NOTE: I think this post will do you for two days at least, so there will be a short hiatus here.
Memory Lane has been in overdrive!
Back Row L-R: Terry Naughton, “Pip” Dryden, Clive Kessler.
Front Row L-R: Grahame Delaney, R W “Rockjaw” Smith (coach and English teacher), Alfie van der Poorten.
Extraordinarily ancient relic! And that is just me!
That is a more or less deliberately antiqued photo of the First Grade Debating Team at Sydney Boys High in 1959. I was not in the team, but some very impressive classmates were. One featured in my blog post of 16 May and another features in today’s.
Pip Dryden arrived from Shanghai — yes, Shanghai — and joined us late in the piece. Sadly he passed away at 19 from cancer. Terry Naughton became a QC and a Judge. Clive Kessler was the subject of Sunday’s blog post and is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UNSW. Grahame Delaney sadly died young, I believe.
Alfie van der Poorten passed away in 2010. He was a famous mathematician. It is worth looking at his Wikipedia biography.
His childhood before Sydney High was very different from mine in quiet old Auburn and Vermont Streets in Sutherland!
Van der Poorten was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1942, after the German occupation began. His parents, David and Marianne van der Poorten, gave him into foster care with the Teerink family in Amersfoort, under the name ‘Fritsje’; the senior van der Poortens went into hiding, were caught by the Nazis, survived the concentration camps, and were reunited with van der Poorten and his two sisters after the war. The family moved to Sydney in 1951, travelling there aboard the SS Himalaya.
Van der Poorten studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1955–59, and earned a high score in the Leaving Certificate Examination there. He spent a year in Israel and then studied mathematics at the University of New South Wales, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965, a doctorate in 1968 under the joint supervision of George Szekeres and Kurt Mahler, and a Master of Business Administration. While a student at UNSW, he led the student union council and was president of the University Union, as well as helping to lead several Jewish and Zionist student organisations. He also helped to manage the university’s cooperative bookstore, where he met and in 1972 married another bookstore manager, Joy FitzRoy….
Another of my childhood companions because of whom I have been historically sympathetic towards Israel, much as I despise Israel’s current government — if indeed they still have one? — but also have no time at all for Holocaust denial or any conspiracy theory that invokes Jews.
I think of two others: Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, at the University of Cambridge, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970. And Peter Deli.
I have posted on them before. First, Herbert:
Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.
Tracking Lenny Basser (a legendary Science teacher and Athletics coach who taught Lord May of Oxford among others) led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days!
I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.
Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…
…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…
Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that
21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…
And now Peter:
I told the story of another of my class of 1959 confreres in 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story in 2009.
There I quoted from a biography:
Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….
After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.
The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of 206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958. Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.
Such are few of the experiences of my schoolboy self that took this Shire lad into worlds previously unknown to him, and which shape his reaction to such things as politics and the events in the Middle East to this day!
More relevant to yesterday’s post, it was the consideration of such friends as those named in this post and what the theology that prevailed in the mid 1960s at Sutherland Presbyterian Church about “election” — God’s inscrutable thing of saving some and not others for reasons we poor mortals could not hope to understand — logically had in store for them gave me the uncomfortable feeling that God was some sort of petulant idiot!
Robbie Burns in “Holy Willie’s Prayer” offers a parody of that doctrine of election which, however, is not all that wide of the mark:
O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!
There was more to it of course, but such a thought eventually became too much even tacitly to assent to. From there over time it became clear that some of the fundamentals were really off — this took a long time.
First, the idea that there is a systematic theology recoverable from the many and varied texts of the Bible became less and less viable.
Second, the idea that the Bible, wonderful as much in it is, was in any literal sense the word of God rather than the product of centuries of human beings thinking about God also seemed less and less likely — and hence the pointlessness of the first exercise. Which is not to say that the Bible is not worth reading; it certainly is, but not as I had conceived it.
Finally — well not quite! — the idea that God ever has had or is likely to have had a Chosen People is actually ridiculous, and possibly even blasphemous as it smacks of the Supreme Being picking favourites — hardly a moral position worthy of the All Knowing.
Back in 2012 I posted Searchings — 1, one of quite a few such posts in my blogs over the past 10-15 years:-
There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.
That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?
Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…
The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are, even less satisfactory are they then likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!
This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish of human constructs.
For insulting the Quran, “’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and) beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday.”
Is it even possible
to insult a book?
Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?
Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?
Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?
Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?
Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
by Jim Culleny
Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.