60 years later and I’m the class fool

There is no greater reality test than a “back to school”.

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It’s the quickest way to be brought down to earth as I found last weekend when I attended the reunion of my Stawell High School class of the ’50s.

Our school motto was et facultatem culturae – culture and capability – and I was keen to show my old classmates I had that in abundance.

So as our picnic lunch was a “bring a plate” affair I dropped into Melbourne’s classy patisserie Laurent. Sydney readers would know the equally classy La Bretagne in Double Bay.

Money was no object as I selected 20 brilliant examples of the master patissier’s work all beautifully wrapped in a large Laurent carrying case.

I carefully put them on the back seat of the car and headed off to the appointed spot – the Edwardian rotunda in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens by Lake Wendouree – the home of the 1956 Olympic rowing.

I knew it was going to be a “top do” but I was a little worried to read the directions on the invitation indicating that we were gathering just behind the toilet block.

“Not such a bad idea for people in their 70s!” said Charlie.

Lunch was already laid out when I arrived. And what a wonderfully nostalgic array of temptations there were – toothpick-impaled cabana and Coon cheese lightly stained with red and green cocktail onions, authentic asparagus rolls with Tip Top white bread, homemade sausage rolls and party pies. The 64th reunion was already off to a flying start.

I was wanting the assembled to know that my life hadn’t been insignificant and tried to do this as humbly as I could but I was overtaken by Ken’s story. Ken is a six-foot-six gentle giant and each of his hands could hold a dozen eggs. I asked him how his life had gone and he said that he was happy to have been a trained plumber, but now he was struggling a bit with a crook heart that had just received a new valve from a pig.

“Blimey,” exclaimed Louise, “I bet he doesn’t eat pork any more.”

But something was nagging at my memory and so I asked him what else he had done.

“Ah yes,” said the modest giant, “I was a member of the Hawthorn Football Club 1971 premiership team.” Crikey. I was talking to the great Ken Beck, one of the 20 brown and gold heroes who, with that premiership, launched the most successful AFL club of the modern era.

Modesty in spades.

And then there was Dawn, who said she was quite good at maths but immediately went on to talk about Eric, who couldn’t be there because he was travelling overseas after a brilliant career as a rocket scientist.

Turns out Dawn’s maths score put my 96 out of 100 to shame. She knew the answer to the question that I got wrong and have worried about for 60 years.

Dawn and Eric made me look like a complete loser.

But I knew I still had the cakes.

So, I gently pushed aside the lamingtons and with a short announcement opened the Laurent parcel. All eyes swung to the centre of the picnic table as the expensive wrapping came off.

I lifted the lid with a little flourish and … disaster!

A single flat almond torte inscribed with “Happy Birthday Natasha” stared back at me.

I was either the class fool or I had gone to the wrong party. I couldn’t even order a cake and here I was wanting to prove that I knew what life was all about.

“You know nothing,” shouts Louise.

True, but I do know this. Our remarkable group, which came together 64 years ago, were able to do well for the ensuing six-and-a-half decades, for themselves and Australia. They have been good people, solid, down-to-earth families. We can be proud of that generation.

But what will the next 65 years be like?

Asia.

My old mate Phil Ruthven, the founder of IBIS World, says that we will be a nation of 70 million by 2100 but there will be some Asian cities with a population greater than that. He goes on “re-evaluating our place in Asia, it will be an ongoing neighbourly and moral responsibility for many generations to come. To effectively contribute to such a big and powerful economy we will need to broaden our thinking of how we can better utilise and share the resources we have.”

A bit like the lesson of the birthday cake.

Share it around.

We won’t go far wrong if we focus on the values of Stawell High school – culture and capability of us and our neighbours.