Ye’ll Take the High Road…

For the first eight years of my education I went to a Scottish school.

I don’t mean that I went to a school in Scotland. I grew up in the south-western part of Australia, which, a brief look at a map will tell you, is a long way from even the Lowlands. Nevertheless I went to a Scottish school.

We wore tartan uniforms; there was a thistle in the logo; our pipe band was one of the best in state. Even our Houses had names like Stewart and McDonald. We were Scottish up to the crest on our Balmoral caps (yes, really) and yet I don’t think we were actually advertised as such. We were called ‘Presbyterian’ – and I can vaguely recall attending chapel – but everyone knew what that stood for. Between the tartan ties and pipers practising on the sports field it was pretty hard to miss.

For those who grew up outside of Australia this might all sound pretty odd. But for private schools here it isn’t out of the ordinary. In Australia most private schools have some kind of religious affiliation and many of those play up the national significance of their religion like it’s 1639. I know that in our case it was because the founders of the school were all Scottish (hence our House names) and I can only assume that it was a similar story for the Anglican (English), Methodist (Welsh), Uniting Church (English, Welsh) and half a dozen Catholic (Irish, Scottish, English, vaguely European…) schools in our city. But I digress.

We were the Scottish school and we were damn proud of it. Or at least, I was damn proud of it. I remember standing in the playground at lunchtime watching the pipe band march back and forth on the oval. The other kids never paid much attention, but I loved to listen to the pipes droning, the snares rattling and the big base drum keeping time. I also loved our uniform, especially the way we looked in winter with our shirts and ties, jumpers and blazers and Balmoral caps. I loved that every sports day seemed like a massive clan battle with the Campbells and Camerons and McDonalds. (Inter-school sports days were even more entertaining in retrospect, with the Irish Catholics taking the field against the Presbyterian Scots…) Most of all I loved the fact that when I walked down the street in my uniform, or when a troop of us went on a bus trip, I felt like I was in a Highland Regiment. I felt like a Jacobite, ready to fight for my Clan. (Dad reading me Kidnapped in Year 3 probably hadn’t helped.)

So it’s no surprise really that even now, seven years after I bid the best and worst of that school goodbye, I still feel a strong if misplaced attachment to a country far away. In fact, I’m sure it’s even greater now, since I’ve actually been to Scotland (well, Edinburgh) and, perhaps more importantly, learnt a lot more about its rather convoluted history. I still have a great appreciation for tartan, for pipes and drums, and for the songs and stories of Scotland’s people. I still harbour dreams of travelling the Highlands with a staunch friend, of singing the songs of the mountains and sleeping under a woollen plaid.

This was getting much more sentimental than I’d intended, so I thought I’d go along and get to the point. The trouble is, I don’t think I actually started out with a point in mind. St Andrew’s Day was just a good excuse to reminisce about my childhood spent in south-western Australia, but also somehow in Scotland. It’s funny though to think that although I’m about as technically Australian as a white Aussie can get, a part of my soul has found its home in the British Isles, in the lands of my distant ancestors. Of course I would like to attribute this to my trickles of Irish, Welsh, Manx and Scottish ancestry, but I’ve met some fairly good evidence that this has nothing to do with it. In the end I can’t explain why my school’s cultural identity seeped into me so deeply, when it only brushed across other kids, or why I’m forever dreaming of a land I never knew. I can’t explain it and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it remains with me always.

To all the Scots and descendants of Scots, the Gaels by blood and the Gaels at heart, I wish you a Happy St Andrews Day.


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