Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 64 — the kids and the bunnies are ok!

Yes, let’s focus today on the good stuff. First, this story is one-up on all those reactionary wankers on places like Sky — Donners for example — who have been wringing their hands and beating their breasts about the parlous state of education today. Let’s look at these kids, 15, 14 and 15 respectively.

Here is the story:

And as reported on our ABC:

The brains behind a popular COVID-19 tracking website have unmasked themselves — and much to everyone’s surprise, it turns out they’re a trio of teenage boys.

The faces behind the data website, CovidBase AU, are Jack, Darcy and Wesley and they chose the day they got their Moderna vaccinations to reveal their identities.

The group said the idea for the website came about after wanting to create a place to simplify the data and present it in an easy-to-understand format.

The website has already become a big favourite of thousands of Australians. 

“Darcy’s really skilled with coding and I’m sort of really into the news …and have been really interested in the data. So we’ve decided to take what we’ve been doing and sort of create something with it,” Jack told ABC News.

And in The Guardian:

Nick Evershed, the data and interactives editor at Guardian Australia, said CovidBaseAU had done impressive work collating hard-to-find information.

“There has been a few occasions, particularly with the numbers around vaccine imports and supply, where I’ve cross-checked my numbers against theirs,” he said.

“They did a really good job at combing through all the disparate media releases and press conferences in the early stages of the rollout to piece together a good picture of how many doses Australia was producing or importing at various points, which was extremely helpful as I was compiling similar data.”

Jack, Wesley and Darcy were praised by fellow Twitter users after revealing their identities, amassing more than 16,000 likes in a 24-hour period, as well as a part-time job offer from the head of public health at the Burnet Institute.

“You three pull off some awesome work!” Ben Krauth wrote. Prof Mark Stoove added: “Nice work boys! Need a part-time job?”

How encouraging to hear and read a story like this! The kids are OK! Check it out!

The Bunnies are headed for the Grand Final!

Yes, that deserves a big heading. They have been almost there several times in recent years — 2019 for example.

Great images of Redfern and my old stomping ground there!

Last night’s game against Manly Sea Eagles:

Check my earlier posts on this topic!

Penrith Panthers beat Melbourne Storm 10-6 this afternoon, so there is the Grand Final: Bunnies vs Panthers.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 35 — so much good reading!

First let me mention something that happened yesterday morning.

So there was an insistent knock on the door just now, which I eventually heard through my headphones! Not Coles — they delivered my supplies a couple of hours ago.

— Facebook post

Turned out to be Australia Post. And inside, a Wollongong Library book I had reserved some weeks ago!

I am looking forward to that one. The author is a Yuin man from the South Coast of NSW. The book has been much praised.

Also from Wollongong Library is Robert Dessaix, The Time of Our Lives (Brio 2020).

We are pretty much of an age — and in fact I met him at the ABC around 1985. Used to listen to him on Radio National as well. I am still reading it — but although he is far more cultured than I am and far more clever, I can relate to so many attitudes and riffs in it… This review seems to capture it well. The themes are aging and death — or rather, dying.

Much of this book reflects Dessaix’s musings on this as he discusses it with various ageing friends living in different countries around the world and sees how they live their lives. When Sarah meets him for breakfast at their Indonesian hotel, she tells him:

 ‘You can try and look young forever … like Jane Fonda and whatshername from … you know …’

‘Joanna Lumley.’

‘It’s the names that go first, isn’t it. Nouns come next, apparently. Yes, her. You can try to die young as late as possible, in other words…’

‘Did you just make that up?’

‘No. Or you can do what you’ve done.’

Dessaix, according to Sarah, has failed to grow up in the first place. This sets him puzzling over a more personal question. What does she mean? As always, his musing and puzzling take him all over the place and involve people alive and dead….

Then there are two examples of left-wing history of the best kind. Each informed me of much that I had not known before but also connected with much that I did know or had experienced, this first one especially:

Free as an eBook from ANU Press: Teacher for Justice by Heather Goodall, Helen Randerson and Devlena Ghosh, 2019.

