Back to the Farm, Christmas 1964

Dear Mum and Dad

I had been home for Easter and the two other holidays during the year, but they had passed in a blur of self-recrimination and probably; self-absorption.

I could not talk to you about the events in my first year at Boarding school for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which; was that I didn’t fully understand what had happened myself.

It appears, as I write this; many years after the events, that everyone else knew your son was a “fucking poofter” except your son; I was still an underdeveloped 12-year-old, but now; I was a scared and frightened one as well.

Manliness was the most treasured of attributes in our family; even Mum who was beginning to break free of closeted village life and find new outlets for her artistic side, was not ready to deal with the fact her son was homosexual.

As for Dad; at that stage of his life, he would have embarked on a regime of “reeducation” consisting of; at least one good belting every day, until I came to my senses and became a man.

This would have been the only time in my memory, I was glad the Farmers School was so far away, and; so isolated from normal life on the farm. Had I gone to Grammar school, as so many of the sons of your friends had, it would have been so much harder to contain my shame.

At least the principle of “what happens at the Farmers School stays at the Farmers School” could be upheld.

Jerry knew, but his revulsion was such that it would only be revealed to me in the middle of a heated argument, well away from your prying eyes or ears. It was only out of earshot of anyone else, that I would be subjected to the knowing sneers and another of his heated tirades about how “fucking useless” I was at this farming caper. His knowledge of what had happened was unspoken, but the cost of his silence was that his excesses were never spoken about.

I was relieved he was not coming back to School next year; my shame would be private if the issue ever again raised its head.

Bill Wilson again became my confidant; I knew was too old to have an imaginary friend, but it was a relief to sink into comfortable old habits.

Life on the farm at Harvest time was busy and I was now expected to do my bit, I didn’t mind this; for the most part, it was an escape from the arguments and the bitterness that still swirled around the house.

Steve and Dad would fight about most things to do with the harvest so it was best to steer clear when they were together.

Often when Mum was away, I would be called into babysitting duties for Margo and it was these times I treasured above all else. The chance to play with my little sister and to feel her simple love for her big brother; a love untainted by judgement or knowledge of the world beyond the farm.

I think this was the first year, we went in January to the Lake for a vacation, to a holiday cottage perched on the hill, overlooking the expanse of water.

It was close enough to the farm that Dad could come and go.

Often it was just Mum, Terry, Margo and I; wandering down to the water and enjoying this sacred time without the threat of a belting or an argument.

Books were consumed and the sun absorbed as we treasured these two weeks of wet costumes, casual meals and an evening walk for an ice cream after a shower and before bed.

Soon; It would be time for me to go back to school and my fears of a repeat of last year, would at times, boil up inside.

A quick chat with Bill would re inforce my confidence and I would resolve to never again display anything of the demons lurking inside my evil soul.

Love

Bruce

 

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Learning to live a lie

To the class of 64

I talk to some of you now on a relatively frequent basis, we relive old lies from our school days but there are some places, we dare not go.

The harassment stopped after a while, but my truth had been destroyed. For the next years I learnt to live a lie.

I became so very good at it!

It all seems so stupid, now; I meet some of you as an openly gay man, we laugh, trade jokes and good natured barbs.

Was it my fault, I did not push the barriers at school and been honest with you and myself?

Or; were my fears well founded and burying my identity, the best way to survive?

Would the acceptance, and joy in difference; I enjoy with some of you now, have been possible then?

I will never know the answers to these questions, but I do know my cowardice came at a greater cost to me, and those closest to me than I could have ever imagined.

There were times after holidays when we would be in the car, driving the two hours back to school when I wished for a car accident, that would have saved me from having to face my fears all over again.

Honesty to myself became an expendable commodity, even though the question of my sexuality was still unresolved; even to me.

The calm that had settled in at school; seemed to be a veneer and I lived in constant trepidation the bad times would return.

There were flickers of this happening at different times for the next couple of years; they were mild compared to first year but they brought all the old dreads to the surface and would cause me to be extra vigilant in preserving the shell of conformity, I had built around myself.

There are regrets! I wish I could have enjoyed my school years more, and; there are certainly regrets I allowed something that happened to a scared 12-year-old to determine my path through life, for many more years than it should have.

We were the products of our time and the prejudices of our parents, this was not our fault.

