Preppy Prep Schools in Sydney’s Snore (North) Shore

I have had the unfortunate experience of being introduced to ‘Prep Schools’ in Sydney’s North Shore out of pure lack of choice for schooling due to our catchment area.

In the Snore Shore they are particularly popular with the English crowd and I suspect a similar schooling system takes place in the UK for perhaps the upper middle class. Whatever the socioeconomics of its origins, it has certainly taken on an aspirational and dare I say ‘white privilege’ connotation in Sydney. I know, I’m such a racist according to Pauline Hanson for calling out ‘White privilege’.

My first experience was with my daughter. It became very clear from the distancing of parents from me and my daughter that we were not welcomed at the school. Teachers were often very biased, and bullying was rife. Not that the teachers did anything about the bullying of course because the perpetrators’ parents sat on the P& C and donated heavily to the school building fund. I quickly took her out of the school to the more ‘normal’ experience of an out of area public school.

My second experience was with my son. The parents were a little friendlier at this school but most definitely aspirational and very good at fake corporate civility- a deft skill in Sydney’s Snore Shore given the number of finance corporate types. It also comes with the territory of aspiration and lifestyle.

This prep school did a bit more to encourage diversity and the large numbers of Indian and Chinese students certainly put on a good show of inclusion. But scratch the surface and the fake corporate civility remained. People didn’t go beyond outward displays of inclusion. Cliques with friends formed, cliques with parents formed and suddenly my son found himself with all the ethnics.

One particular boy in his group was a son of a well-known corporate person and a thug. This boy was aggressive and physical and apt to choke, hit, punch and lash out physically at boys when he didn’t get his way. His mother a blond type of the ‘I don’t spread my legs for less than $500K’ variety, was not that great with boundaries and discipline- no doubt that was the school’s problem not hers. When my son defended himself from this violent child who do you think got punished? Yes, my son. Because prep schools will always defend the powerful and in Australia power is represented by a white person. Yes, please call me racist for calling out white privilege. I’ll gladly wear that hat if it means I get the freedom of speech to tell my truth.

At this same school my son was the recipient of teachers picking on him and turning a blind eye when others were abusing and bullying him. His class teacher often ignored his attempts to participate in class and he was overlooked for much of his short (thank goodness) time at the school. If it had not been for me and my husband my son would be so academically behind in class despite the $17K we spent per year in his education there.

What erks me the most is the tokenism displayed at these schools. Holding international food markets as an attempt to be inclusive doesn’t quite get to the heart of bias and prejudice. Just because I have now included dumplings to my steak and three veg diet doesn’t make me a tolerant and respectful person to difference. Maybe workshops on examining your innate bias in everyday situations would be far more effective.

I know it could be far worse for me and my kids and I understand some progress has been made in the world, but we still hang onto archaic power structures of former colonial and imperial powers. This blog is all about being at the receiving end of those structures- it’s about being in the ‘out’ group, the group who is put down due to fear, threat and plain ignorance all stemming from white people needing to be on top. It hurts more when it’s your own children at the receiving end of  centuries old power structures. When I see white helicopter mothers with their neurotic anxiety over their albino boys, I sigh. I feel like saying to neurotic mother ‘take a chill pill love, he’s a white boy in a first world country.’ Look at Donald Trump, the red carpet will be laid out for him, bias will be in his favour and all he needs to do is learn to tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. My kids will just need to learn the virtues of maturity, resilience and affiliation with those who matter and ‘ hope’ that one day, their group will be on top.
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Handmaids Tale, Stepford Wives & Snoring

I live in Sydney’s North Shore , an area I now call ‘The Snore Shore’. It puts many noses out of joint when I label their beloved area of status, privilege and standing as the most boring part of Sydney. Worse than boring in my over 30 years of being well acquainted with the area, attending a private girls school and now living in the area, I have come to realise there is an insidious patriarchal racist conservatism at play in these parts.

Let me explain. When I attended high school there wasn’t much diversity. I was one of five girls who one would label ‘ethnic’. School was full of covert racism and bias.  The celebrity girls (daughters of well known politicians, tennis coaches etc) were automatically put on a pedestal, ended up with high university entrance scores due to doing a large number of ‘subjective’ subjects like English, History and the like and getting special treatment for a sudden onset of anorexia during the High School Certificate Exams. I would be invited home to these precious parcels’ abodes and parents would raise their eye brow and no doubt questions of my identity asked once I left. Needless to say there were no more ‘play dates’ after that.  I was the poor ethnic migrant. I should be taking a seat at the back of the bus. I had no right to be with these people. Think Pia Miranda in ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. I had to be smart to outwit the ones placed on the confidence pedestal , easy with a quip knowing full well their wit and whiteness would land them easily in professions like law if not by their own merit,  than by ‘daddy’s work connections.’

