Suzie St James – Primary School – Darlington

Primary School was a big game changer for me. Soon I would find out just how much impact this part of my life had on me being who I am today. What I can remember of the early years at school is very little. It was however the first place that I got an appreciation and a love of older historic buildings and the history behind them.

The old school was built in 1877 and was grand in my eyes. It was 1973 and I was excited to begin learning and getting to know the other children I remember sitting on a bench on the verandah of the old school doing needle work. When I look back I think it was a rather strange thing for a boy to be learning but I enjoyed doing it. I can’t recall if it was something we had to do or chose to do. Either way I learned how to use a thread and needle at an early age. It has come in very handy over the years.

The school was located in Maze Crescent in Darlington. We used to walk to school by cutting through a factory at the top of Nan’s street, I think it was a spring factory, then along Calder Road and through the University of Sydney and we were at school. It was just a stone’s throw away.

Sometimes we would pick up the neighbours along the way and all go to school together. The school had a big yard and was of a fair size. However the building wasn’t in the best shape. A little run down, just like our house. In 1975 the school was moved to a new location on the corner of Abercrombie Street and Golden Grove Street. It was a brand new school. It was a funky and stylish place, very modern with all the trimmings. I was sad though, I loved the old school building, I would miss it immensely, but it was handed over to the University. The University was taking over everything in the area. Today the Old School has been renovated and turned into a live music venue.
Nana M told me that my brother sang at the opening of the new school, she said he had a lovely voice. Thankfully I have no memory of it. LOL

I remember the new school more than the old one and when we moved to the new school I started to play with girls a lot more than boys. I just felt more comfortable around them. I loved playing the game elastics. It was a lot of fun. It’s when we played this game I realised I was quite flexible. I could stand straight up against a wall, grab my leg and place my left foot beside my head. Some of the girls I played with were furious that I was more flexible than them.

The school had a dance program and I was encouraged to join. We learnt lots of various styles of dancing which was interesting. We mostly learnt folk dancing at school and there was a dance we used to do with two long bamboo poles and they would be moved and clicked and we had to dance in between them while they’re moving. I’m sure it was of an Island descent. Dance classes were fabulous. I had found something I really liked to do.

There were two significant highlights during my dancing days at primary school; one was when I performed at the opening of the Seymour Centre. The Centre was opened in 1975. We performed a Spanish Style dance and I was the lead male dancer. The Centre had a huge auditorium and it was fabulous to dance on such a professional stage.

The other highlight was in 1979 and I was so excited when the school was asked to gather a number of students to perform for a television show. We were to perform at Channel Seven for the filming of “This Is Your Life”. It was the life of David Gulpilil the aboriginal dancer and actor. He was well known for his role in Storm Boy. As Darlington had a high population of Aboriginal people we were selected to perform on the show. We boarded a bus and were on our way to Channel Seven, we performed some aboriginal dancing that we had learnt in dance class at school. I found the TV studio fascinating and loved all the lights and cameras. It was a huge highlight for me.

Everything was great at school until one of the most humiliating days of my short life happened. Because I was born prematurely I had inherited some ear and hearing issues, they weren’t detected at the time of my birth. I was struggling with my school work. I couldn’t hear the teachers in the classroom. The problem was identified by a teacher that I had a hearing problem and I was moved to the front of the class so I could hear the teachers. Then that one humiliating day I went to school and I got so upset. I was sitting in the class and I had discharge running out my right ear. It stunk. It was absolutely foul. It wasn’t very nice. A few of the other children weren’t very nice about it and started to tease me. I started to get harassed a lot about my smelly ear. What didn’t help was the fact that my real surname is Moulds. They started calling me nasty names and called me stinky and all sorts of things. It wasn’t very nice and it made me unhappy. I even became very shy towards other children and a little introverted.

So the school informed my mum and she took me to the hospital to find out what was going on. I had a perforated ear drum and something similar to what they call Glue Ear these days. It affected my hearing and sometimes it would get really sore. I saw a few doctors and they decided to remove my tonsils and adenoids to try and help fix the problem, I even had a Doctor tell me to give up Coca Cola and you will get better. I remember he was Indian and very hard to understand but that always stuck in my mind.

In the meantime I still had to go to school and endure the teasing. It got a bit better as I started to spend a lot of time alone and wasn’t as bad once my ear was plugged with cotton wool to absorb the oozing I was experiencing a lot. But I still had to go to the hospital to see a number of doctors and specialists. Visit after visit. I remember vividly waiting at RPA hospital in the waiting rooms. There were long rows of chairs and nurses coming out of little rooms calling patients names. Little was I aware that this was going to be a lifetime disability; I also learnt it is hereditary in the family. Mum’s father, Pop L had some hearing issues and so did my mum.

Later on I went under the care of a Professor of ENT at RPA. He decided to perform a skin graph. It worked for a while and I didn’t have to put up with the discharge or the smell. But boy was it painful. I woke up from the surgery and it felt like someone had the top of your ear lobe pulling it so hard. Like an intense stinging pain. However it didn’t last long and I had to have another skin graph performed to repair the eardrum. In all, I had a total of 5 operations to help correct the problem. It finally it worked towards the end of my primary school days however I had to be careful with certain activities like swimming.

Even though I was going through my health issues I still continued to do ok at school. Sometimes I struggled and I was no academic but I got through it. I was more interested in the dance classes and things like school plays and the creative things we did.

