What was I up to in October last year?

Highlights from Monthly Archives: October 2015.

The month ended with Drinks with the Major-General…. As I referenced that recently I won’t repost it today.

Another memorable day:

This post – thanks to Dion’s bus service!

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Neil

Dion’s Bus Service is a living legend in the Illawarra.

Dion’s Bus Service was founded in 1923 when Thomas Dion commenced operating a service from Wollongong to Balgownie followed by a service to Bellambi. It is currently the oldest operating bus operator in the Illawarra.

From December 1927 until 1931 a coach service was operated to Sydney. In January 1928 it commenced operating route 1 services from Wollongong to Austinmer, along with five other operators. In August 1929, Barney Dion commenced operating a service from Wollongong to Kiama…

That Kiama run has long ceased, but there is a story about it my father told me. It is recounted here.

And that’s not all!

The Headless Ghost of Dunmore House is reasonably well-known in Kiama. The Chair of the Illawarra Business Chamber, Les Dion, of Dion Buses, sent a copy of the Dion family history to the Pilot’s Cottage, in which it is recorded one of his uncles witnessed the Headless Ghost while working as a bus driver on the last Kiama run of the night in the 1950s. According to this account he chased the Ghost with his bus, until it threw a rope up into the trees and disappeared. Other ghost stories mentioned in the dusty old files include the Swamp Bull of Terragong Swamp, near the Honey farm at Kiama Downs. It is recorded in the Honey family history that they went down to a hole in the swamp where they thought the swamp bull lived and blew it up with explosives. Another ghost story mentioned is the sight of the boat coming down Minnamurra river in the early morning mist on Boxing Day, the same time every year as a famous tragedy on the river.

See this 2013 story:

It’s not often you bump into a local legend on a bus – or driving one, for that matter.

Aged 93, Les Dion snr took a lap around Wollongong on one of his family’s iconic buses yesterday to celebrate 90 years of Dion’s Bus Service.

From humble beginnings with a single Model T bus with wooden seats and canvas sides in 1923, Dion’s grew into an Illawarra institution as it ferried thousands of locals  to work, school and beyond.

‘‘I’m proud as punch for what the family did,’’ said Les Dion jnr, now manager of Dion’s after taking over from his father.

‘‘They went through some tough times, the Depression and the world wars, so it’s some pretty big boots to fill.’’

To celebrate nine decades in the Illawarra, Dion’s yesterday offered free bus rides to its customers.

Jacob Robinson, of Fairy Meadow, was one of those who instantly recognised Mr Dion snr when he got on the bus.

‘‘I remember Les when he used to drive my bus to school,’’ Mr Robinson said; Mr Dion snr only retired from driving buses at age 85.

‘‘Dion’s is one of the most recognised names in the Illawarra. It’s massive for any company to reach 90 years in business.’’

As a comparison, Dion’s has lived through 23 Australian prime ministers; is six times older than the WIN Entertainment Centre;  and had been in operation for almost 20 years by the time Wollongong was officially named a city in 1942.

The company also started at a time when Chinese immigrants were a marginalised section of Australia, making its success all the more remarkable due to tense race relations at its inception.

‘‘The Chinese heritage, that was a challenge as well, but when you look at this community, everyone is so respectful of them,’’ Mr Dion jnr said.

‘‘That’s what makes the job hard, living up to the standards set.’’

And as for the future?

‘‘I don’t know about another 90 years, but we’ll be around as long as we can,’’ he laughed.

Let me tell you about yesterday and the Austinmer bus – possibly this one:


I had spent some time with friends at Steelers but rather than lunching there I went over to The Brewery. After an excellent lunch I wandered out to the old Catholic cemetery to pay my respects to the memorial of William Smith, who arrived in 1822 on the “Isabella 1” with my convict ancestor Jacob. See Tangible link to the convict ship “Isabella” and the immigrant ship “Thames”.


I then wandered over to City Beach:


Returning to the bus stop nearest The Brewery I saw that the 2.30 Dion’s Austinmer bus was about to go. I decided to catch it back as far as City Diggers, where I alighted.

No sooner was I off the bus than I realised my mobile phone and my camera were no longer in my pocket. Tragedy! I contemplated what to do over a glass of red at Diggers, then went down to the bus stop near the Greater Union cinema and waited for Dion’s buses returning to Wollongong. The driver of the one I stopped rang the depot and reported my loss. About ten minutes later as that same driver was outward bound up Burelli Street he called to me out the driver’s window: “They’ve been found!” and told me to go to the Depot in Fairy Meadow.

I did so – by Dion’s bus of course. No phone or camera handed in yet though. The woman at the desk contacted the driver of the bus I had been on originally, which happened to be returning to Wollongong at that precise moment – and yes, he had my things. As soon as I reached the stop near the Depot he arrived, gave me back my belongings, and a free ride back to Wollongong. So around two hours after my loss all was restored!

So you see, if it wasn’t for the lovely people at Dion’s those photos above (and a few more) would have gone forever! But Dion’s have a reputation for kindness. The story goes that during the Depression they often gave battlers free rides.

