Richmond Technical School: the fight

Artist: Derek Kosbab Title: Richmond Technical School: the fight Acrylic on canvas Size: 120cm x 100cm

Date: June 2014


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Richmond Technical School: the fight

by Derek Kosbab

I was a student at Richmond Technical School in 1957. I estimate that there were 300 students at Richmond Tech. Of that 300, 299 wore long trousers and one student was sent to school wearing shorts: me. What my mother’s reasoning was I don’t know, but it made me stand out. My shorts and skinny legs combined with a lingering British accent made me a source of interest for some at least. Difference I understood was somehow threatening and perhaps the incident described below had its genesis in that threat.

Richmond Tech students were a multicultural mix that included kids from UK, Malta, southern and northern Europe and, in particular Greece and Italy. I had only two school-friends at Richmond Tech both of whom I’d met at Brighton Street State School. One was a Greek kid whose father owned a jewellery business somewhere near Swan Street. The other was an Aussie who lived in Prahran. He was much more developed physically and emotionally than me. During boring English classes he would masturbate into his handkerchief as I sat next to him hardly daring to look at his huge member. I had not even experienced an erection. Consequently, to me the entire procedure seemed wondrous if somewhat sordid. Of course, it wasn’t until some time later that I discovered what masturbation was, or the result of masturbation. I was naïve about the world and a late developer. In fact, I only gained the intellect and emotional capacity of an 18 year old when I was in my early 30s.

I had only been at school for a few weeks when I was approached by a group of six or seven boys during recess. I think that they were older than me. Their apparent leader was a tall, blonde-haired German kid. He scowled at me and said, ‘You will meet me behind the theatre after school tomorrow and we will fight.’ His mates looked at me intently, apparently trying to assess my reaction. I knew that the Germans had fought the British in the war. Perhaps this kid was seeking reparation for their defeat through a fight with me.

To this day I don’t know why, after school the next day, I duly reported for the fight behind the theatre. I think that I was probably frightened and anxious about what might happen. But, then again, I might not have even thought about the consequences. I was a happy go-lucky kid who didn’t analyse things. If someone said to be behind the theatre for a fight, that is what I did.

When I arrived in the bitumenised laneway between the Richmond Technical School fence and the back wall of the Hoyts picture theatre they were already there and the tall German had rolled-up his shirtsleeves. As a group they grinned with confidence as I faced-up to the German. He held his fists in a boxing pose so I mimicked his fists and stance. Despite being a least a foot shorter in height and probably a stone less in weight I shot out my left fist and surprisingly to me—and to him—hit him square on the nose. He took a step backwards and grunted. I jabbed again, and then again. Each time my left fist banged directly onto his nose. After the third jab his nose began exude a steady stream of red blood down over his lips and chin. The blood dripped onto his white shirt. He looked down and the sight of blood seemed to puzzle him.

Next I feinted with my left fist and thrust out with my right fist in what, in boxing terms is called a right-cross. The right-cross connected firmly with the left side of his jaw. I was aware of sort of stunned silence from his associates. The force of the punch swung his head violently to the right. After a momentary pause he retaliated by rushing headlong at me with his arms spread wide, apparently with the intention of wrestling me to the ground. To avoid his charge, somehow and quite deftly, I took a side step to the right and turned sharply left with the result that the German’s head locked itself neatly into my hooked right arm. I was surprised to find that I had him in a headlock. Further, I found that I was able to use the momentum of his rush forwards to propel him head-first into the brick wall of the theatre.

With a dull crunch his blonde-headed skull met the brick wall. He slumped face first to the ground and his friends bent to assist him. Taking advantage of their inattention I ran as fast as I could to the end of the lane into Church Street. I didn’t stop running until I arrived at home. It occurred to me that the German might be dead. Although, my only knowledge of death was from watching cowboy movies and Batman serials at the Saturday movie matinees. In these it was usually it was the baddie who was dispatched without blood or apparent pain. My sleep that night was interrupted with dreams of fights and of a boy being killed by being run headfirst into a wall. I was concerned about what would happen at school the following day.

At morning recess as a left the mathematics classroom the arts teacher confronted me. ‘I would like to speak to you please: in my classroom.’ I followed the arts teacher to his classroom. He closed the door as I entered and asked to me to join him at the window. ‘I was standing here after class yesterday when I saw a group of boys down in the lane,’ he said, ‘and then I saw you arrive.’ As the arts teacher spoke I looked out of the first floor window down into the lane behind the theatre. The teacher certainly would have had a clear view of the fight. ‘I just wanted to compliment you on your boxing skills, particularly the right-cross. It was a beauty.’ He stood smiling at me. I didn’t know what to say. ‘That’s all,’ he said, ‘but really, it is best to avoid fighting if you can.’


Apart from the art-teachers observation described above nothing else happened at school. It was as if the German boy and his cohort had gone on holidays. I didn’t see or hear from them. That is, until about five weeks later when, once again, I was approached in the schoolyard during recess. It was the same German with his group of admirers. ‘You will meet me after school today by the oval,’ he growled, ‘we will fight.’

So, once again, without knowing why, I went to the oval after school. Near the peppercorn trees and seats was the German and his mates. As before, we wordlessly adopted a boxing stance and I proceeded to jab with my left fist to his nose. I did this seven or eight times in quick succession. Following each jab he took a step backwards and his entire group shuffled along with him with me moving forwards for the next jab. I must have been doing OK since a man in overalls on his way home from work said ‘Leave him alone ya big bully,’ towards the German and ‘Good on ya son,’ nodding his head encouragingly towards me.

As I was momentarily distracted the German rushed towards me, wrapped his arms around me, twisted me almost upside-down and fell with me onto the dusty ground. As we wrestled for position he wrapped his legs around my waist with his knee under my back and gripped me tightly in a headlock. I was helpless and the pain in my back was excruciating. ‘Do you submit?’ the German grunted. ‘Yes.’ I cried in anguish and pain. He immediately released me, got to his feet, looked at me with contempt and walked away with his gang members patting him on the back with one admirer looping an arm over his shoulders. I struggled to my feet and made the lonely walk home: a beaten boy.

At school after that episode nothing happened. I didn’t see the German and his group again. They didn’t approach me again. It was like the score was one-all: a draw. Evidently this was a satisfactory outcome for them. However, following both fight occasions my mother had noticed my bruised and bloodied hands. Unable to collect a satisfactory explanation from me, my mother one day announced, ‘Don’t pack your bags for school tomorrow, I’m taking you for a job interview.’ And, indeed she did. She took me for a job interview to Tas Pickett Co., a cigarette wholesaler in Lennox Street. I got the fulltime job and commenced work just weeks short of my fourteenth birthday.