‘Meet Lucy Woodcock, a complex, undaunted woman in a tough and changing world. From her role as a public school principal in Depression and wartime, to her union and feminist organising, to her transnational engagements for peace, this clear and thoughtful book brings to life forgotten forms of activism. It’s the gripping story of how Lucy navigated the minefields of gender, class, race and coloniality to change her world.’

Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney

‘Just over a century ago, the last of the pupil-teachers, Lucy Woodcock, co-founded the NSW Teachers Federation. So many of the principles and traditions that underpin our union today can be traced back to the lifelong work of Lucy Woodcock. She fought for the industrial rights of teachers deep in the knowledge of the broader social and economic context in which she lived and worked. Too often the role of working-class women whose influence is profound is ignored. This biography installs Lucy Woodcock into her rightful place as pivotal player in the history of twentieth-century Australia.’

Maurie Mulheron, President, NSW Teachers Federation

I wrote on Facebook:

Back in 1993 when I was doing a research project for Disadvantaged Schools on the teaching of reading in the Botany Cluster of the NSW Education Department, and then in the early 2000s at gatherings for ESL teachers I spent much time at Erskineville Public School, which was the local HQ for the Disadvantaged Schools Program — a federally-funded initiative that ran from the Whitlam years until killed off by John Howard. It then became a regular meeting place for inner city ESL teachers.

So for that reason alone I find this book — which I am currently reading from my eBook library on Calibre — fascinating. But more for the insight it gives into social issues, left politics, education, the Teachers Federation, and life in the 1920s through to the early 1950s in NSW. The book may be downloaded as an eBook or PDF FREE!

And if you caught the quote on education I posted a day or so back, this was its source: Lucy Woodcock, Erskineville Public School:

“We still, in practice retain an out-of-date conception of education as the mere imparting of knowledge. Our examination system is largely responsible for the maintenance of this conception … It is necessary to remind ourselves that the real value of education is not measured by the amount and variety of knowledge we can force into the minds of the young …

“The aim, I take it, is to train the mind to observe accurately, to think clearly, to discard prejudices, to weigh evidence, to make judgements on the weight of evidence … We should aim to create a living intellectual interest in minds … The curricula of the schools should be based on the conception of man as a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of a small State …

“Our schools may be said to have succeeded if we can arouse a deep and abiding interest in the search for knowledge in all who pass through their portals. Our pupils should not be a standardized product, when they leave us, knowing so much of this and that, but young people equipped with well-balanced minds; young citizens who will go further along the pathway of life unprejudiced and untrammelled in quest of knowledge and pursuit of it until life’s journey ends.”

Erdkineville 1939 — from Teacher for Justice.

Next let me note one of the best Australian Left or Radical histories I have ever read.

While the author’s sympathies are clear, so is his generous humanity and ability to understand other viewpoints. He is scrupulous in his sourcing. His writing is mercifully free of stock attitudes and cliches.

So far as I know the work is only available as a PhD thesis from Wollongong University: Rowan Cahill, Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997)Journalist, Communist, Intellectual (2013). And there will be more on that in future! But do yourself a favour and download your own copy.

Rowan Cahill — historian and teacher. We have known one another in teaching circles since the 1970s.

Both Rowan Cahill and Heather Goodall et al almost apologise for employing a biographical approach, albeit in neither case pure biography. I can see why this is so, but for me as a reader I am glad they did! Far more interesting. And Rowan in particular writes so well!

