Copyright© 2015 by Ernest Bywater
Life soon develops into a series of routines of classes, studies, fun with friends, meals, exercise, chores, and other duties. At school Mack makes an effort to mix with a number of the social groups by visiting different tables for lunch in the first few weeks. Thus he soon gets to know a lot of different people.
Mack’s one school issue is Sport. The New South Wales Department of Education requires all students in years up to year ten to play a sport, unless they have a pressing reason not to with a note from a suitable specialist saying why they should be exempted. There are many sports available, but most are team sports like football, basketball, etc. If you do not nominate for a specific sport you get placed in a sport by the school staff. The idea is to make sure the students have a basic level of fitness and it doesn’t matter what you may be doing elsewhere, as it’s a general policy from the departmental bureaucracy. At Wood Valley Mack had an informal exemption. The staff knew he was very fit from working on the farm so they allowed him to skip sport to use the sport afternoon as study time in the library. The staff at Karabar High aren’t so lenient with him. His problem comes from the list of sports to choose from because Mack isn’t interested in any of the general sports. But there’s one special option being offered this year as a trial, archery.
One of the new teachers transferred in participates in archery at the state level and she arranges for the school to borrow the facilities of the Queanbeyan Archery Club to offer archery as a sport. Mack signs up for archery as his sport. The trouble starts on the first day of archery.
First Sports Day
Archery is a special elective sport with high fees to hire a bus to get to the club house and to also pay the club for the use of their facilities and some of their gear. Few of the students have bows and the other gear needed so they have to hire club owned gear. Mack knew of the Queanbeyan Archery Club and he planned to bring his bow down on the first car trip back from a visit to Wood Valley, but that won’t be until the mid-semester break. He has his wrist supports and other gear, just not his bow or arrows. So, like many others he uses the hire gear for now.
When those doing archery arrive at the clubhouse a club member is there to let them in and to supervise their use of the facilities. When the teacher asks, “Who’s used a proper bow and arrows before?” Mack puts up his hand. A few have their own gear and the rest select equipment to use from the available hire gear while the teacher talks to the others to explain how to select a bow to suit you and how to use it with safety.
Mack looks over the bows available for hire. While the rest of the experienced archers select modern compound or recurve bows he takes a sixty inch American Flatbow made of ash. He also selects six arrows from those for hire. The club member present watches while Mack checks the bows and arrows over, smiling when Mack changes two arrows he finds a fault with. It becomes obvious to the experienced archers Mack knows what he’s doing well before he get his gloves and bracer out of his shoulder bag. The gloves are made of fine chamois leather with a hard leather piece attached for the pad areas of the first two fingers and thumb of the right hand. They’re surprised by his bracer. Like most of them it straps onto the left forearm, but his has a series of five clips along the top of it. They realise what they’re for when he slips five of the arrows into the clips. The arrows sit on the arm at a forty-five degree angle with all but fifty millimetres in front of his arm. They can see the arrows will be ready to hand when he has the arm held out holding the bow. Mack smiles while he holds the bow and one arrow in his left hand with the other five arrows on his arm brace. Happy with his choices he walks out of the clubhouse to stand where the students were told to wait when they’re ready.
Mack and the other experienced archers stand around talking while they wait for the teacher and club member to help the new archers to choose a bow and other equipment to participate. One of the students, a club member, asks, “Mack, that’s an unusual bracer you have! Why do you have the clips to hold the arrows on it?”
Mack smiles, and replies, “I don’t do competition archery as I use my bow at home for hunting in the forest. Over the years I’ve never found the need to use more than a couple of arrows at any one time. So I only carry six when I go hunting. I often run or jog between locations when hunting and I found a quiver over the shoulder a nuisance. I looked into other ways to carry the arrows and found this to be the safest and most practical. I know where the arrows are and they’re easy to get at.”
“Doesn’t having them there interfere with your aim and use?”
“Not at all. I use the Welsh Draw.”
The teacher asks, “Welsh Draw. I’ve never heard of that. What is it?”
Mack turns to her, and says, “With the Welsh Draw the bow is held at a forty-five degree angle, not upright, and that moves the bow and brace a bit further apart. Also, instead of extending the left arm and pulling the string and arrow back with the right arm you hold it almost in front of you and pull the arms apart; you finish by pushing the left arm out. This allows you to use a bow with a higher pull weight than the often used Mediterranean Draw does. With a high pull weight bow it slows down the rate of fire, but it gives you a more powerful shot.”
