School reunion cracks the amber of middle age


I never thought I'd do the whole high school reunion thing. Yet here I am, walking through the door of the RSL, nametagged, and ready to literally face the music, along with 50 of my fellow Woodridge State High School 1985 alumni.

Stylised clockI recognise some classmates straight off. Others mystify. Teenagers trapped in the amber of middle age.

The bar's a popular disarmer. I go in for hugs, kisses, and clasped shoulders with some, exchange uncertain smiles, handshakes and nods with others.

The extroverts among us mingle, gingerly invoking abandoned dreams. Laughter ensues. We're lubricated by shared stories, snorts, wrinkled brows, starts of recognition; hopes and glasses raised. The music of the '80s haunts us loudly.

Those days are gone forever, I should just let them go but ...

Memory propels the sail of our union and we've left safe harbours. We float past those who praised, preyed and practised on different versions of ourselves. I am legion:

Yeah! I raced against you, I am told.

You were a muso. An actor.

You went out with her.

She shot you down.

You were a brain. A writer. A dag.

You were fast. But shite at maths.

You were the best worst dancer. A cadet under officer. A religious kid.

You were loud. Quiet.

Up yourself. Humble.

All true, all false. All describing a me that doesn't exist anymore. Does he?

Come a little closer ... close enough to look in my eyes ...

Scattered pellets of identity are flung wildly, curiously, as I reciprocate, blurting out varying yarns. Eyes dart busily from faces to name badges to hairlines to physiques.

You look like a Pom (my Melbourne tan).

You look like a professional. (I clarify; a gigolo? Sadly no.)

You look like a solicitor. A politician.

(The real politician among us, Queensland's first female Aboriginal MP, is a mate, and a class act of whom we're rightly proud.)

The nostalgia is easier to bear, more salient, when you overlay the now (double chins, tuck shop arms, beer guts, capacious cleavages etc.) onto the stick figures we were. Some of us are stunning, still. Most of us show some scars.

High school was genuinely hard for many of us. Perhaps that was always going to be true. Some have died. Some entered Boggo Road's then-penal walls. Some are still paying for decisions made back in those mid-80s.

... there's nothing you can say, snake eyes on the paradise and we got to go today ...

At my table we reminisce about absent friends, like the fella who introduced 'my first joint' to several partygoers. We recall parties, dances, skating, videocassettes, bomb scares. First jobs, first fights, first loves, first pashes, first times, second thoughts.

Perspective is not just our thumb in the foreground. The landscape behind us tells us much. We are all fighting battles. Making runs and trying to live the good life.

As the organisers note, the night was '30 years in the making': we are 'new old friends', and part of a greater story. Beautiful words. Community, even in arrested development, means something. This hits me harder than I'd expected.

I feel your fever from miles around ...

A 1980s Woodridge pickled in microcosm, we are sunburnt Celts, Aborigines, Islanders, Anglo-Saxons, Africans, Europeans, Asians, and the rest. One girl's raised five kids, one has three grandchildren. We've travelled from WA, Cairns, Melbourne, and five minutes away. Our missing mates are in New York, Austria and God knows where else.

Laughing at trauma conjured in story, we revel in our own fragile strength. Survival. Loss. Bittersweet conversations and notes to self.

The music floods over us, dragging us back (and the girls to the dancefloor — few boys, except for the odd draftee).

I'd have sworn that with time thoughts of you would leave my head ... I was wrong, now I find just one thing makes me forget ...  

Overcoming fears, dropping emotional baggage at the door for later on, we see beyond changed forms and recognise our younger, hopeful selves. It's more than I'd expected. Happily, it suffices.


Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for The Salvation Army.

Clock image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, high school reunion



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Existing comments

For some reason, known only to my psyche, I thought of Danny and Sandy from "Grease" when reading this article. My best friend from high school died at 42 from breast cancer. I send a yearly Christmas card to another. That's it. I do have a close friend I met at 17 and we're still close. But we didn't meet at high school. I have to say I prefer Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" than any of Danny and Sandy's songs.

Pam | 05 November 2015  

All correct. Our community (1971) decided years ago to always be able to help a mate so we formed our own little community to assist with payment of funeral expenses if needed, as well as medical expenses etc etc. Available to anyone who would have finished school in 1971 (which included those who left in Year 10 etc) we have been able to be a community as well. Tenete Traditiones is what we do as well as what you have shared

phil | 06 November 2015  

Excellent piece. "Amber of middle-age". Yep.

Peter Goers | 06 November 2015  

Well done, Phil. When I went to my first class reunion, I looked through the doorway, and saw all these "elderly men". That's not my group, says I. Recognising just one face, I realised that I was at the correct venue, and that at 60yo, I just may look a little older myself! Oh dear! Yarangabee!

Peter Roberts | 09 November 2015  

Our 'Last Hurrah' was a few months ago - the first Rugby 13 boys of distant fame. We rejoice in memories shared but are silent about mates missed from their place in our musings about the wonders of glories past. We connect, despite the yawning gaps and find solace and satisfaction in our common surprising love one for another.

Mike | 29 November 2015  

Do you know if and when there may be another reunion

colin quelch | 08 June 2016  

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