I remember as a kid living in Redfern slums of 1960’s, the first time we rode our bikes (made from parts in the tip) to the Cathedral near Victoria Park. We rode past the nuts & bolts warehouse on Cleveland St where we got our big brass nuts to file down to rings for our fingers. We didn’t use them always but they were cheap DIY knuckle dusters. Up the hill and into Victoria Park.
The old sandstone buildings were Cathedrals with my 12 year old perception. We talked about it, me, Nikos, Spiro and Raymond – our aboriginal mate whose parents owned the only TV in our block. We decided that if it was a Cathedral it had to be Church of England. Our Orthodox churches were smaller. It was years later that I realised it was Sydney University. I had no idea what a university was. My parents and I migrated from a Greek village to Australia when I was 4. You could say we were agrarian peasants catapulted to the Industrial Age where my father’s first job was at Port Kembla Steelworks.
The first time I attended a party on Orientation Week at Sydney Uni I sat with some guys who were all raving about Kings Rowing. I had no idea what they were talking about. So I asked, “What’s King Rowing?”. Boy, did that stop the conversation. They all looked at me as if I had two heads, then one of them said, “What?” and shook his head. I said, “Well, is there Queens Rowing?” That didn’t go down well either.
A guy with red hair said, “Are you on a Commonwealth Scholarship?”
I was proud of that, so I said yes.
Then someone else asked, “Do you get a living allowance?”I said, “Yep – full independent allowance,” again feeling proud of my achievement.There was silence, they looked at each other and one blurted, “So, you’re poor!”
They all laughed and turned away from me. I think that was when I got a chip on my shoulder about private school graduates who row boats with gold rings on their fingers.