Anyone who has read my story from the website will know that last year I completed a Masters Degree in International Law. The degree was awarded on the 29 March 2011, the day I left Australia to commence my walk. On the 27 April I was notified by the University of New South Wales Law School that l had been named in the Dean’s List of Excellence in Academic Performance for achieving first place in Law of Armed Conflict, one of the subjects I did for the degree. There will be an awards ceremony on May 5, but because I am doing what I’m doing I won’t be able to make it. I’ve sent my apologies to the Dean and to Dr. Emily Crawford who taught the subject.

Telling you about the award is the perfect segue to share with you a little of my history. All my life I have suffered from a lack of confidence in my intellectual ability. I can trace this to influences from my childhood. My mother was one of ten children and my father one of seven. None of them went to university, nor did any of their children, my 35 cousins. If you count my four siblings I was the first of forty offspring to attend. We were all working class families. Now being working class didn’t, not even in the early 1960′s, prevent someone from attending university, but prevailing attitudes, and certainty attitudes within my family strongly mitigated
against it.

Dad left school when he was nine years old and mum was not much older. With that history it is easy for me to understand why they thought education of their children was an obligation imposed upon them by the State, and not a means by which their children could escape working class poverty. I was never encouraged to read. Why should my parents do that when the importance of reading had not been their experience. Attitudes like these change when the next generation come to realise the need for change.

The view did exist that I should do better than mum and dad. However, for them this meant getting a white collar job like a bank clerk, or a blue collar job like at apprentice. I chose the latter at age 15. There was also an overarching view, widely held in the economic and social stratum to which I belonged that although we should do better than our parents we should not aspire towards a goal beyond that stratum. So going to university was absurd. No one ever did that. Had I suggested it dad would have told me to give up my ‘high and mighty’ ideas. ‘High and mighty’ was a derogatory term he used to describe better educated or wealthy people, or those who
in his opinion thought they were better than they actually were. In other words i was told not to aspire and also I didn’t really have the ability anyway. I should add that there was something of an economic imperative for me to leave school when I did,
earn an income, and contribute some of that income to the family finances.

This issue about attitudes, both personal and cultural, is deserving of much more comment than I have space to give it here. But I hope what I have said helps to put in context the lack of confidence I spoke about at the beginning of this piece.

I want to add a couple of anecdotes which come from my time in the army and which for me highlight the point I am making. At the end of recruit training and before we were assigned to a corps which was to be our pathway for the following two years, I was asked which corps I would like to go to. I answered, “The Intelligence Corps”. After they picked themselves up off the floor from laughing I was told that I would be good in the infantry. (After all, why else were we conscripted but to create a supply of soldiers for combat.)

The second anecdote is one that I have a chuckle about each time it comes to mind.
One of my Vietnam Veteran mates from my platoon said to me at an Anzac Day reunion a few years ago, “How come you’re so smart now and you were as dumb as us back in Vietnam? to which I replied, “Larry, we were all smart then only we never had the opportunity to show it.”

When I received the email I mentioned at the beginning I had to read it several times out of disbelief. I thought they’d made a mistake in sending it to me. See what I mean? I suppose the award helps but I feel sure nothing can entirely remove those encultured beliefs that stem from very early on in my life.

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