Who mucked up Muck Up Day?

There’s too much scrutiny given to Muck Up Day – we need to let kids blow off steam. Flickr/Jessica.James

“Most schools used to call it Muck Up Day, but we saw that as being something negative.”

So said year 12 co-ordinator Annette Hall of Presbyterian Ladies’ College – one of many schools who have changed the name given to end of year festivities for graduating students to “Celebration Day”.

Negative? Muck Up Day? What school did you go to, Annette Hall? What kind of young person were you?

I remember looking forward to Muck Up Day from the moment I entered Year 7 (then called 1st form). Far from being negative, it was a major incentive keeping kids at school (now called with typical modern-day pomposity, student retention).

After 13 years of the frantically increasing pressure that now characterises what passes for our education system (if only passes were all that were required) is it any surprise some students might actually feel like mucking up? But all the control-freaks like Ms Hall will allow is an appropriately decorous “celebration”.

Personally, I suspect the exam bound (and shackled) Presbyterian ladies would probably benefit from an anarchic blow out more than most.

Every time I look at school age kids today – from the poor little 5 year old mite in the uniform of an expensive boys private school whose backpack was so heavy he couldn’t actually lift it off the ground to the weary kids, trombone under arm, trudging home late from one of their myriad of after school activities – the more grateful I am that I went to school in the laid back 70s.

Our Muck Up Day, I am proud to say, was awesome – even though we didn’t use that word back then. It was the stuff of legend. Our disruptive achievements on the teacher vs student battlefield are still related in the hushed tones reserved for the truly heroic – at least by those of us who were there.

It started with an all night scavenger hunt, where the entire 6th form (Year 12 as it would be called now) - including one David Koch - split up into various carloads and roamed a sleeping, unsuspecting Sydney, looking for ways to wreak havoc and impress our friends.

My carload thought we were in with a hell of a chance of gaining top honours. Along with the usual booty of street signs with teacher’s names on them and various other bits of amusing junk, one of our number – a normally recessive and well-behaved young man named Paul – suddenly developed super human strength and nerves of steel.

Passing HMAS Kuttabul on Macleay St on our way to (where else) The Cross, he suddenly yelled at the driver to stop the car. Before we had fully come to a halt, Paul had launched himself from the vehicle and wrenched the decorative life buoy bearing the legendary ship’s name from the wall next to a guardhouse and borne it in triumph back to our vehicle (somebody’s Mum’s Mitsubishi Colt).

Pumped with our first triumph, we searched for even bigger fish to fry.

In 1974, the hottest teen radio station in Sydney was 2SM. At 4am, we parked outside the station and pushed the buttons on the after hours intercom, not really expecting anyone to answer.

But they did.

“Who’s there?” “We’re the Class of 74 out on our pre-Muck Up Day scavenger hunt,” we yelled back, probably not quite as coherently as that. “Cool!” said the voice, and pressed the buzzer that opened the door, “Come on up.”

Once inside the only two staff members on the premises – a producer and a DJ – cooked up a plan whereby we were going to “spontaneously” burst yelling into the studio and kidnap the DJ. It was late, they were bored and we were thrilled with the idea that our audacity would be broadcast.

The kidnap went well as it usually does when you have the full co-operation of the victim. When we finally emerged into the dawn, a few other carloads of students – tuned in as we had known they would be to 2SM – had gathered at the door. We were the heroes of the hour… for about an hour.

When we arrived at the school, we found the place already crawling with police. We hid HMAS Kuttabul quickly and poor old Paul went a bit ashen. But it turned out it wasn’t such small beer they were after.

Another group of Class of 74 scavengers had pulled up outside Government House and one of the boys had scaled the roof and stolen the flag from the flagpole.

It made the papers. It also resulted in a full-scale overhaul of security at Government House. I can’t tell you how proud we were. And although our teachers tried to look cross, I think they were fairly impressed as well.

No real harm was done. All the “borrowed” items were returned, and we had a wonderful, exciting and subversive time.

We didn’t drink any alcohol on Muck Up Day at all, as I recall, though we definitely smoked a few Alpines (shudder). And we settled down to doing our exams a couple of weeks later with a sense of having blown off some steam.

Today’s Year 12s are much more controlled and restricted than we ever were. School achievement is taken much more seriously today than our parents ever took it, and the HSC exams, never pleasant, are now a kafkaesque nightmare.

A litigious society, helicopter parents, a punitive press hungry for shock/horror headlines about schools have all combined to make schools much more nervous and defensive than they ever were in the 70s.

Indeed, I suspect given the generally rebellious and anti-authoritarian mood of the times, our teachers secretly approved of our desire to disrupt things a bit and break a few rules. How times have changed. Conformity and obedience is everything these days.

Trouble is, the need for young people to muck up at the end of 13 years of what is an increasingly miserable and high pressure education has not gone away. If anything, it has ramped up. Hence, perhaps, the advent of Schoolies, a much more dangerous, week long, disruptive drug and alcohol-fuelled bacchanalia than our late lamented Muck Up Day.