“Why do they call it the Welsh Draw?”
“For many years people have been calling the archers who won the English battles against the French the English Longbow archers. The first ones were Welsh bowmen using yew longbows and they trained the English bowmen in their traditions. But for a long time the Welsh still made up the core of the English bowmen. At that time most countries in Europe used longbows made of many woods, but only the Welsh, and those they trained, used the yew longbow in the way they taught them. The yew longbow was much more powerful than anything else used so it had a much greater range and power. We know this from contemporary records of the battles and injuries sustained. There are accounts of a shot arrow going through a man’s thigh, both layers of his iron cuirass, leather tunic, saddle, and be deep enough to kill the horse he was riding. Only the yew longbow fired by someone trained in the Welsh ways was that powerful. We know, from the accounts of Latimer and Gilpin, the way to use the Welsh yew longbow was a different draw to that used by the other countries. We also know, from the French records, their bowmen always used the way most people use today, so that wasn’t what the English bowmen used. In recent times some people have studied what we do know from the old texts and they’ve theorised a way to use the yew bow. The Welsh Draw is what they came up with. It matches what is known and it’s very different. I’ve found it easier to use than any other method when hunting in the forest. It’s also a more natural use of the arms. I started hunting with a bow when I was nine and all of the bows were bigger than me since I’ve always been small for my age. I’m using what’s likely the way a bunch of five foot to five foot six inch Welshmen used a six foot to six foot six inch bow, and it’s a good choice for me.”
The teacher says to him, “Show us.”
With the order from the teacher, and the Shooting Director’s nod, Mack walks over to the shooting line, sights on his target, turns side on, and leans into the bow he has. Holding the bow in front of his body he pushes out with both arms. When the right hand is in front of his right shoulder he keeps it there while he pushes the left hand and bow stave away from his body. He stops with his left arm fully extended and the bow held at a forty-five degree angle to his body. After sighting along the arrow with his right eye he looses the arrow. It hits the butt a bit to the left and a bit low. He’s quick to draw a second arrow and he repeats the draw process. The arrow hits in the centre of the butt. So do the next four arrows he looses. He turns and looks to the teacher who waves to the club member because he’s acting as the Shooting Director today. He nods yes so Mack jogs to the target and gets the arrows. He’s soon back in the safe area and putting the arrows back in the clips on his arm.
The teacher smiles, “A very interesting demonstration. But we’ll use only the more common way, the Mediterranean Draw. That’s what I use in competition so that’s what we’ll practice using.”
“Excuse me, Miss Rowe, but I don’t want to do competition archery. I only wish to stay in practice with the bow so I can hunt rabbits with my bow when I get back to Wood Valley. Why can’t I do that?”
“Because I’m only supervising and teaching the way I know. If you want to do archery through the school you’ll do it the way I say.”
“I see. Then it’s a good thing today was seen as a day to try archery and we only paid for today. I’ve no intention of messing up my good archery by trying to use a lower quality way of doing it. I’ll have to talk to the office staff about what sport to do next week, because I won’t be here learning to be a poorer archer than I am at the moment.”
Miss Rowe is not impressed with his statement about the style she uses being of a lower quality. So she’s a bit sharp when she says, “Then you can put that gear back, because you won’t be going near the firing line again today. Only those who use the bow as I say will be allowed to use the butts today.” Mack nods to her and he returns the rented gear.
The club member follows Mack in to note the return of the gear. When he signs the gear back in he says, “Come out on any of our usual days and you can shoot how you like. I’m noting we owe you an hour and a half use of this gear you’ve already paid for.” Mack smiles his thanks.
A few minutes later they both watch while the experienced archers fire arrows at the butts. None of them are as accurate as Mack was. Miss Rowe explains how to use the bow to the new archers while pointing out how the experienced archers are using them. Then it’s the turn of the new archers, and arrows hit just about everything in sight except the targets intended. By the end of the day all of the new archers are hitting the butts they’re aiming for. They have the basics and now they need to fine tune their skills with a lot of practice to be good archers.
The Next Day
During the Personal Development, Health, and Physical Education class period the next day the senior sports teacher calls Mack away from the class doing basic exercises. The two go to an empty classroom.
The teacher, Mister Bell, waves at a desk, and says, “I understand you and Miss Rowe had a difference of opinion yesterday!”
