Soon after my arrival at St Francis Xavier's in 1989 it was announced that the entire year was going off on a camp. I thought that this might prove interesting, particularly as my year 7 camp had been cancelled when the Ultra-Fundamentalist teacher caught a few boys in the class snapping girls' bra-straps. Aparently this meant that the entire class was too immature to go on a camp. The rash of stories being produced in creative writing class about skinny dipping and kung-fu horror adventures on school camps probably also had something to do with it. In any case I was looking forward to the camp. This was a mistake. The 1989 Year 8 camp was to be where I once and for all confirmed my status as head geek within the school community.
Strangely enough the school camp was organised for the same week as the school swimming carnival. This was were the entire school was bussed up to the nearest swimming pool on a stinkingly hot day, split into four teams, and forced to race against each other. The nearest pool was next to a major interstate highway, up in the hills about 15 minutes from the school. To get there the entire student body would be herded into feotid busses driven by even more feotid bus drivers, and hauled up the steep gradient, the gears complaining all the way.
Attendance at the swimming carnivals was compulsary, as was participation, unless you had a doctor's certificate confirming that you were legaly dead. The school uniform extended even to swimwear. Both sexes wore obscenely tight green lycra speedos generally known as "Cock Jocks". Even the staff called them CJ's. The dye was specifically designed to wash out in chlorine, so they went semi-transparent with alarming speed. I can't remember who won the carnival, or indeed what races I was in. I must have been in at least one, I didn't figure out how to avoid them until later on. Whatever I was in, I almost certainly came last.
Once the carnival was over, the year eights were herded back onto the foetid busses, which were preloaded with our clothes and equipment from the morning. Most of us were hyped up from the carnival, and the excitement of getting away from our parents for a while. The fact that we'd have to spend the time with our teachers seemed to have slipped our minds.
The camp was being held at a privately owned reserve next to the beach in Clinton Vale. This wasn't too far away from the school, an hour's drive at most. However for some obscure reason the busses too a scenic route. The drivers were either lost, or trying to make sure we couldn't describe our route to anyone else. It took a good two hours, in searing heat, to get there. We piled out of the buses, ready for some fun camp activites and a swim, but were told in no uncertain terms that we had to put up our tents first.
The tents were large and smelly, and had probably been picked up cheap from the army. These were designed to hold about eight people, the school forced in twelve. We were forced to set them up in haphazard rows next to a strange building that turned out to be the kitchen and washouse. There were a couple of brick firepits scattered around the site, and over a nearby ridge a large gymnasium complex. It actually seemed like quite a nice place. That was until I found out what tent I was in.
A few weeks before the camp we were asked to submit lists of who we wanted in our tents. As this was early March, I had yet to actually learn who everyone was, so I didn't submit a list. This was a mistake as I ended up in a tent with the one person in the year I did know by name and didn't want to share living quarters with, Tom Yale.
Tom Yale was a rising star in the rebel class, and had taken it on himself to persecute me at any oppourtunity he could. He'd allready created and distributed a number of nasty rumours about me (that I was gay, that I was a Baptist, that I was a gay Baptist, etc) and was constantly threatening me with violence. Teamed up with him in the tent was Costa Machiavelli, a social with strong rebel tendancies who was also in the business of persecuting geeks. He had that weird social/rebel duality you'd sometimes find. One day he'd be friendly, in a condescending social manner, and the next he'd be beating you up behind the sheds. The rest of the nine or so inhabitants of the tent were general low level ne'erdowells, who followed Costa and Tom like they were gods. Which made things pretty hard for me.
Mind you I was making things hard enough for myself. We didn't have time at the pool to change out of our sports uniforms of polo shirts and black shorts/skirts so the first thing everyone did on arrival was duck into the toilets and get changed. Everyone except me that is. As a rather naive proto-geek I had yet to learn that the school uniform was bad. I actually quite liked the sports uniform, and so wore it for the rest of the day, while everyone else changed into more casual atire. The one change I made was to discard my sports shoes, and replace them with sandles, which had been the standard summer footwear at my primary school. As it turned out sandles were seriously out of fasion for guys at the time. Well no one told me.
So basically I was already defining myself as a complete Geek. Most of that first day was spent setting up the camp, which when translated means slave labour style tent hauling. When all the tents had been erected, we were fed some slop out of the kitchen, and ordered into bed.
