Memorabilia

Ten years ago I was doing a series of posts on various bits and pieces I then still had. Some I still do, some I don’t. Nice, then, to have the posts! The bunny has gone, and the mug has faded!

Memorabilia 18 – to mark retirement – with a local addition

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Memorabilia 19: wartime wedding

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My uncle Keith and aunt Ruth. My father in RAAF uniform is best man. The bridesmaid I am not sure about – Ruth’s sister, or a friend?

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Drawn back to Jannali 1959

As I wrote in Shire childhood, adolescence and early adulthood 3: 1959 – 1961:

At 17 I did my first practice teaching session at Jannali West Primary, over the line and up the hill from Jannali shops. In Jannali we lived above the shops in a flat that at least gave a good view of closely watched trains; in 60-61 we rented a house in Oyster Bay Road, and very leafy it was too….

I recalled last year:

Is it really a week since I posted this on Facebook’s Sutherland Shire Heritage page?

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That’s my sister-in-law Aileen and my niece Christine (Parkes) in front of The Cotton Shop, Box Road Jannali in 1959. My mother owned The Cotton Shop, a very successful dress shop — until she broke her spine falling over a vacuum cleaner in the shop. The business went on under a manager and in the early 1960s moved to Sutherland, but was never the same without my mother running things. In Jannali she had customers coming from all over Sydney, not just The Shire. On Facebook Mark Wright said: “Mum remembers it mate. She knew Mrs Whitfield.” That’s nice.

Couldn’t help reflecting that in 1959 I was in my final year as a student at Sydney Boys High, and that it was also the 8th term of Prime Minister Robert Menzies! He seemed to me then to have been PM forever, though I did dimly recall his predecessor. Menzies continued until 1966. They built them to last in those days!

For some reason a few days ago I had quite an intense nostalgia for that place and that year! 60 years on!

So I visited via Google.  And here on the right of this photo is my 1959 bedroom window:

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And here is Mum’s shop/Dad’s office.

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Can’t help feeling Mum would have been piqued by the fact it is now Femme Fatale!

Talking about 1979 — 2

I see I posted extensively on my 1979 back in October 2012, the trigger being a sad event. See mais où sont les neiges d’antan?, some of which I now repost:

[repost] My time at Wollongong High teaching English, History and, would you believe, Photography was in two segments: 1975 to 1976 and 1979 to 1980. 1977 and 1978 I was working in Dip Ed at Sydney University.

But today I want to focus on 1979.

1979: Annus Mirabilis Horribilisque

There’s something about me and 9 years. 1989 was another case in point, 1959 was my last year of school, and 1969 my last year as a teacher at Cronulla High School. In 1979 I returned to Wollongong High after my Sydney secondment and the year was in fact pretty good in most ways. I had a very memorable Year 12 Class in 1979.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with a Year 12 girl.]

– Would you like some coffee?

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with that spunky librarian.]

– Thanks, J.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with the milkman. “Had your cream this morning?” the class wit, Carcase, used to ask him.]

That fictional version is true to the extent that there were such rumours which in fact were about me. None of the rumours was actually true, however, though I was in the company of the Librarian – a 20-something – and her friends more than once. And there was a boy nicknamed “Carcase”, though I fancy he spelled it “Carcass”…. And he was one of the more memorable people I ever taught.

Physically he was a stereotyped blond surfie, of South African background (or was it Dutch?), and a person with a long record of run-ins with authority. I had taught him before I went to Sydney, and in fact he was in a class I was inspected on for my dreaded “List 2” promotion in 1976. “That boy doesn’t like authority,” the inspector, Tom Dobinson, said afterwards – but congratulated me for the way I had handled him. And strangely enough when I found myself with a senior class of not the keenest students Wollongong High could offer, Carcase was in it. He had been skating on thin ice for some time, apparently, and there were rumours he had spent at least part of Year 10 working for Wollongong Council as a labourer while still at school. I won’t swear to the truth of that, but I can well imagine it.

I was younger and enthusiastic and determined to win this group over. In 1978 I had been in the Balmain Theatre Group, playing Clarrie, a Rugby League commentator, in Alex Buzo’s The Roy Murphy Show.

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Good to see it getting a run more recently.

Back in Wollongong with that senior class, we had something very daring for the time on our text list: David Williamson’s The RemovalistsI thought it would play well with the group and it did, especially after a book-in-hand rehearsed class reading that almost went wrong but in fact went very right….

In the original Kenny is handcuffed to the door when  the corrupt cop knees him in the nuts, to which Kenny replies with the C-word. Naturally I had cast Carcase as Kenny and myself as the corrupt cop. We didn’t actually have handcuffs and I didn’t actually knee him in the nuts, but Carcase, who was a great actor, gave a very loud and convincing response.

I had forgotten I was next to the Social Science staff room. The Head of Department, father of another ex-student of mine who is currently a Fairfax journalist, came in with several colleagues to rescue me, Carcase’s line not having lacked in projection. I held the book up and pointed to the line, while the class rolled on the floor laughing – well almost! Subsequent discussion with staff  along the lines of “Jeez mate, that was a bit fucken rude! You’ve got to remember there’s women about…” was somewhat ironic really, a fact I shared with the class later on before setting them an essay on whether the text was suitable for school study.

Carcase’s essay was so good it was later published in the English Teachers Association Newsletter.

