Morning broke on the third day of the camp in the usual fashion with the staff wandering up and down the verandas banging and yelling fit to wake the dead, or at least the terminally catatonic. We trooped downstairs for our cornflakes and standard briefing of the days activities.
Today was (surprisingly enough) going to be the reverse of yesterday. The girls would walk into town for the tiresome tour of the lumber mill, while the boys would be marched the five kilometres out to Scarp Pool, then marched back. We boys were leaving first, i.e.: immediately, so we grabbed the preprepared lunch packs provided (dodgy looking ham, cheese, and tomato sandwiches, with oranges for extra variety), stowed them in our packs, and sat down for Mr York's orientation.
This was, frankly, terrifying. Mr York seemed to have been possessed by the spirit of Indiana Jones, Colonel Perry Fawcett, Sir Edmund Hillary, or some other great adventurer, and marched up and down like a drill sergeant, informing us of the arduous trek ahead. You could almost see his beret, moustache and riding crop.
First we would climb the sheer slopes of "Heartbreak Hill" the steepest massif in the whole south west. At the top we would pause for a brief rest, and improvise stretchers for those injured in the perilous ascent. We would then descend the far side, which if anything was even more precipitous, until we reached the raging Murray river at it's base. A gruelling march would carry us through several miles of dense bush along the river until it drained into Scarp Pool. Here we would break for lunch and first aid, before retracing our route and arriving back just in time for stew. Total round trip, ten kilometres.
We set out. It took us about half an hour to leave the lodge property, mainly because Mr York and Mr Vinda had a big argument about whether we should turn right or left from the end of the driveway. They had a map, but disagreed on which way was north. This (combined with his puzzlement over the map to the Timber Mill the day before) was very reassuring to those of us who had Mr York for Geography. After a suitable period of pointing at distant hills, estimating the angle of the sun, and scratching their heads, they eventually came to a decision, (possibly by flipping a coin), and we headed off down the road to the left.
The group soon divided into a number of clusters spread out over about 200 metres. At the front were the Athletics, racing on ahead to prove just how strong and manly they were. Behind them was the bulk of the party who were in no hurry and taking it at a comfortable pace. They were followed by the Geek patrol. We were also taking the journey at a sensible rate, but were socially excluded from joining the main group. So we just hung around at their tails like timid puppies. Behind us was a small group of the extremely overweight and unfit. They were spread out over about 50 metres, their heads down, their legs dragging, their lungs wheezing fit to burst. The Rebel clique moved up and down the line, joking with the Athletics, harassing the Geeks, mocking the unfit, and ignoring everyone else. Periodically they'd drop far behind in an attempt to lose the teachers and smoke some joints, but Mr Vinda and Mr York always rounded them up.
After about an hour of gentle walking we Geeks started to wander where Heartbreak Hill was. We'd been heading vaguely uphill for a while, but there was no sign of the challenging massif we'd been led to expect. We collared Mr Vinda on one of his trips up and down the line, and asked him when we'd get to Heartbreak Hill. It turned out we were already half way up it.
To be fair to the Mr York, the trail did get a bit steep towards the top of the hill, and there was an appreciable drop off it's right side. But it was by no means any kind of challenge, except perhaps to the wheezers at the back of the party.
We rested for about ten minutes at the top of the hill, swatting at horse flies, and kicking stones over the edge. Eventually the last of the stragglers made it up, just in time to begin the descent down the other side.
This too was pathetically easy. We arrived at the river (which was quite calm) in a remarkably short time, and started following it along a pleasant hiking trail.
After what seemed like a few hours of walking we came to a place where the river hit a stony upcropping and widened out into a series of pools and rapids. The teachers consulted their map, and announced that we had arrived at Scarp Pool. Most of the Athletics immediately dumped their bags and lept into the water, only to leap out again screaming about the cold, which was quite entertaining really. Everyone else spread out and sat on the picturesque rocks that were scattered around and got out their sandwiches. The Rebels slunk off behind some bushes, from which there soon emerged a cloud of smoke.
Mr Vinda did a few patrols around (completely missing the rebel pot party only a few metres away) and eventually found somewhere to sit down. As it turned out with us Geeks.
This was quite embarrassing. He was obviously trying to be friendly and chummy, just like "one of the guys", and was failing miserably. We endured his attempts with forced humour, but were stunned when he suddenly stood up, stared out at the horizon and pronounced...
"If we had some bloody wood and some bloody matches we could have a bloody fire and cook our bloody food!"
We sat in shock, our sandwiches hovering in front of our open mouths. Swearing, even the fairly mild "bloody" was prohibited at St Francis's under pain of white card. And this was a teacher! Oblivious to our stunned expressions he noticed a Social disposing of their orange peel in a shrub and walked over.
