Starry nights and dreamus interruptus.

I woke up re-living a long-faded memory last night. I’d returned to my teen years and found myself sitting outside one of my teacher’s staff rooms. I was there at the request of my dad. He said that Mr Christea wanted to see me tomorrow morning. So there I was, knocking on my Commanding Officer’s door, waiting for him to respond. My stomach churned.

I loved the Army Cadets. Over the years it’d become a wonderful experience to me. I was so very good at it. The bivouacs, the night navigational courses, the drill, the weekend courses and tests… it all suited me to a tee. When Steven found out about the cadets in our first year of high school, he suggested we should join. I rejected it as first. All I could see was guns and fighting. My peaceful side conjured up pictures of bayonets and tin hats. Being a part of World War 3 just wasn’t in me.

Cadet One Unit was the first cadet unit. The school said that this was the flagship of all cadet units in Australia. It’d been running for a year or two before Steven, I and ninety other boys signed up. We’d considered ourselves as foundation cadets. In one short year, Woodridge High School and its band of khaki boys had set such a high standard that every school wanted to be in on it. Army, Air and Naval Cadets popped up, attached to schools and colleges everywhere.

I worked hard for my rank, attending many courses to achieve it. There were night navigational exams held in dark forests, harbour drill exams set in bushland, lesson plans in the classroom, dress and drill, radio, flag and catering exams. We explored the back-blocks of Nerang, Wolffdene, areas of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and we were being tested all the time, every time. We were boys and cadets gave us the opportunity to find ourselves through our puzzle solving in a big tactile world. 

Two years went by in a flash and there was change in the air before the close of ’82. The ‘boys’ were told that they might have ‘girls’ in ‘83. I’m not sure who started this revolution, maybe some parents had complained, but a note was sent home with each uniformed boy. It had two tick boxes on the ballot paper for a; yes or no. There was also a space left for any suggestions.

The votes were in… the girls joined us in 1983.

I saw it as a good thing. I liked the idea of females roughing it with the boys. I felt we could teach them something they wouldn’t encounter at school or anywhere else. Some of the boys groaned but I didn’t understand. The ladies always made me smile. I was told they could do anything the boys did as was keen to show them the way.

Almost immediately complications set in. The parents had suggested that the boys and girls should be separated during the night time. Two camps had to be set up. This contradicted our previously hard-taught lessons about space conservation and respecting nature by limiting foot and tent traffic in a camp area. A large hessian wall encircled the female campers and they had no immediate supervision at night. Some girls who hadn’t done or passed an assessment course were made leaders by being given officer and sergeant ranks. It was a award system that didn’t sit well with many of the boys, including me. That camp at Greenbank went reasonably well but that’s because we had some modern ‘conveniences’ nearby, like a shower and toilet block.

That wall-of-hession camp model wasn’t ideal. Two camps needed twice as many adults to supervise them and the CO didn’t have enough to go ‘round. The format changed by camp 2 and the girls joined the boys…. but in separate tents. The girls felt securer, their parents felt better, the CO’s were happier.

The second camping event didn’t have those same ‘conveniences’ as the first. Toilets and showers were  makeshift, like most of the previous camps. Plumbing didn’t extend into the forest.

Digging holes for toilets wasn’t something the girls wanted to do. Orders that were readily accepted by boys were greeted with, ‘You can’t make me do that’ from the girls. Carrying food boxes, backpacks, tools, gear of any kind, were out as well. Toileting and showering outside wasn’t even an option. Why dig a hole when it wasn’t going to be used? What was a previously simple set of routine work-details had become a complication for the camp. For the boys, an emotional minefield was being laid at their feet with each passing campsite.

Then came the summer of ’84

The Nerang camp was abysmal. All the girls cried on day two. Someone had broken up with someone at school and had found a note in her camping kit. Girls who had nothing to do with anything joined in and cried sympathetically. Our proud group of snappy khaki boys had become a motley mess of matted hair and running makeup. We couldn’t do anything to move forward and our CO knew it. He exploded in a rage of fury! A whole day of activities was cancelled over those tears. That’d NEVER happened before. He ordered our Platoons to get their act together and scolded us until our ears burned.. The boys copped a special hammering for feeding the problem and not getting on with things. I know what he meant. He wanted the boys to lead the way and make the girls look as though they weren’t keeping up. We tried this tactic but it didn’t work. A team can’t be a team if the girls in it won’t play. They had a game of their own and they played it well.

The sun dipped into the distant forest and a golden sky turned to black. Stars popped out and I couldn’t help think about the camps where I’d seen those stars had ended another perfect day’s adventure. Above the tree line were all those fond memories; below it were the sounds of sniffles and whimpering. Cadet One Unit had gone. Cadet Chaos had arrived. It’d been coming for a while and I knew it with each passing event. I protested the only way I could by disconnecting from what I knew cadets to be. No longer did I care for harbour drill. I walked where I wanted, camped where I liked. I didn’t even unpack my tent during that Nerang camp. I slept in the open and moved my bed according to where the whining and crying wasn’t coming from. A bunch of the old-boys soon joined me, leaving their tents and packs behind. It was more comforting staring at stars together and talking about the good times than dwelling in the present wondering about what tomorrow would bring. None of us talked about the problems but I’m sure we thought about it. I know I did.

That night-of-stars was the last for me. I planned to hand in my uniform the next day of school, washed and ironed as though it was ready for the parade ground. The lanyard was superbly positioned and the knife-edge creases along the sleeves were the best I could make them. My heart was heavy but I wanted out. I stood in front of my CO and held out my uniform. Mr Christea wouldn’t take it from me. He just wouldn’t hear of any resignation..

