Rampant Sydney Boys High Nostalgia

It’s all because they just digitised the archive of “The Record going back to the first one in 1909.

I attended as a kid from 1955 to 1959, returning as a teacher in several capacities as a casual/part time/semi-permanent late 1985-1987, late 1989, 1991-2005 with other stints as ESL teacher at SCEGS Redlands helping a friend with Korean students, various at Sydney Girls High, and half of 1993 on a research project on Reading for the Disadvantaged Schools Program in the Botany area. Not exactly a normal career but not unsatisfying. But Sydney High very much was at the core for 20 years until I retired in 2005. I maintain an interest in my old age.

I begin with a presentation showing how the school defines itself in 2022. There have been many developments since 2005 when I ended my main stint there, but I witnessed those changes beginning. See my October 2020 post Yesterday was World Teachers Day

On Facebook I said:

International Teachers Day conversation 1 at Diggers — with Leo Tobin, who was around the teaching traps down here in the Illawarra even before I was. Many a story we swapped about Wollongong High and Brian Downes, the legendary “Basher” Downes! 50 years of memories.

Conversation 2 — by phone — with Kim Jaggar, Principal of Sydney Boys High on his 21 years in the job there. On ticklish issues like what to do about students running away to join ISIS! (Kim was absolutely brilliant and those kids are now OK and no longer kids!)

So much that man has accomplished in the old place.

On that “ticklish problem” (in 2015) see Bringing it home.

Sydney Boys High 2022

There are plenty of previous blog posts here on various aspects of my story and the school.

Looking back

What fun I have been having with “The Record” archive! Naturally I sought first one of the few pictures of me in it.

See the kid whose face almost merges with the conductor’s?

That’s me at 13! The kid on my right in the front row is Peter Hely (RIP) who later became a rather famous lawyer in Sydney. A Federal Court judge in fact!

This is one of the songs we sang, though not as well I suspect as this Taiwanese group.

And then there was my 1959 Prize for Service to the School — as a librarian….

Mind you there is plenty of more generally interesting social history in that archive. Take 1943, my birth year:

That list goes on for nine pages! All from just one Sydney school!


A morning assembly in 1990 — though that year I was teaching adult Asians (plus one French tennis coach from Club Med) at Wessex College of English, especially Chinese, Koreans, Indonesians and Japanese, thus beginning my ESL trajectory. We visited SBHS though.

Redfern on our minds

Thirty years ago one of the great speeches in Australian political history happened in Redfern.

As that thirtieth anniversary comes around , all the more reason to embrace the Uluru Statement from the Heart, constitutional recognition, and the Voice to Parliament.

The gist is all in this great speech of 30 yeara ago!

Posted on  by Neil

The next several posts will be photoposts about the weekend 6-7 December 2014. And a good one it was. Sunday I took the 7.45am express to Sydney, getting off at Redfern.


I hadn’t been to Redfern in quite a while. The immediate purpose of the trip was lunch with M at The Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills, but I decided, it being Sunday, to go early enough to attend South Sydney Uniting Church. I hadn’t been there for quite a while; I suspect this was the last time: South Sydney Uniting Church last Sunday. It proved a bit of a bonus because along with some old friends there were quite a few Indigenous Australian young people from Arnhem Land and Darwin down for some conference or other.

But on the way I paid another pilgrimage.


Redfern Park


World AIDS Day

As some of you already know it was not until the mid 1980s that I had anything to do with the gay scene — and my first experiences involved Beau’s, by which name Chippendale’s Britannia Hotel was then known.

Heady times of assertion and discovery — and this was the anthem:

And also it was this time….

William Yang — from Sadness

Here are extracts from some earlier posts on my blogs.

Posted on  by Neil

The things one finds on Facebook!

One on Lost Gay Sydney is a thread about Dr Cassy

She was my GP – and M’s — for the best part of the last 20-25 years so I saw what she did up close. (I also coached her son in English for the HSC not all that long ago. This was taken from her place in the course of that.)  See also Reflective of the 80s and 90s–others and myself for Lyle Chan’s story on Dr C.

David and I became much closer after I started collaborating with a doctor named Cassy Workman. Cassy and I together with Lois Johnson from ACT UP formed a radical AIDS treatment center masquerading as an ordinary doctor’s office. We ran our own clinical trials, recorded and analyzed our own data, and devised treatment regimes using drug combinations obtained by lying to the hospitals about what drugs our patients were really on – to circumvent a thinking-inside-the-box limit about how many experimental therapies a person could be on simultaneously. Our patients were clearly healthier than most. Some of it was due to the stealth combination therapy. Most of it was because we treated AIDS patients like normal people…

Since Cassy uncompromisingly gave her everything to every patient in front of her in every moment, it meant unpredictably long periods of waiting in the doctor’s office. A big part of my friendship with David came from talking to him while he waited his turn to see Cassy. He’d come with hilarious gifts for me, such as a compilation video tape of cartoons (eg. Son of Stimpy) and 1950s bodybuilding and soft porn footage. He also gave me a compilation cassette tape of campy songs, which I eventually understood was either a prototype or an offshoot of his “Toxic Queen presents …” and “Funeral Hits of the 90s” projects.

