Posts Tagged ‘NSW’

Oh, NSW Board of Studies, hear my plea: stop forcing me to agree with Miranda Devine. The state of your English curriculum is appalling, and you know why? Because it’s not, in fact, an English curriculum, so much as a bastardised, non-historical departure into post-modern wank. Ignoring the hideousness of placing pop songs and advertising on the same cultural footing as Shakespeare, there is nothing elitist in acknowledging that different media are designed for different ends, and while it’s¬†possible to consider a level of¬†ironic social commentary in¬†Britney Speares¬†songs, there’s a point beyond which you cannot go. Unlike Don McLean’s American Pie, with its moving lyrics, musical historicity and devout poetry,¬†Toxic is not attempting to communicate anything below the surface. American Pie is worth studying, not because¬†it’s a song, but because it’s a good song, both in its own right and for the purpose. Toxic isn’t.

Because when you set out to distance yourself from ‘elitism’ and all its permutations, you are intrinsically negating the concept of quality.¬†The argument that all forms are¬†equal is tantamount, in this instance, to saying that¬†all examples of a given form are equal: that there is no innate difference in skill, purpose or structure between Beethoven’s 9th and the Coca Cola jingle.¬†Logically and intuitively, this perception goes against everything¬†we understand about the world. To quote The Incredibles, a useful film for discussing homogeneity vs tall poppy syndrome,¬†calling everyone special is just another way of saying that no-one is. And when you take down the jargon, the¬†oh-so-cringeworthy NewSpeak¬†in which you feel frighteningly compelled to couch your arguments, you are effectively advocating cultural assimilation. If there is no innate difference between the substance of Sylvia Plath and a Mr Sheen add – if¬†you take all the wild, ritous variety of the creative world and declare¬†it to be identical, forcing each vibrant shape into the drab grey monotone of texthood – then it is you, Herr Doktor, who are running the police state, garbing the populace in prison smocks and shaving their obedient, cowering¬†heads.

Board of Studies, some animals are not more equal than others. Power is also a form of elitism, especially¬†if it brooks no argument, and¬†when you actively punish students for disagreeing with the conclusions of the syllabus –¬†regardless of how intelligently dissenters might argue their point –¬†you are placing the highest value, not on critical thinking, but on conformity. Critical thinking: one of the much-touted¬†‘outcomes’ of HSC English. Now there’s an irony. Herr God, Herr Lucifer:¬†beware, beware. Your brightest students, the ones who care¬†about literature,¬†are the ones disagreeing so vociferously. It shows they’ve been paying attention. They do not like what they see. And neither, by all accounts, do their teachers.

Since completing the NSW HSC in 2003, I’ve been howling into the void about your damn imbecility. I have poured thousands of words, hours of my life, into trying to understand why, despite spending most of Year 12 reading books or writing my own, I came to loathe 2 Unit English with a fiery vengeance. Nobody would listen then,¬†because the views of a mere student and teenager to boot were universally declared to be irrelevant. Nobody¬†listens now, either, because I’m not a teacher, a journalist or a member of the Board of Studies. No – I’m just a literate, eloquent reader who’s been through the system,¬†who’s seen what it looks like from both sides, and has had five years to think about it.

And you know what?

I still think you’re wrong.

In fact, I believe it. Powerfully. Call it a chip on my shoulder, highschool bitterness carried oh-so-unfortunately into adult life, but the gauntlet has been thrown. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair, o Board. And I eat men like air.

As of today, Nathan Rees has officially ousted Morris Iemma from the NSW Premiership, with Carmel Tebbutt, beloved defender of education, by his side (Rees’, not Iemma’s). And I can’t say I’m sorry to see it happen.

What I can say, however – and will –¬†is I told you so. Well, OK, maybe I predicted Iemma would lose the next state election to the Liberal party rather than caucus to his once-loyal backbenchers, but still. Saw it comin’.

Between Hornsby and Newcastle in NSW is an area known as the Central Coast. Smack dab in the middle is a town called Gosford, which passes for the local Big Smoke; I grew up around there. As far as scenery goes, it’s a lovely¬†region – there’s gorgeous beaches, national parks, acres of bushland and a proliferation of Australian wildlife. It’s not exactly the country, but sometimes, we had lyrebirds in our garden, and every day we fed kookaburras and lorrikeets on our balcony. Fourty minutes north, there’s¬†a backroad between Kangy Angy and Tuggerah – more well known now,¬†since they built a Westfield at one end of it – where you drive through an overhanging canopy of green light, and where, if you roll down the window, you’ll hear bellbirds and whip-birds. It’s like passing through a Henry Kendall poem.

We lived on top of a very steep hill in a very small suburb which, unless you’d ever been there, you wouldn’t have heard of. It was originally named after a local poet, with a small bronze plaque to that effect planted firmly in the park by the bus stop. Halfway up our hill,¬†the houses¬†on one side stopped, giving way in the space of a few meters to national park and, just inside the treeline, a bush turkey mound. It was a fantastic place to explore, and, like explorers, my friends and I gave names to our favourite places: Swing Rock, Lookout Rock, Turtle Rock, Hideaway, Sand Cave, Water Cave¬†and¬†the Skateboard Ramp, which was a huge, smooth, concave-sloping wall of rock, with a ledge above and a drop below. Sometimes, we¬†used Aboriginal names: we built a rope swing at Jabin Jabin, and a miniature Uluru in the midst of an ocean of ferns became Lyaleatea. We climbed trees, made cubby houses, went on laborious treks, fell down short cliffs and, once every year or so,¬†borrowed parental gardening tools and spent a weekend hacking back the lantana from paths near the road.

