A mum’s experience
Posted on October 1, 2019
As September drew to a close, another group of young men wrapped up their time in the cerise and blue. Many things have been said about the 2019 graduating class. This close knit group of friends, who have come together from across Australia have faced a number of challenges and adversities, but true to the motto of Joeys, they have managed to continually strive for better things.
In celebration of this wonderful group of boys, Year 12 mum Annie James addressed the Joeys community at the recent graduation dinner, and shared her Joeys experience, as well as some words of wisdom for us all.
My husband, Al, is a Joeys Old Boy. He graduated in 1982. We met at university where I would proudly wear his Joeys jersey around campus, naive then to its true significance – and what it implied for our future.
When our first son Calum was born, Al excitedly made phone calls to both our mothers to let them know of his safe arrival. He also rang Joeys to put Calum’s name down. I was slightly shocked as Cal was only minutes old, but Al assured me that this was what everyone did as soon as a son was born into the family.
Over the next five years, we had three more sons: Hugh, Lachie and Duncan. Needless to say, with four boys so close in age, our home life was loud, messy and chaotic. Many a time I threatened to send them off to boarding school if they continued their wild ways. Al would always remind me that it was a privilege to go to boarding school – not a punishment – and say I shouldn’t threaten the boys with it in case it was something we chose to pursue.
We had always kept the idea of Joeys for our boys’ high school education, however, living in Newcastle, we had a number of school options we thought were good. It quickly became apparent, however, that our boys were being lost in a system where nobody really seemed to care.
Our decision to start them at Joeys was really driven by Calum. I clearly remember the conversation I had with him at the start of Year 8, when we were no doubt having a firm discussion about the lack of homework being done. I remember him in tears saying he didn’t know where and how to begin.
“Mum, I want to do really well and it’s not going to happen here,” he said. “You have no idea of the culture here where no one wants to do well and achieve. I need to be somewhere where I am made to do it. I want to go to Joeys!”
The prospect of my oldest son heading off to boarding school was daunting. We toured Joeys, which I had never been to before, and at which stage the dorms in the main building had yet to be renovated. To be honest, I was a bit worried about the trough sinks, so many beds in the dorm, and the shower curtains. Al, on the other hand, was impressed at how opulent the dorms were compared to when he was there – and the thought of shower curtains was an absolute luxury.
We brought our boys down to the Joeys v Riverview home game a few months later. There were thousands of people there and we were deep in the crowd behind the goal posts. Joeys won the game on the bell and the crowd went wild. The Joeys boys were singing fervently in Latin: what I now know to be Sub Tuum. Calum looked at them, pointed and said, “Mum, next year I want to be one of those boys. I want to be part of something more and something I can be proud of.”
The following year Calum commenced Year 9 at Joeys, followed by the rest of our boys in successive years. They were desperate to be there. My house went from loud and chaotic to silent. In the space of four years my nest had emptied; I was heartbroken and lost.
And then I discovered the Country Club.
I’m not sure where as an adult you get to live communally and share cups of tea, barbecue breakfasts, do one another’s ironing and enjoy stand-up comedy in the early hours of the morning. The depth of friendship and support imbued in the Country Club is like no other. It is a home away from home for the boarding parents and country boys, and a safe haven for our beautiful country and farming families who are facing particular hardship with the drought.
Many a lunch leave has been had, sometimes with a mass group of boys – and other times just with my own boys wanting some quiet time together to catch up and connect. I have Boronia Park chicken, Subway and Domino’s on speed dial, and have learnt the hard way that it is best to put a seatbelt on a stack of pizzas more than a metre tall.
Our boys have had life-changing experiences and forged friendships at Joeys that will last a lifetime. Ironically, the things I worried about with the dorms were the things they loved most. They felt like they were on school camp every night. They have learnt to shear sheep, shoot roos and do doughnuts in a ute, and have developed a real understanding of the hardship our country friends face.
My boys have very different personalities, ranging from very confident and outgoing to more reserved and self-doubting. I remember when we were thinking about the school, someone said to me, “There is a place for everyone at Joeys”. It really is true. There is a sense of belonging for everyone, no matter your interests, abilities and personality.
Joeys has instilled in our boys a great sense of pride and quiet, humble confidence. It has given them the ability to go into a room and engage those around them. It has also instilled values, ethics and aspirations and a true belief that they will be able to achieve their goals through commitment and hard work. They really do become part of something more and something they can be proud of.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and Joeys has become our village. We were welcomed into a community with friendship, humour and love. We have certainly felt that we and our boys, for the rest of lives, will never walk alone. Thank you for the privilege of being part of the Joeys family.