Giving the bad news: Graham Egan

As soon as a girl or boy came into my office and sat down, I would say immediately, either:

You will be going on to Year 9 or: You will be a school leaver.

I thought each should know his or her fate immediately, without any ambiguity. I would then give them the results in a brown envelope, that was the same size whether they were going on or not, have a brief chat and show them out.

I hated it. It was the worst job I had to do as Principal of Goroka High School in 1979-81.

Back then, at the end of Year 8, 40% of all students had to leave. There was not the capacity to allow all of them to complete Year 10, which was the normal end of high school. The Year 10 School Certificate was much prized.

The staff would decide who was to go and who was to stay and it was my job as Principal to deliver the news. Most took it stoically, but occasionally there were tears and entreaties.

My heart would melt, but I could not relent. Those who had been given the bad news left school straight away. There was no point in staying around and they were happy to go.

In 1981, however, one decided on a bit of revenge. I had accepted a position as Principal of a school in Mudgee, NSW, and had given three months’ notice. The new job was to start after Easter and in mid March, I sold my car and began to pack. The incoming Principal had shipped his car up to Goroka and told me that I could use it, until I left. It was a good car too, a top of the line Mitsubishi Scorpion. I felt pretty flash as I zoomed around town in it.

One night a couple of weeks before I left, I woke up and saw flickering lights on my bedroom wall. There was a fire! My house had heavy wire mesh on all the windows and double deadlocks on all the doors, which needed the keys to open from the inside. I leapt out of bed. It’s funny the things you do when you are in a panic. I first changed the boxer shorts I wore to bed. I put on my jogging shorts. My sleeping shorts would get smokey and I did not want that. I learnt then that deep down, I am a sartorial idiot.

I was able to get the keys, unlock the door and get outside, where I saw that it was not the house that was on fire, but the superb Mitsubishi Scorpion. Someone had placed a burning tyre, filled with flammable cloth, under a rear wheel. The car was well alight. I rang the fire brigade. Thank God, they answered immediately and said they were on their way. I then turned the hose on and started to spray the car. The brigade came within minutes and the fire was soon out. The Scorpion, alas, was a write off. You can image what the new Principal thought, when I rang to tell him the bad news.

I left Goroka at the end of March and started my new life. The incoming Principal, whom I knew well, told me months later that the police had discovered the arsonist was one of those Year 8 leavers. There was never enough evidence to charge him, so he got away with it.

I felt a bit sorry for him. Jobs were scarce and a Year 8 qualification was not really enough to be of much use in getting work. He was hitting back at a system that at first was good and helpful but then spat him out, unprepared.

And anyway, it wasn’t my car.


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