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Mike's Pith & Wind (cont.)
.. amazed that the conventional dream factors (freedom and speed etc.) remain in the advertising companies’ arsenal, given that you get ample opportunity to study these billboards and see them for the infuriating lies they are when you’re caught up in some traffic snarl on a so-called freeway.
I’m going to change my focus to politics now, so be warned. Believe it or not I’ve got a modicum of respect for little Johnny Howard’s legacy, i.e. the gun laws and the well-intentioned Murray-Darling Basin Authority, but in two important social areas at least he seems to have been wholly seduced by the American capitalist system, a system that can appear to us Aussie socialists, as socialists we are whether Labor or Liberal supporters, to be skewed towards preserving the privileged way of life of the very rich.
One of these was the introduction of private medical insurance to exist alongside the previously perfectly acceptable public system we already have, and the other was to undermine the free school education system, by encouraging families to send their best and brightest to magnificently endowed (by philanthropists and the government) private schools. Then there was the introduction of pay-your-own-way University degrees replacing the free tertiary education that Gough Whitlam introduced in the ‘70s, that discourages and disadvantages bright kids from poorer Australian families.
Both of these measures are manifestly class based and characterised by the promulgation of fear by the government to the vulnerable middle-classes.
Of course, all this is the stuff of debate, but one of the visual symptoms of the competition for our money now encouraged in the school system is billboards, usually strategically placed on the fence-line of the school itself, but occasionally further afield in other student catchment areas.
Coming from the subdued tree-lined circuits of Canberra where private schools are relatively few, Maria was astonished at the numerous school billboards attempting to lure paying students (well, paying parents really) to their unsurpassed facility when she took up residence in Melbourne. This isn’t the student-catching time of the year, but I’ve managed to take a few pics to give you an idea of the sort of thing the fearful parent has to deal with.
The first pic is of a billboard on the corner of Mountain Hwy and Boronia Rd advertising the previously unsuspected advantages of attending Billanook College. As mentioned, this is out of season, so either they’ve had a flood of deserters (in which case, ‘Things are crook in Billanook’ would be an appropriate slogan) or they’ve got a great deal on the billboard. Their chosen motto ‘Belong at Billanook’ ranks with ‘Victoria the place to be’ as the weakest motto - evah.
The second billboard pictured is an invitation to paedophiles and bike-seat sniffers to attend a guided tour of the noble girls’ school of Siena in Middle Camberwell, moments away from my old pad in Surrey Hills. The board (perhaps not big enough to qualify as a billboard) features an Asian student and is a conspicuous expense – most schools wouldn’t be that elaborate for the tourist thing.
Not too many actual billboards advertising school wares to discuss unfortunately, but Forest Hill College (pic 3) has incorporated their billboard sentiment on the side of the school itself where it may conceivably lurk for a decade or more. It’s a fairly lofty motto – ‘To inspire passionate, positive and curious learners’ – and it sounds like it’s the result of a parent committee meeting and incorporates all the ideas left on the table.
There was a billboard even loftier than the Forest Hill mob near the Caulfield campus of Monash University that featured some elevated thought befitting the attention of a prospective tertiary student, but it’s been withdrawn in the meantime and I’ve forgotten the exact wording. Undeterred I’ve plumbed the Monash website and made an educated guess.
I think the billboard included the enigmatic ‘Progress doesn’t accept answers, it questions them’ and the more phlegmatic ‘New problems, new thinking’ slogans. (Pics 4 & 5) With the first I’m assuming that the university sees its clients as Progress and the suggested questioning the status quo is not a bad starting point for a University education I suppose. However, I surmised from the second that the new problems mentioned might actually be the result of your new thinking last time around.
The last billboard photo is of a board that Maria pointed out as we were driving home in Bulleen Road, Bulleen. This was just after she’d identified the Veneto Club as a fine, if spoiled example of brutalist architecture,* (and as she was driving at the time you have to wonder where her attention was).
We’d just been to see the very fine Diane Arbus exhibition at the Heidi Museum of Modern Art, where I’d tempted Fate with a memorably flawless cappuccino (this is despite or perhaps because at the time I was wearing a twenty-four hour Holter monitor (pic 7) to check for possible heart aberrations).
According to the no-frills sponsored billboard they’re looking at 2019 already and want conscientious Catholic parents to consider a Catholic school named after a lesser-known Roman saint to keep their off-spring on the straight and narrow - as prescribed by a church very publicly struggling with its own demons involving caring for young school children. Good luck with that.

* By Italian émigré architect, Ermin Smrekar

1) The happy boys and girls at Billanook College looking for some playmates 2) A common enough invitation at this time of the year

3) How passionate, inspired and curious do you want me to be? 4) You're mixing with the big boys now and flirting with uncertainty

5) I reckon there are some old problems that could do with some new thinking 6) Now's a good time to start worrying about next yer 7) Welcome to my world!
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