Sharing childhood trauma
The name was an obvious one to choose. We would be meeting on a Thursday and that's what we would call it: the Thursday Club. Who coined the phrase, I don't remember, but the idea to meet came from out of the schoolyard.
We were all between nine and 10 years old and lived on a housing commission estate in Fawkner, in northern Melbourne. It had been built on desolate flat paddocks, with unmade roads, and no sewerage. The nearest shops were a car ride away. It was a grim island isolated from everything except the cemetery and, of course, the local swill-house.
My close friend was Sammy, an Egyptian who had thick lips and a nose even bigger than mine. He lived at the far end of the estate, near the rifle range. We used to sneak onto the range, hide in the long grass, and watch the men shoot clay pigeons. When they retired into the club house to drink, Sammy and I would scavenge for their spent cartridges so we could sell the brass casings at the scrap metal yard.
Sammy was smart but shy. His father had the ferocious demeanour of a man who was angry at everything, and Sammy's mother and sisters were never allowed outside. I only met his father once, when I came around to find out why Sammy hadn't been at school for a few days. His father rushed out to meet me as I walked down the driveway to the front door and, in a spitting fury, told me that if I ever took his son to the rifle range again he would whip me until I bled.
All the boys I knew at school had horrific stories about violence and abuse in their homes. But one afternoon, a group of us were sitting under the eaves of the main school building, escaping from the rain, and I was shocked when a boy told us about a girl we knew who was being "fiddled with" by her father. Like the others, I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
We went on to tell stories of people we knew who were being treated badly, or reveal the awful truth about our own home lives. The process so engrossed us that when the bell rang for us to return inside, we felt reluctant. Sammy, who had been listening to everything in silence, piped up and said with seriousness beyond all his years, "We should talk about this more."
That afternoon after school, as we were crossing the paddocks back to the estate, six of us sat down on the basalt rocks and talked some more about the violence, the arguments and the abuse we knew of. But it was Sammy's revelation of his father's brutality that shocked us. Sammy pulled down his shorts and showed us his buttocks, which were a criss-cross of scars and welts. Sammy was puzzled more than angry. "Why does a father do that to a son?" he wondered aloud.
We had no answers but it was decided we would catch up the following Thursday to talk some more. Other boys heard about our meeting and it became known as the Thursday Club. The next week there were a dozen boys sharing their stories in the afternoon heat, trying to figure out just why adults, and in particular parents, were so cruel and stupid. We were all tired of screaming, bickering husbands and wives, dads drinking themselves into insensibility, violent altercations, crass affairs between neighbours, and how adults seemed more childish than their children.
The trouble was that with the expansion of the group we were no nearer a solution; all we were doing was sharing more gruesome stories that intensified our feelings of helplessness. It was strange that a group of boys from a housing commission estate would talk about their private lives and feelings, but Sammy was the guiding light, wanting to find an answer to make parents wake up to their own inadequacies and violence.
Some of the boys no doubt later felt embarrassed after telling the group their most intimate feelings, and the following Thursday the group was back to six. But this was a more manageable number and, after several hours trying to nut out a solution to the problem of our parents, finally we had what we believed was the answer. The problem was how to execute it.
Perhaps it was the fact that we had found a solution, but didn't know how to take the next step, that meant there was no need for the Thursday Club to exist any more, and after three meetings it ceased. Not long afterwards, Sammy suddenly left the estate without saying goodbye. A few years later, I heard that his father beat his son so badly that Sammy died of the injuries.
What I've never forgotten is how at the third meeting it became obvious that the answer we sought was all around us. If people wanted to drive a car, they had to learn the road rules in order to get a licence. The solution we came up with was simple: if adults wanted to be parents, then they had to pass exams on the right way to treat children and each other. Only when they had a licence would they be able to be parents; if they failed they wouldn't be allowed to breed.
Of course, except for Sammy, all of us in the Thursday Club grew to be adults, the very people we didn't want to become. But it was only when we had been children that we saw clearly what was wrong with the world. And I still see merit in our solution.