Given the powers of time travel there are many people I’d like to thank if I could jump back a few years between now and 1980. There are the many loving souls, close family and friends who supported and encouraged me in any way they could and are unfortunately no longer with us. There are sporting heroes, rock gods, and any array of public figures that were instrumental in shaping and inspiring me. But, above all, there are the bullies.
Nothing firms your focus, strengthens a weak collection of vertebrae into the most robust of spines or establishes clarity of purpose more than being picked on. It’s a gift that only the most mercilessly harsh and despicable of society can provide. Fortunately you don’t have to travel far to find these hideous individuals. They’re basically everywhere and usually occupy prominent positions in most public organizations, private institutions and social networks. That’s how society functions.
At around the age of 9 or 10, towards the end of 4th grade, mum took me along to an entrance interview with a prominent private school on Sydney’s north shore. Like many of these schools, the only thing more important than your parents being able to stump up the ludicrously insane amount of cash to cover the school fees (plus some regular, generous donations) was the simultaneous requirement that you were a good fit for the school’s culture. They didn’t say it at the time, but being a good fit for the culture really meant you were deemed to be on the path to playing in the Wallabies, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra or perhaps presiding high in the ranks of the Australasian College of Surgeons. That was the culture they were looking to foster at their God fearing campus.
Mum held back tears and clenched fists as the school’s Registrar very calmly and composed asked, “Liam, having looked through your records and test results, I would just like to know, how do you think you would cope here at (insert name of pretentious, overpriced, private school) if you were always at the bottom of the class, if you were in the lowest grade sporting teams, if you didn’t have many friends?”
I am not making this up. He asked this as he sipped on his tea and stroked his chin, patiently awaiting a response. I was only a young fella, but I'd been blessed with a strong and accurate cunt radar since day dot. With my freckly, fat little body seated on the couch, I looked the demented psychopath in the eye, “Well, if that happened even once, if I was in the lowest team or had the worst marks, it would only ever happen once. I would do everything to be in the best teams and have the best marks and I guarantee you, I would succeed. And friends, I’ve got plenty of friends.”
Mum stared down the Registrar and mentally belted his face to a pulp. He ceased stroking his chin and even tried to laugh away the reply. The sort of reaction you see Malcolm Turnbull resort to every time he is asked to provide a hint of substance to anything he says. It was glorious. I was essentially an aimless young man at the time. I was only 9 so I think that’s more than reasonable. But that moment, that chance to stare down a bully, take a deep breath while my upper lip was quivering and then fire back, that has shaped every single thing I have done ever since.
Anytime something has seemed too difficult, too great a challenge, I picture that school registrar looking down his nose at the most vulnerable, wide-eyed 9 year old boy and I want to smash his smug face in, not with fists of fury but with deeds of greatness. The motivation he has provided me for a lifetime is priceless. Without him, I honestly doubt whether any number of incredible things that have happened in my life would have been possible.
Lovely people can pat you on the back all day and tell you how wonderful you are. That’s great. But only bullies can force you to search deep inside yourself to find the strength that resides in every single one of us. It’s a gift that only the sincerely vile and heartless possess. So bullies, can we just leave them be? They’re responsible for far more good than you could possibly imagine.
Thank you, dear Registrar, thank you.
Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story set in Southeast Asia about capitalism on steroids, it makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly, and Sweet Dreams of Fanta, a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover.