The not totally merry month of May…

Of course the idea it should be is an inappropriate legacy from the Northern Hemisphere, though the changing weather pattern we appear to have experienced – in retrospect in twenty years or so we will know for sure that it was indeed part of climate change – has been confusing our flowers into thinking autumn is spring, or it is still summer, or something. “Sydney’s remarkable spell of warm weather has been so prolonged that any reversion to long-term averages will feel almost chilly.”

Yes, it is the month that saw the passing of my last surviving uncle, though that was balanced by it occasioning a meeting with some of the generation now in their 20s – and that I found encouraging. Took me back to Sutherland too, and that I did rather enjoy in itself.

M, whom I have visited several times in Surry Hills of late, is off to the Northern Hemisphere next week – very far north, in due course. And speaking of M – those who know us will get the connection – do watch Foreign Correspondent in the coming week.

They had front row seats to one of the most shocking, violent and oppressive dramas to unfold in modern China. The Tiananmen Square massacre. They were the men and women stationed at Australia’s embassy in Beijing. Over the space of weeks then days, they saw the very best and the very worst of human behaviour. Now, 25 years on and for the first time, Australia’s eye-witnesses to that dark chapter tell how they hid from gunfire, harboured and helped key targets and focussed wider attention on the outrage by smuggling defining image out and into the global spotlight. A Foreign Correspondent exclusive.

Nicholas Jose features in that.

Last week’s episode, Pakistan – The Polio Emergency, was sad and brilliant. It also reminded me of how short-sighted it is for the current crackpots in Canberra to be divesting themselves of our international television presence in the region, more than likely in deference to the pockets of Rupert Murdoch. Programs such as this are much more likely to be made by the ABC or SBS, and that they should be made available in South, South-East and East Asia through the Australia Network is absolutely brilliant. But not to be for much longer, it appears.

Then we have The Pyne’s latest curious lack of conservatism: I say that because I would have thought conservatism involved the preservation of all that has painfully evolved in society and proven of worth, rather than taking the axe or the bulldozer to everything in sight. Well, having it appears been rebuked on the question of pursuing student loans beyond the grave, he has stuck his little cockscomb up again:

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has told Christian school leaders that his government has an ”emotional commitment” to private schools, prompting fears the Abbott government will abandon public schools.

Speaking at a Christian Schools Australia national policy dinner in Canberra this week, Mr Pyne assured the school leaders he did not want to sever long-held ties with Christian and independent schools.

”I want to have a direct relationship with the non-government sector, as I believe we have had since 1963,” Mr Pyne said. ”Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for [state] government schooling.”

Mr Pyne assured the Christian schools he could not ”see those circumstances changing”…

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, Lila Mularczyk, warned that Mr Pyne’s comments signalled a commitment to directly fund non-government schools at the expense of public schools.

”Students most in need of additional learning support have seen Minister Pyne turn his back on them again,” Ms Mularczyk said.

”We cannot rest easy when the educational gaps between schools, and often schooling systems, are entrenched and will grow because of a dismissive, dangerous budget and an Education Minister who openly claims to be emotionally driven in maintaining a relationship with the non-government sector.”

The Australian Education Union deputy federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said Mr Pyne’s ”divisive view of schools” was contrary to the needs-based principles of the Gonski funding model. Ms Haythorpe said federal funding of government schools was crucial to the quality and equity of the schools system…”

Yes, since 1963 federal aid, at first quite modest, was given to nongovernment schools and has continued ever since, but unfortunately what Mr P has said is of a piece with much else he and his pet advisers have said: commitment to the principle of “free, compulsory and secular” as the central part of schooling, as enunciated by the various states from the 1880s on, seems to be withering on the vine. A shame, because that principle undoubtedly underpins Australia as a place where freedom from religion, or freedom not to believe, are just as precious as the freedom of religion, or to believe whatever you like, so long as you desist from stoning family members to death or burning down rival houses of worship.

During the week I had an email from a student I taught at Wollongong High in 1975, now a mathematician at the University of Oxford. I was pleased to note his contempt for C Pyne and all his works: “How is it possible that this irrational, babbling idiot is the Federal Minister for Education?” 🙂  He has followed up recently:

Your classes, however long ago,  are difficult to forget.

I am unsure why, except 1975 was a productive year, marked among other things by that quite wonderful residential conference at Katoomba. In 2007 I wrote:

Thirty-two years ago The Poet and I both attended not a Summer School but an Easter School, residential, at the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba, and it was intense, brilliant, and also fun. We had local and UK leaders in our field running the thing, and it was government funded. Teachers from state and private schools were there, notably Paul Brock, then a Marist Brother. No $5000 carrot was dangled in front of us. We were there because we cared about English teaching.

Well, Jeff of 4E4 1975, it turns out I still have a book in which I pasted now fading photocopies of student work from that time, including from your class!



Looking every bit of their almost forty years old!

