Trespassers will be prosecuted

‘You’re not living up to our standards ,’ I said to my
sister as we walked together to school. 
Up Cox Street through Robross and onto Centre Dandenong Road.  The traffic whizzed past.
My sister’s school bag flapped at her side , but with her
free hand she reached out and grabbed my hat.  Up and over the fence into the nearest yard.  I could see my hat through the fence
slats caught in the branches of a rose bush.
‘Look what you’ve done,’ I wailed.  ‘Go and get it.’
‘No way,’ she said. 
‘Get it yourself.’ 
‘But it’s trespassing.’  This much I knew: to go uninvited into someone else’s
territory was against the law. 
Trespassers will be prosecuted.
My sister was already bad.  She had written on the central blackboard at school, two
letters that defaced Mother Xavier’s orderly list, headed by the single word
Marks for order, for punctuality, for application and the
big one, worth five points, marks for deportment.
My sister had added the two letters ‘re’ to the word marks,
‘remarks’ and Mother Xavier had summoned the entire school to find the culprit.  Can you imagine my shame when my sister finally put up her
She lost her shield: two full marks for deportment, ten
points, and took a letter home to our mother.
Our poor mother, overburdened with trying to find the money
to pay our school fees and here was my sister abusing the privilege.
‘You go and get my hat,’ I said again, but my sister had
shot off ahead.
‘You’ll miss the train,’ she called back.
I had no choice then but to break the law. I slipped the latch on the gate, fearful of every
creak.  I slid up the pathway and
hunched my shoulders.  I had a plan.
If anyone came out I would apologise and tell them the wind
had blown my hat over their fence. 
No matter there was no wind. 
I could see a television screen flickering through the scrim curtains in
the front room.  The rumble of
I snatched my hat off the bush and ran for it.
‘Don’t you ever do that again, or I’ll report you to the
prefects,’ I said to my sister. 
‘And I’ll report you for not wearing your hat.’

And so it goes, sibling rivalry at its best.  

28 thoughts on “Trespassers will be prosecuted”

  1. this short sketch reveals much about you and your sister, and family, Elisabeth. I love it – both your sister's and your trangressions. They seem so innocent compared to students and the rules they break.

  2. My siblings are both younger than me, Lis; my brother is three years younger than me and our sister is three years younger than him. This means my little brother is fifty and my baby sister is forty-seven. I read that last sentence and it makes no sense to me. It wouldn't matter if we were still in touch I still can't see either of them as a grownup, certainly not that grown up. I can't remember walking or getting the bus to school with either of them although I must have done. I do remember coming home from school one day and seeing our cat dead at the side of the road and feeling I was not able to do anything about it because my sister was with me but that's it.

    The reel-to-reel tapes I was listening to a few weeks back have showed a side of me that I had forgotten. I knew that I had bullied my brother when we were kids but to hear me make my brother cry on the tape was uncomfortable. I used my strength against him—on the tape I'm six which would make him three—but I would also shout him down; I very much wanted to be the centre of attention. Once I became a teenager I slipped into my own world, took over the front room (which became my office and a very messy one it was too) and didn't pay much attention to either my brother or my sister until I'd left home. I recall my brother coming to visit me just after I'd got married the first time (I would be nineteen then) and being genuinely surprised to see him. I couldn't understand why he'd come, why he'd want to come. A few weeks on my mum and dad arrived and left my sister with me for a week to give them a break (she was quite a handful at thirteen) and I remember looking at this young woman and thinking, When the hell did she get boobs? I'd been living in the same house as her only a couple of months back and couldn’t have told you a thing about what was going on in her life.

    If I got a phone call from either of them looking for help I would jump to, send money, do whatever was required—I do still love them—but there is a side me of me that never expects to make contact with either of them again and really isn't bothered by that or certainly isn't bothered nearly as much as he ought to be.

    For all that I'm not sure I would have tossed my brother school cap—not that we wore them—over someone's fence; that would have been badness for badness's sake. I used to hit my brother when I was very young when I saw him doing things I deemed were wrong because that's what happened to me. Whether I deserved to be smacked depends on your views—my dad certainly believed in corporal punishment—but I had always done something that deserved some kind of punishment. My parents never hit me for any other reason.

    As far as actual sibling rivalry goes my brother and I were so different that it was never really an issue. He grew up very much in my shadow which I know he resented. Every new class he'd enter the teacher would say, "Oh, so you're Jimmy Murdoch's little brother. Well, we’ll be expecting good things from you then." Although far from stupid—all three of us made top of the class at some point in our school careers—I had an air of intelligence that the others didn't; it mattered to me to be seen as intelligent. My real rival was my dad.

  3. I have five sisters and I, too, miss the rivalries. Funny…when we all get together, we revert back to the child in each of us, the hierarchy of sibling order.

    Thanks for the fun story. Nothing worse than being reported to the perfects!

  4. I wrote a whole speech for my brothers 50th birthday which centred around envy and sibling rivalry. He was always the successful sportsman and head boy and athlete. AND he was 18 months younger than me. I made it very funny – but there was a hidden truth to the hilarious barbs.

