Cascading memories

Here is a series from my archives: Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and add mais où sont les neiges d’antan? and Life’s embarrassing moments. From the last one:

Probably my most embarrassing moment was at Dapto High when I was the age Mr R is now. I had proudly been appointed teacher-in-charge of Year 8, and hence had to sit on stage in Year 8 assemblies. Dapto had 1,400 students then, so a Year 8 assembly was quite big. It was also the way the school fulfilled its scripture quota for the week, a local clergyman saying a few words at the assembly. I somehow managed to walk up to the microphone, spotlighted, only to be greeted by considerable laughter. In best teacher mode I glared and asked what was so funny…

“Your fly’s undone, sir…”

Oh dear!

Your_Fly__s_Undone_by_Sir_Seil

I was wearing undies.

All this from two images that came my way via Facebook. The first I found on Dapto History in Pictures. It shows the English staff at Dapto in 1969, the year before I arrived.

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Jim Gordon was Head Teacher from 1970, Tom Dobinson having gone on to become an Inspector. He inspected me at Wollongong High in 1976. Some more memories of Dapto in 1970:

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

The second picture appeared on an Illawarra Grammar ex-student’s Facebook page. Thanks, Ralph! It shows me being  “kidnapped”. As Ralph notes, “A long, long time ago …..”

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What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

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Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

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’Neil, 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’Neil 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’Neil 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’Neil 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’Neil. 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’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

Eddie on playground

There he is: Eddie O’Neil, 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?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

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Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

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Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

omphalos

Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

PhilipHenryGosse,1855

Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise

Further to March 2002…

I find one post has survived the Diary-X wreckage!

Sunday, March 24, 2002

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 the Model 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 the Model did, so we went in search of a betting shop, managing to walk straight past the nearest one. However, we found another and the Model 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 the Model, 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.

Now to visit the New Theatre archives.

Australian Premiere of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moises Kaufman, directed by Elaine Hudson

This stunning work of theatre – a smash hit off Broadway – turns the trials of Oscar Wilde into riveting human and intellectual drama. Expertly interweaving courtroom testimony with excerpts from Wilde’s writings, and the words of his contemporaries, Gross Indecency unveils Oscar Wilde in all his genius and human frailty, his age in all its complacency and repression. Rent boys and prostitutes appear alongside titled nobility and the rich and famous, including Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry, George Bernard Shaw and Queen Victoria. Author Moises Kaufman also wrote the 2001 smash hit at Belvoir, The Laramie Project.

in repertory with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (as performed by the inmates of Reading Gaol)

A Prison Fantasy, concept by Barry Lowe, directed by Elaine Hudson.

Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece, The Importance of Being Ernest, (as performed by the inmates of Reading Gaol) plays in repertory with Gross Indecency for eight performances only, with an all-male cast for both plays. As one critic observed, “Ernest is full of masculine women and feminine men.”

“Ernest shattered sexual boundaries when it was written,” comments director Elaine Hudson, whose Death of Peter Pan was a Mardi Gras hit in the mid 90’s. “There are secrets and sins in both Ernest and Gross Indecency,” she adds. “but they’re light-hearted and benign in one, and deadly serious in the other.”

The Importance of being Ernest is a triumphantly funny play, which Barry Lowe has set as a ‘prison fantasy’ against the grimness of Reading Gaol.

” I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky… ” (The Ballad of Reading Gaol)

As Oscar Wilde also wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Directed: Elaine Hudson, Design: Alice Lau, Lighting design: Tony Youlden, Sound Design: David Cashman and Featuring: Michael Briggs, John Farndale, Peter Flett, John Grinston, Anthony Hunt, Michael Lynch, Brett Hicks-Maitland, David Michel, Leigh Rowney, David Scott, Simon Stollery.

Director Elaine Hudson is a NIDA graduate, whose directing credits include After the Fall (Associate Director), Barry Lowe’s The Death of Peter Pan, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Gina Schien’s Relative Comfort, all at the New Theatre, Endgame at the Lookout, Poles Apart at the Stables, The Lady from Dubuque for Company 2a, The Man Who Came to Dinner (Genesian Theatre) and A Touch of Paradise Downstairs Belvoir. Elaine recently returned from The International New York Fringe Festival, where she appeared in Queensize Production’s award-winning Mary Stuart.

What was I up to in March 2002/2007

These retro posts are meant to be at five year intervals, but alas because of the sad fate of Diary-X most of 2002 is missing. I have however found one entry on the Internet Archive which at least shows what is missing.