Humor – actually, sarcasm and bitchiness – was a key ingredient in David’s art. His works had titles like “Lifetimes are not what they used to be”, “Darling, you make me sick”, “AIDS victim dies alone – family profits” and “It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to, sugar.”…

On Facebook there is many a comment. For example:

GARY: There are more than a few who are still with us because of this Maverick

BRIAN: I’m another lucky one because Cassy hastled the shit out of the establishment, thanks Cas

DAN: Wow Cassy, what a legend, and a pioneer, saved lots of boys lives, when they would have been left by the wayside, myself included!!!

FRANK: Me too Lloyd, I would be long ggooonnneee if it wasn’t for Cassy…What a genius both medically and emotionally, an amazing support!!!

LLOYD: The stories we could tell…… Suffice to day her practice that was housed in the original Club 80 wasn’t called “Ground Zero Medical” for nothing…..

Ground Zero 12 March 2009

That post on Lost Gay Sydney has attracted a lot of attention and many testimonies and stories about the “Woman Warrior” of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, and a serious suggestion she be nominated for the Order Of Australia. I think she should be.

One sample recent comment from Pierre:

my partner had his old school doc being older than me at the time even my partners doc admitted to me @ the funeral that i was in good hands and i was — thank you Cassy i didn’t mind the 2 hours waiting

let’s face it boys every one was dying back then we all were on the pension it was a blessing to go there have a chat to the receptionist who was one of us talk to friends on the single bed & sharing our pains and sorrows what better dropin center could we have had than her clinic — so what is was not 3 stars it made us lucky to live this wonderful bitch of a life .

Posted on  by Neil

This was a must see –  a special episode of QandA on ABC — much more so than #QandA often is. The panel and audience included people from the World AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne. You will recall that some of the researchers coming to that conference perished on MH17. And what a panel!  Do go and see/read, wherever you are in the world.

Me with our friend Malcolm in the Hospice at St Vincents, 2007

And let me repost a great story which is relevant to the education issues raised in #QandA.

REPOST: 21 years on– a sad but also brilliant episode

Originally posted on September 26, 2012 by Neil

Lost Gay Sydney on Facebook threw up another set of memories yesterday, cuttings that in the peak years from 1989 through 1993 were only too familiar, but for me one name stood out.

Phil Ainsworth, 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.

I 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! And in late 1989 through 1990 I had occasion to experience that acceptance myself as they embraced me – especially my English/History colleagues and even a few senior students who knew what was happening – over Rob’s suicide, even accepting quite strange visits in working hours from Rob’s grieving boyfriend Mark.


I fear at times that the intervening Howard years have led us to fall away in some respects from where we were around, say, 1990-1991.  Do you think we have? Is this a less kindly time?

Footnote from Justin on Lost Gay Sydney:

I went to school with Phil Ainsworth, he was in the year ahead a me. He was an amazing bloke and a legend at the school – captain of the footy team, dux of the school, school captain – he excelled at whatever he put his hand to.

Talking about my generation… Your generation…

The idea has been around forever in some form…

“My Generation” appeared on The Who’s debut album of the same name. It was released as a single on 5th November 1965, reaching No. 2 in the UK charts and 74 in the US. “My Generation” was recently named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Well I almost am in THAT generation, commonly known as Boomers.

That’s American of course, and I prefer “War Baby” to “Silent Generation”! You see, I AM a War Baby!

That’s me front left. My Uncle in the back row is in RAAF uniform. It is before the end of the war. 

So I am not a Boomer. In fact I am also somewhat sceptical about the whole concept, as I noted on Facebok yesterday. Referring to Baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z labels: Necessary or nonsense? — a 2020 Conversation post I said:

Glad I found this as I have a blog post in mind. I think they are just a marketing tool and largely nonsense, as one who is too old even to be a Boomer! (War baby, me!)

First they do not work outside the bubble of our own culture. Second when you reflect that Boomer finds commonality between Pauline Hanson and Archie Roach, the anti-war protesters and the supporters of and participants in the Vietnam War, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard….

You might conclude that astrological signs and phrenology are more convincing!

I was contemplating (this) blog post after watching this excellent video by a most talented young Australian organist and composer:

To me that is as much about him as an individual as it is about supposed characteristics of people born in the years that define Gen Z or Zoomers. Wikipedia offers extensive material but one summary version says “What is Generation Z age range? Gen Z: Gen Z is the newest generation, born between 1997 and 2012.”

Of course there are differences between generations.

