A beautiful morning. Cool air. Sunlight shining through the autumn leaves. A day of promise at Green Hills High School. Mr Morris' optimism reflected the day as he strode across the lawns.
The school siren began its whine, announcing the beginning of the day's classes. Mr Morris climbed the stairs to the verandah skirting the quadrangle, and walked quickly towards Room 3A.
He could see his students milling around waiting for the door to be opened, talking, laughing, shoving, the faint odour of cigarette smoke coming from nowhere in particular. They ignored him as he pushed the key into the lock and swung the door open.
"Come along, hurry up" he commanded them as they sauntered into the room. Chairs scraped across vinyl tiles, bags dropped onto desk tops, the chattering continued.
"Sit down, get out your files and text book - come along, we don't have all day".
"Don't have all day" someone parroted in campish mockery. "Come along" they continued "Come along, cum, cum, long, long"
Snickering flowed around the room.
"Sit down. Be quiet. Lets see if we can get through this class without any trouble".
Already Mr Morris could feel the promise of the day collapsing before him. He drew a deep breath.
"We began looking at the Australian political system yesterday..."
"We covered the structure of parliamentary democracy, including federalism, the houses of parliament, the main political parties and some of the minor ones - can anyone name some of the parties?"
"Come on, someone must remember something..."
"The all-night party"
"The pyjama party"
"The mardi-gras party"
Derisory giggling circled the room.
"So none of you can remember anything?"
"The greens party"
"Good Sorrenti - and do you remember what they stand for?"
"The green sir - good hydro, free buds..."
The whispered chant of "bubble, bubble, bubble" crawled around the room.
"The liberals, sir"
"Ah, Habib - and what are the liberals about?"
"taking liberties, sir?..."
Again the sounds of bong mimicry could be heard.
Mr Morris could feel his face begin to redden.
"So, you remember the Greens and the Liberals - what about Labor, the Democrats, the Nationals, One Nation?"
"What about them?"
"Look, you should all care - or at least try to understanding something about them - some of you will soon be old enough to vote in elections, and then you'll have to make some choices."
silence, staring out the window, fidgeting with pens.
"OK, lets continue. Today I want to look at the republic question."
"Who can tell me what 'republic' means?"
A fly began banging against a window pane behind him. The air thickened slightly.
"A republic is the opposite of a monarchy - Australia is a monarchy at the moment - who knows who our head of state is?"
"It is the Queen - Queen Elizabeth the second - an old English woman living in London in England. Can anyone give an example of how we know this in day-to-day life?"
As usual when asked a question, the class fell silent.
"The queen's head is on our coins, and on the five dollar note - where else can you see the queen in Australia?"
"At the front of this class..."
Chairs scraped noisily over the vinyl tiles, heralding Mr Morris' discomfort.
"There's lots of queens in the mardi gras parade."
"how do you know - been up Oxford Street have ya?
"Shut your face, wog boy."
Mr Morris could feel his face begin to redden again.
"Stop it, that's enough ...
...Do you think it is right that a stranger living in a foreign country is our head of state?"
"My grandma livings in England"
"But she is not pretending to be Australian, is she?
"Well she has dual nationality - she is both English and Australian, ay"
"My Uncle is Italian and Australian - he has two passports and sometimes lives here, sometimes there"
"Yes, but neither of them are the ruler of Australia."
"So a republic means that you can't be Australian if you don't live in Australia all the time?"
"Sir, my brother lives in Hong Kong and has an Australian passport - are you saying hešs not really Australian?"
"No - look, we are getting off the track here..."
A paper spit-ball flew across the room and hit a window pane with a fat thud.
Mr Morris took a deep breath. 'Calm, calm, calm' he silently intoned.
"We are discussing the institution of head of state, not personalities, and whether that head of state should be born to wear a crown or be elected by the people."
"Can you think of any other symbols of the monarchy in Australia today?"
"The police, sir"
"In what way?"
"They all have a crown on their badges and their cars."
"How do you think that matters?"
"Well that's how I know they're cops, and not Chubb or some other security wankers, ay."
"ye, that's right."
"Well, wouldn't some other symbol give the same message? - the letters N-S-W say, or a waratah emblem?"
"You mean like Grace Brothers?"
"Oooh, good one."
"No, I don't - police or private security - they're all trying to enforce the law and protect us, aren't they?"
silence - incredulous silence.
"Sir, the police can arrest us, they have guns, they are marked by crowns, they are the serious stuff - not some lazy Chubbie wanker on a train."
"Cut the bad language, and try and speak the Queen's English ..."
too late, Mr Morris realised his mistake.