Everyone was still hepped up from the trip (and the amphetemines they were taking out back), and it took hours for the staff to threaten everyone to sleep. My tent, being full of rebels, was particularly noisy. They kept sticking their heads out under the walls and talking to the girls in the tent opposite, usualy inviting them to come over for some "action" (while trying to get to sleep I muttered something along the lines of if any of them asked for me, to tell them I was fully booked to the year 2000. Costa immediately yelled this out to the girls, and I was rather annoyed to hear a chorus of "Who? Denys Who?" echo from their tent). At about 11:30pm Mr Rose the maths had enough and decreed that if he heard that if he heard one more noise from us, we'd have to move the tent next to his in the morning. As the tent was as far away from the staff as possible, this was a dire threat, and everyone shut up. Unfortunately one of the rebels had a habit of talking in his sleep, and at 2:00am, just as a teacher was passing on patrol he yelled "LET'S ALL GO AND PLAY FOOTBALL!". We were up at 6:00 the next day moving the tent.
But that's not too bad compared to what happened to my friends Guiliano and Sean. There was so little room in their tent that they were forced to sleep with their heads and torsos sticking out under the sides. The teachers kept tripping over them in the dark, and trying to force them back in. This was completely impossible, but they kept trying anyway. Sean and Guiliano got very little sleep that night.
The program for that day started with a forced five kilometre jog along the beach, turning back just before we reached the marina with all the interesting shops. No one was supposed to bring money on school camps, but almost everyone did, and wanted to spend it. We were then split into three groups, doing archery, kite building, and sand dune ecology. All three sucked.
There were only two bows and two targets for the archery, and they were totaly monopolised by the higher middle class and socials. I got two shots in the whole three hours I was "doing" archery. The kite making was supervised by a teacher who had never built a kite in his life. We were handed plastic garbage bags, some peices of dowl, a ball of twine and gaffa tape. The few kites that were produced were useless because there was no wind. Most of the time was spent trying to sort out the twine, which had tangled into what was probably a very complex fractal pattern. The sand dune ecology was just really, really boring.
In the late afternoon we returned to the beach for canoing. At the time I was quite a good swimmer and kept swimming out to the canoes and having conversations with the padlers, all of whom were freaked out at the distance I was from shore. When I got back, I found that some bastard had stolen one of my sandals. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find it, and (I'm embarrased to say) ended up sitting on the beach in tears. God I was pathetic.
The evening was spent doing "team sports" in the gym. This consisted of building human pyramids, and seeing which team fell down last, and holding our arms out straight at our sides, and seeing which team was last to collapse in severe muscular distress. After that we were marched back to the campsite. We got to bed late that night. Mr Feverson the art teacher made everyone sit around the fire, and tried to get us to sing along to American Pie. As no one (including himself) actually knew the lyrics, this was a bit of a failure. He then started telling a ghost story about the campsite, but was shouted down by the other staff because they thought it would make everyone stay up to try and see the ghost. He promised to continue it on the last day of camp, but everyone stayed up anyway.
The next day started early with a stupid sports competition on the beach, which stretched through until lunch. After lunch we were handed out more garbage bags, string, and gaffa tape, and told to make costumes out of them for a "fasion parade". Each student was issued with two bags, but someone stole one of mine. That, and the fact that there were only about three pairs of scissors in the entire camp made any kind of tailoring pretty difficult. In a fit of apathy I punched leg holes in the bottom of my one remaining bag, and tied string to the top for braces. I couldn't really see the point. Once it got dark we were instructed to leave our costumes, and head out to the dunes for a game of spotlight.
Spotlight is a capture the flag type game where a group of defenders, armed with flashlights attempt to stop a team of attackers from getting past them and claiming the highly explosive hurricane lantern. If an attacker gets a torch shone on them, they have to return to the begining. The highly explosive hurricane lantern was placed on top of a tall sandhill, and the attackers assembled 50 metres away. The defenders formed a tight ring around the hilltop, and we began.
Most of the attackers were wearing their favorite fashionable clothes, and were unwilling to get them full of sand. I on the other hand cared not for my clothes. While everyone else in the year dashed from bush to bush, getting spotted as soon as they moved, I slithered along the ground in true military fashion, and froze everytime a light beam was pointed in my direction. I scared the shit out of the other players, they'd think they were all alone until I twiched a finger and they'd suddenly see me only a metre away. I was able to slither right to the top of the hill, right to the edge of the defenders' clearing, without being spotted, although there were a couple of close calls.
While I was studying the defenders' strategies from behind a shrub I realised I was not alone. Lying behind a nearby bush was Shawn Bettar, who was also trying to figure out a plan of attack. Shawn was a pretty funny guy and as it turned out an amateur satanist, but for the meantime he was just as stumped on how to get to the explosive lantern as I was.