Goodall et al:

Biography as method

This book has demonstrated for us the strengths of biographical method. Following one person’s life has allowed us to pull together the threads from diverse movements and see some of the interconnections between them. In Lucy’s life, this means her work with Jewish refugees in the 1930s and her work with Chinese Australians and students in the 1960s can be understood in terms of her commitments to economic justice, education, feminism and peace. This quality of intersecting movements has not been shown in studies of one movement or another, which characteristically focus on what differentiates movements rather than what draws the same person to more than one. Nor do movement studies shed light on those who do not seek the limelight for themselves. Those people who do the hard back-room work but do not tell their own story in some other way are also neglected. But following one person’s life allows an insight into how various movements overlapped and diverged, who was in all and who was in only one, how all were influenced by wider political currents.

And on Rowan Cahill

In the earlier drafts I failed to refer you to these posts from January this year: So Australia Day again — #2 and So Australia Day again — #3.

“Ah, Rowan! There is a great deal about you on that excellent blog from Berkelouw’s Book Barn in Berrima. For example:

(Geoff) I took the liberty of including some biographical information on Rowan, our associate beard…

Rowan is an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong.

He has a diversity of interests. Primarily he is interested in rebellion and resistance to the state, and in the apparatuses and methodologies deployed against these. In the area of academic/scholarly publishing he is interested in, and a supporter of, Open Access. With regard to Australian society and culture, he is variously interested in Australian militarism, labour history, and in the Cold War.

Rowan has published over 620 articles and reviews in some 108 professional, academic, literary, newspaper and online publications (see publications). With colleague Terry Irving he blogs at Radical Sydney/Radical History….

“And a lot more too…”

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 32a — revisiting the 2002 HSC

After the previous post had been up for around six hours I rediscovered my July 2002 blog archive on the Wayback Machine!

What follows are sections relevant to the previous post.

I haven’t been able to see Sirdan again since Wednesday [he was in hospital], but plan to at the weekend. If I go to Yum Cha (and I am not sure I will this time–the vibes may not be quite right) I will see him after, or maybe on Saturday.

Term has ended. I am taking on the Year 12 Extension English class for the HSC, following the sudden departure of Ms X amidst some drama. The topic: Post-Modernism! The text left to study is Australian David Williamson’s satire on the subject, Dead White Males (1995), and the class have already done the movie of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (a copy of which I have brought home from school) and John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which I must reread.

Speaking of Post-Modernism, one difference (totally subjective) that strikes me about the two books I mentioned last time is this: while PowerBook and The Monkey’s Mask both are Lesbian/Queer Literature and while both contain quite a lot of sex, in PowerBookthis seems less foregrounded, less strident. PowerBook is just as ideologically committed as The Monkey’s Mask but somehow seems more–how can we say?–relaxed? I am really not sure of my ground here–just impressions. I should add that the verse in The Monkey’s Mask really is quite impressive in the range of voices it can capture–it is a verse novel, remember–and it works well. The story in The Monkey’s Mask is entirely more conventional; PowerBook is a palimpsest, a display of intertextuality, yet absolutely clear in its way. Psychologically and philosophically it is the deeper novel, yet wears this lightly.

I will return to Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady for healing drafts 🙂 Like the reasons for my reading it in the first place, it is a pure pleasure in itself, made more pleasurable by having been shared; there’s no need in my life for more than that level of pleasure and I am lucky to have known it.

A significant note: M cooked up some nice food tonight. You have to know me to know what that means… His life is looking good, and is his–and that is his gain over the past time, some of which has been hard. But I rarely talk about him, as regulars here know.

Friday, July 05, 2002

This rather magnificent photo of the Paris Gay Pride was sent this month by Timur, an OUT friend in England. Amazing how much these guys resemble me! 😉

Sunday, July 14, 2002

The news from Wall Street is all too depressing, along with George W Bush’s possibly not unrelated war plans that are, as he has said several times, “not on my desk” at the moment, being (presumably) under it, or in the next room.

Instead, let us consider Yum Cha. Today we met at the Golden Harbour which definitely has the best mango puddings. The Empress has a lot to do at the moment as his father died last night leaving quite a few tasks to be accomplished by the Empress. Other than myself, there were Lord Bruce and the Little Emperor of Taiwan. Sirdan was not there, and the Crown Prince remained incommunicado, as did Lord Malcolm who only returned to the Southern Kingdom on Friday.