Words were exchanged. I can’t remember what they were but it didn’t matter. Nothing would change unless I was going to change myself… and I was already doing that. I put that uniform into a cadet locker a few minutes later and left it there for someone else to find. My dad was telephoned over my this. He was ex-Navy and disgusted to hear of what I did. I tried to explain but he responded with words like ‘commitment’ and ‘loyalty’, those used when his Navy was made up of men-only. I asked him how he voted on the poll-slip and he snapped with, ‘You have an appointment with CO Christea tomorrow. Make sure you damn well keep it!’

Mum and dad murmured until late that night. I couldn’t make out much of what they were talking about but I heard him say, ‘I knew this would happen.’ Was he referring to my abandoning of the cadets? Perhaps, I had abandoned things before. A teenager’s life is full of rapid changes. Ejecting our childhood interests could be seen as abandonment.

So I did as my father requested. I knocked on Mr Christea’s door the next day, took a seat on the chair outside his room and waited for the inevitable to happen. Do I dare tell him of the troubled camp, the fractured disorder of the cadetship and how having the girls in it had ruined it? That just sounded like a pathetic cop-out besides, I was an advocate for the girls entering it. When they asked the boys about bringing them in, I had my hand up high. I saw no reason to oppose the idea.

He opened the door. ‘Yes Mr Forman?’
I stood. ‘Ummm, yeah, my dad said you have an appointment with me.’
‘No son, you have an appointment with me.’
‘Umm, no sir, he said you wanted to talk to me about something, so I’m here.’
‘You have it wrong Mr Forman. You have something to say to me.’
‘No sir. I have nothing to say, really I don’t.’
‘If that’s the case, why are you here Mr Forman?’

I shrugged my shoulders and he stood watching them go up and down. I must’ve looked like a right fool. A moment passed and then he said, ‘Right then. Our business is done.’ He turned, went back into through the staff room door and closed it.

And that’s how my cadet days ended. That’s also where I woke this morning, remembering the look of disappointment on his face and having nothing to say to him. It’s an unresolved moment that needed some attention. Unfortunately, there’s no going back. Attending to this piece of the past isn’t achievable. Would I change things if I could? No… and I can’t go back.

Words don’t come easy to a teenage boy and the issues at hand were large ones. What would I say if I were there and had the courage to speak?

·        Cadet One Unit is no longer a unit.
·        The introduction of females has been a negative one
·        Respect and order has been eroded.
·        Male ranking is by assessment, female ranking is by sex.
·        Cadets is now an unsatisfying experience.
·        I must leave.
·        I apologise.

The points made by an adult-me produces many counterpoints and spin-off debates. I have little skill speaking on most of them so I choose not to try. The best I can offer is suggesting that the females have their own Cadet Unit. Young ladies have their own way. The last group of people who should be telling them how they ought to behave with a bunch of males is another bunch of males. As it turned out, adult females can’t change them either. So why not keep the two sexes apart and let them have their own worlds in their own cadet units? On paper, it’s a perfectly logical solution.

I don’t think that would happen though, for two very good reasons:

1)  This modern, feminist world doesn’t like things that smacks of female-blame. The moment things turn this way the discussion is flooded with sexist issues and takes a negative. My suggestion is not about blaming females. I’m referring to the issues surrounding the combining of teen males and females in a cadet unit. As I am male, my world is where I am. Pardon me if I have no other ground to stand upon when I look outwards. But please don’t emasculate me for being male or sharing my male thoughts. I just don’t think a discussion can get past sexism because our priorities go to protecting feminism ahead of considering commonsense.
2)   Alas, any separation of the sexes tends to go against this new-world belief we have in sexual equality. We all want us to be equal, devoid of gender preferences, psychologically androgynous, and sexually neutral in every possible way. In doing this we have exchanged the word ‘equality’ for ‘the same’ and closed the sexual gap with every passing debate and creating social change. Women are making a migration towards the masculine side of sexuality and men are migrating towards the feminine. Separating the sexes suggests reversing this process and, in this world, we only go forward. There is no going backwards. Of course, it doesn’t mean that what we do it right, it just means that this is the way things get done. Reverse-gear is a social no-go-gear.
The young-me wouldn’t have had a way to say all this to my Commanding Officer. I wouldn’t have said it to him anyway if I did. Remember, my hand was up to the idea of change. Changing back would be admitting I was wrong. Changing others asks everyone else to consider the same… and there’s no going backwards, right? That pressed uniform of mine would still go into that locker. Any words I could say wouldn’t change a single thing. Conversation would be futile. My naive, shoulder shrugging way was an apt way to deal with it. It was a shorter, less frustrating way that allowed me to move on sooner than later.

So there you are. My dream problem has been resolved… and it came from a sense of guilt. I let people down and it has dogged me all this time. I ‘ve said it. 

Resolution in those issues that caused me make my decision can’t happen for they belong to a changing society. Choosing to leave was my issue and that’s mine to own. I can’t go back and reset the past. The only way any kind of resolution can happen now is for someone to take my words and make sense of them, to be used sometime in the future.

I don’t think Cadet One Unit is operational anymore. I looked but couldn’t find it. I remembered that there was a break-in at the school in the early nineties and some drill rifles were stolen from the stores room. (Don’t worry, they were inoperable) The community freaked out and I think an insurance company threatened to revoke its cover on the school if they kept those rifles on-campus. There were complications as a result of the weapons backlash and cadet numbers dwindled. Cadet units were merged to centralized regions and that’s when I lost track of them. I doubt any kid wants to march anymore, not with their helicopter parents and iPads keeping them from touching or doing anything real.

Mr Christea died in 1992 (I think.).

My father told me of his vote many years later. He too has since passed away.

-Michael
SEETHINGS novel by Michael Forman (This is real)
Michael has put together a strong, heart beating novel, one which the readers of ‘psychotic thrillers’ will enjoy! – Mike M. Roleystone
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