In a whispered conferance, Shawn suggested that he create a distraction, and while the defenders were busy, I slip in behind them. We agreed to share the prize if I won, and he slid off to the other side of the clearing. After waiting the agreed minute, he let out a hideous scream and lept into the clearing like some kind of marauding demon.
The defenders almost collapsed from shock, and shoved their torches at him as if they were crucifixes. He continued to dance around like a savage, screaming out the lyrics to a Metalica track (possibly Whiskey in the Jar) at the top of his lungs, and they continued to shine their torches at him in horror, leaving the highly explosive hurricane lantern completely undefended. I leapt into action, and launched myself into the clearing. Two of the defenders saw me and swung their torches around, but their reaction time was too slow. I threw myself down next to the explosive lantern and grabbed it, just before another attacker, also taking advantage of Shawn's distraction, lept into the fray. I scared him off with an animalistic snarl, and skidded to a stop, just as the defenders finally got their torches on me.
During all of this Sean and Guilianno were wandering around the dunes, wondering exactly what the hell they were meant to be doing. They'd missed most of the briefing and thought they were meant to shine torches on people. As they didn't actually have torches they just wandered around hiding from people, in case they had torches.
After my win I was quite exhausted, and sat out on the further two rounds of spotlight. I figured it wasn't fair to the other players to continue using my superior sneaking skills anyway.
Once the games were completed we were rounded up and returned to the camp for the garbage bag fashion parade. My bag with holes for the legs failed to go down well, the winner (as I recall it) was a guy who'd made a one peice female swimsuit with big breasts, and danced around like Frankenfurter. The low-brows just love transvestite humour. The prizes for the parade, and spotlight were then handed out. They were a single mars bar each. What a gyp! I'd got my clothes and ears full of sand for a half a chocolate bar. As it turned out, Shawn declined his half, so I did get to eat the entire thing myself.
As it was the final night of the camp, we were herded into an open area next to the carpark and a bedsheet was pinned between two trees for a movie. It was a print of The Princess Bride, which I quite enjoyed because Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) did the soundtrack. I also enjoyed the detoutment in the poison scene. I was one of the few students who managed to stay awake for the entire thing.
Sean also enjoyed the film very much, but for rather different reasons. In circumstances that remain somewhat obscure even a decade later he ended up watching it snuggled up with the fairly attractive Penny Troy. He kept reminding us of this at every opportunity for the next few months.
The next morning we had to pack up the tents. At least those of us who hung around packed up the tents. A lot of the year scarpered off to the beach after doing about five minute's work. They returned an hour later, just in time to watch us hauling the tents onto the trucks. We were then herded onto the bus, and to the strains of Om on ma wee and Ten Thousand Miles by the Proclaimers driven to the other end of the campsite. We stopped here to lunch on ham sandwiches beside a stagnant lake, and Mr Feverson finished his ghost story...
A few years ago another school had had it's camp at Clinton Vale. In the group was a student who wasn't quite right in the head. He liked to torture small furry animals, that kind of thing. Also in the group was a really mean sadistic teacher, who like to pick on the kids (you can see where this is going). Anyway the kid was on kitchen duty, and the teacher was supervising, and being a real bastard. The kid was pushed to breaking point allready and something the teacher said made him snap. He grabbed a huge carving knife and he swung it at the teacher's head. He severed it, except for a little strip of skin at the back. You know how a chicken runs around after it's head has been chopped off? Well that's what happened to the teacher. He ran out of the kitchen with his head hanging down behind him on the tiny strip of skin. He ran off down the road, and just where a track deviated off it, his head fell off, and he fell over dead. Even today (here we go) there's this dark patch of soil where the blood drained out of his head, and if you go over there at midnight, there's this hazy shape hanging above it, which distorts the view like frosted glass.....
So that was the famous story. I rather naively actually believed the salient facts of the phenomena, and with the rationality of the Geek theorised that the dark patch was a natural gas well. I should have realised he was talking crap all along. We finished the stale sandwiches, and piled back onto the bus for the long journey back to St Francis's. I was shoved into the stairwell for the entire trip. Geeks aren't worthy of seats.
So that was the year 8 camp in 1989. In the space of four days I had established myself as a freak who liked the school uniform, wore girl's sandals (they were boy's sandals, but everyone thought they were girl's sandals), read girly poetry (I'd rather not recount that story), and cried at the slightest provocation. If I wasn't for it before, I was certainly for it now.