Blogging the 2010s — 109 — November 2015

First a gratuitous image from The Gong:

Friday reflective 1: heat and memories

This series follows from the random memories summarised last Friday. It will be somewhat wider in scope. I begin today with the weather….


That’s yesterday’s sunset from my window. Today promises 40C+. It is on track…

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has an obituary that triggers many memories: Educator, sportsman and activist Ken Palmer had a knack for getting the best out of people. In my 2010 post More Cronulla High memories I wrote:

Sometime in 67-68 I was quite ill, actually. I recall saying to one class that if I fell off my chair to just carry me to the staff room! I was in fact suffering from malnutrition, having had hepatitis in 1964 and staying too long on a low fat diet. Some Vitamin B shots eventually fixed me, after one doctor had starved me further by mistakenly thinking I had a gluten allergy. I sure was thin at one point there. Yesterday’s photo must have been post-Vitamin B.

The Class of 1969 were also memorable, especially for debating, which I coached.

Good times and good people. Nice staff to work with too: Jack Morrison, Ken Palmer, Doug Goldstone, Paul Herlinger, Laurie Butterfield, Phyllis Wheeler, Geoff Borny, Debbie Townsend, Beth Kimball from Modesto, California, and who will ever forget Christine Fisher-Webster….

My youth led to one embarrassing moment when the Head of Science came out of his staff room and told me to quieten down. I was not wearing my jacket so he mistook me in my white shirt in a group of students also in white shirts for a pupil.

Today’s Herald:

In 1963 the family returned to Sydney when Palmer moved to Cronulla High School. He was then appointed head teacher (English and history) at Arncliffe Girls’ High, and later head teacher (history) at Blakehurst High and Kirrawee High. He suspended his school teaching for a couple of years in 1975 to accept a post lecturing in History Method on the University of NSW Diploma of Education program.

Palmer was then appointed deputy principal at Kingsgrove North and Port Hacking high schools, and became principal at Marrickville High in 1986.

As an educator, Palmer supported special school learning programs such as the successful “Write it right” initiative. English learning received particular emphasis, and Marrickville students scored well in the oral Shakespeare competitions. “Learning to learn” was another of Palmer’s passions, and he gave heart to many pupils who had been poor achievers.

As a manager, his people skills were outstanding. His staff pulled together and a positive atmosphere pervaded the school. In the broader school environment he was able to diffuse any potentially difficult situations with good humour and a few well chosen words…

It was his achievements as principal at Marrickville that brought him to the attention of the then Director of Metropolitan East Region, and in 1992 he was appointed as Cluster Director, Botany Cluster.

It was typical of Palmer’s humility that when first approached about leaving his beloved Marrickville High he expressed worries that his lack of experience in primary schools could be an impediment. He was quickly assured that it was not the type of school he taught in that had brought him to notice.

Rather it was his thorough understanding of teaching and learning coupled with his personal qualities of building relationships and getting the best out of people, regardless of their position or role. Palmer retired from teaching in 1994….

Ken crossed my path again in 1993 when I was engaged to do a research project on the teaching of reading in Botany Cluster. Lovely man.

Back in Cronulla Ken roped me into minute-taking at meetings of the Sutherland Teachers’ Association, despite my being at that stage a Liberal voter (only just!) and a subscriber to Quadrant. I also recall a hike with Ken and Dick Lynch up the Hacking River to Southwest Arm. Again today’s Herald:

Throughout his teaching career, Palmer still found time to participate in many community activities. His experience in country NSW gave him significant insight into the issues confronting indigenous people. He was also actively involved in the Reconciliation and Native Title movements. The Palmer house was one of generosity and a place of welcoming support and refuge. Many indigenous people were regularly welcomed there, sometimes simply to have a yarn or share a meal, at other times to live with the family for a while. The Palmer family was also a Host Family for visiting Colombo Plan students from 1970.

Ken and Jan become part of the team that established Kirinari Hostel at Sylvania Heights, to provide accommodation for young indigenous people from country districts to complete their studies in an environment that would help them reach their goals.

From Kirinari’s inception in 1967, Palmer was often called upon by the Aboriginal Houseparents and Kirinari Management Committee to give advice on a variety of issues. He was also passionate about human rights and he held an open and unqualified welcome for refugees.

He and Jan felt deeply the injustice of the policy of lengthy incarceration, and were regular visitors to Villawood Detention Centre. They undertook the hard nuts and bolts work of assisting incarcerated refugees with their freedom applications, health and other personal issues.

Politics was also an important part of Palmer’s life. He was a life member of the ALP, president of Caringbah Branch for many years, secretary at times and held many other positions on state and federal electoral councils….