Last year was the year of high school reunions. I was planning on attending my 10 year reunion so I could write a piece about reunions and do an investigate type story of “Where are they now?” “Did anyone invent post-notes?” and “Did the Wodonga 1 in 4 will be pregnant by 19 years old stat come true?”
But no I was sick and couldn’t attend and so these things remain (mostly) undiscovered.
And while I missed it, I did find myself enjoying comparing school memories with friends from Melbourne. While many things were similar between Melbourne schools and Wodonga (learning, wagging, wearing knee-high socks circa 00’s fashion) it turned out Wodonga was in a league of it’s own on a number of different things.
“What do you mean no-one set your loos on fire?” I said, “And you never had a meth lab raid next door to your school?”
My Melbournian friends are great, and I love them to bits, but their sheltered wrapped in cotton-wool-all-our-loos-were-fire-free education is worrying. Has anyone ever experienced true joy if they’ve never seen police bust into a weatherboard house or the delight of finding a toilet bowl which wasn’t black?
Sure, a solid curriculum focused on Maths, English and Science are a must, but there was plenty you could learn at a public regional school chock-a-block with wonky portables full of bored teens sporting mullets.
A truly testing, and fond memory, of the old Wodonga school-yard was when we had a mould outbreak. It was the stuff of absurd nightmares, and even now has me fact-checking my memories with local newspapers to make sure that my imagination was being fair and not stealing scenes from The Blob - which side note: I did have a weird obsession with as a 16-year-old.
If anything was going to be discussed at the reunion, it had to be the mould.
I was in year 12 in 2008 when the mould outbreak happened. We knew there was a problem, but we didn’t know how serious it was until they sent in mould experts from Perth. Mould-busters complete with white biohazard suits and breathing mask who discovered that the carpet, textbooks and hallways were consumed with fuzzy black mould. The unwanted spores had infested 27 classrooms across two wings. The whiff of dampness that permeated the school was hidden under the pubescent bodies marinating in lynx, hairspray and angst.
The school was promptly shutdown. Counselling was offered. Year 12’s were relocated to the local TAFE for a few weeks. Local media had a circus. We hadn’t received this much media since the high-speed police chase past the school, where rumour had it, the criminal had dumped the car, stolen a student’s bike and then hidden in the school toilets.
The papers ran front-page stories about the mould. ‘MOULD RAGE’ was my favourite, where the article listed symptoms like headaches, increased respiratory problems, anger and depression as possible risks from exposure to the mould. I recall a large swirly black mass pictured on the front of the paper, not dissimilar to Harry Potter dementor. A soul-sucking brute leering over the school buildings.
The local rag was nothing, if not creative.
Despite all this fear-mongering and legit health warnings, the mould itself was not a good enough excuse to get out of doing school-work.
It was just another day in Wodonga after all.
But I do believe that the outbreak built a resilience in Wodonga students that would set us up for the real world. It was an education that can’t be taught from books, teachers or Google.
During this period a student and budding MySpace rapper called MC Nforcer wrote a song called Olympic Mould (“If mould was an Olympic sport I’ve been told/ we would win gold”) and others considered careers in mould science. I like to think that a decade on one or two have found their way into that career and are now rebuilding schools ravaged by tiny microorganisms.
Some say that school is the greatest years of your life. You learn important lessons, grow awkwardly out of those bad haircuts and make friendships that will forever bind you – whether willing or not.
Looking back, I see that school in Wodonga was always interesting. There was never a dull day in Wodonga.
And it would’ve been good to have attended the reunion, to be back amongst my own kind, with people who truly get me.
For these are the people who understand the love of scoffing a greasy potato cake smothered in chicken salt from the school canteen before 9 am. Peers who remember the old school, with its mouldy heart, now pulled down and rebuilt all shiny and new for budding young minds with no respiratory problems. These are my school-mates who can’t hear the Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon without remembering how it was played repeatedly over the school P.A, every morning, every single day as some form of punishment for not picking up our litter.
Every. Single. Day.
Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameloooooon.
You come and go, you come and go
For my Melbourne friends, I feel sorry for you, I do. We can’t all be as lucky to have had this type of education.