Sydney High — lively Facebook discussion about that slogan

Yesterday for example when I posted a picture taken from the most recent issue of High Notes.

And there is the slogan. I commented:

The slogan is guaranteed to start conversation, and has! As one who in later years at Wollongong High claimed in all honesty to the legendary Sports Master “Basher” Downes that when it came to sport I was “universally incompetent”, which he rather enjoyed, with him giving me the sinecure of Girls’ Badminton almost as a reward, and as an SBHS Old Boy, I actually don’t mind the slogan, and note its order.

Strikes me as merely an updating of “mens sana in corpore sano”….

Fact is by my observation there is more sport involving more students over a greater range of sports — including sailing — while so much about the school in my view has become more inclusive, more accepting, and more diverse in recent years. More so than I might ever have imagined.

I am Class of 1959. which my then Maths teacher and later Principal Bob Outterside — the first Principal in NSW by the way to ban the cane — always referred to as SBHS’s “golden age.” Yes, there were some brilliant kids there, me being comparatively quite ordinary. But also the choice of sport was very limited. Music was small compared with now, and Art and Industrial Arts totally unknown. (We did Woodwork and Tech Drawing in First Year only and at Bourke Street — an interesting place in the 1950s what with Kate Leigh still being around….)

So here’s to the old school maintaining traditions which I also value but also being these days a 21st century kind of place in a truly multicultural community. And GLBTI-friendly. 

I was recently reminded of another aspect of the current school:

“This collection of Australian Indigenous art is entitled Na Ngara, which means “listen, think and learn” in the Darug language. As a way of learning and teaching about Indigenous life — that which is truly unique about Australia — the art displayed here offers a remarkable opportunity. For each work is a door to an epic struggle of people and culture in our midst. Congratulations to my old school for this enlightened initiative. It is, of course, just the beginning of listening, thinking and learning.”  — John Pilger 2017

So there is another strand to the school. On Facebook about a week ago I posted from YouTube a video I found fascinating because the two highly successful artists, Jason Phu and Ramesh Nithiyendran, being interviewed by Paul Almond, lawyer and President of the Old Boys Union were names I knew from my last years teaching at High, though I hadn’t taught them myself.

Well worth watching, that! So do visit YouTube via the link above. (I responded to a privacy issue and removed the embedded video.)

That excellent session led to a very long exchange with a former student from the 1980s, Damian.

NEIL: I think that is the great development under Kim Jagger’s watch — and the very existence of the event this video records is just one part of it. It is a much more interesting place these days than in was in the 1980s. You only need to download a recent copy of The Record to see that. And that that video was posted by the OBU — and the tone of the questions — suggests that even that institution has changed.

DAMIAN: ….that’s great, sure I’d have no idea, I haven’t been following that. I just still see the “sportsman scholar” thing on everything High puts out. Nothing against the sport, but not willing to go along with it always being put first.

NEIL: In fact I think it said “scholar-sportsmen”? But that is just a quibble. It is a very long time ago now that being stroke of the Eight or Captain of Rugby pretty much guaranteed you would be school captain. Remember, I observed the evolution up pretty much to 2010 and have been watching it ever since.

DAMIAN: You were always one of the good ones, Neil.

NEIL: It ill behooves me at 77 (and Class of 1959) to say your vision of the school is out of date, but it is!

DAMIAN: Neil, I’m about to turn 50, I’m officially allowed to be a bit out of date.

NEIL: Did you watch this from the 2017 School Captain? It would have shocked a lot of people in the 80s.

I referred then to my time at High, particularly in the years around the invasion of Iraq and the London bombing, focusing on how the school had not always uncontroversially coped with the implications of all that for a considerable Muslim minority in the school. See my 2015 post Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. In that post I quote one of the Muslim students, writing around ten years later:

Despite all of our efforts, unfortunate external events generated much attention to our small organisation and our school. This situation blew out in 2005 after one of the seminars on Islam in the aftermath of the July London bombings. Whilst we saw the media attention and negative publicity, Faraz and his father were the ones who dealt with the media and the school principal, Dr. Jagger. It was actually many years later that we learnt about the pressures that he had faced. I think that it was incredible how a 16 year old was able to handle all of that pressure. And he went on to be School Prefect, GPS Debating champion and achieved such incredible results in the HSC and post-school. This is all part-and-parcel of trying to achieve success and to promote justice and the truth. It was in those few years that our group of friends realised our potential, our purpose and duties growing up in Australia and what we would need to do as active citizens to hold Islamic values whilst fully functional in the wider society. What made that experience special and the key qualities that developed was that we were truly all-rounded. We played sport together, hung out at recess and lunch, visited each other’s houses and studied together – and even sold chocolate boxes together.

I said that “scholar-sportsman” seemed not inappropriate to that writer and his friend Faraz. I remember them both well.

Even so, there are aspects of the slogan that do not entirely please. High is not a private school, but rather a state school that happens for historical reasons to participate in the sporting and some other activities (Debating for example) of what in NSW are called the Great Public Schools — GPS — where “public” actually means “private” or “denominational”. Yes, go figure…

It is a strong tradition, carried on in all sorts of ways, the following being just one example, though looming large in the minds of many. The 2017 school captain in that talk above refers to quite a few others. Personally I was mostly involved, as a staff member, with Debating.

My own career in Rugby in 1955 lasted possibly a little over a week — as a linesman and I recall rambling around the ponds in Centennial Park with Ted Oliver who introduced me to the word “rustic”. Perhaps it was a whole term, come to think of it. Nonetheless my 1959 school reference said “took an interest in Rugby.” Well, not really….

And it may be the slogan is to mollify the Rugger Buggers and the Rowers. Is that a fair assessment? Or is it a clever move, presumably by Dr Jagger, to neutralise opposition from quarters which (in my view at least) are not as powerful as once they were? Or to draw the traditionalists and the progressives, for want of better terms, into a common vision?

I have indeed been around related issues in the past: see For the record: the great SBHS race debate of 2002.

Whatever, there really is a lot more to the place than the GPS, and pride in all of that is, I suspect, getting stronger and stronger.

Let me repeat: So here’s to the old school maintaining traditions which I also value but also being these days a 21st century kind of place in a truly multicultural community. And GLBTI-friendly.