In fact, as a child, it was¬†nothing but beautiful. Children aren’t prone to critiquing¬†the familiar. Changes to the local landscape had washed over me in much the same way that new furniture did: I noticed when it turned up, blinked for a few days, and then carried on as though nothing had happened. There was no point of reference or comparison – I’d been to other places, but that’s not the same as living somewhere else. I spent three years at the local highschool before, in Year 10, a financial windfall let me transfer to a Sydney private school. It was, in many respects, a culture shock. I’d thought about the Coast before then, but now I had an external perspective. I read the newspaper. I looked things up. At the end of Year 10, I did work experience with the local Central Coast Express Advocate, travelling out to cover stories with the wickedly-cynical-and-observant woman who¬†wrote the front page. And suddenly, things that had bothered me before began to make an awful kind of sense.

Because for all its scenery, the Central Coast is not a beautiful place. Traditionally, it has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in Australia, and¬†the second highest rate of domestic violence in New South Wales. Of girls in my grade at highschool there, five¬†fell pregnant before Year 11 –¬†two deliberately, as an ill-considered means of keeping partners or escaping home.¬†At least¬†four students I knew were¬†facing parental violence, and in all likelihood there were more I hadn’t heard of.¬†Our school was fantastically¬†under-resourced. And everywhere, you knew of kids who went off the rails, got hooked on drugs and hung out at the train station, leaden-eyed boys and shrill girls pushing strollers, the¬†needle-marks still fresh on their skin…

Piece by piece, I put my view of things together: where had it gone wrong? In modern times, the Central Coast was developed¬†as a retirement community – somewhere not too far from the city where retirees could congregate. The infrastructure was geared to this effect: chemists, hospitals, and a dearth of youth services. Then the housing estates came: the land sold cheap, houses went up, bushland came down, and thousands of young families began moving in. Early on, there weren’t too many problems, little children and old people needing, by and large, the same kinds of services. But the influx of families didn’t stop, and in the interim, their children were growing up. Kariong was a particular problem: belatedly, they¬†built an¬†extra primary school to accomodate the housing estate children, but every year,¬†it was more and more under-resourced, quite literally bursting at the seams, unable to keep up with the growing population.

My own highschool was resourced for grades 7 Р12, on the premise that each grade would have a maximum of 150 students. By the time I left, the new Year 7 had over 300 students, none of whom could be turned away: it was a public school, and the Kariong estate fell within the school zone. Classes equipped for 25 students had upwards of 30; at one point, the sudden resignation of a maths teacher forced the collapse of an entire class, redistributing 40 students across the remainder. It was the same all over. Juvenile delinquency was an omnipresent problem: despite the skyrocketing young population, there were still too few youth services and even fewer jobs. 

At the same time, beach communities¬†like Avoca were undergoing massive redevelopment – not for the local communities, but for the flocks of Sydneysiders who travelled up¬†in summer for the surf. Erina Fair, the local shopping complex, was an economic¬†case in point¬†– after its fourth major redevelopment into a Westfield-size complex (without being, in fact,¬†a Westfield), boutique stores that catered¬†exclusively to¬†a North Shore tourist¬†clientele¬†fell into a readily discernable pattern: roaring trade in summer, bust by winter, replaced in spring, roaring in summer, bust in winter, repeat ad nauseam. There’s almost no public transport on the Coast, which doesn’t help – buses are unreliable, and there’s only one train line. If you’re young and looking for something to do on a Friday night, there’s not many options, and¬†most of them are far apart. It’s one of the reasons that Iguana Joe’s, of recent ignominious fame, is so popular: it’s open long after everything else has closed, across the road from where I went to kindergarden, by an oval where the circus used to come.

The Central Coast has always had problems.¬†Some are considerably worse than others. But until I went away,¬†I’d only seen¬†lyrebirds.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable.

“There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

So quoth the immortal Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (original radio series, you novel-toutin’ apologists) – but I’m rapidly becoming of¬†the view that if a¬†spry mad-libber were to¬†replace the word ‘universe’ in the preceding paragraph with ‘NSW State Labor Party’, they wouldn’t be far wrong. ¬†¬†

Behold: John Watkins, NSW State Transport Minister, has stated his readiness to use WorkChoices to – wait for it – stop union action. He’s not unaware of the irony. And he doesn’t care.

It’s like the Damnation of Ruddock come to life, only instead of a besuited¬†Nick Slick Minchin pulling the strings, it’s the ghostly hand of Howard, dripping with¬†vile ectoplasm as it¬†emerges from the cooling¬†ashes of an unholy pyre. Morris Iemma has always resembled nothing so much as the failed punchline¬†of a bad joke, but in light of Belinda Neal and John Della-Bosca – not to mention the¬†repulsive¬†Milton Orkopoulos¬†– he’s started looking more and more like a real-world¬†Cornelius Fudge.

I never thought I’d say this. Lordy, how I wish things could be otherwise, but right now, I’m really left with only one alternative. The NSW State Labor party will lose the next election, if there’s any justice in the world. The Liberals will get in.

And from the safety of Melbourne, I will smile.