Like one time, at school camp…..

Jack was up as the sparrow farted this morning because he had a bus to catch. YES! The great Australian Traditional Year Six Class Excursion to Canberra and the snow. If you are a fellow New South Welshman, you might remember treading this well worn path.

So go and make a cuppa, as this is a longer read than normal. It is an excerpt from my book Primary School Confidential. If you have read it, a thousand thanks. And if you haven’t?

Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you. Pew pew pew pew pew pew

Just kidding! You can order it by clicking here.

A popular school trip back then, and still remains to this day, was the Canberra/Snowy Mountains haul. In a bus with the year 5 and 6 teachers, we made out way from the outskirts of Sydney, down the highway until we reached Goulburn. The bus driver needed a smoke by this stage, so while he puffed away, we all ran around the park in the middle of the town. The teachers were very encouraging of this physical outburst, as they were hoping that it would tire us out and make us shut the fuck up for the rest of the trip.

I recall being very exited as we crossed the border into our nations capital. It was a very novel idea at the time. One second you were in New South Wales, the next you were in a whole new world. A world of wide, clean streets and signs pointing out the many attractions that Canberra has to offer.

We took in the sights of Cockington Green, a miniature village created in 1979 by a gentleman named Doug. Its purpose? Well, I am not really sure of its educational merit, but it did have a free bbqing area, if you felt like cooking a steak.

Our group then visited Parliament House, which was about as interesting to a group of eleven year olds as you could assume. It was here that we learnt why our capital ended up smack bang in the middle of farmlands. It was because Sydney and Melbourne could not get their shit together and agree who should be the capital city, so they created one right in the middle of the two.

Behind the Parliament House, construction was underway on building the REAL Parliament House. The government appointed tour guide could not get us enthused about any of it.

Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister at the time. Advance Australia Fair had just been selected as Australia’s National Anthem and despite the hues on our flag, our national colours had just been announced as green and gold. There was a lot of change going on for our country. Medicare had been formed. The Australian dollar was floated. We had recently won the America’s Cup. Sir Ninian Stephen formally handed back the title deeds to Uluru to the traditional landowners.

But none of this compared to the fact that there was a vending machine at Parliament House.

Back on the bus and the next stop? Cooma.

We were to base our visit from this country town, which was unforgivingly cold. Our accommodation was large dormitories that were run by a local religious cult who were trying to cash in on the passing school excursion trade.

So while in Cooma, you must visit the number one tourist attraction (at the time) which was a shop that sold traditional Dutch clogs. The enthusiasm that should have been shown during our tour of Parliament House erupted out in this little shop of clogs. We were also treated to an excellent demonstration on how the clogs were actually carved from a single block of wood. We learnt about the history of clogs.

They were originally made for farmers and other hard labor workers. Later, they would be painted and featured during the art of Dutch dancing. We were thrilled to be able to shop in that store, with the merchandise solely focusing on all things clog. I recall, with particular glee, buying a key ring for my mother with a mini clog hanging from it.

As we left the Dutchman said dankjewel over and over again. And so it was back to the cult hotel, where we were given dinner along with jugs of green cordial. Of course, no one slept that night because of the heady mix of clog talk, cordial and the anticipation that the next day, we would see snow.

The sun broke and the cult played their morning song that was designed to wake us from our non-slumber.

Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning!

It’s time to rise and shine.

Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning!

I hope your feeling fine!

Get up, Get Up, Get out of bed.

Get up, Get Up, you sleepyhead,

It’s time for the day to begiiiiiiiiiiiin!

As we exited Cooma, the bus driver did a very half assed, lame attempt to try to explain what the The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was, but we were not having a bar of it because we were too busy trying to be the first person to spy a snow covered peak.

“I see it!” someone squawked and the bus erupted with unwavering cheers. Little did I know it at the time, but this was an example of pre-match hype at its finest.

As we drew closer to our destination, snow began to appear in little clumps at the side of the road. We arrived at a place called Dead Horse Gap, which was a nod to all the brumbies that froze to death over the years. The doors flung open and a group of tired and cranky teachers basically told us to go and knock ourselves out.

Now we were a group of Western Sydney kids, most of who had never seen snow before. For some reason, blame it on the environment or the fact that we had been in a bus for a few days, it ignited something in us. Imagine The Hunger Games here if you will.

The boys basically beat the shit out of each other in the snow while the girls ran shrieking from each other, as snowballs flew. Here is a little something about snowballs. When packed down very hard, they have very little give. Like none at all. You might as well be throwing a brick at someone.

