’re released from captivity into the world like a swarm of bees. That’s when they often head over the Queensland border to celebrate Schoolies Week at Surfers’ Paradise, or on this side of the border at Byron Bay.
In my day, Muck-up Day was more sedate. We might’ve signed each other’s school collars, filled in note and year books, and there had always been rumours of boot polish on the toilet seat. However, at least from memory, that was bad as it got. After all, if we got sprung, there’d be no all-important school reference.
However, from what I’ve gathered in recent years, Muck-up Day has spawned the treasure hunt…a rather quirky or challenging check list. All of this should just be a bit of fun. Indeed, a few years ago, I was eating fish and chips and taking photos at Terrigal Beach on Muck-up Day, and was approached by a few year 12’s. Their list included being photographed with a stranger. I think he might’ve put his arm around me. It was all good fun. They were all dressed in lairy neon outfits and were just running around, mostly sober having a good time and not hurting anyone.
However, this year a treasure hunt with a difference has unfortunately come to light. Sadly, this document reveals privileged bastardry is alive (and possibly even thriving) at at least one of Sydney’s prestigious boys’ school. Looking very much like an annual report, the instructions for the treasure hunt were cleverly entitled: The Triwizard Shorenament. This particular list included 10,000 points for flying down to Melbourne which is currently in Covid Lockdown, “shit on a train”, “break into Taronga Zoo”, drink “6 [vodka] Cruisers in 6 minutes” and “skull 700ml bottle of vodka”. In addition to the inherent elitism expressed, many of the acts are vulgar, anti-social, criminal and also show a concerning acceptance of alcohol abuse. Indeed, you’ve got to ask is this what their privileged parents consider “a good education”?
It’s certainly reinforced our decision to send out kids to the local state school. Well, it might not have been a choice, but there are good and bad eggs everywhere and you just have to hope either sort doesn’t go flying through your car window on muck-up day and hit you in the face.
Meanwhile, I’ve wondered how much media and community attention The Triwizard Shorenament is going to attract. While it’s certainly received some media coverage, there’s also that desire to repress. Stop the bad publicity.
However, I feel the actions outlined in this document, need to be assessed and used as a mirror, a score-card. Not just for the boys and the school involved, but also for the wider community. How did something like that see the light of day in 2020? Don’t we all know better? Moreover, there are six Anglican Ministers on Shore’s school council. Don’t they stand for something better than that? Or, is money all that matters? Are values such as character, integrity, compassion and equality to be spat on and reviled while the kings of the castle squash their minions under foot?
I hope not. However, for me these questions aren’t just ideological. Aren’t mere theory. This is where I’m from.
Of course, I didn’t attend Shore School. It’s a single-sex school for boys. However, I did attend the female equivalent. I was, and to some extent, am still part of this elite. While my life didn’t quite follow the plan and I’ve manged to find more snakes than ladders in my personal journey, I can still fit into those shoes and belong. It’s still where I came from, and part of who I am.
Perhaps, that’s what concerns me most about this despicable treasure hunt. I’d thought we’d moved forward in the last 30 years. That equality had gained a foothold. Moreover, that during the current coronacrisis, we as a society were becoming more caring, compassionate and understanding. Indeed, it is for this reason that the action of spitting on a homeless person disgusts me so much. Haven’t we all learnt just how close anyone is from landing on the streets? Indeed, it’s said many of us are only one maybe two pays away.
Of course, it could said, and it has and has been argued, only a small group of boys was involved. However, it doesn’t even take a close look at the report to see it’s a polished, detailed, and well-planned document. It’s not something put together on the fly and rashly emailed out in a moment of poor judgement. It looks like it was printed, and while I don’t have a lot of facts at hand, I think it was distributed to students and in a way that shows sufficient social acceptance for the plan. That the organizers weren’t stepping out of the mould and felt comfortable putting it together. There doesn’t seem to be an expectation of ridicule, shame, rejection by their peers. It was all carried out all but in the light of day.
However, it’s not easy to speak out against the cool or socially acceptable kids at school. There are also going to be students who were completely out of the loop and knew nothing about it at all, who’ll also have to live with the fallout, and amidst all of this, there will be some very distressed students and families. Although I deplore what was planned and the ideology behind it, I also believe in redemption. That the powers that be in the Class of 2020 can turn this around for good. Apologise and do some community service.
On this front, I’d like to refer back to a very gutsy speech given by Mitch Donaldson, the outgoing school Captain of Sydney’s Knox Grammar School at Speech Day 2007. In front of 1350 fellow students, 150 teachers and 600 parents in the school assembly hall, he spoke out against pressure from over achieving and overbearing parents, which had created a culture of cheating and bullying in year 12. He then pointed the finger at instances of parents who bullied school authorities into giving prestigious positions to their undeserving sons. He said: “There have been people in our year group who have stolen, who have belittled, and who have cheated their way through the past six years.” And most of them, he said, got away with it. But to those who played the game, he said, no matter who your father goes to the gym with, listen carefully. No matter what your efforts, you cannot and will not be able to ever buy respect.” Although that speech went on for 20 minutes, apparently you could hear a pin drop. After all, the last thing you expect at a school assembly like that is for someone to tell it like it is. And at the end of the speech… after a moment of stunned silence… the whole hall rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Mitchell Donaldson was angry with the injustice that he saw going on in his school 1.. That was an extremely gutsy move.
Sure, the instance at Knox Grammar was different to what went down at Shore, but you can see the parallels, and that they’re two cabs from the same rank.
I’ve inserted a couple of links here in case you’re interested in further reading:
I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about this, and how it might reflect on what you experience in your community. Meanwhile, I’ll site the values of the French Revolution… Equality, Liberty, Freedom.
These values are still worth fighting for today.