The past month in our quiet corner of this blue planet has been Sports Day season, and last Thursday it was the turn of St Leonards Primary School.
Striding past the playground equipment, all the swings and ropes stationary above their crimped carpet of pine chips, the principal, I hear Mr HS is making his opening remarks. There’s the compulsory coffee van, heaving cake stall, curved sweep of parents and grandparents, school staff and finally the kids all sitting on the edge of the oval, in their houses, splashed and smeared in colour: Patawalonga (green), Buffalo (yellow), Holdfast (blue) and the boys’ team, Saints (red).
It’s a painterly scene with the waving gum trees and grey but innocuous clouds down south and to the east, over those low-slung hills. Mr HS also mentions that for the first time there’ll be a Spirit Shield. I like this as it places value on fairness, humility and being a good sport, whatever this means in 2018. I reckon the kids will be able to show us through their innocent investment and unbroken quest to have fun. There’ll be no ball tampering today.
The healthy sense of theatre continues. Some of the students are bursting to move, to get up and tumble about with their mates like Labrador pups, but they remain in place. This, of course, is rehearsal for adult life and its various endurance tests such as waiting in a doctor’s surgery when you’ve exhausted the grotty stack of magazines and you glimpse the rising dark outside beyond the car park.
Advance Australia Fair begins and I’m pleased that it’s the modern, inclusive version complete with didgeridoo and clapsticks. Everyone stands, staring into the middle distance, the kids singing while the adults mouth the words in a way that would challenge the most skilled of lip-readers.
Having reminded ourselves that we’re in the most curious and amusing of arcane states: girt by sea, we then move to the second, difficult verse. I know I’m outing myself as an incurable bogan but just as The William Tell Overture instantly connotates The Lone Ranger I hear our anthem and it’s instantly the AFL grand final.
The final act in this preamble is each house performing their chant, in turn. There’s vigorous competition, community and connection in this. I look over at Alex who shouts the cutely warmongering words to the warm sky while Max is reserved in his recitation. He’s probably thinking of funny, alternate lyrics.
It’s been an excellent fifteen minutes in which the shared venture has contributed to the endless series of signals that is school tone. Having sat in many assemblies and public gatherings I’m warmed and proud that the climate here is eager and respectful. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
There’s a strong sense of inclusion to the athletic program too. Egg and spoon races, lawn bowls, tug of war, and a STEM challenge as well as the traditional pursuits. Alex first heads to the sprints, a track of about sixty metres. He lopes like a baby giraffe but covers the patchy grass surprisingly well. He wins.
This is a good opening but there’s an entire timeslot available so he strolls back to the start and a few minutes later he races again. And again. I can feel the parents’ collective approval as they scan ahead to the post-dinner, post-bath evening and the likelihood of exhausted kids, fully cooked, and in bed early.
I then watch Max tackle an obstacle course that brilliantly combines sack race, hurdles, running and crawling, commando-style, beneath a large tarp which has been pegged to the ground, deep in the forward pocket. Bear Grylls time. Jumping into his sack, Max is characteristically unhurried in getting comfortable and balanced before bounding off, a blonde joey in the distant scrub.
The tarp has had a long and productive life but now features a couple of long tears across its middle. Some kids exit at the first hole, others at the second. None seem to crawl the intended stretch, and I wonder if there’s a secretive psychologist on campus, taking notes for a longitudinal study on how these choices might predict future moral lives.
But, I doubt it. They’re just kids, having fun on a bright autumnal morning, and learning more about each other and themselves, while their loved ones enjoy these fleeting, fragile moments.
Suddenly, my time has vanished. Still immersed in a proud glow, I drive away, towards the city.