The dance classes at school were my favourite thing. We actually got to travel a lot with the dance class, we would travel on a Saturday to Bankstown and perform in the shopping village. Nan would come along and look after me. I loved it. Our dance instructor Mrs. Walker was a wonderful teacher. She saw something in me and encouraged my parents to take me to dance lessons at her Studio. Nana M was the one picking us up from school most of the time, so she decided to take me to the dance school Mrs. Walker had at Broadway. I learnt Ballet, Character, and a little jazz. I loved character dancing. Character dance is a specific subdivision of classical dance. It is the stylized representation of a traditional folk or national dance, mostly from European countries, and uses movements and music which have been adapted for the theater. Character dance is integral to much of the classical ballet repertoire.

It was around this time I had discovered my mother’s wardrobe. I remember going home and I would play dress ups when no one was around. I was sneaky, I would go upstairs and close the door on mums room and go through her shoes and dresses. But my fascination with my mum’s shoes was intense. I loved popping them on and going for a gin (walk) in them. They were difficult in the beginning. But I soon mastered the art of wearing stilettos. It was the late 70’s and wedge style shoes were the rage. Mum had some fabulous clothing. Big skirts and nice dresses. I was really noticing a shift in what I was feeling on the inside. I was starting to have a lot of mixed feelings about who I really was.

Funnily a play was being held at the school and I got to play the role of a woman or girl for some reason. I remember so vividly the day I took mums shoes to school to practice. I walked like a pro in her shoes. They were a tall wedge with white straps. The other school children just looked at me in horror that I could walk so well in them. Off I minced up the hallway with my girly strut.

Nana M was working in the sandwich shop on the corner of Shepherd Street and Calder Road. She was a sandwich hand in the shop. They got very busy. It was just across the road from the University. We would often stay at friends places when Mum or Nana M couldn’t mind us. We would stay with them until someone came to collect us. I remember getting collected by Nana M sometimes and we would wait at her house till Mum finished work. Mum was working late hours at the pub I think, or late nights and longer hours at Parker Pens. Dad was often away driving the big truck. If that was the case Nana M would make us dinner and we would sit down in front of the television with our pajamas on and our dinner on the TV trays. They were children’s trays with vegetable figures on them. Ironically Nana M and I still use them today to sit down and eat our dinner off in front of the television. I told you she threw nothing away.

One year I was given a pair of roller skates for Xmas. I loved skating up and down Nana M’s street. Until one day early in the evening we were roller skating and I was approached by some Aboriginal children and they took my roller skates from me. I ran into Nana M’s house and told her. She said right. Off she went up to the service station on Abercrombie Street and found the culprits and brought the skates back. She was one tough cookie my Nana M.

After things finally settled down with my ears I was enjoying school and the dancing lessons. Nana M decided we should join the Boy Scouts. 
This had a huge impact on my sexuality. While I enjoyed going to the weekly meetings and earning badges for doing things like tying ropes and learning skills, there was a lot of homosexual behaviour going on. It wasn’t so much at the weekly meetings at the hall, but at the camps and Jamboree’s we went on. The thing I enjoyed most about the Boy Scouts was the Gang Shows; another opportunity for me to be the center of attention. I remember we performed a play of Peter Pan. It was at a school at Maroubra, they had a huge concert hall and auditorium. I can’t remember the role I actually played but a blue Onsie is something I remember that I had to wear.

One year we went on a Jamboree and some of the boys were playing with each other and the older scout masters were also involved. It was my first experience of two boys doing things to each other. I didn’t say anything. I just kept to myself. I was intrigued though. It was a little later at another Jamboree that I met a scout leader that was besotted with me. He would try and do things to me and I would try and pretend I was sleeping. He was persistent. I was around nine or ten I think when this happened. In the end I ended up playing with his penis just so he would leave me alone.

Looking back the Boy Scouts in the 70’s was a haven of homosexuals behaviour in my eyes. It was also the same time I realised my brother was different too. He too turned out to be gay. My poor parents; they copped a double banger. We were both fairly promiscuous at a young age. I never experienced any intercourse activity during that time; it was all oral and foreplay. I had to admit though I found it more interesting than girls.

Looking back I don’t really see them as homosexual experiences. I was a young boy who had a lot of mixed feelings going on inside me. I attempted to have a girlfriend. For a minute. Her name was Diane just like my mums. I remember we went on a date and I kissed her once. It wasn’t for me though. My one and only ever girlfriend. Ha ha. I think I just had the realisation I wasn’t attracted to girls that way.

I don’t blame anyone for what happened during those times and I don’t think of what I would have been like if I didn’t experience any of those things. To be honest I think I still would have turned out the same. I have realised today that those feelings were inside me for a reason. I didn’t talk to anyone about those experiences either; I think they would have gotten angry with me or dismissed them seeing I was so young. I was becoming more introverted though. My feelings were all over the place and found that I couldn’t discuss anything with anybody. I was lonely and confused on the inside, yet tried to be happy and normal on the outside.

In 1979 Mum and Dad decided it was time for a change. We were moving. I was losing the place I had grown up in, the friends we left behind and no more was I able to run to Nana M’s place to feel safe. At the time a lot of people were moving more towards the west and we moved to a house in Lewisham. There was no more dance class, no more Nana M. It was scary.

Life was about to get tough and I was growing up.

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