But let’s see what happens when we go a comparatively short distance from our own culture — to Russia for example. The majority of those young Russian vloggers I have been discovering in recent months are “Generation Z” — though I suspect they would avoid that term as Z has acquired rather different meanings in the past year! Zack the Russian (just turned 21) instantly comes to mind, and he in turn has pointed to an even younger vlogger who in fact is a Year 9 student in a Moscow school!

As I said about that on Facebook:

Fascinating — and she is a Year 9 student! Like Leo Puglisi! Came to her via this Community note from Zack: Zack the Russian — 2 hours ago — “While I’m being absent on my own YouTube channel, Nastia Zik and me filmed a video discussing our experience of the school education in Russia. Check it out!”

Nastia Zik @NastiaZik 2.15K subscribers


My name is Nastia. I live in Moscow, Russia. I am interested in politics, history, urban studies and literature, and I want to develop and learn new things together. I run an English-language channel, where I tell what’s going on in the world in simple and understandable ways

She treads a risky path in some of her posts, as in this one where she carefull avoids saying certain dangerous things but her attitude is as clear as a bell! A very remarkable young person. Both she and Zack seem to have in common a resistance to the propaganda whuch appears to shape the views of so many. Technology has given them access to worlds of ideas, which they seek out diligently. Both also seem to have strongly developed “crap detectors” — to borrow a phrase I recall from Neil Postman — a bit of a guru in my teaching days..

(Paper, Delivered at the National Convention for the Teachers of English [NCTE], November 28, 1969, Washington, D.C.)

With a title like this, I think I ought to dispense with the rhetorical amenities and come straight to the point. And I almost will. Almost, because I want to make two brief comments about the title. For those of you who do now know, it may be worth saying that the phrase, “crap-detecting,” originated with Mr. Ernest Hemingway who when asked if there were one quality needed, above all others, to be a good writer, replied, “Yes, a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector.” I am sure he was right…

Titus, the young Australian whose reflections on being Generation Z triggered this post, is another remarkable young person, albeit 9 years older than Nastia and from a different milieu which in his case includes Wollongong!

Here in Oz we do in fact have a bit of a parallel to Nastia in Leo Puglisi, who runs a news channel and news site at the age now of 15! He has been doing it for around three years though. See my May 2022 post Amazing Aussie teens have started a news channel — and score interviews with the leaders of the land!

Now our Prime Minister of course — that is Anthony Albanese, not Leo. After al Leo is too young to vote yet!

Thanks for the memories, Facebook and blogging! 50 years…

Back to when I was teaching at The Illawarra Grammar School and looked like this:

Wollongong 1973

Teaching at TIGS and always treated with the greatest respect:

A colleague in the Art Department was David Humphries, a most interesting young man who had himself gone to TIGS. He went on to considerable success, as this from 1996 shows. He is still quite recognisable to me as well in this one.

Yesterday Facebook sent me this:

On Facebook I wrote:

Wow! It’s 14 (sic — 16 in fact!) years now since I dined at his place…. I guess we have both aged!

Marvellous having a blog by the way from which I can pull up not just the memory of meeting up with David again but what I said and did at the time!

That refers to these entries

Random notes 23 September 2006

My colleague of thirty-four year ago, David Humphries, and I have made contact. I am having dinner with him soon. He tells me the internet is renewing all sorts of contacts. I mentioned my own a few years ago with Jay Caselberg (James A. Hartley), a novelist now living in Germany it seems. Unfortunately a “senior moment” blocked the name as I was talking to David, but (obviously) I recall it now. Then more recently there had been Scott Poynting and a class-mate of his, Ralph T, whose brother Ian T was a classmate of Simon H, who I have maintained contact with all these years. Wednesday night could prove interesting.

Lord Malcolm is still in the hospice, but the Swans winning through to the Grand Final has obviously brought him back to life. He tells me he comes home on Monday.

The public art of David Humphries 28 September 2006


Here is where I had dinner last night and a few red wines, meaning I do feel a touch seedy this morning… But what a great night it was, excellent conversation going back thirty years and more. I took the bus out to Rosebery and entered David’s studio, greeted by Jacko the red-tailed black cockatoo flying freely through as wonderful an interior garden as you could imagine. The pictures don’t do it justice….

Yes, in 2022 it is as I remenber it from 2006:

I see writer Jay Caselberg is mentioned in the first of those entries, the pen name of J Anthony Hartley — a student of mine back in 1973 at TIGS. He shared on Facebook today: Selected Poetry by J. Anthony Hartley.

J. Anthony Hartley is a transplanted British/Australian author and poet. He has had pieces appear in Short Fiction, Hybrid Fiction, Short Circuit, Unthinkable Tales, The Periodical, Abandon Journal, and forthcoming in The Quarter(ly), Underland Arcana, among others. He currently resides in Germany and can be found at http://www.iamnotaspider.com and @JAnthonyHartle1. Apart from short fiction and poetry, he also writes the occasional novel.