In Absentia

In Absentia

This coming week is Graduation Week for my Arts degree. I’m not going to the ceremony. Not out of any hard feelings, I’ve just decided to save up all those passage rites and go for The Biggie at the end of my Masters in Education.

I didn’t do a full Arts degree, but I did most of one. I made up the extra units from a Masters in Creative Writing from Macquarie University. As a result, my Bachelors degree felt a little piecemeal, like I was just getting the hang of it when it had to end. Sad, really.

At my first high school, a co-educational local number, we had one teacher who would dress in his academic gown at the end of the year assembly. Just one. A languages teacher. In year seven he was my teacher for French, German and Latin. Not much French or German. And really not much Latin, either. But I do remember learning to say I feel like a Tooheys or two:

In animae habaeo en Tooheys uel duo.

If I am remembering it incorrectly, perhaps the more serious Latin scholars among my readers can assist? And while you are at it, let me know how to say Beer O’clock in Latin. That would be really useful down at the Royal. Thanks.

I feel like a Tooheys or two was the jingle for a beer ad saturating the televisual airwaves of our 13-year-old lives.

I can remember our language teacher announcing to us that the beauty of this most modern of Latin phrases was that it scanned so well it could be sung to the music of the beer jingle. And so, after a few runs through to get the pronunciation correct, that’s what we did as a class. We sang:

In animae habeo, in animae habeo, in animae habeo en Tooheys uel duo. 

Try it yourself. I’ve chosen a 1980 cricketing version of the iconic beer ad, which comes from about the time I was in year 7. It’s all historically legit:

When I look at advertising like that I wonder how I survived the levels of masculinity portrayed in media at the time. There’s even a deliberate crotch shot, for those who don’t immediately get the point of what this beer/cricket combo is mostly about. Hint: it is not about the beer.

How outrageous to teach a bunch of adolescents a beer jingle. But…here’s the educational punchline…omg I remember it even now, 35 years on! That language teacher was an educational genius! He certainly knew how to use a repertoire of effective teaching strategies to implement well-designed teaching programs and lessons (thankyou, Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards, NSW).

Now that they have invented the internet, I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt that a quick, googly back-translation of the beery Latin phrase he taught is:

“Or two of them, that I have added to Toohey”

I’m pleased with that. It sounds like Yoda said it. Meaning-wise it is close enough, and really quite ancient language-sounding, at least to the likes of me, with my six lessons of local highschool Year 7 Latin.

And as I remember, this language teacher was the only one with enough chutzpah to turn up to our high school Speech Day in an academic gown avec its own furry stole, symbolising his success in, as I remember, several Masters programs. And when I think of my future Graduation Day, what I find myself focussing on is the question of regalia ownership. Will I rent the academic gown or will I buy? Will I buy and wear it at Speech Day, not because I have to, not from an untamed sense of ironic distance but out of deep respect and acknowledgment for the one who taught me my first Latin phrase?

By the way, I google-translated beer o’clock into Latin, and apparently it is nona Bersabee

I’ll make sure I use the phrase next week when I am down the local, celebrating my graduation in absentia. 


[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]


Now HECS census date has come and gone

Now HECS census date has come and gone

That’s it now. HECS census date, March 31st, has come and gone. I am financially committed to the course units I am currently enrolled in. No turning back, no turning back without financial disincentives.

The first undergraduate study I did was in Nursing. In 1989. At the time, in other states of Australia nursing was still being taught in hospitals and it was deemed inequitable to be charging us for learning that others were being paid for. We New South Wales undergrad nurses were given a free ride as all around us physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and ophthalmology students were filed into the beginnings of a beneficiary-pays system. I remember snickering behind their backs. In an empathetic, nursey kind of way.

For those outside Australia, HECS (the Higher Education Contribution Scheme) is a system of paying back some of the costs of your university degree through the tax system, once your income is high enough, i.e. once you are considered to be receiving a financial benefit from your studies. As it stands it is relatively fair, but change a few numbers and the system is primed and ready to disadvantage the poor, the sick, the disabled, the female. As you can imagine, it is the battleground of considerable political struggle, and you can probably already guess on which side of the line I stand. If not, let me remind you that I once wrote something for the Labor Herald.

In the early seventies, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam shoved Australian society into a large mason jar, screwed on the lid and shook the contents. Really quite hard. The jar was opened and tipped and the contents spread along the kitchen bench of political reform. “Ta da!” said Gough, ending conscription and the death penalty and delivering everything from hospitals for Western Sydney to maternity leave for Commonwealth employees. One of the magnificent changes wrought was fee-free higher education. And the children of Australia’s less well-off were given access to a world of critical thinking and argument that has caused no end of irritation to the priviledged end of town ever since. Oh how I love my country. And Gough. (If you want to spend more time, and I’m sure you do, admiring Gough’s chutzpah you can read about his political legacy at Whitlam Institute, which is part of Western Sydney University.)

Oh how I love my country. And oh how I believe that higher education should remain within reach of people living with disadvantages, because there are more social gains to be made that only today’s batch of disadvantaged kids will be able to get educated on, fight for and win. You go, kiddos.

Maybe that is why I am retraining to be a secondary school teacher. At Western Sydney University. Where yesterday was HECS census day.

Any time before census day, you can withdraw from your unit without the cost being added to your ‘account’ with the tax department. (So that’s four weeks of free higher education for everyone, every six months! #jokes…Although…).

And that’s four weeks for you to make up your mind if you are in the right course, or have chosen units that fit with your needs. Four weeks where you can be ambivalent about your chosen career, or just those language classes you thought would be easy enough (guilty). Then, as sure as Christmas, census date arrives and you are forced to decide if you meant everything you mouthed on about during the last month or if those were just empty promises to yourself.

You have your will I/won’t I moment, and then as suddenly as it came, census date is gone and your life now has a predetermined nature to it that not even the memory of hazy summer holidays can dilute. And that’s why I’m here, right now, composing this blog post. Because nothing gives your hobbies an urgent quality like the pressure to do real, intellectual work.






[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]