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Kunama 1956

The Newcomer

While I waited for the Headmaster to come I had time to look at the school itself.

The two wooden one-storey buildings, the dusty playground, the low white fence, there was nothing to remind me of the school I had left. That had once been a monastery, with big, dark, humid corridors, large class-rooms with polished floors, beautifully kept lawns and flower-beds, which left little room for play, high walls shutting us from the world, and the great door watched by an Argus of a doorkeeper.

The teachers especially astonished me. Two young ladies in bright, flowered summer dresses were laughing and talking to pupils and other teachers. I had never seen that before! In France pedagogical self-respect allows a passing smile on very special occasions only, and demands cold, impressive faces as the utmost of dignity. To achieve their ideal of respectability teachers choose to wear dark, strict suits in which fantasy has no place, and they perfect their venerable outlook by carrying the inevitable brief-case, which is supposed to contain the surplus of the obligatory learning that their heads have refused to store up.

At last the most dreaded moment came: I was about to enter the classroom and catch my first glimpse of the ones who would be, for two years, my school-mates. There were more than twenty of them, in a small, overcrowded room I felt quite uncomfortable as I stood there in front of them all, holding a brief-case and a jacket, staring at the floor and smiling stupidly as the Headmaster introduced me and mentioned my recent arrival in Australia.

I was introduced to a girl who was to help me, and as I looked at her long plaits, tunic and neck-tie, I could not help thinking, "The perfect English schoolgirl of my textbooks.." And there I sat rather bewildered, covering my lack of knowledge of the English language by an embarrassed smile.


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