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I went back to school when I was 36 years old. Why? To see how Melbourne's cultural diversity works in the schoolyard.

A book on the internet, set in Melbourne.

About the book

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What am I doing here? 

Why I went back to high school in my 30s

It’s the end of Year 12. I am 36 years old. And this is not playing out like I thought it would. Not at all. The knot of the year is untying – all the stress of exams, the pressures of school day after school day, the friendships that dissolved, the stealthy relationships flying under […]

By Doug Posted in Introduction on June 26, 2019 0 Comments 15 min read Continue reading
Chapter 1: In the Deep End

First Term

It’s January 30th, the first day of the 2017 school year. And my first day back after a break of 18 years. I am surprisingly nervous. High school never loses its terrors. The shock of the new, the shock of being new. I fret over what to wear. My wife can’t help but laugh. “I, […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 38 min read Continue reading
Chapter 2: The Kettle Boils

A week later, I get my first glimpse.  There’s tension in the air. Fatima is constantly in motion, impatient to do more, be more, know more. But she’s even more agitated than usual as she races around. There is A Look on her face. When at last I catch her in a spare moment, she […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on June 26, 2019 0 Comments 22 min read Continue reading
Chapter 3: The Pencilcase Riff

It’s an endless afternoon, and Zahra and Kadeer are talking race in the common room. I listen. Were there ever issues with race here, I ask. Zahra nods, eyes flat. Race mattered when she first arrived, as young strangers from a dozen different backgrounds tried to make sense of where they were, who they were. […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on June 26, 2019 0 Comments 29 min read Continue reading
Chapter 4: Everything is Simple

The school’s international students – meaning Chinese – sit under another tree nearby. Many boast on-trend Korean-inspired streetwear, black long sleeved tops with stark white logos, flowing pants, the look that works well in Swanston Street’s rooftop bars and karaoke joints where Asian-Australian scions play. It seems odd in treelined suburbia. Other kids wear tracksuits […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on June 26, 2019 0 Comments 9 min read Continue reading
Chapter 5: Flight of the Whites

A week later, it’s the school open day. Smiles everywhere, not a scrap of rubbish, and student leaders and teachers take prospective parents on tour. I trail behind the assistant principal, who’s mistaken me for a single dad. She aims for disarming and self-deprecating and funny. This isn’t a private school sales pitch – no […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on June 22, 2019 0 Comments 22 min read Continue reading
Chapter 6: Tradition and Modernity

The Anglo kids are hanging out in the common room for a change, casting the occasional look over at the Horn group, which is even noisier than usual. Did something happen, I ask. “Them?” Bree laughs. “They’re always that loud.” A kohl-eyed girl, Chelsea, mimics the Horn crew: “HELLO HOW ARE YOU?” It’s no secret, […]

By Doug Posted in Term 1 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 29 min read Continue reading
Chapter 7:  The Ballad of Aadan and Kadeer

Second Term

Over the school holidays, the events of my first term back at school keep circling, popping up as I’m tying my son’s shoelaces or doing a supermarket run. The easy assumptions I’d made aren’t holding. There I was, holding an idea in my mind – High School, the Manufacturer of New Australians – as I […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 37 min read Continue reading
Chapter 8: My Uncles, and Steve Jobs

Early June, 2 degrees Celsius. I half-freeze on the way to school. The wind has blown Melbourne’s omnipresent gloom away, and left that rare thing – a clear-blue sky. Pale sun, the city, hazy in the distance, new towers rising. Only the hardcore lycra-clad on their bikes today, leaving clouds of steam with every breath. […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 21 min read Continue reading
Chapter 9: Sir, White People are Weird

“Oh, these girls how they talk,” says Aadan. “Even worse than old women.” He mimes gossiping with his hands. I’ve arrived mid-roast, and Aadan is keen to land a strike. “This one is silent and dangerous,” he says, pointing at Michelle. “She won’t talk, she’ll just hit.” This one is half-talk, half-fight, he says, pointing […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 28 min read Continue reading
Chapter 10: The Bait on the Hook