Ninglun’s Books and Ideas: new series

31 Mar 2002 – Not unexpected.
29 Mar 2002 – Minds to treasure, and other matters.
28 Mar 2002 – Dramatic story, predictable response
27 Mar 2002 – Am I a puritan?
25 Mar 2002 – On keeping an online diary
24 Mar 2002 – What a wonderful day!
23 Mar 2002 – It’s a funny world, isn’t it?
21 Mar 2002 – Not when I was at University
20 Mar 2002 – Finis: Justice Kirby story
20 Mar 2002 – Minefields: many will disagree.
19 Mar 2002 – Feedback
18 Mar 2002 – Hefferlump self-destructs!!!
18 Mar 2002 – Trying to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, etc.
17 Mar 2002 – Patrick Cook does it better…
16 Mar 2002 – More on the Kirby story
15 Mar 2002 – Here we go again
14 Mar 2002 – News causes diary to reopen
12 Mar 2002 – WATCH THIS SPACE
11 Mar 2002 – This diary is closed–for the time being at least…
11 Mar 2002 – Strive for balance in your life
10 Mar 2002 – We were not amused: Matthew Shepard did NOT deserve it.
09 Mar 2002 – Am I a turnip?
08 Mar 2002 – Dilemmas and hopes
06 Mar 2002 – Two cases of debunking…
05 Mar 2002 – On suffering at university?
04 Mar 2002 – Some nice bits of dissent…
03 Mar 2002 – Mardi Gras, morality and the open society–oh, and James Joyce. Later thoughts prompted by P Akerman.
02 Mar 2002 – Mainly on S I Hayakawa
01 Mar 2002 – Great movie, good company, challenging thoughts.

Those are dead links.

Now to March 2007.

Great pic from The Poet in Victoria

30 MAR 2007

triathletes come ashore

On a more personal note

30 MAR

Yesterday morning I spent time with Lord Malcolm, going with him to physiotherapy at the hospice and witnessing how he has virtually no muscles on his legs, and seeing both the determination and the pain as he did some gentle exercises. We then had coffee in the hospice coffee shop, wheeled out to look at Green Park for a while, and then back so he could be sent for another x-ray — some problem with the feeding tube.

Before tuition in Chinatown I had a call from ex-student Ross (class of 1976). We met and had a really good if shortish chat. Here is what one of Ross’s classmates has been up to, having diverged somewhat from Law.

Post against stereotypes…

26 MAR

I am at the moment wading through the white-hot prose of Londonistan. It was good then to drop in on Madhab al-Irfy, Irfan Yusuf’s more Islamic blog: Prayers for Allison Sudrajat (14 March 2007). Allison was the AusAid worker killed in the recent plane crash in Indonesia.

Tomorrow at 1:30pm, after dhuhr prayer, Canberra’s small Muslim community will join friends and family of Allison Sudrajat for a traditional Muslim janaza (funeral) prayer service followed by burial…

Read the post and think “Muslim humanitarian” for a change…

Lord Malcolm’s trip to Victoria

25 MAR

I expect to hear from Sirdan later this morning how this quite amazing trip worked out yesterday. Sirdan was accompanying him. When I visited Lord Malcolm on Friday he was psyched up for it, albeit still in the Hospice and with a feeding tube down his nose…

Later

Just got that call. They made it and it went well except Lord M ran out of steam about 1 pm and needed medical help, which was on site at the Air Show. They got back to Sydney safely. I am having lunch with Sirdan later today. No doubt I will hear more then. Lord Malcolm himself (by phone) says he had a fantastic day. 🙂

And later

After lunch at the Porter House Irish pub Sirdan and I visited Lord M, but he was too exhausted. Happy though. He really was given royal treatment at the Air Show yesterday. Sirdan’s part in that venture can’t be praised too much. He and Lord M did something almost everyone thought was impossible.

Voted, melted, and saw wildlife in Surry Hills

24 MAR

So here I am back from tutoring in Chinatown and voting in Riley Street. And is it ever hot! Daylight saving ends tonight, yet at 2pm it was near enough to 35C here in Surry Hills. (That’s 90+ for those who use F still.) On the way to tutoring I saw the biggest flock of cockatoos — right near Central Station — that I can ever recall seeing in Sydney. There must have been a hundred of them. They seemed to fill the space between Central and the buildings on the corner of Elizabeth and Foveaux. Strayed in from points west because of drought?

cockatoos.jpg

I took that from Charlie Moores’ Bird Blog, on a page well worth looking at showing Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

That was quite an Aboriginal moment too, as somewhere in Central someone was playing the didgeridoo giving the whole scene a rather magic quality — well giving that to me at least.

And then I voted. Yes, not Labor. Yes, not Liberal…. In neither House.

