Of course I think immediately of the school sounds: the bells, buzzers or sirens that mark the beginning or end of a school session or day; children’s laughter in the playground interrupted by the cry over a scraped knee or elbow; the hush that overtakes the classroom when the teacher’s footsteps in the corridor announce her arrival; the monotonous chant of sounds parroted repeatedly as cards of letters are flashed in unrelenting sequence, marking the imposition of content-driven curricula where once were child-centred approaches and talk was king.
I think, too, of the sounds of nature that tell me of the changes in the day: the birds that sing outside my window heralding each new day – the kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, little corellas and koels; the rainbow lorikeets that chatter noisily telling me that evening is on its way; the screeching and whooshing of fruit bats as they wing their way across the darkening sky; the thud of a possum landing on the fence and the scratching of its claws as its scrambles from tree to tree under cover of the night.
We are fortunate in Australia that we don’t have a great number of large menacing animals terrorising our neighbourhoods. Sure dingoes, crocodiles and sharks may be scary but you don’t often come across them, and our most dangerous animals are more likely to be small and quiet and sneak up on you, like our spiders, snakes, jellyfish and ticks. There are no sounds associated with these to give you a warning.
That’s not to say there are no scary sounding animals. Any sound, if you don’t know what is making it, has the potential to be scary; as in this 99-word flash (memoir):
Awakened suddenly, I didn’t dare breathe. The sound was unrecognizable: guttural, movie theatre loud in surround sound. I sat up. The sound continued. I wasn’t dreaming. I nudged Bob. No response. Gripped with fear but needing to know, I tiptoed to the window and peeked through the curtain slit. I expected to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was nothing. Now it came from the front, inside the house? My son! I tore down the hall. He slept peacefully! Back to the bedroom. Bob awoke. “Did you hear that?” he asked, wide eyes staring . . .
The following day I phoned the Queensland museum and attempted to explain what I heard. The fellow at the other end of the phone mimicked the sound exactly!! He identified it as a male brushtail possum warning others of its territory. These possums are very common in our area and I was amazed that I hadn’t heard this particular sound before. I hear it frequently now as every night they are moving about in the neighbourhood trees and running along our fences and roofs. I have never again heard it at the intensity of that first time, and now that I know what it is, it is no longer scary. In fact, possums are rather cute, as long as they are not living in your roof, eating the produce of your garden or stealing your Christmas puddings!
This video gives a hint of the brush tail’s sound I heard:
Another sound that I found quite unnerving at the time of first hearing was that of the mutton birds in the still of the night while we were holidaying on Heron Island, just off the Queensland coast at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. I had always thought the cry of the curlew to be quite eerie, but it didn’t match that of the mutton birds whose cry was more like that of the banshees.
I have written about this frightening experience in the following 99-word flash (memoir):
The boat tossed mercilessly. I battled to contain my insides while all around were losing theirs into little paper bags offered unceremoniously to obliging staff.
Finally, just before landfall, I joined in. Then it was over – for me. Bob’s queasiness laid him up for the night; but I went to tea.
The path back to the cabin was unlit but for a splash of moonlight. Suddenly horrific wailing assaulted my ears. Was Bob being murdered? I hurried back. He was fine, but the eerie sound unsettled us far into the night.
In the morning we laughed: mutton birds nesting!
I was fortunate to have not tripped and fallen as the mutton birds nest in burrows and these were dotted all over the island! Of course, once the source of the sound had been identified, we were no longer concerned.
While my two snippets of memoir don’t fit Charli’s criterion of fiction, they are about sound and I have used them to point to the power of education to change one’s situation. When the source of the sound was unknown, it was frightening. Once we knew what it was, it was no longer scary.
Knowledge is power. There is a saying, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you” but there is also another that says “What you don’t know won’t do you much good either”. I have written about this previously here.
Conspiracy theorists believe that those with power withhold knowledge from the masses (e.g. aliens are among us); but I believe that schools that favour test marks over individual development; content over creativity and critical thinking; and conformity over diversity are conspiring to contain the masses. One of the easiest ways to suppress and maintain control over others is to keep them ignorant. I am not suggesting that schools keep students ignorant, but they could do a lot more to maintain children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. I look forward to sounds that will herald positive changes in education.
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