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Published: November 10th 2009
The entrance to Carruth House, where boys waited for their parents to pick them up at the end of term and on the occasional weekend home. My father was always running late, and I would find myself alone waiting - sometimes for hours - for him to arrive.
A man I could only assume was a teacher strode towards me purposefully. I'd barely got the bike on its stand and was lifting my camera to take a snap when he demanded to know what I was doing. For a moment I was 14-years-old again, and I felt a wave of resentment. Then I remembered my 59 years and as civilly as I could told him I was taking a picture, and let the words hang in the air for a few seconds before explaining I'd once been a boarder at Carruth House, Whangarei Boys' High School. I asked him why he wanted to know, and he muttered something about 'security'. It was the morning after Guy Fawkes, and I wondered if any former inmates had been threatening to blow the place apart.
As we talked, the atmosphere thawed and he offered to show me inside the hostel. But I declined. I didn't need any closer reminders of those depressing dormitories and of the years I spent there.
In retrospect, I was one of the lucky ones. Bullying was commonplace, not just the physical sort but the psychological as well. Somehow I managed to
A Rare Moment of Victory!
Winner of the 440 yards intermediate championship. Rugby was the sport that really mattered, but I was in the third 15. On one occasion, I was promoted to the second 15 (someone must have been sick or injured). I spent the entire game out on the wing hoping the ball would never reach me. When it finally did, I panicked and ran away from anyone who looked as though they might tackle me. Somehow, I scored a try in the process and had my only moment of rugby glory.
survive on the edge of the in-crowd of my year's intake. Being part of the in-crowd meant I was safe, but it also meant going along with and participating in behaviour I don't feel proud of now. I can only justify it by saying the instinct for self preservation was strong.
We were allowed home for two weekends each term. Phone calls home were discouraged, but each Sunday night we gathered in the prep hall for a letter writing session. This of course, was long before the advent of email, cellphones and texting.
We were encouraged to play sport at the weekends - rugby in winter and cricket in summer were the ones that counted. A few boys got part-time jobs at the weekends, gardening and so on. On Sundays, a few of us did our best to bunk church, by hiding in the old football stand at Okara Park.
The social highlight each term was the hostel 'hop' or dance held with the girl boarders from Lupton House, just up the road at Whangarei Girls' High School. For many of us, me included, they were excruciating affairs. We were pimply faced, country kids
From the Latin fidelis, meaning faithful or honest
living in a male environment and with no social skills to draw on. No wonder one boy, a year behind me, wet his pants from nervousness while taking part in the compulsory dance lessons with the girls, prior to one hop. He stood in a pool of his own urine on the polished floor of the hall until ordered off.
As I sit here writing this, I'm trying to remember the good times. But they are hard to recall and mainly have to do with the weekends and school holidays when I wasn't there.
And the other day, as I stood and chatted to the man I assumed was a teacher, he said it was very different now - especially the bullying. He said they had a fulltime 'psychiatrist or psychologist', he didn't seem to know which, to deal with bullying and related problems. He wandered away, leaving me to contemplate the significance of that. A fulltime counsellor? Obviously the problem still exists - 40 years on.
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