I only started bird-watching to get on my teacher’s good side but it changed my life

By Sean Dooley for theguardian.com

It was 40 years ago, almost to the day, that I first fell in love – grade five, Seaford North Primary School oval, right next to Seaford Swamp.

It was here that Deidre Campbell chose me to be the boy she kissed as part of her initiation into the cool girls’ gang. Deidre tended to hang around with older, tougher kids who wore shark tooth necklaces, skinny black Faberge jeans and Golden Breed windcheaters, with packets of Winnie Blues hidden in the upper sleeves, so I was flattered to be chosen.

But Deidre was not my first love. Birds were.

I’d always loved nature – swapping my breakfast cereal from Coco Pops to Weet-Bix just to collect the African safari cards hidden in the packet and getting into trouble for digging up our pebble driveway searching for dinosaur fossils. I soon learned there were no lions or giraffes in suburban Seaford, no T rex buried in the backyard. Nature was what happened elsewhere – Africa, New Guinea, Kakadu maybe. Certainly not suburban Melbourne.

Then I discovered birds. My world changed.

The reason I fell for birds was essentially because I was trying to suck up to my grade five teacher. These were the days when corporal punishment was still permitted in schools and it was up to the few male teachers at my primary school to dole it out. According to the older kids with the shark tooth necklaces, my grade five teacher was the one to fear when it came to the strap.

I’d never been in trouble in my entire school life, yet I was so petrified that I figured I needed to get on his good side. My teacher looked like Allen Ginsberg in a knitted cardigan and a bush hat. And he was into birds. He had a set of binoculars for every kid in the class and would take them out on to the oval to look at the birds on the swamp. I figured if I liked birds, he might go easy on me.

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