Over the wall on 1971


Dormant account
Sorry Chayton but the script is getting sadder and sadder and I've probably exceeded the word count!

Growing up on and isolated wheat farm in outback Australia was a pretty tough gig for a young lad right from the start. The farm was small and droughts were the norm, roughly 5 out of 10 years, so life was pretty stressful for my parents. As the second eldest of 7 kids I had enough to eat but little more and spent most of my time exploring the wooded hills that passed through the property. It was part of the only mountain range for hundreds of miles as most of the district was dead flat and semi arid.

One of the major problems families faced in the outback was senior education as the nearest town only had a primary school.
My parents decided on correspondence or home schooling which required a lot of conscientiousness from the students. I had little and as soon as Mum left the room I was up in the hills doing the ‘fun stuff’ such as setting rabbit traps and shooting foxes.

After 6 months my father, who incidentally was not impressed with attendance levels, had a call from the newly opened Marist Brothers College in a town about 100 miles away. The school was looking for country boarders as they intended to fill it with salt of the earth Catholics which they hoped we were. They knew of our dire financial situation but offered positions for my brother and I at a hugely reduced rate.

“It will be great fun”, Mum assured me as she broke the news to my brother and I.
“Lots of friends and great food; you will absolutely love it!” she assured us.

What Mum was describing did sound pretty good and it was only a day or two before we were making the long journey to begin a life-changing experience.

My brother Michael was a very sports gifted person and fitted into the sporting culture of the school like a duck to water and really enjoyed boarding school.

On the other hand my greatest sporting achievement was finishing third in the sack race back at Weethalle primary. (There were only four people in the race and luckily one guy fell before the line which enabled me to fill the placing.) This sporting ineptitude certainly didn’t help adapting to this incredibly new and strange environment.

For a child who had few social skills having spent a huge percentage of his life with his family the change to only seeing strangers most of the time was the most incredible culture shock. In fact I absolutely hated being away from home in the most regimented society.

Five days a week we were up at 6 am for Mass, then a study hour, breakfast and a bit of sport before the first class at 8.30am. Every minute of every day was regulated meaning if it was Tuesday you did exactly what you did last Tuesday.

Meals were held in a large one room cafeteria that just managed to fit all the students. Each table seated around 8 boys and the food was delivered in bulk and a senior dealt it out. I hated vegetables so the senior guy always gave me a double dose of soggy spinach or cabbage. The restaurant brother had to ensure that everyone ate their vegies and he would stand and watch you force it down. Eventually I found a way of smuggling the greens outside by wrapping them in a large hanker-chief and shoving them into my specially designed pockets.

After school we had more sport but sporting failures such as myself could volunteer to work around the school doing gardening or mowing lawns instead.

Then it was shower time in the largest bathroom in the world which housed all the boarding students. We had our own tiny individual locker and shared a massive towel rack. Three minutes were allowed for a shower and one of the brothers would clap or blow a whistle when each group’s time was up.
Following showers there was half an hour of study time. Tea was next followed by an additional one and a half hours study for juniors and two and a half for seniors. No wonder the grades were the best in the state.

Finally study was over and it was time to hit the hay. The dormitories were incredible. The largest room I had ever seen held all the boarders with only a 2 foot cupboard separating the beds. The night supervisor Brother Hillary had a small ‘built in’ covered room in the middle of the dorm and would turn out the lights at 10 pm and re-appear at 6 am slow clapping his hands to wake the students. If you were a deep sleeper and didn’t jump up after the first clap then all your blankets and sheets were ripped off by the intrepid brother.

Luckily I survived until the middle of the second term of 1st form. It was then that a 2nd form student decided he wanted to fight me because he didn’t like my cabbage-stained pockets. He had organised a time to meet me behind the machinery shed where he intended to “flatten me”. I tried to talk him into a sack race instead but he was adamant my days were numbered.
What the heck was I going to do? I knew this guy could fight like a thrashing machine and I was petrified with fear.

Then the idea came to me. “I hate this place and I love the hills at the back of our farm. I will simply escape from St Francis and live on our mountain range. I can catch rabbits and birds and live a life of freedom. Surely my parents won’t miss me. They wouldn’t have sent me to this awful place if they had any time at all for me!”

It was Saturday and the fight was scheduled in the afternoon. There was a working bee in the morning which was the perfect time for an escape. Only one brother supervising which meant I could sneak away to the bike rack that was at an isolated end of the school. Once there I realised my old bike probably wouldn’t make it off the college grounds, so I made my first unlawful decision and took my brother’s new bike and peddled like crazy for the school gates.

As I flew past the college boundary and onto the public road I realised no one was chasing me. I had made my escape and the feeling of exhilaration at that moment has stayed with me for 40 years.
On the outskirts of Leeton I bought some bread rolls at a corner shop with the two shillings I had saved from my pocket money. Then I rode on towards Barellan which was around 50 miles and half way back to my beloved mountain range where I intended to live out my days.

In no time I was on the outskirts of Barellan and really started to believe that I would make it back to the hills. Then a major problem arose. It was just on sun-set and a man overtook me and pulled me over to the side of the road. He was a local resident and knew I was not and thought it strange for a 12 year old to be cycling alone.

“What are you up to young fella,” he asked cheerfully. I had thought of what to say should this situation occur and replied confidently, “I’m a boy scout and a group of us are riding to Weethalle.”

I then rode away thinking I had been very convincing. However he persisted and stopped me again. “Where are the rest of the group?” he cunningly asked. He had me as I hadn’t prepared any further stories and broke down and told him the truth. He threw my bike in the back of his car and took me to the police station. After a chat with the Sergeant it was agreed he would take me to his place to have some tea and the policeman would ring Mum and Dad and let them know what had happened.

Within an hour Mum and Dad had arrived and Mum was crying and Dad was fuming. They knew I wasn’t happy at school but couldn’t believe I had absconded.
They took me home to the farm and I was sure they were going to let me try correspondence once again. In the morning Dad confronted me with the bad news. “I’m sorry son,” he said. “You can’t run away from your problems. You have to face up to them,” and as he walked away my tears flowed like a river.

That afternoon Mum and Dad drove me back to St Francis. All the way I was thinking of the punishment I would get from the Headmaster and the flogging I would receive from my aggressor.

When we arrived at the school there was an assembly of all the students. Suddenly many of them started cheering and clapping for the only person ever ‘to go over the wall’. I couldn’t believe my eyes as suddenly I was a hero. The guy who was going to fight me shook my hand and called for ‘three cheers’!

The principal was extremely upset and the punishment for such an act was expulsion from the school. However he knew that was just what I wanted so he decided on detention instead.

Life was much better after my escape and I managed to finish high school at St Francis, but for some reason I’ve never returned for a reunion.