Facebook — more Sydney High chats and memories

Yesterday I posted to Facebook a set of oral histories I found on YouTube, each concerning senior Old Boys of SBHS — my now being able to consider myself one such after 61 years! Not all that distinguished though. All three videos were good, and the credits of one of them tells much about 21st century Australia as well as 21st century Sydney High.

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There in a nutshell is multicultural Australia, the land Pauline Hanson (and too many others!) simply cannot comprehend. Now to one of that set of videos, concerning a man from Bondi  who was a train driver all his working life, from 1939 through to 1982-3.


He drove those beautiful 38 class locos!  (Photo David Johnson.) That in itself made me love him.

Soon after posting those to Facebook I happened upon a brilliant musician in his twenties. I had never heard of him, but listening hooked me. He has toured the USA, Asia (including China), Europe… And I had never heard of him. Not surprising I suppose as at 77 I am not up on the latest music. Anyway, here he is with other musicians in the US just pre-COVID.

Plini. Did the HSC in 2009. My last year (aside from a few later brief gigs such as marking Trial HSC English) was 2005. He was in Year 7 then, and his mother on staff. Now I find articles about him such as: “Perfection is kind of ridiculous” – a [2017] interview with Plini on a Hungarian music site!

Most young musicians think of it like: you write a song, you record it, publish it, tour with it, do this across albums and albums, and you tour the world, and that’s the end-all and be-all of musicianship. These experiences like playing on a boat, doing philanthropy; is it important to you to have these extra dimensions to your music career?

Totally. I think being in a modern progressive metal band can easily boil down to: you’re in a band, you’re really sick at your instrument, you write sick songs, and then that becomes an album, which a record label releases, you tour your home country, then you tour the rest of the world, then maybe you tour your home country again, release a music video after 2 months or something, then just go home exhausted, wait a while, then do it again. I feel like that’s kind of what being a modern prog metal band is. Whereas I guess I’m trying to push myself into situations where it’s kind of the opposite….

Is there any time where you record something, then sit down, listen to it, say it’s perfect, and then a year later still say that it’s perfect?

No, but I think accepting that perfection is kind of ridiculous is what makes doing anything fun….

What’s happening when you get home from this tour?

At the moment it looks like I’ll be home until July, so I’m probably going to get right back into writing and recording, because I’ve got so much pent-up inspiration. At the end of July I’m going to New York to do a summer camp with Aaron.

What can you recommend to young artists who are struggling to find themselves in this incredibly diluted industry?

Well I guess that’s two questions, because by mentioning a diluted industry, you’re kind of implying that finding yourself means becoming successful, which I think shouldn’t necessarily be a goal, because if you’re second-guessing what to do to be successful, and you get it wrong, you’ve wasted your time in a way that’s not going to have a happy outcome. Whereas I think if you spend your time musically, as a complete waste, but one that you enjoy, then at the very least you might find yourself and no one gives a fuck, but you found yourself and you enjoyed it… shifting your mindset from wanting to be like your favorite band because they play to a big crowd and earn money, to wanting to be like your favorite band because they’re in a situation where they’re doing what they love. That’s the most valuable thing that you can do.

Damian, an ex-student from the mid to late 1980s, reacted to my posting Plini.  “That’s pretty amazing, I’ve heard of this young man separately…. SBHS was an amazing place to learn music, but it was really severely undermined by a certain trajectory in the school, whether that was old boys or just Outterside (in my time there anyway…). The ‘sportsman scholar’ thing is particularly offensive. But maybe that’s just me being insufferable.”

He is referring to the tagline on this promo made this year by a student of the school.

That led to quite a fruitful exchange on Facebook last night.

ME: Not insufferable. Mind you in my day it was said in Latin: mens sana in corpore sano. And yes in the time since you left there really have been interesting developments in many ways, most of which please me.

…going through The Record 2005-2010 (all on my computer!) I see Plini was a soccer player and also got prizes for music and art. Scholar-sportsman perhaps? 😉

Outterside was my Maths teacher! Believe it or not he was good. My only connection with the Outterside Centre was running writing workshops there for Yr 9 (I think) students. It was a good place to spend a day doing that — and getting paid to do it was a plus!

I then referred Damian to three of my blog posts:  1st — Proud of my old school/workplace — which includes the following video.

2nd — Sydney High now… Proud!

While checking the school archives for the previous post, I noted that the 2017 Record was now online. Over 60 years ago I was a student on the Record Committee; happens it was the 75th anniversary of the school. I am now as old as the school was then, a fact I am only just coping with! Last year I posted about my delight in the way the school has progressed in recent years under the watch of Dr Kim Jaggar. This year same again in spades! Get your own copy! A sample:

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3rd — back to Bob Outterside’s time as Principal with 21 years on– a sad but also brilliant episode concerning a colleague who succumbed to AIDS-related illness in a very public but very moving way, with all kinds of support from staff and students.

Phil Ainsworth (1953-1991), English teacher at Sydney High School.


That’s him on the right in 1989 in his role as trainer of the 1st Grade Rugby team. The skinniness is starting to show there. As it became more obvious he was up front about what was happening with his students, and I remember Phil telling me how difficult this was, but also that he received messages of support and thanks for his honesty from the parents of many of those students.

sydney-boys-high-great-hallI in fact worked with Phil rather briefly, as in 1988 to early 1989 I was teaching in St Ives, in 1989 dealing with a range of personal matters and sometimes not quite with it, and in 1990 to early 1991 at Wessex College of English. I did work at High in Term 4 1989, and again from 1991. I saw a fair amount of Phil nonetheless and was there in the final stages when, sadly, AIDS-related dementia also showed itself at times.

Phil was greatly respected, even loved, by staff and students alike, and greatly admired for his honesty and courage. The school officially attended his funeral at Christ Church St Laurence in 1991, students from Sydney High carrying his coffin. I was there. Later, both M and I attended the wake in Pitt Street, Redfern, not far from where M – whom I had met in 1990 – and I were then living.

A prize for a senior student showing courage in difficulties was endowed in Phil’s name at Sydney High and is awarded to this day.

Awful as the whole thing was – Phil after all never made 40 – I also remember it along with much else from the early 1990s as a shining time of acceptance and hope. The way the school totally embraced Phil in his last journey is the shining example – and kudos to all my colleagues then, from the then boss Bob Outterside to Tony H (also in that picture above), to Con, to Marcia, to Tess… The lot of them!

I summed up the Facebook exchange thus: “Nice. Posting things about that young musician Plini led to a very fruitful exchange on one of those posts with an ex-SBHS student from the late 1980s who now lives in Queensland. Memories on both sides there, but also, strangely enough, this old bloke could update him about developments, mostly good and some fantastic, in the old place since his time!”

Progress and change AND tradition in the institution that has produced in my time both ScoMo and the young man who founded GetUp!