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Meanwhile the Balmain Theatre Group was putting on another Buzo play, Coralie Lansdowne Says No. To extend my class’s understanding of theatre and their knowledge of Australian drama, I arranged with the director for the whole class to travel up to Sydney several times to follow the play from casting to first night.

On the casting night I was wandering about by myself on the stage feeling more than a bit nostalgic – as I would have been in the play myself had I stayed in Sydney. Carcase appeared and said something totally unexpected: “You belong here, don’t you…”

Later  after the first night performance the class and I attended some of the after party. Alex Buzo was there and I spotted him and Carcase having quite a conversation about the nature of dramatic language. “What a lovely boy,” Alex said. I assured him very many people at Wollongong High would be shocked to hear such a thing.

Then came the HSC and one of the worst events in my career, as the students found – as did I – in the exam room that even though the fact had been known and indeed publicised that we were doing Huckleberry Finn, there was no question about Huckleberry Finn on the paper. Our texts had been chosen from the previous year’s list – easy to do as they were not very well signposted in those days. It is an English teacher’s nightmare and I was upset more than you might imagine. I was of course investigated but the Head of English is the one who was really hauled over the coals. Not a good time.

In the midst of all this when I was alone back in Church Street North Wollongong and feeling very low, there was a knock on my door late one night. It was Carcase and his then girlfriend, who just happened to be the Regional Director of Education’s daughter. Carcase had come to tell me that no matter what some might be thinking, as far as he was concerned I had been a fantastic teacher and I shouldn’t worry.  Of course in the end the students were not disadvantaged as “misadventure” provisions evened out the marks.

That was the last I saw or heard of Carcase, and I have no idea what he went on to do, though I have heard some of it involved music and he ended up in Queensland.

Earlier this month Stewart Holt, another Wollongong High ex-student who, had he stayed on, would have been in the class photo above, told me he had heard Carcase had died.

Saturday’s Mercury confirms that Mark Bosman, aged 51, had indeed passed away and the funeral is next week.

Hence these stories. RIP.

 

On IQ and reality TV on SBS, however well intended…

Frankly, I couldn’t watch it, not all the way through. I refer to SBS’s Child Genius — and mean no disrespect for the wonderful kids involved or the presenter. Partly it is that I have a healthy distrust of MENSA, not utterly dissimilar to Sophie Gilbert, who wrote in 2013:

The first thing you need to know is that no one has a good reason for joining Mensa. Pretty much anyone who tries to join a high-IQ society does so, ultimately, because he or she is an insufferable jerk. Maybe years of bullying for being a mathlete or wearing argyle sweaters well into junior high has given the person an inferiority complex, or maybe he just wants a bumper sticker that lets everyone on I-95 know he’s a genius. Either way, it’s never for noble reasons, however hard someone might pretend otherwise….

And then there’s the whole IQ thing itself. What is it really all about? Now keep in mind that the bulk of my teaching career has been in schools like Wollongong High (back in the day) and Sydney High, famously selective and into gifted education. Read Sydney High’s current approach, which I commend.

It’s not about being able to spell words which you, and hardly anyone else, will ever use. It’s not about mastering random facts, though it may turn out you have a talent that way. It is about how you engage with meaningful learning in meaningful contexts.

Now, says I modestly, I happen to know that according to my sixth grade teacher I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Public School, at least to 1954. I know this because he employed that in arguing with my parents who were reluctant to allow me to go to Sydney Boys High, where I was one of six in the class to earn a place. My parents were concerned that my general rattiness would make the long train and tram trip involved too great a risk. After all, I had already in 5th or 6th grade had my school bag knocked out of my hand while crossing the road by a car I had failed to notice.

Mr O’Neill, the sixth grade teacher, won the day and I went to SBHS for the next five years. I learned there that my Sutherland smarts were not all that smart after all.

Mr O’Neill, by the way, did a fantastic job on myself and other gifted students at Sutherland back in 1954. He gave us our heads! I recall us running through the school PA system a “radio station” for example, on a Friday afternoon I think. (It’s all a very long time ago.) I wrote a novel — highly derivative — and illustrated it.

Speaking of:

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neill, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neill rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neill is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neill I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neill. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neill made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

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There he is: Eddie O’Neill, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

See also from 2010 Going back 57 years….

By the way, among the most gifted people I ever taught were certain members of Cronulla High 1966-1969 — my first teaching appointment.

Really another post about my ongoing senescence

Or Google, which is apparently 20 years old! Mind you that puts it around eighteen months ahead of my own getting on the Internet, which still terrified me twenty years ago, though I had by then mastered a Brother Word Processor in pseudo laptop form. I do recall that in my early Internet days — dial-up of course — there were heaps of search engines. My colleague Tony Hannon was an early advocate of Google as the pick of the crop, and it still is. Bing doesn’t really cut it, does it?

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Happens that twenty years ago I was in the last term of my Graduate Certificate TESOL at UTS, part of which was with this man. He much praised my work too: see Looking back 20 years: the Japanese surfer. I was doing the Grad Cert — it has a longer name these days — because my work increasingly between 1996 and 2005 centred on ESL at Sydney Boys High. I liked the impressive row of letters in the staff directory too — this one from 2002:

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But 20 years! I can’t believe it! And I felt old then, being back at — but enjoying — university. Thanks too to M who made it all possible at the time by enabling me to avoid a HECS debt.