from wA reunion of former art students
'So are you still painting?' I ask. Some are, but many have shifted into other areas of creativity, leisure activities or work.
One woman said to me, 'An hour ago I had been thinking I'll have a peek and if they're trim and terrific, I'll turn around and go home and have a hissy fit!'
One guy said, 'I really was thinking about not coming. What do we have in common these days? It's fifty years! But I do want to see a few blokes that I used to fight with. After being together for three years, most of us went out to teach in country schools all over the state.'
The reunion of former art students had brought together about sixteen people to the mezzanine lounge of the Victoria Hotel in Melbourne and the bar wasn't going to be open for hours. It was a sizzling hot day and we were all thirsty. Someone took off to buy bottles of Solo and such to bring back. Someone said 'Well a hundred years ago the Vic used to be a non-alcohol place. Perhaps it's reverted!'
I had been double-minded about participating - after all this time, wasn't it a bit late? But I did want to know that my friends of that time had had a good life since. We were probably all grandmothers and grandfathers now and would I recognize them?
Well, the faces were a bit different. Once beautiful thick black hair was now white. Some figures had fleshed out, though some were taut and terrific. There was instant recognition for some and hugs and lots of shouting. One guy said that we women sounded like the Serbs and Croatians at the tennis. (There had been a brawl a couple of days ago at the Melbourne Tennis.) One woman looked like my memory of her mother - we had once been neighbours - she looked serene and growing older with beauty. Another was as cute and feisty as ever. One who had a bountiful personality was still the same, and she had come all the way from Sydney. The demeanour of people was much the same, mostly confident, kind, passionate, excitable.
Some had brought photos of those earlier times and told stories of the year of the Melbourne Olympics, incidents at Prahran Tech, Melbourne Tech, Melbourne Uni. (we did get moved around those three years). Some things were not said -how naïve we had been, how some of us had been unsure, country kids, excited to be in the city to see art galleries for the first time. Some had gone on for further studies or into different but related fields - industrial art, jewelry, textile design, book illustration, though many had stayed with teaching for many years. Some brought photos of their children and families, including a beautiful ballerina in China.
We had matured nicely I concluded - at least those who had come to the reunion - mostly at the stage of retiring or finding alternative part-time work or voluntary stuff, activism, sport.
Those who were missing? Well, at least four had died. One was a recluse. One knew about the reunion but he was unwell. Some had other commitments or found out too late to change them. Many were unreachable and not even named on Google, and because most of the women had changed their names upon marriage, they were hard to track down. Some were in distant places.
Many had gone overseas as soon as their three year teaching bond had concluded. I had gone to Fiji then and lost the art student network. This was a very long time ago.
In those days we did not have HECs (Higher Education cost or something) to pay upfront or later, like the university students have today. In our time, we were actually paid during training - about 11 pounds a week plus board. It was the time of the baby boom, late 50s, when they really needed teachers in the high schools so gave out numerous scholarships and bursaries.
We shared contact details and resolved to meet in January next year. Meanwhile we would attempt to trace and contact the rest of the former art students - some would perhaps like to reconnect and others maybe not. But next time we will find a hotel lounge that does have a bar open in the afternoon or at least can supply us with coffee and cake!