*Names have not really been changed to protect the innocent.
As a happy and free-minded young child attending a privileged Catholic private school called Our Lady Help of Christians in Earlville, Cairns on Yidinji land, I had a wonderful upbringing outside of my formal education. I was never a practicing Catholic. I endured Confession once a month, a three-day per week church practice and one mass a week, institutionalised by the school like some boring routine that we couldn’t get out of. Some boys wanted to be altar boys, only because they got to get out of the hymn practices and not have to sing during the mass because they were on the stage. One boy and a school friend since Year 1, Ashley Baker I recall was a regular altar boy always chosen by staff and everyone was jealous that he got out of singing.
However, not all church practices resulted in perfect performances every Friday. I do recall, just by luck, that when receiving communion, magically the wafer thin disc jumped right out of my hand and rolled along side the altar and front of the church like a runaway bicycle tyre. I hurried behind it, picked it up and ate it in total embarrassment. I am certain that that as one of many random unintentional mishaps led me to be branded a troublemaker by the hierarchy of the school staff.
One other terrible occasion I recall happened on 18 July 1988 during lunch break play time of Year 4. As like many other Australian primary schools, students at the time would play handball in the undercover cemented areas. This particular incident happened in the passageway in front of the tuckshop (kiosk) between what was then the school library (a new building at the time) and the Year 1 classrooms and drinking fountains.
It was a hot and busy handballing play time break, loads of kids were playing and tennis balls going everywhere. This particular instance I happen to be playing and the ball had gone astray which led me to chase the loose ball. I happen to capture the ball before it hit anyone and with my speed in doing so stopped me dead short in front of the school Principal, Mr B (who was half-bald and had no beard). Suddenly, with his tight socks up and startled reaction, before I could just turn and run back to the game with the ball, I was grabbed by the collar of my shirt, dragged back, choking my neck, and he proceeded to hit me, three times in succession. I was so shocked that the impact of his assault made me pee my pants (something that I had never done in my life for any reason). Then after that nothing was said and he left and I was left shocked, scared and embarrassed that I went to the toilet to cover up the mess he left me with.
Later on in my life, by chance during one of my third-year university exams at James Cook University (JCU) in November 2007, who happen to be an examiner (hired for the day) handing out the exam? Mr B.
As you could imagine, I was furious and angry. I left my body imagining that I stood up and verbally insulted and abused him in front of everyone, explaining what he did to me in primary school. But I didn’t do it. I wish I did. I wish I told JCU about it. Unfortunately, I never told my mother about it. This was not the only occasion I was ostracised and degraded by a teacher during my primary school years. I never did anything wrong, I was never expelled or suspended or not hand in my homework.
So as you can see, right from an early age, for no reason other than me being blonde with blue eyes, I was chosen to be crucified without trial regularly. Was it because I was friends with Miranda and Yileen Bong (two indigenous Australian girls, who seemed to always get into trouble or accused of stealing)? Sometimes you don’t realise how racist your world is until later on.
I have another account regarding the ‘Book of the Year’ award at this same school in my last year of primary school Year 7. I wrote and illustrated a book about my dog Bambi eating its tail. It was the most popular book in the school. However, the teacher gave the award to Nigel Hazel for tracing Robotech images from Robotech books and writing a Robotech story (unimaginative and uncreative). My mother approached the teacher Mrs Cattiva (Year 7) about this and I will explain this in another blog post.
What no one realises is that at the end of the year, I took Nigel’s book off the classroom bookshelf, and I still have it to this day. My book about Bambi is currently in the process of being published for sale.
I also happen to come across this prejudice Mrs Cattiva (the one teacher who had verbally stated to other adults at the time – with witnesses – that she hated me and that I would never be as successful as my cousin Lee Brown) during my second year of teaching in Cairns in 2010. A psychological, bitter-sweet slap in the face she endured that year.
This leads me to the world of Robotech (Wikipedia, 2021) with a group of friends at the time. In the 80s, Robotech was basically the first hit Japanese animated cartoon series to broadcast on mainstream TV in the Western world. It challenged Transformers, Astroboy and others, and to this day continues to have a cult following.
Robotech brought together a group of friends and one or two girls from time to time during Year 5 to 7 (our upper years of primary school in Australia). This group was made up of a long-time friend from down the road Nathan Findlay, and Adam Libke, Bradley Riley, Matthew Redgen, Sam Richardson, Nigel Hazel, along with a few others I cannot recall at the moment.
As we got older, we migrated from handball to playing soccer during lunch breaks to playing Robotech. Some friends continued to play soccer (Ashley Baker, Michael Casey, Mark Cutuli etc), however, our group who were absolutely engrossed into the Robotech world, began to find solitude and comfort in quiet locations where we could extend our love of Robotech by participating in the Robotech Role-Playing Games (RPG).
CC: Robotech RPG books by Cresswell, M. 2021.
Due to our passion and reclusiveness as we searched and found quiet locations to play our Robotech RPG every day, we were constantly hunted out by teachers and staff to stop playing. We were not allowed to do this. We tried to do it in the normal play areas, but it was too loud, tennis balls from handball came flying everywhere from younger students, juice poppers being popped nearby, just didn’t help us concentrate on the thinking and strategy that was required for this game.
We managed to find one teacher who silently allowed us to go into her classroom to play during lunch breaks. Luckily for us, Ms Stewart was once our Year 1 teacher and was also a friend of Nathan Findlay’s family – fellow Robotech enthusiasts.
This started the Robotech RPG phase of our upper primary years. This experience with Robotech RPG was crucial to our learning and our social development at the time, which as you can see, reflected a degrading and challenging outside world for some, in particular for myself with labelling and prejudice teachers, and an abusive Principal.
I have always reflected on Robotech RPG and this group of friends. I still recall to this day some of the exact details of the scenarios we played in and problem solved, right down the the events occurring from the role of the 20-sided dice. The thinking, criticality, perspectives and metacognitive social scenarios that played out were more of an education in my primary school than primary school itself. Our Lady Help of Christians was of no help to me.
Robotech RPG for me is evident in my own delivery of a 21st-century education and is what must be nurtured in education today in whatever variety of forms skilled teachers can facilitate. I am constantly reminded about it along with my continual attempts in trying to replicate my own version of the John Hunter’s World Peace Game (World Peace Game Foundation, 2021) in all of my classes with primary and middle school students.
In Part 2, I will explain how important Robotech RPG, scenario-based conceptual learning and gamification, like the World Peace Game continues to be, for teaching and learning today.
TED (2011) ‘Teaching the World Peace Game’ John Hunter, Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/john_hunter_teaching_with_the_world_peace_game?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tedspread
World Peace Game Foundation (2021) ‘The World Peace Game’, Available at: https://worldpeacegame.org/
Wikipedia (2021) ‘Robotech’, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotech
© Michael Cresswell, 24 March 2021