Next, I should say I have been doing a bit of maintenance on my site, and checked all the counters. There are currently 49 pages on the site! The Gateway Page is of course the most popular, with over 4000 hits now. Number two is the Diary Key Page. Here are the rest of the top ten: 3) Links; 4) Gay Main Page; 5) Home; 6) TESOL 7 (Aboriginal Australia); 7) Gallery; 8) Massaging the Asylum Seekers; 9) TESOL 1; 10) Ninglun and the Fundamentalist.


After Yum Cha I was reading the Sunday Telegraph over coffee at the Coffee Roaster, and read with incredulity (the only response surely) this regressive pietistic nonsense from Archbishop Pell. One would have thought shame would have prevented him from waxing so lyrical on this of all subjects; an extract:

With all other Christians, Catholics restrict adoration to God alone. But when I was young, Catholics were criticised for giving too much devotion to Our Lady, a Catholic term for Mary, for being too feminine.*

Today the wheel has turned full circle. Catholics are sometimes alleged to be anti-woman, because of the Catholic decision against the possibility of women priests.

However, we did not come to just visit modern Mexico, the second largest Catholic country in the world, or to visit the ancient Aztec pyramids dating back to a couple of hundred years after Christ at Tenochtitln, then a metropolis about the size of ancient Rome.

We came to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which dates from 1531, only 10 years after the Spanish conquest.

Mary appeared to a young Indian convert, Juan Diego, and left a miraculous image of herself as a young Indian woman on his cloak to convince a properly sceptical bishop.

More than 15 million pilgrims now visit this shrine every year, so that it ranks second only to the Vatican as a Christian pilgrimage centre.

The original rulers, the Aztecs, were a highly developed civilization in trade, mathematics and astronomy. But it was an incredibly cruel society, regularly practising human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, sometimes with thousands of victims.

Conquered local peoples and even Aztec allies joined Hernan Cortez’s party because of this.

The opposite to belief in the one true and good God is often not denial, but fear and pessimism. Mary told Juan Diego that she loved his people and would protect them. They converted in millions to follow her God and her only Son Jesus.

* Nonsense; the Protestant objection is that it is unscriptural and superstitious. Catholics and Protestants were equally sexist, of course, in practice.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Went to the dentist and got a temporary filling and a threat of root canal therapy; so far so good, and I am hoping the antibiotics fix the problem.

M[ichael]. moved today and the big rearrangement is well under way. He’ll be around though.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good reputation as a newspaper. Well worth visiting. I just love this story; good for UNC, I say.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Brynn Hardman was all set to sit back and glide through some Danielle Steel on Atlantic Beach this summer.

Just graduated from high school in Raleigh, N.C., she was looking forward to a bit of light fare before hitting the heavy tomes of freshman year. Instead, the tanned teen is immersed in the curlicue phrasings of what would have been her personal last choice for beachside reading: the Koran.

Ms. Hardman and 3,500 other soon-to-be freshmen at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill have a controversial assignment: to delve into excerpts of a text invoked by the Sept. 11 terrorists. Only two pages into “Approaching the Qur’an,” by Michael Sells, Hardman says the book is “an awful choice.”…

Last week, three students and a conservative Christian organization took their discontent a step further, and filed a lawsuit.

UNC officials say they have not only the prerogative but the responsibility to open students’ eyes to the Muslim religion and culture. Indeed, pundits here on campus say UNC’s experiment should be a call to other institutions to follow suit – for the good of the country.

But critics say this bulwark of liberal thought – a campus where antiwar signs went up even before bombs had begun falling over Afghanistan – has crossed the line by forcing students to read the book.

The controversy simply fuels UNC’s reputation of chief gadfly here, smack in the heart of Baptist country. People with religious objections can opt out by writing an essay explaining why, but they still must attend a group discussion when they arrive in mid-August.

