About this book
In 2017, I went back to school. I was 36 years old. It wasn’t to live out a 90s teen movie plot. I went back to get a glimpse of Australia’s future.
What I wanted to see was how it worked – how people born in dozens of countries go local. How they come to belong, how they come to feel Australian. My inkling was that this alchemy happened in the second generation, in high schools across the nation. That this alchemy was important – it was where the nation was made new.
Middlevale High is a school in Melbourne. Middlevale is not its real name. I’ve changed the names of all students as well as other key identifying details to preserve their anonymity. Everyone mentioned has graduated or left the school. This is a frozen moment.
Why did I choose Middlevale? It is hugely diverse – far more than my whitebread private school. It was where everyone was thrown together and had to figure out the new rules, whether Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, traditionalist or modern, shy or loud, rich or poor.
It wasn’t what happened in lessons that interested me. It was the common spaces, where kids with Anglo, African, Asian or European backgrounds bantered, butted heads, pissed each other off, flirted, dated, talked shit, played videogames, fought, snuck in fast food, played soccer and studied. Fragments of culture spread. Anglo kids used Somali words like wallahi – swear to Allah I’m telling the truth. Vietnamese kids styled themselves on 50s Brylcreem Americana. Islander girls snuck ciggies behind the bike shed while their Greek mates watched for teacher. And come maths exam time, everyone swept the campus looking for the quiet, studious Ethiopian girl who knew the arcane art of calculus.
But overall, what I found was perplexing. It was nothing like a multicultural stock photo. There were real tensions emerging – race, money, religion – played out through hard edged banter, laughter and arguments. And it was by no means as simple as Anglo Australia v. everyone else.
When the year was over, everyone went back to their own groups – filled, for the main, with people who looked just like them. And I returned to my life, wondering what had been gained.
It took a month for me to realise the answer to that.
I’m Doug Hendrie – a writer + author from Melbourne.
My other work is kept here. I tweet sometimes but does that matter.