Worse for me was the apparent stupidity and complicity of these blond haired blue eyed wonders. They were to become wives for their private school boy counterparts. They were to become the Stepford Wives and Handmade’s Tale of male domination, where a man is seen as a ‘financial plan’  and the woman’s currency was her thinness and blondness that made for attractiveness that suited an ambitious male’s ‘lifestyle’ and would provide him with children and domestic servitude. He was in control at all times as the financial drip could be pulled at any time. The counter to this however was that a prime female, the ‘catch’, had her minimum requirements as well. Domestic abuse is tolerated as women in these parts don’t spread their legs for less than $500K. Here’s a related article on wives in guilded cages. Yes honestly, I’m not making things up! …https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/the-super-wealthy-wives-trapped-in-a-gilded-cage-20181107-p50eg3.html

If you don’t comply in this role the judgements and double standards come flying. The Stay At Home Mums and Working Mums war begins. The Whiteness vs Ethnicity bias quicks in.  As an ethnic, you suspend your authenticity in order to become one of the White Mum cliques. The ones with the ‘I don’t spread for less than $500K’ mantra look down on those poor heathens who don’t quite fit the patriarchal list of attractiveness and god forbid might actually have a brain and a career/profession. It’s a really judgy world one enters into and you may hasten to say that this post wreaks with judgment; well I’ve had many years of being at the receiving end of it.

Perhaps it’s the history of the area that has perpetuated this conservatism and patriarchal penchant. Historically, this was a place where legal, finance and banking people brought their families to and today there is a large number of people in the area employed in banking, finance and corporate.  The finance industry is traditionally conservative, very white male and attracts the hyper-capitalist. Money is their God and Christianity helps hide its vulgarities and offers Charity to ‘others or them’ relieving guilt. I wonder too how many of these men belong to secret men’s clubs like the Freemasons and the like? The man is the breadwinner and the woman attends to domestic duties. So hyper-capitalist stockbrokers and finance people see the leafy area with good train access and schools as an ‘investment’. Part of the portfolio, part of their ‘lifestyle’ and the Blond Stepford Wife, completes the feeling of status, wealth and privilege. Both genders playing their part in the hyper-capitalist lifestyle, both commodities to be traded with each other and children help to keep her trapped until she finally realises her prison, if that ever happens.

So why am I still here? At the end of the day the area is safe and I have children to educate and keep well until they are old enough to enter the world themselves. I’ll put up being the outsider and the snore boring conservatism of the place until my children are done with it. I will ‘use’ this area and trade on its benefits for my own family and partake in the capitalist ‘ What’s in it for me’ attitude. I will become one of them on the outside but forever sniggering at the entertainment it affords me.  A puppet show of pretense and fake corporate civility. Popcorn anyone?

Hey, don’t gaslight me. White people are calling it out too…

In case you’re feeling like this is a rather negative rant on Australian society, let me put your mind at ease- it is. This well written article by a white American might just let you know how unbelievably OK it is in Australia to be discriminatory towards those who are ‘different’. This comes from another person, not me so I hope it goes to validate my feelings and experiences here in Australia.

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/bigotted-thinking-is-more-dangerous-than-the-hijab-20161215-gtbw1q.html. Here’s the article below:

She was the first neighbour we had in Australia. She left us place settings for two, two tea towels, and a kettle on our doorstep after she learned that our things wouldn’t arrive from America for another month and a half.

It was the holiday season. A tough time to make cross continental moves.

On New Year’s Day, she had us over for “a cup of tea”. I can’t remember if she was born here or an immigrant from Scotland, but she was certainly proud of her Scottish heritage. She explained that we were her first guests on New Year’s Day, a detail of significance in her culture. Something called First-Footing.

A custom of Hogmanay: the first guest over the threshold on New Year’s Day, it was hoped, would bring an assortment of humble, symbolic items of food and drink in order to procure good luck for the host in the coming year.

Since we had none of these items, our neighbour had them ready for us to give to her: salt, coal, whiskey, shortbread, and a fruit cake of some kind sat upon a plate on the entry table near her front door. She let us choose the items from the plate that we wished to give her, and then we handed them back to her as we stepped inside.

While we sat in the foyer of her terrace house and enjoyed her homemade shortbread cookies, she proceeded to tell us about “The Neighbourhood”. The neighbours on the other side were an “eyesore”, she said. Italians. “Always talking loudly in Italian on their phones, leaning out the windows. I have to ask them to be quiet five times a day or keep my windows shut. And they hang their laundry across that upstairs balcony. The council really should do something about it. I’ve reported it more than once,” she said.

