Athletics carnivals of course, that’s the first thing which comes to mind – the primary school ones. First the faction carnival and then the inter-school. Allanson wasn’t big enough to hold our own faction carnival; we competed as one faction against four Wilson Park factions and we still always, reliably came last. But then we would sometimes win the Forrest District Small Schools Association carnival held on the double-geed ovals of little country localities in southwest WA.
In my year there were five boys (with occasional variations) and I was the third best at athletics. In year two, after the teacher named someone else reserve for long jump, I asked if I could be second reserve and she said I could. All it would take was two boys to be sick and I would be competing. When I got home, Dad was ten metres up the jarrah tree in the backyard lopping a branch off. I yelled up to him that I’d been made second reserve for long jump. He couldn’t hear me very well. Long jump, high jump, triple jump, even running – none of these things came to me like maths or spelling or writing or general knowledge.
On carnival days I remember sun-cream oozing over everything and stinking. And still there would always be a patch of skin forgotten turning red and sore that night. The clusters of school colours and the tribalism: the other schools were enemies. The smell of the painted lines on the grass. Nearly everyone had frozen cordial bottles wrapped in tea-towels. It was not an ideal environment for reading, the relentless PA and cheering, the lumpy schoolbags piled up, and sometimes a vicious teacher insisting that non-participants should be cheering, no reading allowed. Once Robert Rossiter had a special edition of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, but someone else wanted to read it too. Another year I’d run out of things to read and Ryan Waywood had a World Wrestling magazine. As I read it, he explained the championship belts and some of the rules it but it was a different reality I couldn’t comprehend.
At the end of the day, the faction captains or the school captains – tall, athletic big kids, year sevens – would accept the shields to great applause. The year would be recorded for posterity with an an engraved emblem recording the winner. Those shields, where are they now? A glass cabinet in a school foyer somewhere or a retired principal’s garage or landfill? The Forrest District Small Schools Association returns no Google results, as if it never existed. And many of the schools that were in it no longer do, merged or closed. It was all quite a while ago now.