"Is that what the pigs talk, sir?"
The sound of more snickering and snorting arose.
"Or is that what queen's talk on the mardi gras parade?"
The snickering spread, now with a vindictive edge.
"That's enough - open your text book at page 43, and read the two paragraphs under the heading 'Republican Forms of Government'."
Scraping desks, dragging bags, chattering - until after about five minutes the class fell silent as it read, broken only by the now persistent banging of the fly on the window glass as the room warmed up in the rising sun. Mr Morris could see that the fly was beyond reach, and decided not to try.
"All right, you should have read it by now. Carter, can you tell us what you think that the two paragraphs were about?"
"Ummmmm, well, ummmm..."
"He doesn't know, sir!"
Giggling began to spread around the room again.
"Silence - go on Carter"
"Well, um, the head of a republic is called a president..."
"Very good - anything else?"
"Um, there are different ways to select a president?"
"Very good - now Tran can you expand on that a bit?"
"only thing he can expand is his dick..."
The snickering and giggling grew louder.
"At least I've got a dick to expand, ay"
Someone had inflated a condom, which now twisted around the floor slowly deflating with a farting sound - Mr Morris decided to ignore it.
"Enough - Tran, what else have you learnt from these paragraphs?"
"Aaaah - you can't be president of America if you weren't born in America".
"So you can be Queen of Australia even though you're not born here, but you can't be president of America unless you are born there?"
"I know a queen who lives here, ay sir" said another boy, ostentatiously winking at his mates.
"Papadopoulos. Out the front. Stand next to my desk. Face the board. Don't move."
It crossed Mr Morris' mind that perhaps Tran had a point to explore, but his irritation won over and Papadopoulos, along with Tran's captured idea, was left stranded at the deskside. The banging of the fly on the window seemed to grow louder, but it was still too high up to reach.
The silence was broken by a rare event - a question.
"Sir, was Hitler a president or a king?"
Mr Morris inwardly groaned.
"Hitler had the title of Fuhrer, which means leader. He was not a king, although he had all the power he wanted."
"So he was a president?"
"You could describe his office as presidential, but he wasn't called president."
"So the leader of a republic doesn't have to be called a president?"
"Not always, but..."
"Sir, my father says that there are two presidents of China, and that when there were emperors there was only one at a time and everyone knew who it was."
"Yes Chang, but we'll go into Chinese history another day - lets come back to Australia now."
"How do you think an Australian president should be selected?"
"How do we elect the queen?"
Mr Morris felt his face flush and his ears begin to burn.
"We don't elect the queen, she is queen because her father was king - remember what the difference is between a republic and a monarchy?"
The imploring tone in his voice opened the gates again.
A paper aeroplane suddenly rocketed up into the air, before pirouetting back to the floor.
He tried again.
"We could elect a president directly, with each of you casting a vote, or we can do it indirectly, with the members of parliament we elect in turn electing a president - what do you think?"
"I want to vote for the queen."
"So do I"
The subversive giggling was turning into outright laughter.
The fly kept banging on the window glass.
Suddenly, it was over. The siren shrieked its message of escape. Immediately, files and books were being thrown into bags, chairs scraped on vinyl tiles, the room began to move.
"All right Tran - I want a five hundred word essay from you tomorrow on the differences between a monarchy and a republic."
"No worries, ay sir."
His flashing smile, and friendly hand-slaps on the shoulder, made Mr Morris again think that perhaps the boy wasn't so bad. 'Just needs a chance' he thought.
The fly whirled away from the window and unexpectedly crashed onto the desktop. Instinctively Mr Morris slammed his note book down, squashing it. He wrapped the tiny, bloody mess in the note book page, then tore off the page and threw it into the bin.
As he left the room Sorrenti, Papadopoulos, Habib, Carter, Tran, Chang and some other boys were clustered on the verandah. As he walked away he could hear them giggling and smell the unseen cigarette smoke. 'That Tran is bright - if only I could get him away from those other louts he might amount to something' though Mr Morris as he opened the door to the staff room and smelt the welcoming tea urn.
The boys smirking turned to laughter as Mr Morris walked off along the verandah, and other students turned and looked in response to their pointing fingers. Papadopoulos' friendly shoulder slaps had managed to stick a paper note to Mr Morris' back with the scrawled words Vote Pansy Morris 1 for Queen of Australia.
As he entered the staff room the note was blown in to a swirling tangle of autumn leaves before vanishing across the school grounds.
May 2004, written on the train from Parramatta to Blackheath, with apologies to a former high school teacher of mine,