Our second teaser for Issue Six of Kill Your Darlings is an extract from Paul Capsis’s Don’t Peak at High School [ed. Fiona Scott-Norman], a collection of interviews with high-profile Australians about their experiences being bullied at high school and how they overcame such adversity. Here Paul Capsis remembers his school days in Sydney during the 1970s.
There was no bullying in the first three years. I went to a Catholic school and I was in love with the nuns. I thought the world was wonderful, people were nice, and everyone was free to sing and dance like the Elvis movies I watched on TV. But then Mum couldn’t afford to send me there anymore, and when I was eight I went to a public school in the same suburb, Surry Hills, and it was rough, with a huge mix of cultures – Lebanese, Turkish, Aboriginal, everything.
From when I arrived there were comments: ‘You sound like my sister’, ‘You sound like my mother’, ‘You’re a girl, you’re not really a boy.’ But it was a magical time. I had a wonderful teacher who’d play Beatles records and wanted us to dance and sing and perform. Because of my Greek heritage, when we’d go to parties there’d be Turkish music and belly dancing, and this teacher, my favourite, encouraged me to belly dance in front of the school at assembly.
That was … a huge mistake. She put on a track with sitar music from the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and I got up, on my own, in my school uniform – in my greys – and did this dancing. It was hideous. Terrible.
Everything changed; I was picked on every day. It was so full-on. And it went on, and on, and on. From teachers, too. I had a racist teacher in Year 6 who picked on my brother and I because we were ‘non-Australian’. So there was the wog thing, and the girly thing. I was eight when I first heard the word ‘poofter’. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad, because people hated me for it. A Greek boy said to me once, ‘If I was like you, I would want my father to kill me. You’re a disgrace to the Greeks.’
There were these brothers who used to wait for me after school finished, to hit and kick me. Sometimes just one little hit, one little kick and then walk away. They bashed my brother Manuel once, too. Not because he was a poofter. Because he had asthma. They saw us coming, basically. My father didn’t raise us, so we didn’t have that male thing, what to do in a fight. I had no idea. We weren’t brought up with any guidance about how to protect yourself in a physical way.
Manuel’s 18 months older than me, and they made his nose bleed. I became hysterical, and screamed and shouted, and they freaked and stopped hitting him. This laying-in-wait thing went on for a while, but one day I’d had enough and defended myself. I went crazy, I laid into this boy, and a woman ran across the road and told me off. She called me a bully, and shouted at me to leave him alone. I’d begun developing this behaviour where I’d take it, take it, take it, and then I’d explode. They were clever enough not to hit or kick me where they could be caught, but when I retaliated, full of fury, it would be in front of the teacher and I’d get punished.
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