Chasing stars

I got 99.95 problems and a list of 99.95 achievers in the state ain't one

Art: Grace Franki

Every year, come mid-December, the array of voices in Australian media join in jubilant unison to celebrate some of this country’s top achievers. Countless articles and TV interviews are suddenly all dedicated to them — each one probing deeper and deeper into the mindsets of these elite few. Can you tell us how you did it? What advice would you give? Where to from now?

Shockingly, it’s not sporting success that is being celebrated here. These festivities are for a different kind of athlete; one who competes within the stuffy confines of the high school exam hall. This elite group is comprised of the select few students who get an ATAR of 99.95 in the HSC.

While some of these students will be found by the media and have their achievements immortalised forever, the majority of them remain anonymous. For example, in 2015 (the year I did the HSC), the only official information published by the UAC was that there were 46 99.95ers, 25 males and 21 females, and that they came from a mix of government and independent schools.

Now a normal person would look at this rather unrevealing statistic, briefly wonder about what sort of people these 46 are, and then move on with their lives. Not me. Consumed by an unrelenting curiosity to discover, in particular, what schools these people went to, I set out on a quest to do exactly that. While others have personal projects like knitting a scarf for winter, for three weeks in 2016, mine was to make a list of every single person who got 99.95 in the year I did the HSC.

Of course, it wasn’t easy. Aeons spent trawling through school websites, LinkedIn, that state ranking list BOSTES does, and every single tutoring website under the sun were often met with bitter disappointment. I’d often find myself exasperated after a lead ended up being “only” a 99.90.

Thankfully, my task was simplified immensely by three things – a) I went to a selective school, and because of that social bubble, I already knew half of the 46 people, b) I do law at USyd, where for a while it felt like every third person I met got 99.95, and c) Private schools absolutely love publishing their HSC results on social media. Ironically, it was those who came from non-selective public schools, whose achievements are probably most deserving of praise, who were hardest to track down. The last person on my list required me to go through the newsletters of every single school in a particular geographic region after I found a tutoring advertisement for a nameless 99.95er who offered to tutor in a library in that area.

Reactions to my feat (obviously on par with the difficulty of getting 99.95) were not exactly positive. “Get a life” one close friend told me. “You scare me,” said another. But I had received what I wanted. And here it is.

9 from James Ruse, 4 from Baulkham Hills, 4 from North Sydney Boys, 3 from Sydney Girls, 3 from Sydney Boys, 3 from Pymble Ladies, 3 from Sydney Grammar, 2 from Knox Grammar, 2 from Masada, 2 from Kambala, 2 from St. George Girls, 1 from Cranbrook, 1 from Cherrybrook, 1 from Kings, 1 from MLC, 1 from North Sydney Girls, 1 from Epping Boys, 1 from Caringbah, 1 from Tempe, 1 from Prairiewood, and 1 from Barker — bringing the total to 47 people. But hang on, the official number was 46?

Seems like someone else was a bit more obsessed with the 99.95 than with honesty.