All the old enmities I may have felt about this time; have been eroded by the acceptance, knowledge and honesty I have learned over the years.

The harm caused by the hatred and bigotry of those years, seems so absolutely fruitless when we look back and count the cost.

The cost may have been worth it, if; these days were truly behind us.

The fight against bigotry and hatred has enjoyed many victories in my life time, but there are still vocal pockets of prejudice which causes me to reflect on my school days and the damage still being caused to the future lives of children currently searching for their own identity.

Best Wishes

 

Bruce

 

A school yard full of bigotry and ignorance

To the class of 64

With hindsight, it is simple to look back on those early days at the Farmers school and to understand, that most of us, probably shared the same fears and lack of worldliness as I did.

Some had come with friends from the same areas and most perhaps; had had more interaction with other kids than I, but; we were all locked in a strange and new environment. A group of 11 or 12 year olds, striving not to be the one who would attract the bullies or bring unwanted attention to ourselves.

I formed a close bond with Reg and we spent a lot of time together, two lonely kids from different ends of the region clinging together against the world.

I had never had a friend and I did not understand the boundaries. I was intense and jealous; not a great recipe for a long time friendship.

By the start of second term, Reg had grown tired of the intensity and he moved on; carrying with him the secrets of our time together, which had included some furtive, and ultimately; futile, sexual exploration. This had been such a ridiculously, tiny part of our time as friends that I had no reason to fear it would ever see the light of day again.

It was a Sunday night in Autumn, the chill winds of the western plains had just started to replace the searing heat of summer and we were being ordered into line at the side of the school hall for Movie night. These were generally some old B grade flick deemed suitable for kids; meaning they either involved some sporting triumph, some motor racing through the deserts of America or they were some tattered old English comedy routine.

We were jostling for position and trying to sit with whoever was in favor at the time; it was at times like this when I missed the regularity and warmth of knowing Reg was by my side.

Suddenly; I was being jostled, and the ugly epithet “Poofter” was being spat in my face; Reg had obviously confided in someone about our fledgling attempts to understand our anatomy and now I was to face the opprobrium of the bullies.

I sat through the movie holding back tears; as my chair was roughly pushed in the darkness and I could hear the ugly rumor doing the rounds in whispered outrage.

I was not even certain what being a “poofter” entailed; I just knew that in this hothouse environment it was just about the worst possible thing you could be accused of.

The movie ended and I walked back to the dormitory, deliberately trying to avoid all of you, I quickly cleaned my teeth and sought the haven of my bed.

There were twelve of us in the dormitory and I tried to sleep with the chatter of my vileness being secretly spread and dissected by various experts on sexual perversion. Occasionally; some heroic soul would brave being caught by the teacher on duty or a prefect; and get out of his own bed to come and prod my prostate form, hissing the dreaded word and being rewarded by the muffed laughter of the others in the room.

The fear of that night has never left me, eventually, the sobs of utter degradation gave way to a fitful sleep and I dared to dream it had been a nightmare.

The nightmare became real again next morning, I went to the showers with the words; “dirty, filthy poofter” ringing in my ears, the lineup for breakfast was a conga line of kids pushing and shoving at me, the dining room, to my ears at least; seemed to reverberate with the news of my heinous crime.

Classes became the only safe haven; I was first in and last out, something of a reversal!

For the next weeks, the abuse was unremitting, I was pissed on in the showers, spat on, punched, sworn at and treated with disgust and loathing.

I would try to go to bed and the hyenas would surround me, they would push me down on the bed and I would hear the crack of the eggs or the squelch of the cow shit they had put in there – I would be forced to lie in this filth all night.

Later the next day, I would surreptitiously change the sheets and sneak to the bathroom and try to wash the dirty ones in the basins, if I was caught by a teacher or prefect I would tell them I had wet the bed – that shame was better than the truth!

I was 12 years old, I was alone, I had no one to turn to, and in truth; the shame and the self-loathing, the fear of being weak, the disgrace to the family would have stopped me from talking, even if there had been someone.

It was the worst of times; the thought of running away filled my mind, but that would have shamed the family and, if there was one lesson I had learned well; it was that you did not bring shame on our family.

I thought of killing myself but the disgrace of having a child destroy himself would have been something my parents could not have dealt with, besides; I had no clue as to how to achieve this state of nirvana.

