While all the students went together to year eight camp, in the years to follow the class was always split up. I believe this was because in year eight we were still dazed and confused by the whole high school experience and were thus easy to control. By the time the year nine camp rolled around we had discovered our niches in the school community and were much more independent. The staff would have been at a complete loss to control all of us at once. So following a philosophy of divide and conquer the year was broken up into three roughly equal groups, and scattered to the far corners of the state.
The elite year nine camp was the Bush Walk. This was mainly for the Atheletics and other suitably deranged types. It involved loading the participants down with camping gear, and marching them over thickly wooded hills for several days, stopping each night to set up a campsite and eat cold baked beans straight from the tins. The teachers running the trek were specially chosen for their lack of skill in orienteering and bush survival, and the camp was specially timed each year to coincide with the first Autumn storms, so it usually ended up lost, wet and hungry.
(The 1990 Bush Walk camp managed to live up to this reputation admirably, getting so lost that they were only saved when Costa Machiavelli had a sudden bout of divine - or possibly diabolical - inspiration and somehow led them back onto the trail.)
Those of us who didn't relish the Bush Walk camp were split up and sent to one of two sites, Levington, a small town in the south, or the Eyrie, an improbably titled retreat centre somewhere in the northern hills. In 1990 I ended up at Levington. A few weeks before the camp, those of us heading to Levington were informed that the dorm rooms there slept four, so we would have to organise ourselves into quartets. After a bit of confusion over who was actually going to Levington, my quartet consisted of Guilianno, Sean, and Craig Monta, who was a gangly Geek towards the loser end of the hierarchy that we were hanging around with at the time. We had finally decided on this little gang, and were just about to head off and register it with the staff (it had to be properly registered, another example of the fascist bureaucracy that ran rampant at St Francis's) when we were approached by Jed Evans.
Jed Evans was the person at the very bottom of the social heirachy. The socials despised him, the middle classes despised him, even we despised him. He was one of those people who was just wrong. Everything he did or said was uncoordinated, dorkish and stupid. We Geeks may have been clumsy and uncool, but we were at least fairly intelligent. Jed wasn't. He was the archetypal example of the wannabe rebel loser. His hair was dank and black, his skin was oily and his face bore a permanent hangdog expression, no doubt from years of being the butt of everyone's jokes. His real tragedy however was what occurred on a sleepover in year eight.
Apparently for one reason or other Jed's year eight Religious Education class slept over at the school one night in 1989. Exactly why they did this is unknown to me. It was probably some kind of attempt at drilling religious propaganda into the minds of the class while they were in a vulnerable hypnogogic state.
In any case most of the students, including Jed, brought along sleeping bags. His was rather old and worn out, and when he got into it he found that the zipper was stuck in the open position. His attempts to free it in the semi-darkness of the classroom resulted in repeated jerking motions in the vicinity of his groin. The consequences need no elaboration.
Everyone probably would have forgotten about it in the years to come, except for the remarkably entertaining rage Jed would fly into at the slightest allusion to the incident. As it was he could hardly go a week without someone referring to it or making moist slapping noises with their lips. As a result of his reaction he was completely ostracised, and to cut a long story short couldn't find three other people willing to share a room with him. Finally, in desperation he tried the Geeks.
As mentioned we'd already decided on our four, and there was no way in hell we were breaking it up, especially to accommodate such a complete loser as Jed. We tactfully explained to him that we'd already decided on our group. He didn't leave. We told him again, less tactfully. He still hung around. We dropped all pretence at civility and told him to get lost, repeatedly. He remained standing in front of us with a stupid grin on his face. In the end we resorted to the obvious.
"C'mon!" He begged.
"No! Just piss off!" yelled Craig.
"Awwww why not?" Jed implored like a kicked puppy.
"Cause we wouldn't want to be kept awake by noises" interjected Sean.
"Wha?" Jed mumbled as his tiny brain struggled to figure out what Sean was on about. I jumped in to save him the trouble.
"Noises like this..." I followed up with the infamous moist slapping noises. The rest of the group joined in.
It was as if we'd flicked some kind of switch. Jed suddenly went from lonely, confused, loser to violent, red eyed, sociopath. It was akin to watching Bruce Banner turn into the Incredible Hulk, although Jed hardly qualified as a nuclear scientist.
"YOU CALLED ME WHAT I HATE!!!!" He howled in a voice reminiscent of a WWF wrestler "SO I'M GONNA BASH YOU!!"*
We were saved from the impending bashing by the timely arrival of Satanic Shawn Bettar, who had just been to the canteen to get some food. He chased Jed away and that was the last we saw of him.
The day of the camp dawned uncomfortably warm and sticky. We had been briefed to arrive at school at the normal time, but bring a long list of specified equipment with us. The projected use of some of this apparatus beggared the imagination. A pillow and sleeping bag was pretty sane, but a whistle on a string long enough to hang around your neck? Teatowels were explainable, but a waterproof clipboard? The total list was enough to fill up about two bags per person, not including any personal items we might wish to take along. Money and chewing gum were prohibited. It was repeatedly drilled into us that there were no shops near the camp, so there was no point in bringing cash. Almost everyone (except the Geeks) did though. The ban on chewing gum was presumably to avoid sticking it all over the camp site.
So we all turned up to school dressed casually as opposed to the normal dull uniform, and hung around. Looking down onto the quadrangle from our second storey locker banks it was fascinating to study the various costumes of our classmates. The uniformity between members of the same social classes was remarkable. You could pretty much tell where a person stood in the social hierachy by their choice of clothes.