“The question is, what’s the big role of the university here?” says Carl Ernst, the religious-studies professor who recommended the book to a selection committee of faculty, staff, and students.

“[Critics] assume the choice represents advocacy, but we just want to advance knowledge,” he says. “This will not explain the terrorist attacks of last September, but this will be a first step toward understanding something important about Islamic spirituality, and to see its adherents as human beings.”…

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Then comes Change/Storm/Happiness: August 2002

Marcia [head of English SBHS] says I look tired, which is to be expected. Work is climaxing with the Trial this week, and a few other issues such as having to speak to the Parents and Citizens Association on multicultural matters next week, and some students who have pressing problems to be dealt with. But in its own way this is rewarding–assuming I survive of course.

It is particularly galling to know that I am being misjudged in another quarter, perhaps, which explains my tendency lately to argue so much on various issues (that we all have).

I now have more socks than you can poke a stick at, thanks to M. The soup is good. And I just had a phone call from Marcel Proust, who seems a decent guy.

Well I have dinner to get, and two essays to mark. There may be more lurking in my email!

–13 August 2002


My heart goes out to this student involved in the overambitious HSC English Extension course on postmodernism; email arrived yesterday and issue talked through in class today:


I was hoping to see you today (Tuesday) but due to my devotion to doing well in school I was unable to attend class. Nevertheless I was hoping to see you tomorrow after our lesson Period 4. I’m aware that you have other commitments and this may not be possible. If you could email me a reply tonight (if you get it tonight that is) it would be greatly appreciated.

Now to the heart of problem (n.b. this does not have to be dealt with asap), I’m having trouble with essay writing, not the actual writing cause I’m good at that, but grappling with ideas of postmodernism. I am not totally convinced by post modernism (as are many) but I understand enough (I have done extensive theoretical reading) to be completely unsure of what it really is. So when I am writing an essay describing postmodern elements (like pastiche and parody in the last task) I feel very inclined to keep making the point that this is a postmodern device. This is because I don’t believe that these are postmodern devices and although they are open to any interpretation by responders the postmodern descriptions don’t sit well with me. This amounts to an essay that does not flow well, as I can’t really get comfortable with the pretense that the text is postmodern. I find myself justifying, every time I make a statement in an essay, that the text is truly a postmodern text. Do I need to do this? or do assume that the marker is believing that the text is postmodern?

I need help in pinning down what the markers are looking for. Do you need to show that you know the texts are postmodern and these…blah blah… are the reasons why? (what I’ve previously been doing, without believing they are postmodern) Or do you show the various elements that are used by the composer and say that these are believed to be postmodern and then voice some kind of opinion on the issue? If I went through and identified all the aspects of the texts that tied in with (say) pastiche and gave textual reference in the way of quotes and compared it to my supplementary texts; does this answer the question (getting me full marks). Or do I make a commentary on the nature of these elements (which is what I naturally feel inclined to do) and get weighed down in the complex theory of postmodern philosophers.

I realise that postmodernism can be taken seriously or lightly and that authors don’t feel the same passion towards destroying the grand narratives that philosophers do, but I need to know what level I need to analyse at? Who do I look at when talking generally about postmodernism? do I talk generally about postmodernism? what questions would I not talk generally about postmodernism?

I understand that there is no definite answer to these questions (God I’m sounding postmodern already) but if you could throw me a line and show me the general direction it would help immensely. I’m sorry I lumped all this on you at one time, don’t feel pressured to answer it straight away, I’ll probably make it through the Trial all right if you need a long time. If you could answer even one of these queries then I would be very grateful.

It turns out his mother has a Ph. D. in Philosophy!


Since I am here, I do have to say I like Dimitri at the local coffee shop, where I felt I wanted to go so that normality might to some extent be restored. He is a very calm person.

–14 August 2002

Two things today.

