Bridging the Divide
Phoebe Grant considers the in-between of a rural childhood and big-city youth
My university education has given me the opportunity to examine everything I take for granted. I feel the more I learn, the more I am able to trace back my experiences and render them visible for the first time. It’s strange reflecting on my first contact with the norms of class and gender without having the eyes to truly see them. Long before knowing who Marx or Engels was, I could feel the jagged edge of class and could run my hands along it.
One particular memory stands out. I was staying at my friend Chelsea’s house.
Such a strange moment to reflect on, the startling realisation that not all mums spent hours crafting and cooking samosas
The Goonan’s were a family of seven and my friend Chelsea was twelve at the time and the eldest daughter. I remember coming home on the bus with her, she was never one to be meek, calling some of the older boys a “pack of grotty cunts” as we walked down the gravel track to her house. Upon entering the house Chelsea set to work defrosting carbonara sauce, boiling the spaghetti, serving up food for her entire family, and feeding her younger siblings. The place was completely stuffed; a farmhouse falling apart. I feel embarrassed to say now, but I looked around in horror. All five children were sandwiched into two bedrooms, like sardines, seven people sharing the limited space of a three-bedroom house. I remember crawling over their slumbering bodies looking for a flashlight in the dark so I could make my way to the outhouse. Such a strange moment to reflect on, the startling realisation that not all mums spent hours crafting and cooking samosas. Not all houses had multiple inside toilets.
And of course, I experienced the other side of the spectrum of class. In particular, my cousins who had attended prestigious private schools and took a lot of joy in the power it seemed to afford them. Michael, in particular, use to revel in his superior intellect. He seemed to hand pick specific words, release them so articulately into the conversation and watch me puzzle over their meaning. He would laugh and mock the broad-er Australian accent that I announced with. Sitting at the dinner table he would mimic me, correcting my “ash-felt” to his Asphalt. I would say pro-NOWN-ciation not pro-NUNCE-iation. It seemed to give him endless joy marvelling at my stupidity, ever entangled in my regional upbringing and affordable school. He would sometimes look me and my younger brother up and down, announcing to the party that the we were a pair of ‘country bumpkins’.
To gain distance from “these people” I donned the irresistible armour of my own elitism
And in many ways, I still struggle with this spectrum of class, and whereabouts I am situated on it. It is still difficult not to see the town I grew up in as the arse-end of the Great Ocean Road. To me, this sort of regional backwater grows a specific type of misogyny. My years in high school are entangled with feelings of deep resentment and nostalgia. I attended a school where it was pretty stock standard for girls to get rooted or fingered behind sheds or in the back of barns. I was almost constantly petrified that some sort of horrific sexual encounter might happen to me. I used my limited scope of high school academia to distance myself from them. To gain distance from “these people” I donned the irresistible armour of my own elitism. I was ~going places ~ which obviously made me far superior. I was off to university. In the CITY. University became an impenetrable heritage-listed cockblock and this sense of superiority protected me from the enormously terrifying prospect of getting finger banged beside a tractor. Did I lose a part of this country bumpkin self when I oved to the city? No, I think she’s still in there, she’s just a little more aware and a little less scared.
I learned how to be ethically and academically empathetic, sympathetic to other ‘country bumpkins’ whatever their life plight
Attending university made me interrogate my position in the world, my class and gender. Whilst people scoff at the pointlessness of an arts degree, I am so grateful that I had the chance to investigate this wild world we live in. I learned how to be ethically and academically empathetic, sympathetic to other ‘country bumpkins’ whatever their life plight, however different it is to my own. I was sitting next to a woman recently, who abhorred public toilets. “Breeding grounds for bacteria” she ardently insisted, claiming that it was because she was a “germophobe” that she abhorred them so. But I truly felt like she was disgusted by the thought of a public toilet. God forbid her supple ass share the same toilet seat as a homeless cretin.
It was a strange moment of realisation. I have been disgusted by the mess and the muck of other people (we ALL have) and here was this woman deriding the idea of a public toilet. Disgusted by the humans that surround her. I am interested in the people we are disgusted by and the people who get so caught up in feeling and being disgusted. University has made me curious about people, and it’s this analytical eye which allows me to interrogate myself and those around me, and recalibrate my understanding of what it means to exist in the world.
Phoebe Grant is a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) graduate. She enjoys looking like the late Princess Diana.
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