After an hour, one of the teachers appeared at the door of the bus and yelled at us that our time was up. The lads made sure that they left as much yellow snow as possible, and we drove away from Dead Horse Gap nursing a plethora of injuries.

So… that was our trip to the snow.

The bus travelled back to Canberra where, because our teachers had not self flagellated enough on this trip, we visited the art gallery. Now I know this, having taken groups of my students to art galleries, kids have zero interest in looking at paintings and sculptures unless the subjects are naked.

When you find a picture of a nude, you are immediately alert your fellow pupils. You are to form a posse in front of it, and you are to laugh and point at it as a group. This will cause your teacher to come running in from another room and scald you all in a very vicious whisper.

Then, you might upon a huge bronze statue of a naked lady. And so the the activity will repeat and so on and so on until your teacher cracks the shits and we leave.

From there we were taken to visit the Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, where the bus driver tells us all about how amazing it is, and what is inside and how it will blow our tiny minds, before pulling the bus out from the curb and driving away.

Visit Questacon? TICK.

Has every school aged child done a similar camp? Canberra? Clog Factory? Dead Horse Gap?

It is the time honoured, God-given right of every year 5 or 6 child to be bored by political shenanigans, and desperate attempts at exposing them to any sniff of culture. Thank god for clogs and penises I say!

Arriving home from any school camp, you tend to be a hot mess of tiredness, emotion, often bruised and thankful for your own bed. But let’s think of those who bravely choose to supervise us while we are on a camp. I mean, would you do it? 24 hour babysitting pre-teen kids is not a walk in the park. So what is their secret?

The answer is gin. And lots of it. Bottoms Up!

Did you do this trip?

  • Heidi D

    showing my age now but back when I was in year 5&6 the Canberra excursion hadn’t become a thing yet. We were taken on a trip for a few days to a lake that promised canoes & water activities. It was fairly unfortunate that they were experiencing the worst drought in memory. We would walk over the hot, baked, cracked & dried up mud to get to the murky brown puddle that was the remains of the lake. The only plus was that when you fell out of the canoe it was only into knee deep water

  • Donna

    We go to Canberra from SW Vic also. There are miles and miles of kids getting bus sick. Then they all get gastro and bring it home. Tired, Cranky, Pooing kids are delivered back to their parents at the end of four days. I’ve got two to look forward to………..

  • I thank the teachers who take the kids on this rite of passage in NSW schools.. mind you I never got to go (oh gee “lucky” me I say!) loved re-reading your story too!

  • I grew up in Canberra, so we were already there. But I did go on a day trip to the snow when I was in Year 3. We had an amazingly enthusiastic teacher who hired us toboggans. One per 4 kids. I’d forgotten all about the clogs until you mentioned it. I had a clog key ring too! What stuck most in my mind about our snow trip was that the bus had a tiny TV stuck in the corner near the ceiling with a VIDEO. Very hi-tech for the time. And being one of the “likely to vomit” kids I was up the front and actually close enough to watch it. The movie was Star Wars. I was entranced. I missed the last 10 minutes because we got home too quickly. My parents are slow adopters and we didn’t have a VCR, so I waited about three years until it came on TV and I could watch it all the way to the end. I tell my kids this “where were you when you first watched Star Wars” story to highlight the struggles I had growing up and not being able to download whole series at a whim.

  • Joadi Sylvestre

    As a teacher, I went on our ‘Goldfields’ overnight excursion with Year 4 kids two years in a row. We stayed in a great big converted shed. Not a lot of sleep was had and water hung as icicles from the outside taps the next morning. We visited a recreated goldfield site on Mt Panarama & later Hill End. On the trip home a combination of tiredness, an overdose of lollies & the winding trip
    down from the Blue Mountains resulted in a student towards the back of the bus vomiting on the window of the bus. It dripped down the window, the side of the bus, his clothes and finally onto the floor. I spent the rest of the trip home cleaning it all up
    & looking after him. As someone who suffers from motion sickness myself, it was a bit of a nightmare scenario. A school trip memorable fir all the wrong reasons. Lol.

  • Angie

    It’s been a really cold winter in Canberra this year so I hope all the kids coming to town have got their thermals! I’ve heard a few stories about lots of kids getting Influenza B and gastro this season too. As a Canberran I do wonder why they don’t come in late-August or early September – there is still snow and it is just a much nicer time to be in the city!!

  • I didn’t go on any excursions when I was at school. Only the milk factory. Now as a teacher I avoid teaching grade 6 in order to specifically escape this school camp. Snow and kids. Yuk. I love your recount of this story Mrs. W.