Mack replies, “Sort of. She sees the archery class as being only to get ready for competition archery. I see it as a way to practice my archery skills and to stay current in them. It seems I can’t be involved unless I want to do competitive archery the way she does it. I don’t wish to do either. I just wish to maintain my current skills. At home I often use my bow to hunt rabbits. I hit and kill running rabbits at fifteen to thirty-five metres. It’s been years since I’ve missed a rabbit with an arrow. So I’ve no concerns about my level of skills for my intended usage. I just wish to practice archery so I can maintain those skills.”
“Well, you’re off the archery list. So now you don’t have to pay any fees for that. Which just leaves us to work out what you will do for sport. It’s compulsory so neither of us has a choice in you doing it.”
“Kind of makes life hard. I’m not interested in any of the team sports at all. I don’t like the idea of intentionally getting into a situation where I can get hurt as part of the general game. All of the football codes are out, basketball, hockey, baseball, softball, cricket, wrestling, boxing, volley ball, squash, tennis, and handball are out too. That leaves golf, lawn bowls, ten-pin bowling, swimming, orienteering, and running. But the ones that are done this term are full and the others are seasonal.”
“I guess the General Exercise Group that goes to the oval and plays scratch games of football etcetera isn’t a good choice either!”
“Correct. I don’t mind spending the afternoon walking around the oval. How about if I go down to the NeuYou Gym and exercise or lift weights under the eye of one of their trainers?”
“I doubt the school system would allow that, even if you paid for it!”
“Damn. I already do that most days. I already have an Ultimate membership there. I’d only be doing one of the two daily programs I’ll be doing later in the day, anyway.”
“Neat try. I’m sorry we can’t work it. I’ll put you down on the ten-pin bowling waiting list because that’s all year. Make sure to get in early for the next sign up period. For the moment, all I can do is put you down for the General Exercise Group and to warn the teacher it’s a waste of time putting you on the field for any of the team sports. I suspect you’re the type to register dislike by playing badly.”
“Not quite. I’d just walk off into a corner and start walking around in a circle. I figure all would soon get the message I’m not interested in participating and replace me with someone who does want to play. You could teach me the rules and I could be a side-line referee for them.”
“That’s a thought. I’ll see what I can do. It’s obvious you’re fit and you have your own routine to stay that way. The hard part is fitting you into one of the set of square holes the departmental policy creates. That’s what worries me, because I get the impression you aren’t one to accept authority you don’t agree with.”
“What do you expect. Generations of independent loggers in a wild forest area. Prior to that my ancestors were either Scots Irish or straight Irish. Dictatorial authority is a deadly poison to us and we fight back.”
Mr Bell smiles and slowly shakes his head. “OK. I get the message. I just ask you don’t go out of your way to upset the teachers. I’ll see what I can do to accommodate your personal preferences.” With that they go back to the class and Mack joins in on the exercises they’re doing.
Second Sports Day
On the sports day of the next week Mack stays at school and joins the large group going to the school oval for general exercise. While walking to the oval Mack asks, “Excuse me, Mister James, but I don’t like playing any games where I can get hit and hurt. So, is it all right if I spend the entire sports time exercising by walking around the oval?”
Mr James only thinks about the request for a moment, and that’s to see if he can identify any mischief Mack may get up to while walking. He soon replies, “That’s OK. Do it. I’ll have way too many kids wanting to play as it is. So one less to rotate through makes it easier.”
By the time the two games of soccer are sorted out and playing Mack is leading a group of fourteen students in a walk around the oval. They do spend a lot of time talking while they walk. Mr James sends one of the school prefects over to join them so he can learn what they’re talking about. He gets a big shock when Jane reports back.
Jane Hemingway is smiling when she walks up to Mr James to say, “You won’t believe what all the talking is about!” He gives her a quick glance that makes it clear he’s not interested in playing word games. “He has the younger kids asking about any school work they have a bit of trouble understanding. Mack is running a tutoring session while they exercise. They covered Maths, English, and History items for students in years seven and eight during the circuit I was with them. I wonder what else they’ll cover before they’re finished. I like his style. He started with the younger students and he got them telling us about what they don’t really understand. Then he got the older students involved in explaining the issue raised in several ways. Trying different ways until the student was able to show they understood what they’d been told. Then over to another student. I think he’s working his way through the group, going up in age as he goes. I like the students helping students style he uses.”
The two discuss the situation for a while before they turn back to watching the two games of football. The next day Mr James tells Mr Bell about Mack’s exercise. They both like the idea, but they wonder how it will go over the coming weeks.