 

The loud-talking Italian neighbours were one thing, but the Chinese who fed the pigeons in the small park behind her house seemed to be an even greater source of agony. According to our neighbour, the Chinese dirtied up the park. They left litter and food around for the pigeons to pick at, and eventually the seagulls would come and really make a mess of things. “Those birds, they just spread garbage and disease. It was discussed at the last council meeting. Something will be done about it.”

She gave us the lay of the land. The Woolworths on the corner was where the Aborigines gathered. “But they’re relatively harmless. Just drunk. Don’t give them money.” There was a butcher a street over who sold turkeys for the Americans at the holidays, and if I ever needed any jewellery or watches repaired, she knew a good repairman: “He’s Greek but trustworthy.”

My husband and I listened and smiled politely and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. Our neighbour was kind in her intentions, but her blind unawareness of her basis of judgment of other human beings was disturbing, and in large quantities, a potentially dangerous thing.

Since then I’ve realised that our neighbour introduced us to more than the neighbourhood; she introduced us to normalised racism in Australia. And over the years, I’ve seen it worsen. As it has globally, the anti-Muslim sentiment has grown stronger here. Worrisome generalisations like, “There’s no such thing as a peaceful Muslim,” are becoming more common.

Most people reading this would dismiss that statement for what it is: an uninformed prejudice. That said, there are a lot of people who believe mainstream fearmongers and think that Muslims are dangerous aggressors determined to infiltrate a country and convert its inhabitants to Islam.

These people can’t differentiate between a general belief system and the extremists of that ideology.

Because it’s the extremists of any religion or movement that are the true threat to peace. And we create those extremists ourselves. They are the manifested response to our divisive rhetoric, our mob mentality, and the unopposed false statements and prejudices that are allowed to circulate within our cultures.

A UN special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, in his recent visit to Australia, fingered Australian politicians as a whole as being influential contributors to the xenophobic hate speech that fuels the rise of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment here. Ruteere warned that those who refuse to denounce such speech serve to normalise it within the culture.

Like Peter Dutton, who recently said that “of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds”.

Head of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jacinta Carroll replied: “Fortunately in Australia to date the numbers of supporters of Islamist extremism and terrorism are very low; so low, in fact, they’re categorised as cases and clusters rather than being statistically useful,” she said.

But Dutton doesn’t explain that. Truths like that would contradict his xenophobic agenda, but it’s truths like that that should be shared loudly.

It’s the holiday season again. I’m digging out family decorations and going through customs and traditions that are foreign here but age-old in my family. Australia-wide there are people like me, like that first neighbour, enjoying the customs of our diverse backgrounds, and I find myself wondering about the word “assimilation”, how it stands in such stark contradiction to the multicultural society Australia touts itself as being. How can we be multicultural if we’re all the same?

Muslims are regularly criticised for “not assimilating” into Australian culture, and I wonder what that means. Why are Muslims expected to trade-in their customs and traditions for Australian ones yet my neighbour feels she can freely cultivate and share her Scottish traditions and racist judgments of others, with strangers? Surely, that kind of bigoted, hypocritical thinking is far more dangerous to society than a headscarf.

By Aubrey Perry.

In addition to the above sentiments by Aubrey Perry, let me give another example – John Oliver, a journalist who was once with the Daily Show US, now has his own program. Mr Oliver has not once but on many occasions mentioned the casual racism in Australia in his shows this link being one of them back in 2013: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/australia-is-most-comfortably-racist-says-daily-show-presenter-20130416-2hxg5.html

I’m not making up my experiences of being in the ‘out’ group here in Australia. Where as I’m not the recipient of violence I have been the recipient of hate, bullying, intimidation and exclusion. I can give one of many examples of incidences living in Sydney, one being of a neighbour calling the police because my husband told a tradesperson not to obstruct our driveway. The neighbour reported to police that we damaged the tradie’s ute when we did nothing of the sort. This would be one of many examples of the casual racism we receive on a daily basis. The outcome, thankfully (and because my husband is white) was the police telling the racist neighbour to leave us alone or a protective order would be issued. I’m thankful that a) Australia has the rule of law and due process but I suspect works better if you’re white b) the more polite racists in my area (Sydney’s Snore Shore) just pretend I’m faceless and nameless- ignored and excluded like I don’t exist- ten times better than being targeted and assaulted like our indigenous people. There is still a long way to go for a non white ‘out’ group person to be fully accepted as ‘Australian’ especially in areas of perceived white privilege.