First, last night I had to speak to the school’s Parents and Citizens Association on the subject of multiculturalism, a task I looked forward to with some foreboding, as controversies over the “imbalance” of the school have been raging (as you would know if you are a regular here) for most of this year*. We have been a ridiculously frequent subject on the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, editorial columns, letters pages, talk-back radio (which I just correctly typoed as “talk-cack radio”!) and even TV current affairs shows. We even get a column in this week’s Bulletin courtesy of Catherine Lumby, who is actually quite right in the trend of her analysis of the power structures involved, though some may bridle at her mode of expression.

Usually there are between ten and twenty people at these meetings; last night there were forty, including, I am pleased to say, a greater than usual representation of our Chinese parents. Also present (at my invitation) were two consultants in multiculturalism from the Department of Education, one male and one female, and Tony Hannon, the 1st Grade Rugby Coach, whose coda to my speech endorsing the current school situation as something he loved carried some weight. I gave a dispassionate account of government policy, then pulled all stops out in my account of why there are so many students from backgrounds other than English, especially Chinese ones. Afterwards, one of the consultants hugged and kissed me (the female one) and declared herself a fan! The audience were won over; not one nasty remark or provocative question.

Thoughts had been sent my way at 7.30 and I am sure they arrived 🙂

My Anne Wilson Schaff Meditations for Living in Balance for yesterday was on, would you believe, “Expanding Our Horizons” by learning from other cultures! Serendipidous indeed.

Speaking of living in balance, I come to the second thing. I was fascinated to read Queer Scribe’s well-written but often very raunchy diary yesterday. Here is a very bright man, twenty years younger than I, whose libido is somewhat more active, shall we say, than mine tends to be:

Writing about insecurities and fears here always make me feel vulnerable, but it seems those are the entries folks most respond to. I have had several emails from readers—many of them gay men around my age—and it would appear I’ve struck a chord. (Or a nerve?) That makes me feel good, not only that I am not the only one going through (putting myself through?) this shit, but also that others out there might feel less alone too….

But more than that, there’s a terrific opportunity here. Because I have been depending too much on my body, my—for a thirty-six year old—youthful good looks. Although this is less true than it was, say, three or four years ago, still much of the sex I look for and sometimes find is a way of hiding, of keeping myself small, safe, apart. It’s time, again, to look at what might be underneath all that, at what, exactly, it is I’m hiding, or hiding from.

I suspect that what I’m hiding—and hiding from—is love. Big surprise eh?

-22 August 2002

It’s a while since I had a “sickie”, but I decided I needed one today. So here I am at home. I work part time anyway and can adjust my days to suit, up to a point. Mid-term is a time when the need for a “mental health day” strikes many a teacher, and the past few weeks have had their share of stresses. And triumphs, I hasten to add; but the only way I will break the back of the Trial HSC marking and cope with a few other things down the track is to take a little time out.

The stressors? Well, adapting to new circumstances at home–and that is going well really, and M has been terrific. Also, the pressure of taking over that Year 12 class had a cost, though well worth it. Some other dramas also occurred, but again the outcome has really been good. It all takes energy though, and that sometimes needs replenishing. I am aware too that I am not getting any younger.

Yesterday evening, I hasten to add, was one of life’s more wonderful offerings. I look forward to more of them 🙂 My Chinese cooking is improving.

Things are looking up for Sirdan too, who has a nice new place to live. He particularly complimented me on Sunday’s diary entry.

–27 August 2002

See on *

07 — a controversy — For the record: the great SBHS race debate of 2002.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 32 — revisiting the 2002 HSC

This began when in seeking some of the underpinning of my attitude to (for example) Marxism I did a search for “grand narratives” and found this rather excellent note. On Facebook I remarked: An excellent explanation. And yes, I am very chary about all “grand narratives”….