The Rebels were the most easily identifiable. They hung around in gangs dressed in tight black jeans and heavy metal tee-shirts with long sleeved, red or blue checked button up shirts tied around their waists. A few of the more temperature tolerant rebels were wearing these lumberjack shirts unbuttoned over their tees.
The Socials were clustered around the newly constructed, although at this point still unroofed, gazebo. They carried designer sports bags, and were dressed in last year's labels. The more socially conscious (and rich) were dressed in this year's labels, obviously they were more worried about their appearance and reputation than the punishment their clothes would invariably receive over the camp.
The Athletics were dressed similarly to the Rebels, but could be distuinguished by their huge backpacks, determined expressions, and Adidas logos. They were going on the Bushwalk Camp, and had to carry all their food, clothes and equipment on their backs. A few even had pots and pans hanging off.
The Middle Classes were dressed normally by comparison. Jeans were standard issue for both sexes, along with a wide variety of shirts and jackets. The Geeks were dressed similarly, except for one feature per person that marked them out as freaks. It could be a large ugly jacket, a shirt advertising an obscure alternative rock band or science fiction movie, or just a really bad haircut. In my case it was the Sacred Geek Camel Hat.
This hat was a souvenir from the 1988 Adelaide Grand Prix. Representing Team Lotus, it proudly bore the logo of Camel Cigarettes (their main sponsor) in blue on bright yellow. I wore it everywhere, and when dressed casually wouldn't leave the house without it. It was part of my uniform as a Geek. It was a favourite game of the Rebels to steal this hat, and wave it around in front of me. Despite threats to set it on fire, flush it down the toilets or throw it onto the roof, I always managed to recover it, and it survived through to 1993 when I wore it (along with a borrowed tux) to the graduation ball.
At 8:35 the cacodemonical wail of the siren announced the commencement of classes, and we trooped out to the front of the school to await the buses. Most of the Jocks disappeared over to the assembly area for the Bush Walk camp, the rest of us divided into two rough groups. After a good half hour of waiting the buses finally arrived.
I'm not sure what kind of transportation the other camps had, but we were stuck with the diesel belching dinosaur usually driven by Mr Galley. Despite concerns about exhaust fumes drifting into the passenger cabin, this monstrosity was still in operation, and we were herded on like semi-intelligent cattle as our names were ticked off the roll.
The interior was cramped and noisy. The Rebels had charged to the front of the queue and were ensconced in the back few rows where they could do whatever the hell they liked. Those who had got in immediately after them had grabbed the rest of the seats, leaving the remainder to stand or sit in the aisle. This was highly illegal and extremely dangerous in the event of a collision, but was standard procedure at St Francis's. Unable to hold territory in the aisle, we Geeks were forced into the rear stairwell where we were soon almost crushed by vast amounts of baggage. Once everyone was loaded, Mr York screamed the standard lecture about not sticking arms, bags or other students out the windows, and we were off.
The journey was hellish. Levington was a good five or six hours south of the city, and the day was unseasonably warm and humid. Those in the seats could open the windows to get some relief, and the airflow across the aisle made things bearable for those up there. But down in the horse latitudes of the stairwell the air soon became stagnant and foul. We took turns sitting by a gap in the rubber lining of the doors where a tiny zephyr forced it's way into our prison.
The noise level was incredible. Periodically the Staff would try to quiet things down by yelling "SHUT UP!!!" at the top of their lungs. This had little effect, apart from the obvious one of momentarily raising the noise level by a few more decibels. They'd also try to get down to the back of the bus to see what everyone was up to. This was needless to say extremely difficult, the aisle being clogged with bags and bodies. In order to cope they adopted a general policy of stepping on anything unable to get out of the way, including students. Anyone who protested about having their metacarpals crushed by a size seven boot would be snarled at and told it was their fault cause they should have moved out of the way. The fact that this was impossible without some major revisions to the laws of physics was ignored.
All of this pain and suffering was actually in vain, because the furthest the staff could travel down the bus was just past our stairwell. The Rebels, in a remarkable burst of mental clarity, had grabbed as many bags as possible, and piled them into a quite effective barricade, isolating them from the rest of the bus. This allowed them to read their porn mags, smoke pot, and beat up any Geeks unfortunate enough to end up on the far side without supervisory interference.
After a seeming eternity, we drove into Levington. There were a few muffled cheers, but most of the students were half asleep from a mixture of heat, boredom and carbon monoxide poisoning. Almost everyone else was pretending to be asleep to avoid having to speak to their so-called friends, whose nerve fraying ability had reached monstrous proportions over the length of the trip. An atmosphere of muted violence had gradually spread across the bus as people came to the realisation that if their friends said one more word about anything, they'd be getting a fist in the face. Even we Geeks were affected, and were studiously ignoring each other while surreptitiously deciding who to hit first.
Just when it seemed that an outbreak of major violence was inevitable the bus turned off from the bitumen and onto a rough gravel track. The vehicle's lack of suspension caused a lot of bumping around which shook everyone out of their trance and alerted us that the trip was almost over. The simmering air of imminent violence that had settled over the bus like a foul smog started to dissipate as we anticipated getting outside into the fresh air and walking around a bit. The foul smog of exhaust and body odour remained, but seemed less oppressive as we located our bags and made sure everything was still there and intact.
Another turn took the bus onto a long driveway, twisting it's way uphill through the bush. The gears clashed and the engine groaned as it struggled to make it to the top. An abseiling tower loomed momentarily out of the trees, leaving the Athletics drooling and the Geeks shivering, before vanishing once again. Then with a final screech of metal on metal the complaining behemoth pulled onto a relatively flat gravel plateau. There was a final grunt, a belch and fart of foul gasses, and the engine grumbled into silence. We had arrived.
* This is a 100% accurate real quote. I swear. I could hardly believe it myself.