  5. Hi, my name is Robert, most deleted commentor in blog history. A proud record.
    Listen to me: an Australian boy from the slums: dirt, neglect, mattresses on the floor. Broken windows too, and no bathroom. How's that. One morning on my way to school a neighbour grabbed me from the street as I passed her gate and took me inside. She stood me on the kitchen table and gave me a complete wash, and dressed me in all new clothes, right down to singlet and underdangers. Then she took me out and planted me back where she'd got me. I was like a new boy in school that day, a new Robert; a shock for the teacher and all my classmates. The fact is she's had enough, that neighbour, of seeing me go past everyday with fleas jumpimg from my head. What I say to people wailing about aborigines is what about poor people black and white? What I say to feminists is there's only two types of men, two types of women: rich and poor. If all anyone has to complain about now is a religious upbringing causing guilt in adult life then the guilt is a luxury, something you've done to yourselves you boneheads. Slum kids would swap it with you any day for your toys and clean clothes and meals on the table. What a piddling thing to write about: Moral Anguish. ha! ha! ha! Well you can afford it.

  6. Well okay don't allow my second comment about a boot up the arse but Jim gets to say what he wants and we all know who's the pet in this class.

  7. These sort of rivalries did not occur. Being the eldest I had the luck of being the one who could be in charge. This didn't lead to much trouble except that on occasion my brother,19 months junior, would try to blame me if something was not right as far as my parents could tell. A yardstick flying down our main floor hallway hit the mirror of our parents dresser. He claimed I did it. At first my Dad accepted this but when I refused to eat because of wrongful blame my Dad wisely revisited the issue and blamed us both, me as the onlooker. That was fair.

  8. Our transgressions then seem so innocent by today's standards, as you suggest, India but they were no less serious in terms of the guilt I felt. Hopefully I've lightened up a little today. I was such a priss and do-gooder with all the negativity this entails, but I try today to forgive myself for the way I once was.

    Thanks, India.

  9. You've told me before about your estrangement from your sister and brother, Jim, and every time I read it and you describe it anew – from a different angle – it seems very sad. To love your siblings and yet to have nothing to do with them.

    I can hardly talk. In relation to certain of my siblings I'm the same. I hardly ever, if at all ever see them.

    As the first born it stands to reason you might consider your younger siblings as lesser beings. I'm from the middle and therefore have the view from above and below. It's a dangerous tendency of course and to some extent I suspect we all suffer from it to varying degrees, this idea of who's inferior and who superior and it begins in families. I used to think i was my mother's favourite. I am her namesake after all until in adulthood I realised she preferred my older sister, if only out of sheer necessity. My sister has always been our mother's greatest helpmate, complicated indeed by events in childhood vis a vis our father.

    I reckon sibling rivalry goes on forever to varying degrees, but as adults we can hide it more, by staying away from it in keeping our distance.

    Thanks, jim.

  10. I knew when I wrote the word 'bad', Rubye Jack, it was a bit reductionistic. That said bad and good are aspects of childhood innocence, as you say.

    If only life were that simple, but if it were that simple it would also be dull.

    Thanks, Rubye Jack.

  11. We learn a lot about life with and without siblings, Ms Sparrow, in that great melting pot of family, in whatever form it takes. And yes, it helps in the end to get along, as long as we can also deal with the conflict.

    Thanks, Ms sparrow.

  12. Sibling rivalry is influenced by age and chronological position, Pat.

    With all those years between you and your siblings it sounds like your parents had three separate families of single children.

    Thanks, Pat.

  13. Scrumping other people's apples, Heron – what a guilt inducing activity for a young boy. I hope you got to enjoy your spoils, despite the pain.

    Thanks, Heron.

  14. Being reported to the 'perfects' as in the 'prefects' was a torture, Yvonne. They could be more harsh in their dealings in my experience, my self inclusive, than the nuns and lay teachers.

    A little power you know… it can go to one's head. Still there are times when we could take it all with a degree of lightheartedness that we come back to as adults, as you seem to do with your sisters.

    Thanks, Yvonne.

  15. Oh the pain of having a more successful younger sibling, Little Hat. I feel it in relation to my youngest brother, the most successful in our family, at least in material terms. Still I love him dearly.

    It's hard holding those mixed feelings together but at least if you can talk about them through good humour it helps. They are after all universal feelings of discomfort for all of us.

    Thanks, Little Hat.

  16. As 'the most deleted blog commentor in history' Robert, you'd know all about feelings of rejection, which are close cousins of sibling rivalry.

    As is often the case, your post reads poignantly until the sting in the tail. For its poignancy I commend you – not that I suspect you're looking for that – and for the rest, I'm not sure I'm as anguished as you might imagine. Nor do I presume a hierarchy of pain and suffering. To me such feelings are like grief, they're idiosyncratic and everyone feels them to varying degrees.

    No one person or group has a monopoly on pain.

    Thanks, Robert.

  17. The apportioning of blame among children in families when something goes wrong is always a tense affair, Heidi and I agree with you, as in your example here, by and large, kids have a strong sense of fairness in such matters. It irks to be falsely accused.

    Thanks, Heidi.

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