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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Devahuti and Damodar [Part 3]

I graduated from Kelvin Grove Teacher’s College at the end of 1965. My career there was very ordinary except for Distinctions in Art and English Literature. I was way more interested at that time in the Friday night dances and pretty girls than most of the subjects I was supposed to be studying, but if I think there’s an interesting enough story or two there I’ll tell them later.
   I was sent to Gladstone Central School for my first teaching post, and I lived at my mother’s house together with my youngest sister Kay. While teaching, I kept up my university undergraduate work, this time by External Studies from UQ. Once again, I stuck with advanced History rather than branching out into another discipline such as English.
   If you’re wondering what this has to do with Devahuti and Damodar, all I’ll say right now's that the explanation below becomes critical in the circumstances when we met again.
   This time, I ventured into East Asian history – again, one of a limited number of subjects offered by QU for external study – better known these days as Distance Education. The Modern Far East was the year-long subject’s name, reflecting the idiom of the times. These days no-one would ever call it that; it would be referred to and named as Modern East Asia. ‘Far East’ as a name went out of vogue when it was realised that China and Japan were only ‘Far’ from a place that didn’t matter half as much as it used to.
   As it was my first year teaching, I had to put in a lot of time preparing lessons for my Grade 4, so study time for my university work was limited, and interfered somewhat with my social life as well. My grades for essays were improving nevertheless, but hardly noteworthy. I was after all, simply collecting points towards my BA in order to gain more Brownie Points for enhancing my prospects for promotion in the State Education Department.
   So, as the end of year exams approached, I decided I better cut corners with my studies, and I prepared answers to three topics only. I had to answer three questions in three hours of furious writing, so if I blew it and the questions weren’t there, I was in for a rough trot.
   The exams came and went, and Christmas approached. Grades for university exams were always made known first in the newspaper, the Courier Mail, followed up by a letter containing the official transcript. It was often an anxious wait for these published results, and I had an early morning trip down to the newsagent to know whether the news was good or bad.
   So it was that I ventured down to buy a paper. The results were in. I scanned down till I found The Modern Far East. Firstly, I looked in the Pass category, knowing that unless I failed the subject, that was where it was almost certain to be. Fails weren’t recorded in the newspaper; the only concession to personal privacy that the 1960s would permit. If you weren’t listed somewhere, you’d flunked.
   It wasn’t there. My heart jumped a bit, but I thought maybe I had fluked a Credit, so scanned those. A name like ‘Wright’ is easy to find in a list, as it’s usually last, but it wasn’t there either. My heart sank, and I found myself regretting (a little!) those nights out with Suzie Breslin and other girls at the Drive-In movies or the Calliope dances.
   With the faintest of hopes, I looked at the Distinctions, and my heart really did miss a beat, because there was a ‘D Wright’. Right at the bottom. I looked at it over and over before I found it in my brain to believe it possible, then whooped with joy (as the Courier Mail never made a mistake, just like I said in other stories).
   How could it have happened? True, I had blundered on to one or two good sources for those three questions for which I had prepared answers, but most of it came straight out of the set texts and the lecture notes. I had written it all down, recorded these answers to this new-fangled thing called a tape recorder I had bought for a scandalous 35 pounds when I left Brisbane, and played it back over and over in the hope something would stick in my brain for the exams. It did stick, actually, and I wrote the full three hours straight, regurgitating my answers without even having to think much about it.
   Though I didn’t deserve the mark, I was of course pleased as Punch. The official letter confirming the result came. Yes, just as the newspaper had said. 
   But there’s more!
   Three weeks later another letter from the Exams section of Queensland University came – an Amended Result Notification. My heart really sank this time. The true worth of my study in modern Chinese and Japanese history must have been divined by the Lecturer. Had I failed?
   I was totally flabbergasted when it contained a letter to say that my mark had been amended from a Distinction to a High Distinction. No explanation, just a fact. End of story. And this being an official letter, there was no doubt about it.
   Now I am not telling you this to boast about a result, or even how lucky it was that I was someone who had done minimal work in a subject, and had been awarded its top honour. I have spent some time on this because that result was absolutely critical to the rest of my life. I wouldn't be writing this now if it weren't for this lucky break.
   Without it, I would never have gone back to university as a full time student, I would never have seen Devahuti and Damodar again, and I would probably have ended my professional career as a Headmaster, at best, at a primary school in some small town in Queensland. 
   No-one can say, of course, what might have happened, good or bad, but my life would certainly have taken a totally different path to this one.
[Part 4]

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