Some things never change during a pandemic. That almost primeval desire to gather in small groups and socialise is right up there along with the need to lubricate with alcohol and other daily stimulants like coffee. The new normal often relies on some inventive reworking of the old, like having contact free cocktails delivered to your front door. Some much anticipated rituals like schoolies week on the Gold Coast have been kyboshed but others like the traditional year 12 ‘muck up’ day seem to have persisted.
The latter has attracted lots of negative publicity this week with the leaking of so called ‘scavenger’ lists from some of our most prestigious private schools. The lists are essentially a set of dares for which participants score brownie points for activities like urinating on a bus or train, selling fake cocaine or dropping a cap of MDMA. Whilst the dares are often meant to be more humorous than real, the one that created the most outrage was a suggestion to “spit on a homeless man”.
This was part of a scavenger list, the “Triwizard Shorenament”, circulated by students at the Sydney Church Of England Grammar School (aka Shore) and the obvious political overtones did not go unnoticed. Whilst the school authorities were quick to voice their disgust, even threatening expulsion, the media quickly seized on the social disparity of students from a school that costs around $30,000 a year to attend, expressing contempt for society’s most unfortunate.
It’s highly likely that some of the Shore students who drew up and disseminated this list will graduate to one of the hallowed halls of Sydney University’s privileged colleges like St John’s or St Andrews, where childish and ugly initiation rituals have long been part of the environment. These of course are the breeding grounds for our future captains of industry and conservative politicians. You would only hope that those that eventually filter through to the seats of government and positions of power, would no longer find the idea of spitting on a homeless man, even remotely funny.
Back in 2013 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that traditional muck up days, in both state and private schools were becoming a thing of the past. Activities like flour bombing teachers’ cars or chucking water bombs were being replaced with students dressing up and taking part in a charity fun run. Many schools have since outlawed the day or toned down the activities to the point where they are officially sanctioned, like a water pistol fight on the school oval.
In America, this end of year celebration is referred to as ‘senior pranks’ and the internet is littered with lists and videos of former student stunts. A large number of schools, particularly those with police known as SROs (school resource officers) present on campus, have banned the practice, for both safety and litigation reasons. In the UK, where the ‘muck up’ tradition originated, the ritual is still embraced with the inevitable fallout when things get out of hand.
Here in Australia, tradition obviously dies hard at some of our more exclusive private schools. Back in 2017, Shore also created a massive end of year stink when a group of year 12 students posed for a photo with the Nazi flag, along with the Deputy Principal Rod Morrison. When the photo was leaked, the school went into immediate damage control. Not surprisingly they were heavily censured by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, who invited the boys to rethink their stupidity with a visit to the Jewish holocaust museum.
In the middle of a both a pandemic and an economic recession, when many people are doing it really tough, the scavenger hunts of Shore, St Aloysius, Pymble Ladies College and other elite schools are both an ugly anachronism and a reminder that we are far from an egalitarian society.