Monday, August 28, 2006

Not, perhaps, the answer they were expecting

I've mentioned a few times in the blog that I left school at 15. True enough; 1969 was my last year in full time education.

My move from school to full time work was mostly at the behest of Misery Guts though I can't deny that the thought of having money was attractive. If I'd known just how badly paid a radio apprentice was in 1970 perhaps I'd have put up more resistance to the idea of leaving school. By the time I'd deducted the cost of my weekly railway ticket and the board I was now expected, as a wage earner, to pay, I had about the same amount of money that I'd been receiving from collecting coke bottles and old newspapers!

But it was done and one has to live with the consequences of ones decisions. Thus began a series of attempts to catch up. Ultimately unsuccessful let me state up front. My official education high point is still merely the Australian Intermediate Certificate which is about equivalent to finishing American High School at the end of ones sophomore year. Um yeah, I did finish my trades certificate.

As for why? Entirely my own fault. The world has always been so damn interesting and I never really learned the art of concentrating on the one thing. When one is immersing oneself in German Romantic Music whilst discovering the fascination of cemeteries, writing ones novel (however bad it might be) and learning, belatedly, about the opposite sex, it's hard to concentrate on the specifics of passing an exam.

I've written a bit about Turtle Video in 1975 and how I was involved in planning and talking about making films. Quite a bit more talk than making though we certainly did enough of that.

At the same time I was enrolled in night school trying to get my HSC (Higher School Certificate). I did English and Music appreciation among other subjects. I can't even remember the other subjects! Our novel that year was L P Hartleys 'The Go Between'. I still have my copy from that course. Our Music Appreciation subject was Elgars Cello Concerto.

Oh, and at the same time, I had a full time job to pay the rent. And don't forget that novel I keep harping on about. Someday I may post a chapter or two but only if you promise not to laugh too uproariously!

As I read that back it feels, even to me, like a litany of excuses but I really can't think of a better way of expressing it. Life was 'busy'! So many things to do, to experience, to enjoy!

In the middle of 1978 I became aware that there was the possibility of entering university as a mature age student. Given that I was only 24 at the time methinks the definition of mature was rather loose!

You need to understand that at the time university education in Australia was free except for a student fee of a couple of hundred dollars per year. The rest of the fees were picked up by the taxpayer. Entry was thus totally based on academic potential with little regard to daddy's pocketbook. The student still had to support him or herself; the state wasn't *that* generous.

I applied and sat the entrance exam. Easy! One question presented a set of photographs of the San Andreas fault in California and asked for some educated guesses about what would happen if a catastrophic shift occurred.

Another question presented a passage from an essay by George Orwell. Given that I'd read that very essay in its entirety the week before and knew the entire context I had no problem. I wish I could remember which passage and which essay it was!

Having passed that exam it was time for the interviews. Thus I fronted up, sometime in October or November of 1978, at Monash University, Melbourne, to be questioned. I can picture it to this day; academics who I initially mistook for professors (fat chance). Methinks it much more likely they were post graduate students and tutors.

But they'd done their homework and knew my application at least as well as I did. I'd applied for arts/law and they went down that track. A lot of talk about this and that (again I don't remember the details). And at one point one earnest young woman maybe a decade older than I was asked the killer question.

'What novel have you read in the last year that most impressed you?'.

She was ill prepared for my answer.

'Portnoys Complaint[^]' was my reply (what, you thought I could go a post this long without a link???).

Some embarassed laughter.

I was accepted as a student!

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