HomeLifeSurprising reason for wagging school

Surprising reason for wagging school

I feel sorry for today’s students. Every class, they are monitored, the roll taken and parents contacted when they are absent. What is wrong with this picture? The rebel and anarchist in me sees at least one thing – they can’t wag school.

Did you ever wag, pretend to go to school only to hive off with a mate and head to the beach or a movie? I did, only my destination was probably not quite as hedonistic or as typical of my age group.

A friend and I plotted our escape one weekday, pretending to head off to school with our casual clothes shoved in the bottom of our bags. We changed our clothes in the Ladies at Flinders Street railway station, and then headed out along St Kilda Road. Our destination? The National Gallery of Victoria, which had just opened to the public.

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It was a glorious building, quite avant garde for a Melbourne steeped in the conservatism of the 1960s, but trying desperately to become a world-class city of arts and culture.

We had heard the hype and desperately wanted to see what had been built and what collections were held there. It also helped that we had a fabulous art teacher who had instilled a love of art and beautiful things in her young charges.

Most of us came from working class families who had little interest in books or the money to waste on even a poorly printed reproduction to hang on the wall. Money was tight and the world was narrow unless you sat in that classroom and Florence and Rome enveloped you and Michelangelo and Da Vinci and others became your heroes.

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We headed into the NGV, dazzled by the water wall and then off-loaded our bags at the cloakroom. It was pretty obvious that we were school kids; our bags emblazoned with the school crest probably gave us away but the attendant didn’t blink an eye.

Our first destination was the Great Hall and the chance to see the Leonard French stained-glass ceiling. I still remember lying on the floor staring up at the brilliant colours, in awe at what he had created. It felt somehow grown up lying there admiring his work, a tentative step into adulthood.

The rest of the gallery that day remains a blur of paintings and porcelain, with an overlay of happiness mingled with fear of being found out.

I got home that day, back in my school clothes and my parents were none the wiser. Teachers the next day queried my absence and that of my friend, but our lying must have been convincing or else they decided to turn a blind eye.

I have sometimes told this story to my classes over the years and many students have looked at me with pity or derision, probably thinking that my idea of a good day out was seriously warped and distorted. Didn’t I know about fun and excitement, meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend and getting up to serious mischief?

Well, yes, but that came later… not for me to divulge. My first serious love was for art and for that I have no regrets.

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