Today is the 15th anniversary of my father’s death. I try not to dwell on these anniversaries too much, but 2019 has been a particularly tough year and I could have used his gentle, wise counsel, and the safety of his embrace. Reflecting on dad and what he would have said to me, I remembered this speech he gave to his old school in Charters Towers. I think it captures the essence of dad and his philosophy on life. Today therefore seems an appropriate day share it with you.
An address given at his former school’s Speech Day, 1983
by Don Roderick
During the period that I was a student at this school, we were sometimes given lectures on what could be described as ‘the philosophy of sport’. We were told by some earnest teacher that sport could teach us many attitudes that would help us to make a success of our lives. We were promised that being a member of a team would teach us the value of teamwork and we were assured that sport would teach us how to be ‘gracious winners’ and ‘good losers’. Football would teach us tactics, teamwork, how to cope with physical pain, and would also teach us valuable skills in how to gouge out eyeballs and break a few selected limbs, should that need ever arise.
These lectures were all grand stuff, but they never went far enough. They invariably left out one of the most useful of all sports, the ancient sport of ‘Sand Raking’.
‘Sand Raking’ is a subject on which I can speak with authority; I was a member of the All Souls’ Sand Raking Squad for four years. Over those four years I am sure that I learnt far more about attitudes to life than those who were the champions of the more conventional sports.
Let me share with you something of the magic of this marvelous sport and tell you a little of its history, its techniques, and the valuable lessons that can be learnt from participation in such a noble pursuit.
The history of Sand Raking is far from clear. Its origins are shrouded in mystery; but it is believed by some eminent Egyptian scholars that it was developed in the Sahara Desert by the troops of ‘Ramesis the Neat’. This particular gentleman had a mania for tidiness and kept his troops busy raking the Sahara into a neat and tidy condition.
By 1850 Sand Raking was included in the sports programme of all major schools. At this date, schools would assemble a pile of sand for the Sand Rakers to rake into a neat and tidy mound. As soon as they had the pile in the desired neat state, people called ‘Fat Jumpers’ would jump on the heap, forcing the Sand Rakers to start all over again.
The sport as practiced today has been considerably modified from these humble beginnings. The sand is now placed in a neat rectangular pit and the jumpers are no longer called ‘Fat-Jumpers’. As a consequence of the Anti-Fat Discrimination Act of 1862′ the adjective ‘fat’ was no longer allowed in official titles. For a short period the name was changed to ‘Wide Jumpers’, but as a result of strong pressures from the ‘Wide is Wonderful’ movement, which swept the world in 1865, the name was again changed to ‘Broad Jumpers’. This name is still in use. The other major development has been the introduction of time limitations for the allowable Raking period. The modern ‘Sand Raker is required to be both fast and neat.
A very subtle method has been developed for the imposition of these time limitations. This involves the selection of a teacher who uses the public address system in such a way that nobody can understand one word that is said. Thus, when the Sand Raking event is announced, total confusion reigns for a long enough period to put the event under severe time pressures. The lost time must be made up to enable the programme to be completed on time. When all is sorted out and it is established that the next event is in fact the Sand Raking, the Broad Jumpers assemble some distance from the sand pit. They then waste further time by performing the Broad Jumpers Ritual Dance. While they claim that this is a ‘warning up’ operation, every Sand Raker knows that it is really an attempt to intimidate and terrify the Raker. The experienced Sand Raker knows how to cope with this sort of behaviour – look them straight in the eye and let them see your rake. Show them that you are ready for them and not at all concerned.
On the completion of the Ritual Dance, down they come. One after the other they jump in your sand and they don’t all jump in the same place; they manage to jump in every part of the sand. Not one grain of sand in your pit will remain in its original neat and tidy condition. As each Jumper tears your sand heap to shreds, the mark that he has made is measured as a distance from a white board located at one end of the sand heap. The reasons for taking this measurement are not clear, but it is believed to be a ‘lucky number’ competition conducted by the jumpers. After this measurement is made the Sand Raker must work with maximum speed to get the sand in a condition for yet another Jumper. While the Raker works with feverish haste, a teacher at the pit repeats endlessly, ‘Hurry up there, we have to get through this event quickly’. This teacher has obviously been pre-programmed to use just this one phrase to put continuous pressure on the Raker.
On the conclusion of the event, the Raker can relax and await the results. The Raker has done all the work – but who gets the prize?
Now I put it to you that ‘Sand Raking’ is the perfect preparation for life – it has far more to teach us about life than any of the more conventional sports.
First it teaches us persistence. It teaches us that in this world we will spend much of our energy in ‘fixing things up’. It doesn’t matter what plans you make in your future life – they will never go smoothly – people will be jumping in your symbolic sand pit for the rest of your life.
Secondly, it teaches us that for all this effort, there isn’t going to be a prize. In this life there is no prize for a job well done – it is what the world demands of us.
As a further bonus it teaches us that time is always at a premium – we will always be expected to work under the pressures of time.
But most of all it teaches us the most valuable of all lessons. It teaches us that the most valuable asset we will ever take into this world is a sense of humour.