Metal pole to face. Two boys in the year below me yet again engaging in benign, schoolyard antics. I was in year 11, sitting in my physics class in October. All I wanted to learn about was sound or heat or microwaves or whatever I was supposed to be learning in physics class. But instead, I was tasked by our physics teacher to crawl around on the floor outside and look for someone’s fallen tooth.
As I bear-crawled through decade-old spearmint gum and the remnants of someone’s Chiko roll, I wondered what my Western suburb counterparts were up to that day. Sailing club? Equestrian? Maybe they were just reveling in each other’s company and privilege.
I sound resentful. I promise I’m not. I only understood the reality of my high school versus others’ when I went to uni. And by that time, I was too blinded by my ineptitude to feel resentment.
The suburb I grew up in was adjacent to an area colloquially nicknamed the KGB. Mostly, it just contained shops selling exemplary banh mis rather than organized violence and sex trafficking. I’m sure there was some of the latter but I was far too involved in Vietnamese sandwich connoisseurship to notice any of that. In fact, I was pretty much oblivious to anything untoward about where I grew up.
Until uni. I went to a university where at least 70% of the students came from private schools. In the course I studied, an even higher proportion came from private schools. I struggled with a minor inferiority complex for a while until I realized I hadn’t paid $30 000 a year for my secondary education like most of my peers.
In fact, the extent of my smugness only grew as I progressed through uni. For example, a friend did a GP placement at one of the clinics in my suburb. He told me how he had been scared to walk around the streets during daytime. I thought he was being ridiculous. And then I realized I could use my supposed underprivileged upbringing to my advantage. I could pretend to have street cred.
This was a major turning point for me. Finally, all those years of communal blazers when we went to inter-school debating and vegemite-smeared bathroom handles would be an asset. I was a hardened individual.
I had an arsenal of experiences before me. Sure, kids who went to bourgeois high schools had actually had the money to indulge in drugs. But they hadn’t walked the cold, hard streets of my suburb like I had.
I’d been 14 and walking home from school. Full of innocent naivete and a penchant for Golden Gaytimes. Until a man in fluorescent high-vis gear approached me. He smiled and I thought to myself what a nice electrician this surely was. The next second, I was faced with a dick and pair of balls. Flaccid too, I realize in retrospect. Only now am I genuinely insulted.
I have since moved out of the suburb of my youth. Now I live in a suburb full of cute young families and subpar banh mis. It’s nice but it’s not the same. I haven’t been flashed at all.
Arguably, I am now living the life of someone who grew up in a more privileged position than I did. I work next to other junior doctors who had customised socks at school and pools instead of uneven ovals where the rain accumulated.
Now, we’re the same. Except I have street cred.