Can the declining Scouting movement – hit by sexual abuse cases – regain its former vigour?

Feb 1, 2020 by

A former Leaping Wolf revisits his Cubs pack to see how the Scouting movement is faring in the face of multiple challenges.

Once a rite of passage for Aussie youth, Scouting has long been on the decline, a situation worsened by sexual abuse cases. A former Leaping Wolf revisits his Cub pack to find an organisation trying hard to regain lost brownie points.

By Alan Attwood –

I’m flying blind at night. Running down a steep hill to the 4th Kew Scout Hall. A group of us, all boys, have been out in the park learning about stars. Peering up at the inky sky trying to identify the Saucepan and Southern Cross. I enjoy that less than running over ground I cannot see, heedless of whatever holes or puddles might be under my reckless 10-year-old feet. It’s a race back to the hall past invisible playground equipment – the slide and see-saws that will later be deemed unsafe for children – then my old kindergarten.

Ten-year-old Alan Attwood in 1967, a proud member of 4th Kew Cubs. Photo courtesy of Alan Attwood

Ten-year-old Alan Attwood in 1967, a proud member of 4th Kew Cubs. Photo courtesy of Alan Attwood Credit:

I still carry guilt about the kindergarten. While playing cricket in the park with my older brother a year or two earlier, one of us hooked a ball through its main window. We could see it inside, atop a pile of glass confetti, but couldn’t retrieve it. Then came an anxious weekend wondering if we’d written a name and address on the ball. Police never called, so we got away with it. But I never mentioned this to Akela, the leader of our Cub pack; Akela to whom we had promised to do our best, to do our duty to God and the Queen. Also, it went without saying, to be truthful and confess to vandalism.

Akela, dressed in dark green, is waiting for us back in the hall. She’s made us hot Milo, a treat I never get at home. I lick chocolate from the rim of the plastic mug. There’s one last activity: a memory test. You stare at a tray of things – a saucer, a cotton reel, a blunt pencil, other items – then list how many you remember. I’m not great at this. Not as good as I am at fires. On the sleeve of my Cub uniform is a new badge, depicting three crossed logs, proving I’ve passed my fire-lighting test using no more than two matches.

I was with my mother at the local supermarket once when we bumped into Akela. She wasn’t Akela that day. Just plain Mrs Miles, chatting in the cereal aisle about everyday things. She’s much more impressive as Akela, raising her arms to summon us in to a circle – then, at 9pm, dismissing us. Some parents hover in the doorway, but my father always waits outside in the car reading a medical journal. Under his polo neck jumper and corduroy trousers, I can glimpse striped pyjamas.

Cubs is fun. I earn some insignia, participate in sports carnivals, manage not to lose my green garter tabs or the woggle for my scarf, advance as far as the Leaping Wolf badge. But I never graduate to Scouts, older boys who meet in the hall on a different night. Why? Partly because my brother was briefly a Scout. He returned from a camp feeling ill after eating too many dried apples. They swelled up in his stomach, my mother said. This left me suspicious of both dried fruit and camps. I’d also heard whispers about initiations. Two years in Cubs would do me. I didn’t need to learn what Lord Robert Baden-Powell, author of Scouting for Boys (first published in 1908), had in mind to turn boys into men.

continue: Can the declining Scouting movement – hit by sexual abuse cases – regain its former vigour?

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