Challenging the Status Quo

It stands to reason that I challenge the status quo here in Australia.

Firstly, I am ethnic and young and I really shouldn’t be living in a mostly white upper middle class suburb. Secondly I drive an expensive European family car (how many times have I had disparaging looks from older Anglo folk!). Thirdly, I work in allied health and I don’t act nor look the part.

However, one particular event in my life stands out of when I really pushed the boundaries. I was twenty something and I was going to become a corporate woman. I had just met my then boyfriend who in years to come would be my husband. He was a young, white successful upstart in the management consulting industry and he put me in touch with the owner of a large recruitment agency. Not everyone had the personal details of this multi-millionaire owner of the only large recruitment firm in Sydney in the 1990s, so when Mr Wealthy received my email, he immediately thought I was referred to him by one of his important networking mates.

He organized for an interview with one of his senior recruiters for a position in their recruitment team. Boy were they disappointed. They knew I was a female but they didn’t expect me to look so young and so ethnic. Needless to say the interview lasted all of 20 minutes. But wait there’s more. I get a phone call a week later asking for me to attend an interview out at their Parramatta office for a potential role in their outsourcing department. Mr Wealthy White Man was going to make sure that I paid for wasting his time.  I was interviewed for one and a half hours by some old codger who talked mostly of his time doing voluntary work in out flung places in the world. On several occasions I got up to go and was told to sit back down if I wanted the job. In the end I did end up just leaving (no I’m not slow -after 1/2 hour talking with this person I realised it was pay back).  My point is that I didn’t look the part, I challenged the status quo and I am an ethnic female who is suppose to have no access to those jobs and I shouldn’t have used a boys network to get an interview. That is how we keep people like me in my place-‘ get to the back of the bus, shut up and sit down. ‘

On the other hand, stupid ambitious white men can be bolstered purely by their gender and race. I take Tony Abbott and George W Bush as examples. Due to family connection and/or the boys club these average intelligent men made it to the top job of their respective countries not on merit alone.  Tony Abbott even scored a Rhodes Scholarship and I wonder about all those bright females who topped the HSC in the past years having a shot at it too. Sexism plays a huge role in Australia so I get a double whammy being racially ‘other’ and being a female.

Taking Julia Baird’s quote I now have a Mantra “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I have to say it’s working.

I Wonder About The Demise Of The Aussie Backyard

Ok I’m showing my age here- no apologies to gen Y and younger. In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago, a woman wrote about the demise of the Aussie backyard. She lamented that in her youth her backyard was used a lot more by her siblings and the neighbourhood kids than she has ever seen today.

She spoke about friendships, fights, imagination- all those experiences that build one’s character. The article resonated with me on a number of levels. Firstly when I first moved into Sydney’s lower North Shore I noticed how extraordinary quiet my street was. I put it down to the number of retirees on my street until I experienced my first Halloween when hordes of neighbourhood kids came by. And no they weren’t from other areas. On closer observation, I counted at least ten houses near me with primary school age kids but you wouldn’t know it unless you stalked the local bus stop in the early morning.

Why aren’t these kids playing in their gardens and out on the street with other kids? They are all approximately the same age. As a kid I spent most of my time on my bike riding with the neighbours kids, inviting ourselves to each other’s places for lunch and generally passing the long day light saving summer days pretending to be pirates, running away from giants, playing house or Drs etc. I don’t hear any of that now.

I attempted to make friends with a couple of families on the street but that went pear shaped until a realised: we’re too competitive, ugly and unfriendly to extend the generosity of true friendship and kindness to fellow humans and other people’s children. Society has changed and I seem to be experiencing the ugly side of highlighted greed, self interest and in short a corporate style transactional relationship devoid of integrity.

I personally think parents are scheduling their children to do all sorts of after school and weekend activities to keep up with the other kids. Despite the above million dollar price tags for gardens that should be used more often, Lachie and Bella are too busy with extra curricular activities and technology to go outside and romp around with all and sundry. And god help us if they are kids of colour! And yes, I get the irony of a having a dig at social media/technology but in my defence I’ve had plenty of days in the sun socialising with kids- of all hues, backgrounds and beliefs. I think this is what makes me extraordinary respectful, empathetic and flexible with ‘differences’- you learn this from a young age.

I fear children are growing up to be soft, insular, protected and maybe lacking the social niceties of yesteryear. My kids make a lot of noise in their garden playing (not uncontrollable screaming for no reason) and I won’t apologise for it. They don’t have a pool or lots of backyard toys, just their minds and personalities. And they will grow up not knowing the kids on their street or having the experiences that will open their minds to differences. I no doubt will need to schedule that in for them.