Educational opportunity in Australia – 2015 and 1965

Posted on October 26, 2015 by Neil

First – hard to believe – it is fifty years since I first taught (practicum) at Cronulla High School, though appointed in 1966 and teaching the first HSC 1966-1967. A few years ago I revisited.


At Cronulla High September 2011

Going back to that half-century ago and more see Recycle 4: from March 2006; links may not work now:

Note too that when comparing present and past courses, the best comparison is between the Advanced course and the older course, as retention rates become very significant. “The student retention rate has increased from around 35 per cent in the early 1980s to over 70 per cent today.” In 1959 it was probably below 30% — we were elite students doing an elite course with university — and there were only three of them in NSW — very much in mind. The nearest I could get to a retention rate for 1959 was a 1960 figure for all of Australia on this PDF file — 12% of 17-year-olds* were in school in Australia in 1960.

* See comments. It is true that in 1959 NSW had five-year high schools. In my own cohort we ranged from 15 (Ted Oliver: brilliant!) to 19 when we sat for the leaving. I was 16; maybe half were 17. Now the HSC is usually done at 17-18, with most being 18.

2 Responses to “Penguin Classics: Wuthering Heights”

  1. 1 Marcel Proust May 5th, 2006 at 11:48 pmHaloscan 16 March 2006That’s a good attempt to obtain a retention figure, but as NSW in those days only had 5 years of secondary education, the “standard” age for the final year must have been 16. Presumably the introduction of the Wyndham scheme (1967 was the first year of six-year secondary education) accounts for a large part of the jump in the percentage between 1966 and 1968 shown in your source.
  2. 2 Owner May 5th, 2006 at 11:50 pmHaloscan 16 March 2006I wish I had kept my copy of the Wyndham Report; I think it was all in there. I agree about the five-year high school; I was 16 myself when I did the Leaving. I seem to remember the retention rate was somewhere around 25%. Even at Sydney Boys High where it is now close to 100% (actually more like 110% due to add-ons in Year 11) we went from 206 in 1955 to 143 in that cohort’s final year of 1959.

I replay all that to accompany this news item from today: Quarter of Australian students drop out, new report reveals.

One in four Australian students fails to complete a year 12 certificate or vocational equivalent, and 30 per cent of year 7 students are falling behind international benchmarks in reading.

A landmark national study by education policy think tank the Mitchell Institute has also exposed an alarming discrepancy between advantaged and disadvantaged students, and warns the gaps are widening in a “segregated” system that leaves poorer students behind.

The Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015 report, which was released on Monday, has found a staggering 26 per cent of Australian 19-year-olds, or 81,199 people, are not finishing school.

In NSW, 27 per cent (26,535 people) dropped out, while 23 per cent of Victorian 19-year-olds (17,886 people) did not complete year 12 or an equivalent.

About 40 per cent of Australia’s poorest 19-year-olds are leaving school early, compared with about 10 per cent of the wealthiest…

Most socially disadvantaged students attend government schools (77.5 per cent), yet total government expenditure on private schools increased 107 per cent between 1991 and 2000.

This was more than twice the growth in funding for state schools, at 52 per cent, and far outstripped growth in enrolments.

The report’s lead author, Professor Stephen Lamb, said the the effects of student disadvantage were strong in Australia compared with Canada and New Zealand.

Personally I deplore the rise and rise of expenditure on so-called “independent” schools, even if at times I have worked in some. Parents waste a lot of money — too often with dubious tangible reward, in my opinion. But that aside, it is worth comparing the two items in this post so far and reflecting on the fact that when I worked at Cronulla High all those years ago we would have been amazed to contemplate a Year 11/12 retention rate of 75%! We certainly wouldn’t have been wringing our hands about it.

Next thing is I always suspect think tanks. I wonder who they are and what their agenda is, so I checked. The Mitchell Institute is in Melbourne and is named for philanthropist Harold Mitchell. It has been going since just 2013. I note a couple of known names among its advisers: Lindsay Tanner and Peter Dawkins.

And the report itself looks interesting.

Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out is one of the most comprehensive data studies undertaken into Australia’s education and training system. Prepared by the Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES) for the Mitchell Institute, this study draws together information on the opportunities being provided to young Australians as they negotiate the various stages of education and training and attempt to establish themselves in the workforce during their transition to adulthood.

The findings are presented as an index of educational opportunity which measures how many students are on track and missing out at important developmental milestones, as well as who catches up and slips behind…

Restoration Australia: Keera Vale

Posted on October 14, 2015 by Neil

Great to see Keera Vale featured in last night’s Restoration Australia. The house itself I see every day.


Image Illawarra Mercury

As I posted in Oldest house in Wollongong?

But is it really Wollongong’s oldest house?  Local academic Michael Organ participated in an exchange on this last year.

