Cutting Green Hay: Friendships, movements and cultural conflicts in Australia's great decades
Penguin, 315 pp, $7.95 pb
On his first day at St Patrick’s, East Melbourne, Vincent Buckley was ‘flogged and flogged’ by a Jesuit priest in ‘an incompetent fury’. It is an experience that many of his readers will easily recognise, though their remembered lambastings were more likely to have been incurred at the hands of the Brothers and, unlike Buckley’s, would have been a continuing feature of school life. It is true that stories about Catholic schoolboys being caned and strapped by Christian and other Brothers in the nineteen forties and early fifties are both legion and collectively a cliché. Catholics and non-Catholics alike, especially if they are publishers, regard all that as ‘old hat’, a species of experience now done to death in innumerable fictions, autobiographies, and memoirs. Buckley in any case passes lightly over such matters, preferring to explore the atmosphere of the school (‘no love here. But … geniality, a great deal of it’) and the psychology of the masters (unpredictable eccentricities; bewildered inability to detect insolence; edginess, impatience).