I wrote a version of this article in August 2002 on the eve of the reunion of the ASOPA Class of 1962-63. It has strong resonances for the Brisbane reunion this coming weekend.
The idea of reunion is intriguing. Many years later a group of by now much older people come together to reflect on a distant past, inform themselves of what’s happened since and examine each other. It is, in essence, a relationship rebuild. But why? Presumably because the relationship remains of value.
When I first read about the 2002 reunion, my reaction surprised me. Over the previous 40 years I had not much reflected on ASOPA. When the letter triggered me to do so – and the people and events of those times re-emerged through the mind’s haze – I felt a profound sense of nostalgia. I realised this had been an important time, storybook stuff - 17-year old country boy commences life’s work. But mainly I was curious to find out what had happened to people I once knew so well. I became eager to reconnect with a group that, when I pondered the matter, had a remarkable cohesion and harmony and lacked anything approaching unkindness.
I became impatient to find out more about these people and felt a strong need to see them again. By now I was in regular email contact with the organisers and it was clear that two days at Port Macquarie would not make up for 40 years of separation. Thus began the ‘six-month reunion’.
A rewarding reunion would require the achievement of four goals. First, a successful search for former classmates: a daunting task after 40 years. People had scattered. Few had kept in touch. It took five months of searching phone books, electoral rolls, government archives and the Internet, supplemented by hundreds of telephone calls, to ascertain the whereabouts of the 56 people eventually located.
There was the goal of physically reuniting these people. That was a psychological as well as financial challenge. Not everyone initially shared an enthusiasm to get back together, nor for revisiting the past. The task was to demonstrate this would be a worthwhile, perhaps a unique, experience. And this meant its value had to be evidenced. Most people were persuaded and became enthusiastic. Good Samaritans were found for those who could not afford to regroup.
Then there was the goal of intimacy. A friendship is only as strong as its candour. We needed to tell what had happened to us. Reveal what cards life had dealt. Establish the sort of people we had become. We had to remind ourselves of shared experiences in order to redefine their importance in the present. This required some kind of contact. Which implied the need to communicate.
And communication became the fourth and final goal. It was achieved through phone, letter and email. It was organised into a newsletter. It was not intended to be weekly, but as the information flow accelerated and the stories multiplied it seemed neglectful not to share them. The newsletter Vintage (26 issues) grew into The Mail (116 issues so far) which spawned ASOPA PEOPLE (this is its 310th post).
And so the process rolled on. Increasing numbers of people joined in sharing information and relating experiences, and a long gone chapter in our lives re-emerged with new clarity and understanding. My own feeling of nostalgia turned to one of pride. I now realised I’d been a member of a group of young people who, in choosing to start their careers in a most unusual environment, had done something exceptional. It did not seem exceptional then. It did now. I found myself not only re-evaluating the past, but valuing it the more because now I recognised what had shaped who I had become.
And on to Brisbane. The preliminaries are over, the preparation is almost done and we are on the eve of another reunion. There will be stories of earthquakes and volcanoes, scorpions and snakes, fights and flights, guns and roses, drinking and eating, and marriages gone wrong. There will be reflections, too, on a lifestyle replete with frustration, deprivation, danger and fun and excitement. It’s going to be good, very good.