2 November 2011 – Keera Vale

Protect oldest house – News that the oldest house in Wollongong is on the market – Keera Vale circa 1842 in Bukari St – provides Wollongong City Council with the opportunity to redeem its poor heritage credentials. Decades of over-zealous development by previous councils have resulted in the destruction of numerous 19th century buildings in the city. The survival of Keera Vale in West Wollongong for more than 150 years is therefore to be wondered at. It is perhaps now time that this rare and precious building comes into public ownership, to ensure its ongoing protection and preservation. Keera Vale could serve the community well as a museum, gallery or cultural heritage centre, and form an integral part of Wollongong’s heritage trail for residents and tourists alike. With the council looking to spend $14 million on cosmetic changes to Crown St Mall, surely it can find – with community support – less than a tenth of that amount to purchase and restore this grand old mansion. As the oldest house in town, it deserves nothing less. Michael Organ, Austinmer.

  • That post has had 602 views overnight!

See also Joe Davis (2011) Pitfalls of rewriting history.


From my window

The following is sadly relevant again.

Class of 95 remembered, and Muslim students today

Posted on October 11, 2015 by Neil

There is much of interest to me in today’s Sun-Herald, not least a wonderful cartoon by Cathy Wilcox – not yet online. Going back a bit I was drawn to the article The class of 1995: HSC high achievers 20 years on, having taught the Class of 1995 at Sydney Boys High. One member, Jeremy Heimans, features in the article.

Having received a TER of 99.95, he studied Arts Law and then Honours in government at the University of Sydney. After studying at Harvard he has spent the past 10 years working as a political activist and entrepreneur. In 2005 he founded Get-up in Australia. Today he is chief executive and co-founder of the New York-based company Purpose.com. In 2014, he delivered one of the year’s top TED talks, which attracted more than a million views, and today he is working on a book on the topic of “new power”.

Heimans describes himself as “an activist from the age of 12”.

“I had this funny childhood where at age 12 I sounded like a 40-year-old,” Heimans jokes. “In many ways I’m doing a lot of the work I did as a kid, but with better tools.

“I had to try on a bunch of different suits for size – I tried on a lot of different roles in my teens and mid-20s.”

“I benefited from a great public school education and I’m very grateful for that,” said Heimans, who remembers his final school years as a period of robust debates, challenging ideas and honing his debating skills.

I have mentioned him over the years. See, for example, The Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics (October 2006) and  SBHS ex-students in the news, and pleasant Sunday in Illawarra (May 2012).

I recently posted on the Parramatta tragedy. In that post I wrote:

Space precludes my repeating my own earlier thoughts on teenage Muslim boys, of whom I had considerable and mostly positive experience in Sydney especially in the years between 9/11 and the Cronulla riots. See such past posts as Recycle and prelude: nine years ago, Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber, Bringing it home, From omnishambles to pizza…, London ten years on and Go back, lunchtime prayers, Adam Goodes.  Also the reactions to this tragedy from NSW Premier Mike Baird and the revamped administration of Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra have been in marked contrast to the rhetoric Tony Abbott would have come up with. See my June post Contributions to a wiser, cooler look at IS and terror. This can only be for the good of all.

That Cathy Wilcox cartoon, by the way, nails the contrast in language between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, referred to also in today’s Sun-Herald opinion piece by Charles Waterstreet.

Ironically when the Manchurian Candidate teenager Farhard Khalil Mohammad Jarbar chose an Asian employee of the police service, an integrated success story, an accountant and a father, a man cherished and loved in a multi-racial police culture, he couldn’t have chosen better proof of the ability of an Australian inclusiveness, and an everlasting symbol that withstood the rage he threw at Australia, and a churlish outrage his preachers and provokers were attempting to provoke and promulgate. Curtis Cheng was living proof of a multicultural Australia, and in death, a tragic but beaming example that we can absorb other cultures, and an everlasting monument to rebut the malevolent movement that seeks to agitate differences and proclaim other gods, other faiths, as a solution, who when standing in front of the black-robed radicalised robot with a gun on Charles Street, was briefly living proof, he was wrong, completely wrong, he had been used, misused, abused and a disposable vehicle for a false and self-destructive cult of mass murderers, disguised as a religion.

Turnbull has begun to solve this unexpected internal civil disturbance by reaching out to all of Australia, including all Muslims, to all faiths, calling on them to close ranks but open their doors and hearts and minds, by embracing core values, the community of our different cultures, by recognising all our commonalities, not our differences, by force of our love, not our hate. The first reaction is to make our streets and schools safe, then he must reject the bullhorn radio cheerleaders of hate and division, the racist call to arms by dogmatic dividers, and become more Mandela, more Martin Luther King, more Mother Teresa, and more Malcolm the mediator and moderator, rather than Monty of North Africa. It’s not us and them. It’s just us, brown, yellow, white, olive, and pale stars, in and under the Southern Cross, under any god, or gods, or symbols any one of us chooses.

What we really DO NOT need is this sort of thing. Just look at them and weep! The picture is on page 9 of today’s print Sun-Herald.


There is much sense and some nonsense in the article by Natalie O’Brien Most radicalised Australian teenagers attended public schools. Obviously from my earlier posts I have thoughts on the subject. I will be returning to it. The Sun-Herald has done a good summary photo collage:


See also Kirsty Needham, School prayer group rules must apply equally to Muslim, Christian, Jedi. Again see my post Go back, lunchtime prayers, Adam Goodes (July 2015).