Joe tries out for the Melbourne High rowing team
Today was a day of firsts. We tackled the Melbourne traffic and made it into the only entrance at Melbourne High that required a security code to enter. Fortunately a kind teacher used to this kind of thing keyed us in after finding out Joe was heading in for the rowing tryouts. He wished Joe luck and we drove around to the front of the school where a groundsman was rolling the grass pitch for a match Helen and I would spend some time watching while Joe was participating in the tryout tests.
There were a few boys gathered on the steps of the “Castle” the main entrance. There were some nervous glances between the boys who for many, like Joe was a little out of their comfort zone. A new school with a big history and a bigger reputation.
Joe thought he might be marginalised because he was not local. There were groups of boys who either went to the same school or had similar interests and they grouped quickly. It was interesting to capture his thoughts before entering the school and then as parents do, conduct the interrogation and comparison after the event. What actually happened was a pleasant surprise that has Joe looking forward to starting school even more.
This area of Melbourne brought back independent memories for Helen and I. Helen lived in the housing commission flats in South Yarra after settling here with her family as a refugee in the mid 80’s. She recalls seeing some boys in the lifts of the commission flats wearing the Melbourne High jackets with the familiar gold unicorn emblem.
The flats are within walking distance of the school.
When I was studying computer science at Chisholm Institute of Technology (now a Monash campus) I worked part time as a security guard. Not the kind standing outside dance venues, but the kind who guarded buildings and building sites. For a number of months I guarded the then under construction Como Centre. Sitting at a small desk on the one of the site floors in the freezing cold and mostly nights, when I had free time, I would pour over printouts of COBOL programming language I was studying in my course.
Fast forward thirty years and our son is undertaking his academic and sporting adventure in a more comfortable and suitable location only a few hundred metres away from where Helen and I undertook part of our adventure before we even met.
Some of the connections are not historical. A few years ago we visited Como House which is also nearby and after a lovely afternoon walking through the gardens and the house, we went to leave only to find that all the entrances were locked. While we contemplated how we would make good our exit, Helen’s Mother looked at the 6 foot fence and suggested she might be able to make it over the fence and unlock the gate from the other side.
At the time she was almost 80, a diminutive lady who walks with the assistance of a cane. When she said this, visions of Yoda came into my mind and I half expected her to levitate over the fence.
Suddenly a groundsman appeared and ushered us to a less exciting form of exit via the tradesperson’s entrance.
This story quickly became legend among Helen’s family.
Tina, Helen’s sister works in a coffee shop just across the bridge from where the school is – also a matter of a few hundred metres.
Enough of coincidences.
Being almost 14, Joe was not keen on having his parents hang around so we drove out onto the extremely busy but scenic Alexandra Avenue which snakes its way along the southern shoreline of the Yarra River. We parked up on Toorak Road, near the South Yarra train station which is where Joe will catch the train from school. The station is about a five to ten minute walk to the school. We walked the block surrounding the school to get a feel for the type of area it was.
As you might expect if you know the area, it was a cultured experience. With four hours to spend we took a walk through the area Tina’s sister works in hoping to stumble upon the coffee shop. We hadn’t bothered to get the name of the shop or the exact location, but we thought it should be easy.
The plan was to observe takeaway coffee cup bearing pedestrians and walk to where they came from. It was a good plan with two flaws. Everyone seemed to have a cup of coffee in their hand (it is Melbourne after all) and they were all coming from different directions.
Like something out of a National Geographic expedition we identified one coffee carrying person and traced their steps back to a coffee shop. No luck. After four more attempts and four more coffee shops that didn’t have Helen’s sister working there we decided it was like hunting for cane toads in the wet season. With waterholes on every corner, your chances of reaching a concentration were minimal. It was certainly a challenge we had underestimated.
Giving up we took a leisurely walk along the Yarra on the north side to take some photographs of the school. Crossing the river again using the rail bridge, we walked back into the grounds and sat down to watch the cricket match between Melbourne High School begin on the Woodfull-Millar Oval, named after two famous cricketers who were also students at Melbourne High.
The quality of the oval and the pitch would have any cricketer from where I went to school shaking their head in disbelief. We sat and watched for a while before making our way to the Powerhouse Boatsheds which are located just over a kilometre from the school along the Yarra. Luckily for us there is a very nice café called Kanteen located near these boatsheds so we set up camp there and waited for the boys to finish.
We did see a lot of boys walk past the café and gathered that they were there for the tryout. We didn’t see Joe among them but assumed we might have missed them.
We then took a walk down past the sheds and saw a group of students learning how to lift, turn and lower the boats. Again we didn’t see Joe. Helen became a little worried at this point. We met another Mum and a Grandpa who like us were proud to see this new opportunity that the kids were being exposed to.
When Joe debriefed us over a bowl of Pho in Victoria Parade Richmond (We still think Springvale’s Pho is better), we discovered that there is a lot of science in the tryouts. Words like beep test, ergo, height, weight, speed and other tests to ensure they could swim, work as a team and had the stamina or potential to be a team contributor.
I overheard one of the teachers going through the instructions and he sounded a little like a Sergeant Major with a fresh set of recruits. Words moulding them into a lean rowing team with the learning sprinkled with a level of toughness designed to turn boys into men.
So another day tomorrow of tryouts and if successful we look forward to some early starts in the same way Joe trained early for basketball last year.
The best part of the day for us was Joe’s realisation that the other kids are just like him. They like study but they are normal boys. He has already made a couple of new friends and I am sure there will be many of the guys wanting to help this newcomer to town.