Jerry was a prefect on our floor and I was ashamed at what this would do to his standing, we had never been close and this was another crevice in our relationship; he did however, at one stage; ask me how I was doing;

“I am tough, it will be OK” he accepted that and walked away, possibly the biggest lie I had ever uttered.

There were some of you who made some surreptitious attempts to ease the pain and I appreciated that, but the tsunami of disgust and anger was too big for anyone to fight against.

Slowly over a period of two weeks, the shrillness died down and I could sleep again, but; the shame of this episode would never leave me and even to write about it now, is hard.

I learnt to survive and adapt, I had to for the next six years I spent with you all; I learnt the lessons so well, I would continue to live a lie for the next 25 years.

There are some things you never truly leave behind.

Regards

 

Bruce

Learning to adapt, scared and lonely

To the class of 64

My first weeks at the Farmers school were a mixture of new experiences and a deep longing for home.

The regimentation of having to make your bed in a certain way, of having your locker inspected for the way you folded your clothes, of having fingernails and shoes inspected at every opportunity; combined with the punishment which went with failure on any of these scores, made the adaptation to a routine an arduous and difficult process

Why someone should be caned for not having perfect hospital corners on a bed, or; not having their tie done in a perfect Windsor knot is completely beyond me; even more difficult to comprehend was the enthusiasm for meting out these punishments shared by prefects and Teachers.

The longing for home was devastating; even the sight of my parents arguing furiously would have been a welcome diversion from the flurry of petty rules, I now had to negotiate.

I missed the rolling hills and the sounds of the Farm, I craved the lost solitude and the silence, I yearned for the freedom of the ride home from school in the afternoons.

Hardest of all was the experience of being surrounded for 24 hours a day by 350 other boys, most of whom I had nothing in common with, there was no escape from the incessant humanity.

You were forced to conform to a set of rules and a code of behavior. The second year boys had been bullied mercilessly in their first year, and now it was their turn to exercise their latent sadism.

Beatings for the most trivial of offences were commonplace; this made the beltings we had experienced as kids on the farm seem reasonable, at least then; it was your parents dishing out the punishment and somehow, that was more right than being surrounded by a group of second year students with no agenda other than to humiliate and to hurt.

The fact this bullying seemed to be condoned by Teachers and Prefects alike, seemed alien to me; my father may have been prone to whipping off his belt and giving us a hell of a hiding, but he would not have tolerated a complete stranger belting his children for no reason.

The agricultural aspect of the school meant that the tasks of working in the dairy, the poultry shed, the vegetable garden, the piggery and assorted other enterprises were allocated to the boys under the loose supervision of the farm workers.

These Stocks, as they were called, lasted for a week at a time and each boy was assigned at least two stocks per term, this involved getting up in the pre dawn hours and working on your allocated stock for an hour or 90 minutes before school; this was repeated in the afternoon when you went straight from the classroom to your particular task.

As the youngest boys on these assignments and given their isolation from the main student body, woe betide any poor bastard, who draw the short straw to work alongside a particularly vicious or sadistic second or third former.

I know many people have better memories of their time at the Farmer’s School, than I; this had a lot to do with their skill with a cricket bat, a rugby ball and, in some cases; their aptitude for music or even perhaps; schoolwork.

There were of course, other kids not naturally gifted in any particular way, who were gregarious by nature, their skill with words and their natural warmth endeared them to all.

I was a boy better suited to my own company, I did not possess any great skills and I was certainly not gregarious.

These first months at the Farmers School were to set the tone for the rest of my next six years in this place, but; worse was to come before things got any better, as they did eventually.

Desolation would be a simple word to describe the pain of a painfully shy, and socially bereft 12-year-old forced to share his life with hundreds of boys, locked away in an isolated oasis.

I now know some of you, as men whose company I enjoy, and; whose warmth and intellect are very dear to me.

An open man has few enemies, certainly among those who matter to him; but a locked child had many.

Hope you are all well

 

Bruce

The fog of Brexit, Trump and our looming plebiscite

The world is still reeling over Britain’s decision to exit the European Union. Seemingly, a result driven by a reactionary push to try to restore the old world order.

Donald Trump goes to Scotland and boasts of how this result echoes his own campaign for nationalism and the closing of borders, there was one small problem with this; he was in Scotland which overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU; The Donald has never been too good at Geography!