"Don't bloody throw that bloody orange peel in the bloody bush!" he announced loudly.
The Social jumped about a foot and managed to blurt out a protest that the peel was biodegradable.
"I don't bloody care if it is bloody biodegradable! It's still bloody littering!"
The Social picked up his orange peel and ran. Mr Vinda wandered back to us, then taking in our shocked expressions wandered off.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. "What the fuck was that?!" asked Sean eventually. No one answered.
We finished our sandwiches, absently picking the gristle out from the budget pressed ham, and sat around looking at the "lake". The Athletics had come to terms with the cold, and were splashing around in the water, yelling at each other. We wandered around a bit, and just sat in general boredom for about two hours before Mr York blew his whistle and we set off back to the lodge.
We arrived back at about four o'clock. The girls arrived at about the same time, and there was a lot of confusion and yelling about how we managed to make it to Scarp Pool and back in so short a time. Apparently we shouldn't have been back until dusk. The map was produced and our intrepid leaders engaged in an animated debate with their female counterparts. Eventually it emerged that the place we had stopped at wasn't Scarp Pool.
It wasn't even halfway to Scarp Pool.
In actual fact we hadn't even walked five kilometres on the whole round trip. Mr York, his intrepid explorer persona completely deflated by the laughs and jeers of the female teachers and students led us back into the lodge.
The afternoon was filled with more boredom. We were still meant to be slogging through the bush at this point, so there was nothing planned for us to do. Sean attempted to whittle away the time in true rustic fashion by whittling a piece of wood with his newly acquired knife. From the very start this enterprise was doomed to failure. He spent an entertaining ten minutes or so hacking away at a length of tree branch, succeeding only in blunting the knife, and almost slashing his hands open on at least five separate occasions. He gave up when the humiliation being piled on him by passers by became too much to bear.
Dinner rolled around at the usual time, and consisted of the usual mudlike concoction that passed for stew in the minds of the staff. This time it was enhanced with extra crunchy bits from the bottom of the pot. Yum! Yum! Once we had eaten (or otherwise disposed of the foul mess) Mr York called for attention, and announced the Talent Quest.
It went like this. Each group was to pick a piece of paper out of an old beat up hat that was probably brought down to the camp for this very purpose. The paper would bear a subject that we had to prepare a skit on, for performance in an hour and a half. Prizes would be awarded to the best skit by a male and female group.
Sean went up and pulled out our bit of paper. He returned to the table and we unfolded it. There, in Mr York's spindly handwriting were the most horrifying four words in the English language.
TEENAGED MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
We almost screamed.
For the last year or so the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles had been chief bane out of the many banes of our collective existence. The country (or at least that part of it aged from eight to twelve) was in the midst of Turtlemania, and you couldn't walk down the street without some aspect of the nunchuk wielding mutant amphibians being forced down your throat. Soft toys, trading cards, action figures, clothing, car seat covers, walking frames, if you could fit a poorly drawn image of a "hero in a half shell" on it, it was fair game to the merchandising cartel behind the whole sordid business.
Ever since the start of the turtle phenomena we Geeks had stood aside from it all. We regarded the turtles as at best ridiculous, and at worst downright insulting to the Renaissance artists who's names their creators had so callously appropriated. And now we were expected to do a skit about them.
We retired to our cell to consider our options. Right from the start we dismissed the possibility of improvising costumes and jumping around shouting "Turtle Power!". We may have been Geeks, but we had some dignity. Instead, after a fair bit of debating, we decided to utilise Sean's uncanny impression of current affairs show host Derryn Hinch, and do a tabloid TV style expose.
Derryn Hinch was something of a TV phenomena at the time. His show (strangely enough titled Hinch) was a fine example of the gutter end of TV journalism. Each weeknight Hinch would expose any number of scams, con-artists, rip-offs and threats to the youth of the nation in as a sensationalistic manner as he could get away with during prime time. At least once a week he'd conclude the show with a ten minute rant about some insignificant subject, usually sentencing those involved to "the sludge file" and always, always, including his trademark intonation of the phrase "Shame! Shame! Shame!". Needless to say Hinch was wildly popular.
Sean (who seemed to know an awful lot about the turtles for someone who professed to hate them so much) prepared the script while the rest of us came up with the framing action. Giulliano and myself would be security guards, protecting Hinch from his ravenous fans. Craig would be a ravenous fan who would rush up at the end of the rant and ask for an autograph. Hinch would oblige, then signal for us to take Craig away for a beating.