That in turn made me think of the HSC Extension English Class I taught at Sydney Boys High from July to the end of 2002 — very much a catch-up exercise for a rather demoralised class. The topic was “Postmodernism” and the texts were Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (or rather the film of it) which I had never read or seen, John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which I had read though years before, and David Williamson’s play Dead White Males. To say this was all a challenge is an understatement! The former teacher of the class had been forced through no fault of her own to take early retirement, and I was sent in to plug the hole!

It is bloody marvellous!
We were studying the novel, not this excellent movie…

So I did a lot of work in preparation and decided to harness my still rather new blogging skills for the task. The result may be found on my mothballed English and ESL blog! Workshop 06 — Year 12 Extension 1: pomo 2002. And on results — I should explain first  Extension subjects have four different bands: E4, E3, E2 and E1 — with E4 being the highest band. It represents (converting to %) a performance rated between 90 and 100!

Post HSC Entry:

Hey, congratulations!

Of the eight E4 bands given to SBHS we got 5!

14 of you got 40 or better out of 50!

The state awards for E4 amounted to 15.96% — SBHS attained 13.55%

OUR CLASS attained 22.72%!

I am happy; hope you are too.

Good luck to you all for the future.

Neil Whitfield December 2002

My first entry:

Entry 1


This is a special site for the 2002 HSC English Extension Class studying Post-Modernism. Today I will be putting in basic links for you. Hey, I found all this: so can you! Keep coming back as notes, questions, all manner of stuff will appear here–but not pics, though we may link to some if necessary.

Just for fun: The Post Modern Generator. You too can write meaningless but impressive post modern essays.

Unfortunately that PM Generator no longer exists! See our ABC though: “It’s essentially a website which generates random literary essays which sound good, but are actually complete bollocks. The essays come with sub-headings and plausible looking footnotes.” It was great fun!

All this was being done on the blogging site I then favoured: Diary-X. Well, we know what happened to Diary-X!

Links updated 2006

This is really quite an old site now, but it seems that there is still a demand for it. I put it up on Diary-X for a Year 12 English Extension class (2002) at Sydney Boys High. In February 2006 Diary-X crashed and burned:

February 24, 2006

Dear Friends,

There is no easy way for me to say this. Diary-X has suffered from an unrecoverable drive failure. Due to a combination of issues, the last backup (from December 2004) contained only configuration files and other non-essential files. We do not have any other backups for the site. All journals, user information, forum posts, templates, images, and everything else are all irrecoverably lost…


Stephen Deken

Thanks to Yahoo Search, I was able to recover cached entries.

You may like the “less conventional” practice questions I set for the students.

1. Write a parody script of a mainstream TV sitcom OR lifestyle program. Use character/presenter names and an appropriate program title to cue the reader in. Try to focus your parody on the identity/construct assumptions, or the positioning of the responder, on which the original program relies.

2. Choose a character from one of your set texts. Place this character in a different context, even perhaps one of the other set texts. This need not be a serious piece of writing, but should reflect some of the issues postmodernism characteristically addresses.

3. Write a self-reflective prose piece that aims from the outset to force the responder to confront his/her own cultural constructs.

4. Taking your cue from the use of Shakespeare in Dead White Males, write a dialogue OR a narrative in which one of your own favourite composers from the Western Canon (Dickens? Donne? Homer? Socrates? Sophocles?….but not Shakespeare!) encounters a “disciple” of Postmodernism.

5. Write a series of five short letters (minimum 50 words, maximum 200 words each) to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from people of various ages, gender and background who are advocates or opponents of the study of Postmodernism in Year 12. Make reference to at least ONE set text in the course of this series.

It turned out to be an extremely pleasing experience, that whole thing! But talk about pressure!

And I see at least one of the members of that class has found same fame since! Meet Phil Lesnie.

Phil Lesnie — I think he is the son of the late Andrew Lesnie, cinematographer. Now a great illustrator of children’s books.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 26 — when your 6th Grade teacher’s son emails you…

Hi Neil, we chatted some time ago about my father, Edgar O’Neill, your teacher at Sutherland in 1955. I just posted a photo of the 1955 Year 6 class (as well as the 1953 cricket team). Are you in that photo? I thought I’d identify you as it’s your article on Eddie that the photo is attached to.

