BULLYING

AS I wrote this book it began to tell me what it was about. I should have known right away that it would, in part, be about bullying, as schools at the time were full of it. For my first three years at boarding school I would have fought at least once a week and most days included pushing and shoving and arm punching.

In my small country town the bullying was random, and usually meant you had to give up a lolly to a larger boy. I remember nothing sinister about it, but in the private boarding school in the city it took a deeper, darker turn.

Here’s an example of a minor incident between brothers:

He leans back and throws his fist into my nose and it splatters blood all over a wall and Mum comes running and, guess what, she attacks me. Not him. Not the one who throws the fist, not the one who is holding his hand, hiding it, the red knuckles, no, not him, but the one who is bleeding all over furniture, the floor and the wall too, yes, me, the screaming one, the one with the voice.

            I scream, Mum screams, but he remains calm, as though life is a thing outside of him. I yell, inside my head, I wish you were dead. And Mum says, you wait until your father comes home. Dad comes home, walks in the front door and she tells him. He laughs and says, boys will be boys. Mum doesn’t like that, runs upstairs to her bedroom, slams the door and sobs so loud we can’t hear her even though Dad turns up the radio for the ABC news.
And now here’s an excerpt from Boy on a Wire, where it all gets a nasty and violent.
Our senior prefect is a bit arrogant, but he’s all right. The junior prefect, Briggsy, is a bully.
When it’s your turn to sit next to him, if he doesn’t like you ,or enjoys picking on you, he picks on you, not in a casual,verbal way because he hasn’t got the brains for that, but in a physical, slapping, punching, pulling, poking way. And if he really enjoys picking on you, sometimes he will wait for you
outside and lock your neck in the bend of his elbow and squeeze it, maybe slap your head with his other hand and drag you along the pavement all the way down to school. He never does that to me, but he does it to Phillip McGrath.
Look what I’ve got here, it’s Flippa the knackered poodle.
When I see him with McGrath I see the work of Satan and I know if Jesus is in Grammar School he will storm through theprefects’ common room, turn over all their furniture and yell at
them to change their ways and say something to McGrath like: Don’t be afraid, for the meek will inherit the earth. I long for the strength of ten men like Mr Walker, the Ghost Who Walks, so I can leap into their common room and leave the mark of the Phantom on all their jaws but in particular Briggsy’s jaw. But I only have the strength of a small, wiry boy who chops wood and so Briggsy picks on me too.
Coco. Coco the Clown. Come on, Coco.
Then he pokes, pulls, and slaps, and I duck, weave, put my arm up and, sometimes, take it on the shoulder. One morning I’ve had enough. Maybe he’s gone too far, maybe he hasn’t, maybe I am short of salt, whatever, I’ve had enough, so on the way down to school I chop my way into the long hedge that winds its way around the footpath from the dining room to the primary school. About halfway along there is a hole almost big enough for a crouching boy to climb into. I make it bigger. And wait. Anxiously. Angrily. Hands shaking. When Briggsy, school champion athlete, first eighteen
footballer, first eleven cricketer, walks down towards the upper school, I jump out, fists poised, and pummel his stomach …

Recently at a writers’ festival another writer approached me saying she had read the book and had handed it to her son. She wanted to know: “If all boys have to learn how to fight?  Is it necessary? Is there no way around it?”
My reply: “Things are different today, there are strategies and protocols in place that were not around when I was a boy, when learning to fight and defend t yourself was a rite of passage from boy to man. And today, if it was me, I would be learning how to defend myself and I would be encouraging my friends and to stand up with me for anyone who was a victim.

When my son was bullied at school I approached the bully, I spoke to the teachers and I taught him to wrestle and to engage in rough play. Eventually we stopped, about the time he began to hurt me. And I never forgot the first day he came home and said he got into trouble for pushing a bully. We celebrated, but cautioned and discussed and after sometime he and the bully became friends.

Image: I am not a silent bystander


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