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!

Evocative

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.

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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.

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Redfern Park

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Bunburying

Bunbury +‎ -ing, coined by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) after Bunbury, the fictitious invalid friend of the character Algernon whose supposed illness is used as an excuse to avoid social engagements.

I loved this announcement on Facebook from my alma mater and former workplace.

I messaged Mitchell, a former SBHS student, now an English/ESL teacher and a FB friend quite well known to some of my other friends there and on this blog.

Me: Loved the idea of this but obviously I won’t be there.

Mitchell: haha good on them!

Seems to be an all male cast too, as well as multicultural — as is the school. The free cucumber sandwich is jusr brilliant!

My Wollongong High colleague from the 1970s commented:

How delightful that students are still performing plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest. The farcical comedy and the witty dialogue can still entertain a contemporary audience. And with the added accompaniment of cucumber sandwiches, who could resist! So many witty quotes I still remember……”I’m sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever these days.” “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” are just a start!

Took me back twenty years!

Mitchell and Sirdan — Shakespeare Hotel June 2009

Thursday, March 21, 2002

(Mitchell was by 2002 well into his university studies.)

Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.
Algernon. About my what?
Cecily. Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.
Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.
Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.
Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.
Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?

That is of course from Act II of The Importance of Being Ernest and still got a good laugh from an Australian audience on a warm night when there was hardly a neck tie in sight!

Particularly when Cecily was played by a six foot tall Australian male in a fetching Edwardian summer frock.

Yesterday was a sheer delight. I met Mitchell for lunch where we discussed some matters of mutual interest. We then remembered that a rather important horse race was being run that day, or at least Mitchell did, so we went in search of a betting shop, managing to walk straight past the nearest one. However, we found another and Mitchell made a small investment on our behalf, which (it turned out) confirmed my ambivalence about gambling…

Then to the New Theatre where we met up with PK, Sirdan and Colin. The first play, Gross Indecency was Moises Kaufmann’s docudrama on the trials of Oscar Wilde, and is quite a splendid play. Peter Flett as Wilde was convincing in appearance and I was moved, I have to say, particularly by the speeches of Wilde towards the end as his life descended into chaos and the prison house beckoned. The Marquess of Queensberry, on the other hand, was just a bit too caricatured. There was a delightful sequence where Queen Victoria was literally wheeled in to sign into law the Act forbidding “Gross Indecency” (except between women).

One could not but be struck by echoes of the past week in Australia (the Justice Kirby issue).

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer had damned the second play, The Importance of Being Ernest out of hand. It is, admittedly, Barry Lowe’s transformation of the text: we find ourselves at the beginning in Reading Gaol, the prisoners (including Wilde) circling in the exercise yard. Then we move to Wilde’s memory of the performance of The Importance of Being Ernest with Wilde sitting to one side of the stage. Twice he appears within the play; after the interval we enter the theatre and see Wilde talking to Cecily, who addresses her first lines to him. Then near the end, Wilde makes a short speech just before the last few speeches of the play. I thought it worked very well, particularly when you had just seen Gross Indecency.

The play itself was fresh, funny, well-paced, and the audience loved it. Sirdan had never read the play before or ever seen it, and he really enjoyed himself. The fact all parts were played by men was not at all disturbing. In fact it added to it, in my view. They did not camp it up outrageously but stayed in character and respected the text; the disjunctions, when they occurred, were delicious. I loved it. So did Mitchell, and PK, who is a bit of a purist when it comes to theatre.

We concluded the Herald reviewer must have been to another play!

Between plays we had the most delicious African food in a restaurant in King Street.

It was a really beautiful afternoon/evening.

Later

I had fun rereading The Importance of Being Ernest at various times during the day.

Then, this evening at 7.30 SBS showed the first episode of the PBS series on the reign of Queen Victoria. I certainly learned something from it. Next week it deals with India–must watch.

Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde

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.

1988

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.