The Chris Lilley story took me back to the Howard era — eventually.

And what a miserable place that turned out to revisit! As you will see, I was not only still teaching then but in an area (ESL) that his particularly anal retentive philosophy impacted badly.

But to the Chris Lilley story. As I noted on Facebook: “I saw that original series “Our Boys” — it was one of the best education documentaries ABC has ever made. I was in awe at the teachers I saw in it, and what the school was doing in circumstances I may not have coped well with. At that time I was still teaching.

“I have definitely changed my mind about Chris Lilley.

“‘Young Filipe Mahe faced tremendous difficulties — the death of his dad, family illness and undiagnosed dyslexia — only to be ‘used to create a national figure of fun’. This background story to Chris Lilley’s ‘Jonah’ caricature is quite sad’.”

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That’s a still from the original Our Boys, showing the young Felipe. I went back through my own archives to see how I and others had reacted to Chris Lilley’s shows when they first came out. I am not totally ashamed, as I did have reservations.

Mr Rabbit, a teacher, younger than Chris Lilley who turns 40 next year, thinks Ja’mie is about as funny as childhood cancer.  Maximos, a former colleague of mine in SBHS days, could not watch after Episode 1. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Annabel Ross has a good valedictory on the last episode, screened last night.

As others have pointed out, it’s hard to know if Lilley’s critique is aimed at private school girls like Ja’mie or at the society that has bred them.

Ultimately, though, it all feels a bit so what. There’s been no redemption, no downfall, no real sense that Ja’mie has learned anything at all. But maybe that’s the point.

Ja’mie lives without consequence, and should temper tantrums and tears not win her arguments, the rest of her problems can usually be summarily dismissed with a breezy “whatevs”.

Ja’mie shed a third of its viewers over its Australian run, dividing critics, and attracting mainly brickbats in the US this week when it debuted on HBO.

The announcement that high school bully Jonah will be the next Lilley character to get his own series will doubtless delight many fans. But I can’t help wondering if, like Ja’mie, it will feel a little like more of the same.

Perhaps it’s time for Lilley to go back to the drawing board and unleash a new creation….

I watched the whole thing.  Having taught in state schools but also in three private schools – and the South African references were very pertinent to one of those – I found myself having to cringe but acknowledge the degree of truth in Chris Lilley’s merciless satire. His performance is truly amazing – for a guy pushing 40 now! Linguistically he has a great ear. But I did find the whole thing just TOO dark, too, well, cruel.

I had posted on Facebook earlier on another story from the Sydney Morning Herald: “This really has affected my reaction to that Chris Lilley character. I recall that episode of the excellent ABC documentary on Canterbury Boys High, which has unfortunately disappeared into the for sale only department — if indeed it is still available there. In the comment section I will place a summary of it, and in another comment a more recent video about the school.

“It does now seem cruel, mean-spirited even. And I feel soiled by the fact I actually enjoyed it.”

‘I knew that Jonah was me’: former Tongan schoolboy reveals anger and pain about Chris Lilley character.

You will find an account of the 2004  episode of Reality Bites: Our Boys Filipe there.

Welcome to Canterbury Boys High, Prime Minister John Howard’s old school and the setting for a compelling four-part documentary series, Our Boys, screening on ABC TV from Tuesday February 10 [2004] at 8pm.

Our Boys follows the lives of five teenage students and their teachers at this cash-strapped government school in south-west Sydney.

Filmed over a school year, it tells the personal stories of today’s public education system – a school ‘starved of funds’, boys ‘at risk’ and teachers going far beyond their traditional classroom roles.

Canterbury Boys has a rich mix of nationalities – 90 per cent of the boys come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many are refugees or come from disadvantaged homes.

This week, cheeky, disruptive 15 year-old Filipe Mahe from Tonga has slipped through the net. He’s made it into Year 9 without being able to read or write….

Have a look at Canterbury Boys High more recently.

Yes, back when former PM John Howard was a boy Canterbury was a selective school like Sydney Boys High and Fort Street. Over time it had become a multicultural school serving a disadvantaged local area.

I thought again of the Howard era. I was none too fond of him at the time and have the blog to prove it!  On the sadly vanished Diary-X I wrote:

19-20 January 2004

Dear me, I was annoyed yesterday!

And rightly so, even if perhaps instead of notorious hypocrite I could just have said canny politician, and for being disrespectful I might have written totally despising. As Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard quite properly said last year, the evil of the Howard regime has been the imposition of a bleak political correctness of the most ruthless kind upon what once was a country showing signs of developing values and attitudes more in tune with the age in which we currently live.

It’s time for those who oppose Howard’s agenda to admit that he and his helpers have succeeded spectacularly.

The nation is in the grip of a neo-conservative political correctness that is out of touch with the values of the majority of the Australian people. It’s a political correctness that has elevated values that most Australians don’t share: individual selfishness and a strange envy of the less fortunate because they are receiving Government assistance.

It’s a political correctness that has produced greater divisions in our society between the haves and the have-nots, indigenous and non-indigenous, new migrants and old. And it is a political correctness that puts winning before all else, where ethics, integrity and values like equality and looking after others less fortunate don’t rate.

John Howard has won his culture war, for now.

My argument is that it’s time for Australians of all political persuasions who don’t like this new political correctness – from Green on the left, to small-l liberal on the right – to wake up to the fact that they have lost the culture war.

Australia has been changed for the worse by John Howard. We can make it better again.

Howard is guilty of squandering important spiritual advances made over the decades since the 1960s and 1970s. He has done this with deliberation, partly out of his own small-minded convictions, but even more so out of “wedge politics”, knowing that the paranoia unleashed some years back by the Hanson phenomenon could be harnessed as a key to power.

So I am glad I sounded off yesterday, and particularly glad that I transcribed the NSW Department of Education’s statement about values. That is a fine document, distilling much thinking — indeed much of the spiritual advance Howard is so antithetical to. True, it is a statement of principles: but isn’t it nice to have principles? Also, from my experience, state schools do try, often in very difficult circumstances to put these principles into practice….

Howard’s agenda:

1) To spend as little as possible on public education, skewing what funding there is towards the private sector, so that privatising education will seem both desirable and necessary some time in the future, and ideologically in keeping with everything else this government stands for. One therefore undermines public education at every turn, without seeming to do so, as Australians are in fact rather fond of their century and more of public (free, compulsory and secular) education: it has been a core Australian value.

2) The teachers have a powerful trade union. The government is intent on destroying the union movement, or having a totally compliant one. It is now the turn of teachers, wharfies and other undesirables having been dealt with some time ago.

If there are flawed values at work in all this, just look to The Lodge (or Kirribilli House) to see where they are coming from….