Here in Australia; Mark Kenny writes in the SMH on Saturday, about a secret move within the coalition to not bind its members to supporting gay marriage even if; the totally fruitless plebiscite says that the majority of Australians are in favor.

One can well ask; what is the point of this costly and divisive diversion??  I sent off a letter to the Herald.

letters@smh.com.au’ <letters@smh.com.au>
Dear Sir / Madam

I once read that the reason a well ventilated bathroom, will fog up after the shower is turned off, is because the heat and the movement while it is on, keeps the fog at bay.

What an analogy for the current turmoil in Britain over Brexit, the looming election in Australia and of course, the big one; the coming American election.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump not only share a striking physical resemblance, but also; a stunningly, simplistic gift for generating enormous heat and movement. The only trouble is; that after all their heat and movement, the fog will set in, as it has now done in Britain, and is sure to do in America if Trump is elected. My daughter in England woke up on Saturday morning with foggy confusion as the order of the day.

In Australia, the fog has been held at bay by a tepid Turnbull, but after the election; when the Coalitions’ majority has been substantially reduced, the ugly heads of the reactionaries will reappear and the fog over Climate Change, Gay marriage and a host of other issues, that used to be close to Malcolm’s heart, will thicken.

Already; as the heat and wind of the election campaigns winds down, the mirror is fogging up as Mark Kenny wrote in Saturday’s Herald. His piece was reinforced by the reactionary Eric Abetz’s, comment at the bottom of the same page. When asked, would he vote for gay marriage if the looming plebiscite was successful? he cryptically said; “There are too many hypotheticals at this stage, to lock myself in”

Get ready for the fog folks; remember the crystal clear pledges before the last election in regard to the ABC, Pensions etc.

The Emperor has new clothes, but the ugliness still lurks under the prettier finery.

Bruce

My New School – uncertainty, fear and hope

To the class of 1964

We arrived in dribs and drabs at the Farmers School in early February 1964; another car would pull up in front of the imposing mansion that was the centerpiece of the school.

Another set of parents and another frightened boy would wander into the Principal’s Office for the official welcome to school.

Kids from areas as disparate as the Murray River to the South and the Lachlan River to the North, from the crowds of Sydney in the East, to the isolation of the far flung regions of the West.

There were kids from the verdant green of the mountains and kids for whom the churning, dust storms of the desert plains were their natural habitat.

Kids for whom the artificial green and fruit trees of the Irrigation Area were home, and others like me; who shuddered at the man made environment we were being thrust into.

We were the children of the soon to be successful, the progeny of the fading grandees of the pastoral period, the kids from the many small towns that dotted the vast landscape and the offspring of the struggling folk, who saw this school as the hope for the future of their bright eyed sons.

We sat uneasily in our blue Blazers and pressed grey pants, avoiding eye contact with the boy across the hallway sitting awkwardly with his parents, as we waited to be called into the Principals office.

There were the future sportsmen, who dreamt of glory on the cricket pitches of the world or of playing in the Rugby League Grand Final for the JJ Giltinan Shield; there were klutzes like me who could not bowl a ball to land near the wicket and who had never seen a Rugby League game.

Many of us had been brought up on Aussie Rules, we loathed the crudeness of this new body contact sport, we were soon to be forced to play; and yearned for the gracefulness of our footballers, flying high for a mark or kicking a “Speccie” 50 yards down the ground.

Where we had been raised had dictated our code of football, but this school would channel all its energy towards Rugby League and those of us from the South would have to live with that.

The strangeness of the artificial landscape and the code of football played, were just some of the adjustments many of us would have to deal with if we were to succeed in this new environment.

The readers, the more studious and the day dreamers would be the outcasts in this crushing new world of impending manhood.

The thought of group showers and having your bodily defects scrutinized were another source of anxiety for many of us, who previously; had never seen another naked body of anyone other than family and even then; had averted our eyes in embarrassment.

This was to be a hotbed of rampant masculinity and those like myself who feared exposure of our physical shortcomings, could only hope there was somebody even less Adonis like, who would ensure we were not at the outer edge of physical imperfection.

We were a strange, mixed bunch embarking on this adventure together; our hopes, our fears, our nightmares and our dreams were yet to be played out.

 

Bruce