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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, […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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, […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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