It being one of those areas where the erection of a letterbox can lead to a spirited campaign involving flyers inveighing against inappropriate development distributed by the Lowbottom Preservation Society, concerns have been expressed about the proposed refurbishment of the school courtesy of the unwonted largesse of federal and state governments. The same Lowbottom Preservation Society (in fact, the last elderly descendant of the original Major Lowbottom) has made application to have the entire school structure heritage-listed. It prompts the thought: would we be bulldozing more than breeze block and mortar?

You would miss, certainly, the subtle swell of the ancient joists and bearers which forces those of delicate constitution to take a daily dose of Drammamine lest they experience motion sickness as they traverse the corridors. That same warping of the timbers over the length of the school has so altered the roofline that from a distance the science block resembles a breaching whale. Naturally, everything within is out of true. How we would miss, at the beginning of each day, coercing, with considerable exertion, the windows open, or, at its end, persuading them, with the same superhuman effort, to shut.

It is not contempt that familiarity breeds in an old school like Lowbottom so much as a wonderful, well, familiarity. The hole in the wall in the history room which is the product of generations of bored students leaning back on their chairs (“But I concentrate better when I’m relaxed, sir”) is a case in point. Depending on the light and the mood of the observer, the hole can suggest the bombing of Dresden or a relief map of ancient Thermopylae. Lovely.

The romantic would be similarly saddened by the disappearance of the p-nises which adorn every second chair in the classrooms and which prompt the outraged screams of girls (“I’m not sitting on a larry!”) and teasing among the boys (“Er, Jones likes it up the a-se”). And what about the repetition of graffiti tags which relieve the weary eye? Lost, all lost.

So please, Mr Rudd and Mr Brumby, we don’t want your money. Not your state-of-the-art facilities nor the surrounds which promise comfort and inspiration to both teacher and student. Thanks but no thanks. What we want is tradition emblemised in rooms which look like the Winter Palace after the Bolsheviks have been through, pedagogy which smells like the rats which die beneath the humanities wing (“Did you fart, miss?”), school spirit written on the morning air by the exhalations of 25 little bodies when the school furnace has broken down — again.

This is the tradition of excellence we are used to and which has been vigorously promoted by a succession of governments — “Education is our number one priority”. So, if it’s all the same to you, we’re sticking to it.

Read the full Lowbottom High diaries here.

Peter Fray

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