On the Verge

Girl stands alone with arms folded in grassy area with gum trees in the background. There are tents and camping gear scattered around and groups of people in the background.

Recently my friend digitised the 1997 video of our school orchestra tour of outback New South Wales. Titled ‘On the Verge of the Outback’, it’s styled as a fly-on-the-wall documentary and was made by the school chaplain. We don’t know why, but I’m glad he did because it’s the only footage I have from that time and it definitely made Music Camp more memorable.

I hadn’t watched the video for at least 20 years but it was exactly as I remembered: An excruciatingly drawn-out, plotless dirge. It’s nearly three hours of teenagers standing around waiting, then playing music that sounds like it’s recorded underwater.

In summary I found ‘On the Verge of the Outback’ fascinating, hilarious and almost achingly sad. 5 stars.

I am hardly in it. I played second clarinet and was extremely quiet and awkward. Rewatching the video, I kept laughing when I was briefly in shot because I appeared so miserable or terrified. I called my partner over to show him how ridiculous I was.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve made a lot of hay out of making fun of and criticising myself. I’ve read my school diaries on stage for laughs and based characters in books on things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of. It’s been cathartic and gives me an illusion of being an improved version of my earlier self. But I’ll probably always think past-Penny was a bit of a duffer.

On the same day I rediscovered ‘On the Verge of the Outback’, I showed an 8-year-old a video of herself dancing when she was in prep. To me, it was cute, but she didn’t want to look. ‘I’m so embarrassed’, she said. ‘I can’t believe I thought I was a good dancer.’

She was being harsh to her younger self and I felt sad. I wished she could look at that little girl and say, ‘I really loved dancing then’.

In that spirit, and against my natural inclination, I’m going to say some nice things about my Year 10 self based on my rewatching of ‘On the Verge of the Outback’.

1. I was a good audience

I said above I looked miserable in most of the shots. But actually I spent a lot of the trip pissing myself laughing in the background. There were some very funny people on that Music Camp. I recognised funny when I saw it, and I did not hold back in showing it.

I hope I still do this. Not from me the cool ironic smile and sideways glance. If I think you’ve said something really funny, you’ll get an actual round of applause.

2. I did hard things that I was scared of

I was not a gifted clarinetist and playing in front of other people was excruciatingly difficult because I was so shy. One of my most cringe-worthy memories is being asked to play alone at orchestra rehearsals and then simply not making a sound.

I was incompetent but I stayed in the orchestra because I wanted to be a part of it. Maybe I should have found another hobby, but in fairness there weren’t that many avenues to participate in the arts, so I took one that was available.

When I watched myself playing in the orchestra, I wondered if I was pretending (cos I did that quite a lot) but who cares. I was there, I tried and I learned a lot.

3. I didn’t peak in high school

This sounds mean. To be clear, I don’t think anyone peaked in high school. We all learned more and did more after that Music Camp. I had a lot to look forward to.

I really enjoyed Music Camp.

6 comments on “On the Verge

  1. You are much braver than I. Who has still yet to watch. It’s the memory of sweating through a black velvet long sleeve top that’s holding me back.

    1. Black velvet! Delightful choice. I remember you and Emily being hilarious – there’s a good bit with Maccas at the end with you two.

  2. As one of the teachers on this trip I remember all the students for their uniqueness and mostly willingness to have a go. Lets face it, we were all way out of our comfort zone.
    Attempting to emerge effortlessly from a tent in all black glamour hoping that this concert would have more than 13 people in attendance, or at least lighting that lasted the duration was a challenge to say the least.
    But…. Everyone had a go….. I think it was an experience that shaped us all and we did get to see some fairly incredible places, sights and people. To be honest… you wouldn’t get away with most of what happened back then.
    The paperwork for OH&S risk management and medical qualifications needed to undertake such a trip would be prohibiting.
    Hopefully we made it about the students, the music and the experience. We had three young children 2, 7 and 9 who we left with my parents for the duration which was difficult in the days before mobile phones.
    I always look back at that trip as an amazing
    accomplishment for a music program build on a community of dedicated teachers and supportive students and their parents.
    And even the 2nd clarinets and the violas had their part to play Penny.
    Thanks for the memories
    Lou Ray x

    1. I had no appreciation for the work/life/family juggle back then. And no understanding of how much work it was for you guys to run the music program at all let alone take us on massive trips around the country. I very much appreciate it now though, so thank you. PT

  3. Penny, you write very well. I enjoyed reading your account. Thanks for your remembrances. Gavin’s video is iconic and I am thankful that he made it.
    Yes, we don’t all peak at High School, do we? I didn’t.
    The tour was an opportunity for like minded people to have an experience together. We were there, and we know what a unique thing that was. I treasure the memory of the tour, but also the people on it. People like you and me, coming from slightly different perspectives. I still have the tour booklet, and the remarkable tour photograph taken by Graeme Dawes.

    1. The video is an incredible document. I have nothing else like it.
      The different perspectives thing is so important and something that you appreciate more as you get older. Same bus, different journeys. PT

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