When I was in primary school we would often go on excursions, and the call would go out for parent helpers. Sometimes the teachers would be overwhelmed with offers especially if the destination was appealing and somewhat exciting, and other times I am sure they were scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get the staff together for the outing. So when our year level got the okay to board multiple buses and head off to the Royal Melbourne Show, I bet every second parent put their hand up to join the circus.
On this occasion I clearly recall a ballot-style volunteer system being employed as a great many helpers were required to escort small groups of children in a safe and orderly fashion. Let’s face it, as a parent having attended the Show a couple of times, I freely admit that I always enlisted in additional adult assistance when attempting a family excursion of this magnitude. And we only have two kids. I would never dream of doing this sort of thing alone, and had taken either Hubby or my Mum along for support. I play by the “safety in numbers” rule and understand all too well the nightmare of looking at farming animals, barn animals, baby animals and dairy animals, equestrian displays, cake displays, science displays and fireworks, the craft pavilion, the wood chopping pavilion, the showbag pavilion and the Emporium. Not to mention the countless mandatory rides but only after sufficient time has passed once lunch is digested and the chance of vomit is low. I honestly don’t know why a parent would volunteer for such torture.
So the ballot was held and parents were enlisted, groups were created and leaders appointed, and a few days before departure I remember our Grade 4 class being told that there was one small surprise in store for us on the day. A mystery helper who was coming along. Perhaps someone who missed out on the original ballot. Perhaps they were a bench warmer. Or maybe even someone who had a shitty boss that wouldn’t give them the day off, and they had to pull a sickie the night before. I don’t know. I was too young to care. But I was old enough to get wound up in the excitement of the mysterious guest who would be taking our group to the Show.
The day arrived and it was all very exciting. There must have been almost one hundred kids. Three classes of around twenty-eight squealing, chatty, adrenaline charged ten year-olds, plus siblings whose mothers were among the Chosen Ones, squashed like sardines into buses that I doubt had air conditioning of any kind. Vinyl seats and ashtrays were the order of the day back then, and the bus trip itself was often more fun than the actual destination. Teachers counted their charges, the motors were running, and the Mystery Helper boarded our bus. I remember the shock as we realised it was a man. A father. Someone’s Dad. My Dad.
I don’t recall a father ever volunteering to attend excursions before this day. It just wasn’t the done thing. Dads worked during school hours so it was the mothers who helped out. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that my Dad would board the bus. But he did. And boy, was I proud.
We had a great time. How could you not? After all, who doesn’t love seeing artificial multi-coloured chickens and giant cows that can poo their own body weight in a single dump. And the thrill of buying three bags of fairy floss and the Gag Magic Show Bag in the enormously noisy pavilion is something that stays with you forever. That excursion to the Show was simply awesome. Just ask Jamie.
Jamie was an odd sort of child. He was a Jamie-come-lately to our school and even though he attended my high school too, I was never able to quite work him out. Perhaps that’s why he ended up in my Dad’s group at the Show. Dad had a good rapport with kids like Jamie. After all, he had me as a daughter, right.
Everything had gone swimmingly and the day was a huge success. The buses were overflowing with giggling children eating the contents of their show bags clutching stuffed toys won on spinning wheels, cradling Cupie dolls and furiously waving windmills on sticks out the windows. I’m pretty confident it was chaos and the noise would have been terrifying, which is probably why somebody forgot to do a final head count until we were almost back in the school car park. I guess that’s when they realised we had forgotten Jamie.
Back in 1983 there were no mobile phones. Just two-way radios. Perhaps the driver let a teacher radio the bus depot, who would have phoned the Principal to report that my Dad had somehow left Jamie behind at the Show that day. I have no idea. We all wondered what on earth he was doing that was so distracting, that could render him solo on such an important excursion. I doubt he was counting the blue chickens or lining up to shove balls down the mouth of a clown. My guess is that he headed back to the science pavilion, mesmerized by the futuristic magical drones dreamed up by the weirdos who created Beyond 2000.
What I know for sure is this. That Dad must have felt dreadful. That somebody obviously went back and found Jamie because he eventually made it to our high school, where he was equally odd but in a more adolescent dose. And that I don’t ever recall another father attending any of our excursions from that point on.