Muchael O’Neill enail 5 August 2021

He is referring to his family history page. There he reproduces an earlier version of my post Some reposts on teaching — 4 — we need to get back to thoughts like these. In that newer version I at least spell Michael O’Neill’s family name correctly! Here is his father, my teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954 not 1955 — in 1957 at Jannali School — where, coincidentally, I did my very first (unsupervised) practice teaching at the beginning of 1961! CORRECTION — Not so: he was at Jannali East, I was at Jannali.

Eddie on playground

I had said in my post what an outstanding teacher Edgar O’Neill was:

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….

Michael O’Neill in due course sent me two photos, which I have colourised,

1953 1st Grade Cricket — Edgar O’Neill coach
6A 1955 — one or two familiar faces. Repeating the year?

In 1955 I was in First Year at Sydney Boys High.

Me in 1955 Vermont Street Sutherland in SHS uniform

Sadly neither I nor Michael O’Neill has a copy of the 1954 6A photo — my class. I do have 3A from 1952 though, and I am definitely in that one.

That is from a post called (appropriately) I fear I was a weird kid!

I was much more attracted to the Australian Museum –– indeed, even took my neighbourhood friends and classmates there, just a year or two after this was taken at Sutherland Public School — that is from when I was maybe ten years old, travelling by train by myself (or with said friends) to the city, walking across Hyde Park to the Australian Museum. Loved the place!

What really strikes me now is just how formative those years 1952-1954 at Sutherland Boys Primary were.

Does that say 1951 or 1952?

If I was in that class in 1952 — and it is definitely my class — then I did 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes in three years. That does gel with the memory I am slightly hazy about, that I skipped a class, for whatever reason. I know my Maths never quite recovered.

The other thing is that you could say I was away almost as often as I was there. Every August I could guarantee most of the month off with bronchitis, and there were the illnesses I mentioned in the extract above from my post about Edgar O’Neill. In 1953 I had my appendix removed and missed quite a bit of school then. I posted about that, and it concerns also the boy second from the left in the front row of that 3A photo — pretty sure that is Colin Dawson.

And I remember my neighbours in Vermont Street, Sutherland, the Dawsons. Facebook puts me in touch with first the next generation, and then, miracle of miracles, with one of the three brothers I knew in the early 1950s.

Colin and Jimmy [Dawson] probably saved my life once when I had a bursting appendix at school in 1952 or 3 — complicated by the fact my sister had died of something similar in January 1952. They took care of me and carried me home one lunchtime when I am afraid the teachers were not taking much notice of my case. I was in such pain. I have never forgotten what they did. The next day I was in St George Hospital.🙂

The youngest brother writes:

Hi I’m Graham Dawson, Jim & Col’s younger brother. They are both well & Jim lives here with me on The Sunshine Coast & Col lives in Bundaberg. I remember you from those times, I was just the little brother hanging around. Lol.

How wonderful is that, after all these years!

I gained quite a bit of my education at home in my room recovering from whatever illness but listening to all the schools broadcasts on the wireless — 2BL? — and other things there too, some wildly inappropriate to my age! There was also the ABC Children’s Session/Argonauts Club. And I read heaps. Comics not least — Captain Marvel, Superman, The Phantom…

Then there were the many many afternoons spent at my Grandpa Christison’s place in then Waratah Street West. The house is still there, and my Aunt Kay still lives there. My father built the house to Grandpa Christison’s design in the late 1940s.


We would talk and talk, Grandpa Roy and I, and I would badger him with questions. He was the soul of patience, a retired headmaster. I now realise how those conversations are to this day the deepest source of my values and my view of the world. That is no exaggeration; I may elaborate in another post.

Grandpa Roy Christison and Grandma Ada — c.1944