Sean completed the speech, and we went through it a few times, making additions and corrections. Once we were all happy, we searched through our bags for props. Giulliano and I found baseball caps and sunglasses that could conceivably pass for security guard uniforms (if you squinted really hard). Craig found a notepad and pen for the autograph. We ran through the entire act several times for practise, and decided it was as good as it was ever going to get. To punctuate the point Sean stabbed his now blunt knife into the wood of one of the bunks. The end snapped off, provoking much hilarity, and getting Sean into an appropriately Hinch-like mood of sullen belligerence.
We headed downstairs. A few groups were still in huddles finalising the details of their acts, but most people were just sitting around waiting for the entertainment to begin. "What are you guys doing?" asked one of them.
"We got stuck with the teenaged mutant ninja turtles" we complained with sour expressions.
"Then why didn't you ask Mr York if you could do something different?" he asked "that's what everyone else did."
With horror we realised we were the only group to have actually based our skit on the piece of paper. And now, as Mr York was starting proceedings, it was far too late to change.
Needless to say, we were pretty pissed off.
The acts must have been fairly mediocre because the only one I can remember was the one immediately preceding ours. It consisted of one of the girls playing a fairly bland tune on the lodge's dry rot infested upright piano while the rest of her group snapped their fingers in time. When they finished the tune they said "That's it really" and scrambled back to their seats. The bored crowd clapped politely, the girls were handed out M&Ms and we were on.
Giulliano and I marched Sean on in what we figured was an appropriately menacing Security Guard fashion. It probably looked quite amusing. We then stood to either side of him, crossed our arms, and glowered while he launched into the speech. "Shame! Shame! Shame!" he intoned in the very best Hinch style.
The speech went remarkably well. Sean yelled and foamed, the very image of Derryn Hinch, and when he finished was rewarded with enthusiastic clapping, cheering and whistles. Which was unfortunate, because of course the act wasn't finished.
Craig ran out of the crowd. "Mr Hinch! Mr Hinch! Can I have your autograph?" he yelled thrusting a pad and pencil at Sean. By now the audience was listening to Mr York's assessment of our performance. Sean scribbled something on the pad and handed it back as Craig grovelled at his feet. "Take him away boys" he growled. We grabbed Craig and dragged him off to the entrance of the tunnel where we yelled, kicked the walls, and made general beating up noises.
We returned to the crowd, only to find that the next skit was half way through. Sean was sitting off to the side eating M&Ms.
"What happened?" we asked him "Where's our chocolate?"
"Mr York didn't think you deserved anything" he said, finishing the M&Ms. "He said you didn't do anything except stand there".
Again we were pretty pissed off.
The talent quest (thankfully) soon came to an end. The skits judged best by Mr York got the last of the M&Ms, and the group dispersed. It seemed that the Rebels had used up their supplies of narcotics the night before, because they showed no inclination to hang around the firepit. Instead it was claimed by the Middle classes, and as the same amnesty was in effect as on the previous night, we Geeks trooped down and joined them.
Not a lot happened down at the fireside. There was some talk of setting off a Luigi Bomb* but nothing much came of it, mainly because no one had thought to bring any tinned spaghetti with them. A can of Coke was placed on the fire, but the pop top gave way before the rest of the can, shooting out a half hearted stream of hot cola rather than the tremendous explosion everyone was hoping for. Conversation then turned to the effect of carbonated drinks on seagulls. The theory was that they can't burp, and would thus explode when the gas pressure in their stomachs got too high.
I wasn't too sure about this. Surely evolution would have equipped seagulls to deal with a bad case of gas? Carbonated beverages had only been around for the last century or so, but what about natural mineral springs and stuff like that? Then I of course realised that natural mineral springs are usually found high up in the mountains, i.e. far away from seagulls. And when I thought about it I wasn't too sure that seagulls drank anyway. They probably got most of their moisture from their food. Quite pleased with my feats of logic I returned my attention to the conversation, where several people were arguing over the possibility of finding seagulls a good fifty kilometres inland.
Alas there were none to be found. There was some thought that what would apply to a seagull would apply to any other type of bird, such as a parrot. A quick search for parrots was mounted by some of the more enthusiastic and sadistic students, but they failed to find any, most sensible parrots retiring to bed when the sun went down several hours before. So the effects of fizzy drinks on the well-being of birds (thankfully) remained untested.
Apart from that brief highlight the conversation at the firepit turned out to be rather dull, centring mainly around football and the sexual preferences of Michael Jackson (there were three main camps, arguing respectively for Men, Children, and Bubbles the Chimpanzee). So we decided to leave them to it and head back up to the lodge.
Here we were met by Peter Canning.
