Thursday, August 02, 2007


DOB DOB DOB. It's the centenary of Scouts this week. I was a Scout once. And a guide and a brownie. I have mostly fond memories of this organisation, but towards the latter years of my involvement things began to change.

Amid the frivolous fun of meeting at the dingy halls in various towns and cities across Australia, singing songs and baking cakes, I recall para military activities such as marching in and out of parade to raise the flag, playing stalking games in the bush (which included camouflaged faces and various native shrubbery stuck in piggy tails) and truly evil commando courses which I never finished because of inferior arm muscles unable to a) pull me over the wall, b) get me across the rope bridge over water - very troubling for me or c) I managed to convince Brown Owl/Akela that as the patrol leader I would be best served making sure the possums were not finding a way into our larder rather than spend the afternoon searching for muscles I didn't have.

As scouts from across the planet gathered in Brownsea this week, the young lad invited to speak at the celebratory jamboree quoted a speech from Baden-Powell where he called for peace, comradeship and cooperation instead of rivalry between "classes, creeds and countries which have done so much in the past to produce wars and unrest". All good stuff from Robert the Powell. However, what he was really saying was "you can't run an A1 empire on C3 men".

This is always overlooked when folk romanticise about the Scouting movement. That it was meant to celebrate the fact that boys could be trusted to run errands during the Boer War, it was really started to give the lower class boys something to do and prepare them for war - and the "unrest" he spoke of was of the lower classes' expectation that they should be socially mobile and question their place in society. He spoke of bricks in the wall being civilisation and if you were a lower brick that was rotten, the wall would fall down and the higher bricks would not be able to look out for the country.

As I look back I can forgive this quasi caring sentiment of the great unwashed, because practically, I got more out of Scouting than the sum of being slightly bitter about the underlying reasons for starting it. I did learn to pitch an A frame tent, tie a bowline and slip knots (v. helpful for tying up protest banners) and later in Scouting life, learned how to chair meetings, change the oil in a car and put a succinct argument forward as to why I had a problem organising Scouts to be waiters at a Masons function, all under the watchful eye of volunteer leaders.

If we all dybbed and dobbed our way through life, perhaps there would be less rivalry among us.

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