WHEN FRIENDS BECOME STRANGERS.

I remember an upbeat song from the late 1990s by British band, Steps, with the lines, “But now you’re suddenly like a stranger, And you’re leaving it all behind,” called Last Thing On My Mind. It can be a good song to groove along to while sitting at a red light, but, in the case I’m going to mention, it wasn’t a sudden thing.

As regular readers of my stories will know, I was bullied viciously, at school, but I did have some protection from some older students, one of whom was the School Captain, when I was in my second year of high school. Many an afternoon, I would walk home from school with him, and he wanted to be a journalist after school. We both liked Ford cars, and he liked Dick Johnson. I liked Dick Johnson until an incident on a race track, in 1997, when his team-mate, John Bowe, couldn’t stop in time when Dick Johnson had to slow down due to this and John Bowe, coming up behind him, hit Dick Johnson’s car. When talking on the microphone inside his helmet, Dick Johnson said that John Bowe, “…didn’t see me stopped there, and he Liberace me up the bum.” Liberace died of AIDS, and whatever his sexual orientation, I do not see any humour in mocking him years after his death. Dick Johnson was trying and failing to be a “Clever Dick”. Furthermore, it suggests that Liberace was engaged in sordid activities, which he was not.

This school captain obtained a cadetship with a newspaper and honed his craft as a journalist until I discovered, in the same year as the Dick Johnson incident, that the former school captain had abandoned headlines and bylines to study at a theological college in Melbourne. And then, he had become an Assembly of God (now Hillsong) pastor. I was talking to a mutual friend, who told me that he probably woke up one day and decided that he could make more of a difference as a minister than as a journalist.

I remember a letter writer to the local newspaper (ironically, this guy had a cadetship there and I remember talking to his sister, one afternoon, and she said that the school guidance counsellor, a man not renowned for tact, would make rude comments to her about this newspaper, as he didn’t like it) attacking journalists for writing scathing reports of a far-right politician. One thing that annoyed me was, the more oxygen the media gave this far-right, uneducated politician, the bigger their support would be. This letter-writer attacked what they saw as “left-wing journalists”. To some right-wingers, anybody two shades left of Genghis Khan is radical left. And they wanted these journalists to show this politician for the “true patriot” they were.

What many of us on the left have a problem with, when it comes to patriotism, particularly in Australia and the USA, is that the European citizens of these countries are the descendants of the colonisers, the convicts and/or the free settlers from the colonising country. Sovereignty was never ceded by the original inhabitants. When it comes to European Australians, the first to arrive to settle did so largely in chains, as petty criminals or more violent ones, from England, Scotland or Ireland. The Irish jokes that people tell are also a suggestion that the Irish are less intelligent, when it is simply not true. Later settlers, mainly around Adelaide, were Germans escaping religious persecution, part of which gave way to Adelaide being known as “The City Of Churches”, as they built so many.

I very briefly reconnected with the old school captain on social media (the newspaper where this letter writer accused journalists of being left-wing is now very right-wing and some journalists have left as they disapproved) and was shocked by what I saw. He is a supporter of the right-wing PM that Australia has and said, in relation to reconciliation, that after one side says sorry, the other has to say, “That’s okay.” In Australian History, it is illogical to suspect that for all the murders by colonisers, that the First Nations Peoples will say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, Mate.” In Australian History, it is illogical to suggest that for the desecration of the First Nations Peoples cultures, that they can say, “Oh, that’s cool.” Some First Nations Peoples were wrongfully taken away from their parents and some died without ever seeing their parents or siblings again. Some First Nations Peoples lost contact with their siblings and never saw them again.

Yes, the same happened to child migrants from England after the war, and yes, some children in orphanages were told that their parents didn’t love them or didn’t want them, when in reality, their mother was raped or she fell pregnant and their father wanted no part in their lives, so they were taken from their mother or she was coerced into signing the child over. But the child migrants from England were taken from a place to another where they spoke the same language and had a similar culture. And yes, the Welsh knot existed whereby, in Welsh schools, children were prohibited from speaking their native language. But what happened to the First Nations children was terrible.

I also learned that the former school captain has written articles for right-wing journals.

I know that people change as they age. In this case, however, we were light years apart. Him with his commitment to his religion (I don’t have a problem with someone being committed to their religion) and right-wing views, and me with my left-wing views. I say that I can cherish the memories of him defending me and the friendship we had, at school, but our lives have moved in different directions and there is no compatibility. Sadly, my old school friend is like a stranger.

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.