Learnin’ Them Kids Some Numbers and Words


Welll it’s been a while since I’ve risked the ire of the Department of Child Safety, and as I’ve never been one for letting the authorities relax for any length of time, I thought it’s about time to delve into the world of my parenting prowess once again. On this merry jaunt I shall take you, dear reader, through the minefield that is edgewcation, edukasion, educaisian……learning stuff.

This may come as a surprise to some, ok it probably won’t, but I was not the exactly the poster boy of scholastic achievement back in my younger days. Rather than burying myself in text books I could more often be found perusing the latest Rolling Stone or Hot Metal magazine. I can’t remember finishing a single novel which had been designated as ‘essential reading’ in the English curriculum, but I think there was one about some kind of ruler of flies and some other rubbish about a bunch of animals taking over a farm.

I always kind of figured I’d get by on my rugged good looks and boyish charm. If only someone had pointed out my severe deficiencies in both areas then my life could’ve turned out somewhat different. Anyhoo, fast forward about ten years  and I’d left school, had some fun in the army and now had some kids for whom I was supposed to push the learning agenda. Despite having no interest in academia myself, I was now responsible for getting three malleable young minds to do what I couldn’t.

I’d always known that at some point throughout their schooling, there would come a time when the questions which they were asking me to assist with would be so far over my head that I’d be as useless as a Jackie Howe** at a drag queen convention. Although I had long accepted this fact, I wasn’t prepared for it to happen in around Year 5 when Mortimer came home with a long division question. You know the ones –  this goes into that this many times, minus that, multiplied by the average rainfall figures across the Pilbara region plus the square root of the firing order of a VK Commodore.

As I sat down and indulged in much head scratching in an attempt to offer assistance, it rapidly became clear that in the years since I was first introduced to this weird magic the methods for solving these things had changed dramatically. I tried to show Mortimer the way I was shown, through admittedly vague recollections, and he was coming up with something completely different. Needless to say after an hour of relentless struggle my brain had melted and I think Mortimer had lost at least a dozen IQ points. Fortunately these were restored when he went back to school the following day and the teacher explained it to him using reason and logic rather than frustration and dismay.

Now well may you say “that’s ok Paddy, maths just isn’t your strong point,” and you’d be right. However my lack of ability in academic areas also spreads to the arts. Not such a concern through the early years when art consisted of painting a big orange sun above the standard square house with the triangle roof and two windows. That I can advise on. But what happens when the child in question, Brenda on this occasion, chooses to study art into her high school years?

I have occupied this Earth for 42 years and still am unable to draw a semi-recognisable stick figure. So when Brenda brings home a beautiful drawing done in pencil with shading and symbolic imagery of a young girl whose grandmother passed away prior to her birth, I am stunned as to just how she managed to do it. But not so her art teacher who, for some reason, wanted to see more depth, more colour in what was intended to be an emotionally dark piece. The best I could do was to channel the spirit of some long-dead bohemian artist and say “you can’t teach art maann. Art comes from the soul, can you dig it. Down with the Fascist Establishment trying to dictate art maaaan!”. No it didn’t help with her future scores throughout the remainder of her schooling, but at least her belief in her artistic integrity is still intact. So a big middle finger to the education department on that one.

So with Mortimer and Brenda I may not have been of much assistance but at least I was able to at pretend. With Kertrude on the other hand, I never had a chance. It’s pretty obvious that she must share some kind of separate DNA string to the rest of us. Of the many traits on this particular branch of the O’Neill family tree, she displays none. First of all, she’s academically gifted. And by that I mean she’s sharp as a marble as far as day to day functioning is concerned, but throw something academic at her and she’ll excel in all areas. And secondly she actually has the drive to push herself to reach the dizzy heights of academic success. I’m not saying Mortimer and Brenda aren’t smart, because they actually are, but putting in effort just for a good grade, well who could be bothered?

Anyway, for those outside of Queensland, the University entrance score up here is known as an OP and is measured from 1 to 25, with 1 being the highest. Kertrude is on target for 1 to 5, so ya know, she left me behind a long time ago. But she still asks for assistance as though I might actually be able to provide it. So when she says “Father, this assignment on the ways that the Earth’s various spheres interact to influence flood events is only supposed to be 1000 words long and I’ve only just done the introduction and first dot point and I’m at 1500 words,” well the best I can do is stare blankly and hope I don’t dribble too much on my shirt.

But, despite my lack of scholarly nous I’ve managed to guide one school captain, one vice-captain and one prefect through to successful completion of their schooling. I realise that these are not my achievements, but are due to the personal traits of each of my tax deductions. But bugger it I’m taking credit. It’s all down to my spectacular parenting skills I tells ya. And that my friends is why it is important to educate your kids – vicarious achievement.


** For those who come from overseas, or those who like to spend their time sipping lattes in inner city cafes, a Jackie Howe is a blue singlet which is the native dress for your discerning Aussie bloke and is usually accompanied by a pair of shorts and thongs. It derives its name from Mr Howe who wore one while achieving the record for most number of sheep shorn in one day (321) in the 1890s. Not bad considering he did it with the old hand shears and the record remained in place for about 50 years after the invention of mechanical shears. If you’re a bloke and have never worn one of these singlets then we can’t be friends.

That Wonderful First Time – The Second Bit


The Wonderful First Time – The Second Bit.

So where did we leave this last time? Ah that’s right, in the Birdsville Hotel with a group of Army helicopters lobbing in for the evening.