Peter Canning was a low level Middle Classer right on the cusp of Geekdom. In later years he was to become a full member of the Geek Underclass, although by the time graduation rolled around we were thoroughly sick of his lies, one-upmanship and blatant attempts to cheat at Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We continued to let him hang around with us because Frank Piccolo figured out that he could use him to save tons of money on AD&D equipment. A typical conversation would go...
Frank: Have you heard about the new Cleric Spell Deck? I wish I had that!
Peter: Yeah? Well I've already got it!
Frank: Cool! Can I borrow it?
Peter: Um, Ah, Yeah sure!
(Peter goes out and spends $80.00 on the Cleric Spell Deck in order to conceal his lying. He lends it to Frank who never gives it back. Peter completely fails to learn anything, and falls for the same trick the next time a new book or play supplement comes out)
Extremely unethical true, but if he was going to continue to lie, we figured we could continue to exploit him, and one day he might learn his lesson.
In any case this was all in the future. Back at the year nine camp it turned out that Peter was stressing over Allison Malter.
It was common knowledge (to the students at least) that the Rebels had spent the previous night down at the firepit smoking and drinking. Peter didn't give a damn about the Rebels in general, but was very concerned that Allison (who he obviously had something of a crush on) was putting herself in line for lung cancer.
I can't say why he came to us with this problem, but never ones to turn down a challenge (unless it involved physical activity, social prowess, or something similarly non-geeky) we decided to help. Over the next hour or so we figured out a detailed plan of attack (complete with charts, graphs and diagrams) to get Allison off cigarettes once and for all. The final planning was interrupted by lights out, but we went to bed with a real sense of achievement, and a feeling that we were making the world a better place.
In the cold light of the next morning, the flaws in our plan became apparent. Pretty much every step required one or more of us to actually have some kind of social contact with Allison. As this was, strictly speaking, as likely as one of us growing an extra head we decided to let the whole thing drop. We handed the papers to Peter over breakfast, wished him good luck, and studiously ignored him for the rest of the day.
This wasn't too hard because as soon as breakfast was over the entire camp was split into groups and forced to clean the lodge. We were leaving at midday, and the staff had decided (for no obviously logical reason) that we should leave the building cleaner that we had found it. This actually wouldn't have been too hard, a quick mop of the concrete floor would have boosted the cleanliness quotient of the place by at least two hundred percent, but the staff decided that we would make the pile of roughly nailed together lumber sparkle.
I was assigned to the kitchen, where I spent an entertaining few hours scrubbing stew residue off the plates. Whatever it's other qualities, chew and spew stew made a brilliant ceramic adhesive. NASA could probably halve it's costs by using the stuff in place of the expensive chemical glues that fasten heat tiles to the space shuttle fleet. I ended up with puffy, waterlogged hands and hangnails galore, but at least I didn't have to clean the stew pot itself.
Once the lodge had been sterilised to surgical levels, it was time to pack. Even in the absence of duty free stores and cheap souvenir stands the usual law of baggage multiplication had applied, and everyone had enormous trouble fitting their clothes and stuff back into their bags. Most people ended up recruiting a few friends to sit on their cases while they zipped them up. A few enterprising students started hurling their bags over the balconies, letting gravity do the job for them. At least I think they were their bags.
Around twelve the snorting behemoth of a bus arrived. We'd been told to wait out front for it, but the only people who listened were us Geeks, everyone else was having a final look around or smoke. So for once we were first on to the bus, and actually got seats. This unprecedented feat was not something that was ever to be repeated through the rest of our time at St Francis's.
The journey home wasn't too bad. The day was much cooler, and of course we had seats, so the festering conditions of the journey down were not repeated. The bags stuffed full of dirty clothes meant there was a bit of a smell, but we put up with it because we were going home. Home! Where we could sleep on our own soft beds, instead of paper thin mattresses on planks. Where we could eat what we liked, and stew would be just an unpleasant memory. Where we wouldn't be sent on forced marches through the bush. All things considered the atmosphere on the bus was quite pleasant.
There's not much more to tell. We arrived back at the school around four, said our goodbyes and were picked up by our parents. We returned to the drudgery of normal school life the following Monday, which at least was a relief from the drudgery of camp. Mr Vinda's stew, and his "bloody" speech became legends, while the talent quest skits were thankfully forgotten. The normal social hierarchy was re-established, and life continued as it always did at the madhouse called St Francis Xavier's Catholic College.
* 'Luigi Bomb' is Western Australian slang for a tin of spaghetti (or baked beans) placed on a bonfire until internal pressure causes it to explode, scattering the contents over a large area. Any possible connection to the similarly named promotional character for WA Salvage ('You sava da money!') remains obscure.