May on this blog

The top posts have been:

  1. Home page / Archives 814 views in May 2014
  2. Ian and I have just run out of uncles 27
  3. Autumn arrives at last – and my ongoing scepticism 21
  4. Another gathering of the clan – and Sutherland draws me back… 2 18
  5. About 16
  6. Another gathering of the clan – and Sutherland draws me back… 1 12
  7. Family history–some news on the Whitfield front 12
  8. My former workplace in the news today 12
  9. From Wollongong Library 11
  10. My doctor was ill… 9
  11. Monday 5 May’s Surry Hills excursion: 3 8
  12. Mail me 7
  13. All my posts 7
  14. Pause to remember 7
  15. The glorious revival of piffle in the schools policies of Christopher Pyne 7

Another of those teacher moments…

Today’s email delivered this from the University of Oxford:

I think you taught me English in 4th form at WHS in 1975; a long time has passed and all I remember about those lessons is Evelyn Waugh’s  ‘The Loved One’, a book which I didn’t much like at the time and still haven’t read properly to this day.  You did, however, encourage me to read books by serious authors and for that I’m very grateful; since then I’ve read many; Aldous Huxley’s are still my favourites.

I went on to do PhD in Maths, in Australia, take a post doc position in the Mathematical Institute  at the University of Oxford and then a lectureship there. I’m still at the University of Oxford.

How did I find your blog? It turned up after a Google search for Christopher Pyne; I regard Christopher Pyne with complete and utter contempt and I’m *very* angry about what he’s doing!!!

For example and for heaven’s sake, how can someone come out with “If an elderly person passes away with a HECS debt, they wouldn’t be able to say to the bank, ‘we’re not paying back our mortgage’”  and expect to be taken seriously! Dead people can’t talk and what has a mortgage got to do with HECS? Beyond belief.

I will forgive him about Evelyn Waugh: Year 10 may have been too soon for that, but  it being 1975 and my first year at Wollongong High I may have drawn the short straw in the textbook room!

So long ago!


Wollongong baths 1975 – linked to source

Jeff may be amused by this, as I was. The school in the video may be Figtree High; I know it isn’t Wollongong High.

See also on Wollongong High Time travel (2013) and mais où sont les neiges d’antan? (2012).

Breaking news

Looks like the view from my window is about to change! The elderly Coral Tree is for the chop, it seems. Chainsaws buzz as I write.


“Utopia” on SBS, and the past of Wollongong Lord Mayor

John Pilger’s Utopia has excited quite a few people, but I haven’t yet seen it. You will find international reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. One says “When the subject and subjects are allowed to speak for themselves – when Pilger doesn’t stand and preach – the injustices glow like throbbing wounds.” I am not a total Pilger fan, I have to say, but I will certainly watch Utopia – SBS1, 31 May 2014 at 8.35 pm.

See also With Utopia, John Pilger wrings the heart but objectivity is not his forte.

Veteran Australian journalist John Pilger’s new film places Aboriginal Australia’s dispossession and Third-World living conditions on the global stage.

Indigenous people in remote areas, Pilger says in Utopia, which opened [in February 2014], are suffering a form of apartheid. But even indigenous rights advocates wonder whether the award-winning documentary maker, loathed by conservative commentators, is not presenting a skewed picture.

Here, former Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney, Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, academic Anthony Dillon and former indigenous health minister Warren Snowdon – who had a combative exchange with Pilger – review Utopia

This morning I was quite struck by this story in The Illawarra Mercury, as I had not been aware of the background of Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery – even if I see him most Saturday mornings at the Yum Yum Cafe!

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery broke down at Monday night’s Wollongong City Council meeting, choking back tears as he reflected on his own connections to indigenous Australians.

He delivered a deeply personal speech about reconciliation after calling for a minute’s silence to mark National Sorry Day, speaking of the Aboriginal children he met during his own troubled childhood.

Cr Bradbery has spoken about his tough upbringing, telling how he and his brothers were taken away from their alcoholic parents when he was eight years old.

Despite facing many hardships, he said memories of the Aboriginal children he played with as a child in Tamworth and with whom he lived at a Barnados children’s home in north-west Sydney, meant the concept of reconciliation was close to home.

“There’s a great sadness for me about the impacts of having children taken away from their parents, and you can only have tears in your eyes when you realise the tragedy of it all,” he said.

“For me, growing up with my Aboriginal mates at West Tamworth Public School, we were all equal and we were all mates who just got on with life – we all knew what it was not to wear shoes and I didn’t have that awareness of any inequity.

“I’ve always had a passion for social justice and equity and I think the Aboriginal people lost that big time.”

Cr Bradbery told the council he thought the Aboriginal community was one of Australia’s greatest assets, and needed to be recognised as “something we should all be proud of and take the time to celebrate”.

“It’s such an incredible culture, and the other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how gracious they are,” he said…

Meanwhile in Wollongong:


The new shopping centre’s shape is emerging…


… and other signs of progress in Crown Street Mall. But it really is still a hell of a mess and taking a long time. September, they say…

Sutherland revisited — 2

Again from last Wednesday, walking from East Parade down towards Woronora Cemetery’s main gate on Linden Street. Some Old Sutherland still there…



I even wonder if the “samples” outside the monumental mason’s are the same ones I used to see when I was 10 years old!

To recycle:

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.


That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died … (January 1952). She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively…

  • I posted the relevant memorial plaques here a few days ago.