So there we were, enjoying a few beers and a game of pool with the locals, at a pub that felt like it was a thousand kilometres away from the rest of civilised society. No better feeling on the planet, let me tell you. All the usual concerns that a young lad would have back in the real world, such as, um, aw geez, I dunno, I didn’t really have any concerns back then, but whatever they may have been, out there on the edge of the Simpson, they really didn’t amount to fart in a cyclone. All that mattered was that Old Joe was about to sink the black ball and the pride of the Army Apprentice School was on the line. We were getting whipped, figuratively speaking.

Humpa was doing his best with the young lady behind the bar, but she’d heard it all before and the big fella went down in a screaming heap. And when Tony suggested that she was the sister of one of the bigger locals who happened to be sitting at a table in the corner, Humpa decided that on second thoughts he wasn’t really interested in that young lady after all. Now that I think about it, that was among the first of many evenings that saw me and Humpa occupying seats at bars over the coming couple of years. And that’s the other great thing about heading bush with a bunch of blokes, the shared experience turns casual acquaintances into good mates.

So anyway, the next morning as the sun slowly rose it turned out that Tony had organised a bit of a joy ride for us young fellas in the helicopter piloted by the former mechanic. This was going to be great, an opportunity to not only experience the landscape from the ground, but to see the great expanses of sand dunes to one side and bugger all on the other. And with the sunrise to add to the spectacle, couldn’t ask for more.

Well actually I could’ve asked for more, or less to be more accurate. Less of a hangover to be exact. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a small scouting type helicopter with a dozen empty stubbies clanging together in your head and god knows what churning in your guts, but I don’t recommend it. Trying to enjoy the scenery while simultaneously struggling to prevent regurgitation somewhat diminishes the whole experience. And a quick look to my left confirmed that fact that Skins was also experiencing the same struggle. But we both claimed victory and managed to land, a bit green around the gills but otherwise unsullied.

So with that out of the way and with a solid breakfast now on board it was time to pack up and head off into the Simpson. Now originally we were supposed to take the  French Line and head over Big Red, but things had been a bit soggy in the region and it was decided that the Rig Road would be the safer alternative, so that was the new plan. And just as a bit of an aside, my first Birdsville/Simpson experience was affected by rain, in that the original plans involving Big Red were scuppered by rain. Fast forward 25 years, my Man Child headed out that way for the Big Red Bash for his first time out that way, and despite being on the edge of a dessert in the driest Continent on Earth, his first time was also affected by the rain. They couldn’t have the event on Big Red, so it ended up happening in town. Ah and the wheel continues to turn. Sun rise, sun set. The Cat’s in the Cradle with a Silver Spoon, Yes we have no bananas. (Diehard fans of The Simpsons will understand that reference.)

So anyway, we were off on the Rig Road. At first it was pretty easy going. Flat, smooth, well-maintained road out of town for the first few klicks, a couple of little dunes that you probably could’ve made it over in Aunt Mavis’ Corolla. But as we went further the conditions deteriorated until we were going along at a crawling pace, picking our way around washed out sections of the track and negotiating the increasingly more impressive dunes. Not that I’m complaining. I mean that’s what we went out there for and it was actually a lot of fun. The four-wheel driving bug started to bite even harder.


By the end of the day we’d probably covered a bit over 100 kilometres, maybe. I wasn’t paying too much attention to those kinds of details. But by the end of the day we were definitely into the Simpson proper. It also happened to be the auspicious occasion of my 18th birthday. Now, there’s a bit of a tradition down at the Appy School whereby the celebration of a birthday was usually accompanied by the person being celebrated getting thrown into the nearest body of water.

“Ha!” I thought to myself. “We’re in the middle of a desert. There’ll be no non-consensual swim for me this evening.”

And so it was that on this first night we pulled up next to a desert spring.

“No worries.” Thought I. “That water has been baking in the desert sun all day. It’ll be nice and warm.”

So I didn’t struggle too much as the lads took a limb each and carried me down to the water. I wasn’t concerned when they started swinging me, building up sufficient momentum to ensure I was thrown far enough to ensure a thorough dunking. Nor was I concerned as I followed a graceful arc on my way to middle of the spring.

And then I hit the water.

Holy snapping duck shit! Spears of freezing cold icicles stabbed into my soft unprepared flesh as a couple of lumps suddenly appeared in my throat due to my gentlemen’s berries retracting with the speed of light to escape the Antarctic conditions which now surrounded them. The water was as cold as a mother in law’s kiss and while I plummeted to near hypothermic temperature all that the pack of dingoes responsible for my suffering could do was laugh.

So afterwards with the sun going down and a cool breeze gently blowing over us we stood around in a convivial circle of mates, with me wearing nothing but a pair of wet shorts and shivering so hard you could hear my bones smacking together. A bottle of Bundy which the pub had donated for the occasion was passed around. When it came to my turn to upend the bottle, the first sensation was one of desperately needed warmth flowing down my throat and into my stomach, and I forgot I was drinking rum. It was only after a good half dozen large mouthfuls that they decided to separate me from the bottle.

Well the events of the rest of that night are best left in the memories of those who were there, but it did involve more celebratory drinks, a passed out birthday boy and at some stage a midnight search for Onk who seemed to have gone missing after heading out for a leak. After searching for god knows how long, we ended up back at the camp and there he was, snuggled into his sleeping bag and snoring his head off. Best Birthday Ever!

Anyway, to be continued in the third bit next week.