I’ll be honest: when I first moved from the 4101 to one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs, I was decidedly underwhelmed. All the things I loved about my former life – proximity to a thriving arts and culture scene, easy access to a man-made beach, an abundance of lifestyle markets, quirky neighbours – were 4800 km away. In this new place, I knew no one and no one it seemed, had time to know me. Seated in a French café, I called one of my Brisbane girlfriends for company.
“It will get better, Stella,” said my girlfriend. “Really, it will. When I first moved to West End (4101) I thought people were snooty and unwelcoming too. But I’ve since made many friends here. Life will get better. You’ll see it will.”
There was nothing I could do about my predicament so for my sake, I hoped my girlfriend was right. I went to a morning tea hosted by the parent body of Amanda’s school for parents such as myself, new to the schooling community. The principal took 10 minutes out of his busy schedule to give us all a warm welcome.
He told us of the school’s upcoming centenary and how our children would benefit from the many programmes the school has to offer. “I guarantee you that if your child stays here for 2 or 3 years, he or she will be impacted positively for life. Misbehaviour warranting disciplinary action is hardly an issue here – most of our students come from good homes – you’ll realise the importance of that as your child gets older, when his or her behaviour and choices are influenced by those he or she mixes with, and the vast majority (of our students) will go on to university.”
The claim about university might seem like a stretch in any other part of Australia, especially for a public school, but in our suburb, it is simply a way of life. It is the natural progression for children of highly educated parents, whose median household income is estimated to be well above the $150k pa mark. One suspects that but for the impoverished University students who also make up the demographic, and are thus included in the calculation of household income, the average would be significantly higher. It stands to reason, these are households that can and do see the benefit of proper schooling.
But just how does this translate into day-to-day life?
For one, even if the time-poor adults are a bit hard to get to know, the children have the most impeccable manners. There was once when Amanda and I turned up for school just as the morning bell was about to go. Most of the “good hooks” (read: height appropriate for little people) for hanging school bags had been taken and we were down to the last “good hook” available. Just then I noticed one of Amanda’s classmates standing there with his bag, it would seem, contemplating the last “good hook.”
To my surprise, he said to me (Me, a full grown adult!), “After you.”
“Are you sure?” I said to this seemingly very confident and gentlemanly little person. “It’s the last good hook.”
“Yes, please go ahead,” he said.
“But what will you use then?” I asked.
He pointed to a higher hook, which he obviously could not reach!
“Do you need a hand with your bag then?” I asked.
He nodded and said thank you after I’d put his into place.
When I asked Amanda how she liked school weeks later, she said, “It’s been good. No one has threatened me here, yet.”
“Is anyone mean to you?”
“No one is mean at all. They’ve all been very nice.”
I was going to ask her if any of her schoolmates have gone around shooting expletives, but it seems that in this land for whom none has heard of “gentle parenting” and the like, such a question is more than redundant. For the rest of Australia, for whom wealth is equated with undeserved privilege, such a uniformed display of good breeding is usually unheard of. Outside of suburbs such as mine, the common belief is that freedom of speech and choice is a God-given right, welfare is a basic entitlement, and people who pay shit-loads of tax are the unfeeling, calculative bastards known as the “idle rich.” Few see that in many cases these are simply ordinary people who have worked hard and made many right, if highly conventional, choices.
Take NAPLAN for instance; while parents right around the country are actively deriding the series of tests for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, many mothers in this suburb have bought their children NAPLAN-style practise test workbooks. They don’t say NAPLAN is backward or that it stifles their children. They don’t spout any of the common arguments against the exercise. Instead, we all compare whose kid had done the most pages, what books to buy next, when the next available workbook sale is going to be; all this, even when most children are bound for elite private schools and university thereafter.
Conversely, one might contend that it is precisely because of this behaviour, not usually associated with Australian laissez faire parenting, that the children are going where they are going. The rest of Australia may pooh-pooh at this, calling the children a host of unflattering names synonymous with “robot”, but due to the high level of conformity among inhabitants, welfare is almost nonexistent, crime is low to nonexistent, academic achievement is consistently high, incomes are well above the national average. If nothing else, the suburb makes a good case for a return to conventional values.
Three and a half months on, I am no closer to the life I once led, but as much of this post attests, have come to appreciate the many positives of living here – chief of which is Amanda’s remarkable improvement at school. If you had asked me a year ago what I thought my daughter’s chances of getting into medicine is, I’d would have said it depends on how hard she’s willing to work. She wasn’t at all hard working. I’d also have been the first to say, “My child’s not brilliant.”
We were consistently late to school; she often didn’t finish all the exercises doled out during a normal school day. This year we’ve been consistently early because she’s been racing me out the door each morning. She finishes most of the exercises at school because everyone around her does so too. Rather than report on how well her classmates are doing, Amanda’s telling me how she’s been commended for her efforts and achievement. There’s even a spark of hope in this old heart of mine that she might go on to land a scholarship in one of those elite private schools – something that if you’d ask me about a year earlier, I’d have said is totally impossible.