Elly McDonald


The right track (18 May 2014)

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Towards the end of my brief and wretched stint as a high school teacher, I would lock myself in the Media Studies classroom, “my” classroom, slip Johnny Cash’s Live At Folsom Prison onto my portable CD player, and turn the volume right up.

Then I’d bellow along to my favourite track, Orange Blossom Special, which I’d play repeatedly till I was exhausted: “Waall I don’t care if I do die do die do die…

Hard on the heels of Orange Blossom Special came Long Black Veil, a maudlin narrative sung by a ghost: “Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody knows but me…

One might ask, how could it be that “nobody knows”, given my capacity to bellow is extreme? Is it possible no one could hear the soprano Cash-ette, trilling hysterically in the re-purposed wooden church building on the farthest corner of the campus?

Look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track
It’s the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin’ my baby back

Did no one ask, “That Miss McDonald… She’s more than a bit odd, but do you think she might need help?”

Well, I’m going down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe Californy
And get some sand in my shoes
I’ll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose these New York blues

Apparently not.

I won’t rehash the whole horror story. Suffice to say it’s sometimes said of a teaching career that you come out ahead if there’s just one student you impact in a positive way. It feels like karmic justice that I’m now able to take so much delight in the success of my one special student: as dark as my teaching experience was, thanks to that talented student, those memories are now lit up by starbursts of joy.

I cannot claim credit for Sean Rodrigo’s success. Could be that my failure as a first year teacher, attempting to teach Year 12 Media Studies, only added to the challenges Sean faced in his final years at school. It was Sean’s own talent, Sean’s commitment, that enabled him to surmount the challenges he faced. Sean already had more technical knowledge about filmmaking than I will ever have. He had a visual sense, and he knew what he wanted to communicate through film. Where other students were storyboarding short films about massacres and rapes, Sean crafted a moving short film titled ‘Peace’. Sean’s film Peace screened at a number of short film festivals and won the Audience Choice award at the Blue Dandenongs Youth Film Festival.

Once Sean had hurdled the obstacle course that was high school, his talent took flight. He studied at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), where for the past three years he has sat on the Program Advisory Committee for the Diploma of Interactive Digital Media, Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media (Interactive Digital Media), Advanced Diploma of Multimedia, and the Advanced Diploma of Electronic Design and Media courses. (He also guest lectures.)

He developed a career as a multimedia specialist, then as a commercials director and producer, before taking the bold step of putting all his efforts into his short film project, Nerds In Love. Nerds In Love stars Lawrence Leung (best known as a comedian), Tessa De Josselin and Stan Walker (best known as Australian Idol’s 2009 winner).

So far Nerds In Love has been screened in Sydney as an Official Selection at the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival (Academy Accredited & BAFTA recognised) and repeatedly on Comedy Central, New Zealand. This week it screens at Cannes Court Metrage – Short Film Corner Market at the Cannes Film Festival in France. On Friday, 23 May, it screens as part of the St Kilda Film Festival (Academy Accredited), as part of the Comedy Screening at the Astor Theatre.

Say man, when you going back to Florida?”
“When am I goin’ back to Florida? I don’t know, don’t reckon I ever will.”

Am I a proud pedagogue? You betcha. Am I thrilled by my brush with fame? I am star-struck!

And I am here to testify that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is not the Orange Blossom Special bearing down, but is the bright klieg lights of blazing talent. The damsel is no longer in distress, no longer tied to the tracks, but is dancing off the rails, still bellowing, a cheer squad.

Ain’t you worried about getting your nourishment in New York?”
“Well, I don’t care if I do-die-do-die-do-die-do-die!

Hey talk about a-ramblin’
She’s the fastest train on the line
Talk about a-travellin’
She’s the fastest train on the line
It’s that Orange Blossom Special
Rollin’ down the seaboard line


Let there be lights!

Author: Elly McDonald

Australian-born, with English mother, has lived in several Australian cities and in London. Travelled widely. Way way back when, published widely as a poet and short story writer. For the first 20 years of my working life I worked as an entertainment journalist, publicist, PR consultant and in advertising and media agencies. In the second 20 years, I worked in marketing roles at non-profit organisations then retrained as a teacher, primarily teaching English to non-English speaking, newly-arrived refugees. Also did miserable McJobs, and a long, happy stint at an art gallery.

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