John Clare Writings

Right Thinking

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My aunt Joan in her late days was very loyal to Channel 7 here in Sydney. I watched it with her once a week when she could no longer go for a walk with her dog and myself. The dog and I went without her around Castle Cove and we often played soccer in her lounge room. The dog came so close to grasping the rules it was freakish. This was the only thing that could distract her for long from the television. Both of them have died. Sometimes I still watch Sunrise with Koshie and Co. Mainly so that I can check my antique watch with the time at the bottom RHC of the screen. Sometimes they have a brief debate on some issue, and for this they bring in three opinionateds capable of generating repellent indignation instantly. The other day they had two broads (sorry, too many gangster movies – I mean dames of course) and a chap of sorts who had a smart arse line in irony. One irony anyway. This is it: That it was ironic that schools now thrust moral views on students more than religious institutions ever did. You know what he was on about: tolerance toward those who are different – to foreigners, gays and so on – also climate change, but ironically enough, intolerance to climate change sceptics. Ooh he’s got his enemies there. Why can’t they give the students a break and concentrate on reading, writing and rhythmetic, as they did in the old days? Or did they?

Actually no.

First I should say that in those old days I did not object to religious instructors. Some were very funny without even trying. They had, ah, eccentricities. These were delightful to imitate in the playground. And some of their moral dictums were common sense and probably made us less barbaric and self-absorbed – to a degree anyway – than we might have been. The idea of a God who was enraged much of the time with certain electoral districts within his own Creation was hard to understand, however, but we’ll let that pass.

Moral injunctions? Well, saluting the flag. This was a moral act in that it signalled allegiance to a system of values. Okay, Americans were already overtaking the British Empire as curators of all right thinking: bravery – as in home of – freedom – as in land of. And so forth. We could watch that played out at the movies and in the comics. But there was no climate change nonsense. There was none anywhere that I knew of. There was concern for the environment. We knew about soil erosion. Yes indeed. Many native species were already fetishised on coins and in story books, and there was concern about their survival. We knew they were unique. Some were anthropomorphised in comic strips.

Around the stumpy brick piles beneath some of the old detached weatherboard classrooms there was marked soil erosion. A certain amount of our time was devoted to filling the furrows and pits of erosion with vegetable matter from the heath, mud and other soil from the swamp beside the school, and tamping this down with due pressure. We were told to do this, and we did not object. It was a moral act, surely. It was for the common good. We actually felt good about it.

Specimens from the abovementioned swamp were sometimes, or indeed often, smuggled into class by Brian Wells, biologist manque. When he was caught, one enlightened teacher would ask him to display these and give a dissertation. Later he returned them to the wild, though they were not always still alive I’m afraid.

That was Maroubra Bay Public School, established 1928. There was much there that I did not like, but much that was admirable. As I fly on my bike down Mons Avenue and Duncan Street to the beach I nod in that direction in acknowledgement.

PS the debate was on The Morning Show. I salute them too for Aunt Joan.

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