I’m drinking tea in the common room one lunchtime when the careers counsellor pops his head round the corner. He scans the room but can’t find the student he’s after. We get talking, and he tells me it’s a hard sell to pitch VCAL, the vocational stream for Year 11s and 12s, to migrant parents. […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 15 min read Continue reading
Chapter 11: Just Passing Through

Exam week arrives in early June. The year moves on at speed. Stark blue skies, that sense of openness when Melbourne’s omnipresent winter clouds are blown clear, when there’s a break from the cold streaming up from the Southern Ocean. The corridors of the school are full of stressed Year 11s and 12s. The younger […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 30 min read Continue reading
Chapter 12: Between Worlds

Bleak City, Sydneysiders call us. And they’re not wholly wrong. Bad lighting, omnipresent cloud cover, grey half the year, sideways rain. That drabness that hides the quiet beauty of gardens and old vine-covered brick walls, treelined streets and alleyways. I step over a drowned worm in a storm drain, half flattened, and hasten towards the […]

By Doug Posted in Term 2 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 12 min read Continue reading
Chapter 13: Hard Jokes

Third Term

The Horn crew is in full swing, roasting Aadan when I arrive. It feels like the running gag in the school sitcom, the one steady, reliable joke. How were your holidays, I ask. “Yes Aadan – how were your holidays,” the girls cry, knowing full well what took place. Aadan plasters on his best don’t […]

By Doug Posted in Term 3 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 12 min read Continue reading
Chapter 14: Tight Braids and a Grudge that's Frayed

It’s half way through the last full term of Year 12, and Michelle is waiting outside the nurses office. She looks more hangdog than usual. Are you okay, I ask. Her eyes dart left and right. “I’m pregnant sir,” she says, mournfully. I reel. The implications! Michelle lets me marinate for a while before cracking […]

By Doug Posted in Term 3 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 11 min read Continue reading
Chapter 15: Full Contact Sport

Sukhjit Kaur Kalsa arrives at Middlevale High, jetlag oozing from her eyeballs after seven weeks touring the US. Sukjit, a Sikh-Australian poet, here to do a spoken word workshop. Fatima, Michelle, Zala and Zahra come from the Year 12s. The rest of the crowd is African-Australian too. Sukjit tries on her young person cred with […]

By Doug Posted in Term 3 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 19 min read Continue reading
Chapter 16: The Red God Rage

The year is compressing, gathering itself into a final spring into the unknown, and it feels as if bonds are loosening, fraying. I remember the end of my school year, that bittersweetness, as we sang, tipsy, at someone’s 18th, singing Green Day’s Time of Your Life – another country’s anthem of the moment we’d appropriated, […]

By Doug Posted in Term 3 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 10 min read Continue reading
Chapter 17: Who You Are is Where You Are

Fourth Term and an ending

For the Year 12s, the fourth term is an afterthought. Two weeks of class, and then swotvac, and then exams. It’s a fine day in early spring when I return after the break. Sun-induced smiles everywhere, the faint scent of flowers from nearby front yards, the light green of new growth. In the resource centre, […]

By Doug Posted in Term 4 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 7 min read Continue reading
Chapter 18: Freedom, Pending

It’s unusual for Maria to ever seem flat. But today, she seems downright mopey. Plus I haven’t seen her round much. She gives a thin-lipped smile when I ask why. It’s been a tough month, she says. Two blows fell on her, one after the other. Her idol, a hardcore US bodybuilder, died in August. […]

By Doug Posted in Term 4 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 24 min read Continue reading
In the Middle of Becoming

An ending

It’s not until a month later that I can take stock. After everything is done and the year fades away, after I’ve been to the school’s awards night and seen the Year 12s bid their final farewells. Seen Maria weep, Kevin chortle, Aadan swagger, Paul smile awkwardly, Kadeer glide past, Michelle beam with relief, seen […]

By Doug Posted in An Ending on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 6 min read Continue reading

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