During the following weeks a group of a dozen or so regulars form the core of Mack’s walking group with about twenty semi-regulars. As they get fitter and more used to the walking they speed up a little. The group does slow down when others not used to walking join the group for the afternoon or part of it. By midway through the term most of those not playing the game of the day, at the moment, are busy walking around the oval. Some to keep fit and some do it to enjoy the social interaction because Mack doesn’t allow any put downs or the other bad behaviours that are so common in schools today. The walking becomes his required exercise for Sports for the rest of the term.
Another significant event to occur during February is Mack’s foray into the school dating scene. He observed the emotional intensity of the delivery and acceptance of St Valentine’s Day cards, and the way some were disappointed to not receive any. This is something new to Mack as it isn’t part of the Wood Valley - Ryan’s Ridge area youth culture.
Lunchtime on the Tuesday the week after St Valentine’s Day Mack walks up to another lunch table, and asks, “Hi, Tanya, mind if I sit here and talk with you today?”
The lovely year eleven girl glances up, nods yes, and replies, “Go for it. But be warned, every time a guy sits here Pat Miller scares them off. He wants me to go steady with him and I refuse to. So he’s seeing to it no one else can try. He hopes I’ll eventually give in to him.”
Just then one of the largest boys in the school walks up, and says, “I think you should sit somewhere else, kid!” Mack turns to look up at Pat Miller, all one hundred and eighty-five centimetres of him. He’s also just over a metre wide at the shoulders and very solidly built. Standing, Mack would reach to Pat’s mid-chest and is only a third of his weight. In short, Pat is one very big boy who plays on the school Rugby team.
Mack smiles at him, and says, “Hello, Pat. I’m Mack Dean. I really do think you shouldn’t try anything with me for the following reasons. If you do scare me off you look like a mean bully. If you don’t you look like a weak bully. I know you’ve intimidated others into leaving, but I don’t intimidate worth a damn. In the past I’ve stood up to, and faced down, a corrupt judge. Yeah, he won the day with his court order. But the whole court and town knew I faced him down and screwed him over in the process. Very humiliating for him. I’ve knelt on a knee while reloading my shotgun as a ute load of armed men drove at me while shooting at me. I destroyed their car and they got carted off to hospital when it flipped over and landed on them. In short, if you want me to move you’re going to have to start a fight. We’ll both get suspended and you won’t get to play Rugby again. If you attack me I’ll hit your knee and smash it to pieces. That’ll destroy any chance of you ever playing professional football. Do you want to risk your future?”
Mack’s dialogue has a strong effect on Pat. Until now every other kid has looked at his size and has given ground. This is the first time any kid has made it clear they won’t, and he doesn’t know how to deal with that. He’s also sure Mack means what he says about his knee. Pat isn’t that smart, but he’s smart enough to know he’ll be a good, not great - but good, professional Rugby player when he graduates high school. Is his desire to have this one girl go out with him worth the risk of losing his main career goal? He thinks not. While slowly shaking his head Pat says, “You’re not worth the effort,” turns, and walks away.
Mack turns to face Tanya, “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Hello, Tanya, I’m Mack Dean. Please hear me out before you say something. OK?” He gets a nod yes in response. “I’m in year nine. Born late in November and turned sixteen last year. I’ve already got a steady girl back home in Wood Valley who I intend to marry after we finish uni. She’s a year older and we’ll go to uni together. The social scene here requires every guy to have a girl and every girl to have a guy. Most pairings will likely end up being very long term, especially amongst the older students. I don’t want that. From my observations you don’t want that, either. So I figure we can get together, have some fun times, and you can educate me on how to be a good boyfriend and how to be romantic. All without any commitment beyond the immediate fun. How about it?”
“Hmm. It does have an appeal as it’ll mean the other boys will leave me alone. But what do you mean by teaching you those things?”
“I come from so far back in the hills we truck fresh air into the city to get rid of some of it.” They both laugh. “Look. I come from a remote mountain area. We don’t have a picture theatre or a club. The evening entertainment choices are the café, one of three pubs, a rented DVD, TV, or what you can organise for yourself. The big date for a teen is to take popcorn, chips, drinks, and a rented DVD to their girl’s house for the evening. Those with cars can take the long drive into a nearby city to go to the theatre. Most of us form long term relationships well before we’re ready for the dating scene, so we never take part in it. It’s even harder on someone living on a farm well out of town, like I was. Romance is something on the TV and in the films. But we’ve got the lowest divorce rate in the country, and most of those are by outsiders to the area.”
“Interesting. How do you get to know each other?”