Another voice against torture

16 MAR

(a) We renounce the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government)—even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups.

(b) We call for the extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, wherever and by whomever they are held.

(c) We call for every agency of the United States government to join with the United States military and to state publicly its commitment to the terms of the Geneva Conventions related to the treatment of prisoners, especially Common Article 3.

(d) We call for the legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.

Now who do you think that was? Amnesty? Human Rights Watch? The ACLU?

No: think Evangelicals for Human Rights. See Jim Wallis Thursday, March 15, 2007.

When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…

11 MAR

… at Dapto High School south of Wollongong, a colleague in the English Department was Dale Spender, who once told me that if I didn’t have shit for brains I might know what she was talking about. Trouble is, she was probably right at the time. Dale went on to a career much more spectacular than mine. To give Dale her due, she knew far more back then than most of us did about how to deal effectively with some of the less able (as in “IQ too low to assess”) and more disadvantaged students we had, and I did learn much from her.

I see she has entered the current silly education debate: Now the class scapegoat is the teacher.

No one has a good word to say about teachers. Not so long ago they were well-informed and well-respected members of the community whose advice was sought after and highly valued.

Today, if you are to believe the Government’s condemnations and the media coverage, teachers have had a spectacular fall from grace.

Press stories over the past decade accuse teachers of everything from illiteracy and incompetence to outright ill will. A few regular media commentators charge classroom teachers with left-wing tendencies, lowering standards, and with throwing out the worthwhile curriculum in favour of “dumbing down”.

Yet no hard evidence of the harmful behaviour of teachers is provided. Rather teachers are being made the scapegoats for the disruptive changes that are under way in society – and in education. For education consultants [it] is so much easier to blame the teachers than it is to look more intelligently and constructively at the problems and pressures of the 21st-century classroom; and at the failure of the nation to properly fund the information-education revolution.

Teachers have been caught up in the turmoil of educational change, but they have not been supported with the resources to make the massive leap from traditional education to computer-based classrooms.

Teachers can teach only what they are taught. Now that they have to learn the art of teaching with the new technologies, they need information, facilities, and a great deal of encouragement. Without such support, it is the teachers who have the genuine grievances: they could put at the top of their list the counterproductive smear tactics used against them by Commonwealth educational advisers and ministers…

Each year teachers are asked to do more: more national testing, more meaningful reporting on students, more social welfare tasks and more new technology courses. And each year teachers are blamed for more school failures, more lapses of discipline, and more of society’s ills. Teaching is the most demanding job ever devised yet the teachers’ side of the story is rarely heard; they can’t “tell someone who cares”. The profession is so badgered and abused, the wonder of it is that there are not more of its members walking out the door.

The bad press that teachers get is not the only source of low morale. Teachers know that there can be no art of teaching with technology when the technology does not work. Spare a thought for the masses of overworked, dedicated teachers who stretch themselves to prepare exciting internet-based lessons only to enter the class of 30 eager, energised students, and find that the computers have crashed, and the network is down. Such disasters can be an everyday occurrence. And although this is definitely not the teachers’ fault, they who must deal with the dire consequences when their anticipated mind-expanding learning experience turns into a nightmare.

One might well ask how teachers’ critics and Co would stare down such high-maintenance students: it would take more than a pile of platitudes and a dose of Shakespeare…

Well, as for technology… I’m here, aren’t I? I suspect that Dale overstates her case a little in that article. It would have been more true ten years ago. It certainly was true of me ten years ago. Nonetheless, she has a better understanding of what is happening out there in the schools than many of her opposing commentators.

In her column today Miranda Devine praises the recently established Redfern Exodus centre which aims to provide intensive remedial reading to children in Years 3 to 6 who have fallen behind. It is a good project, housed at the moment by my very own church, South Sydney Uniting Church, but run by the Exodus Foundation of Ashfield Uniting Church. The methodology employed derives from the Macquarie University’s phonics-centred approach, and that is Miranda’s angle: the success of the MULTILIT programs underscores the tragedy of so many other young lives wasted – countless smart children who believe they are stupid because they haven’t been taught to read. I do not knock what is happening in Redfern, but do suggest Miranda (all praise to her though for supporting the venture) is unfair in her ideological stance. More “countless” than the numbers of students benefitting from this intervention are the numbers of students who do not need it because they have in fact been taught to read. No single factor explains the issues that led the minority being helped in this and similar programs to their present plight, though more adequate staffing and funding of remediation programs in schools both public and private would no doubt have helped. There are, even so, “countless” students who are assisted within the system and who therefore never need a Redfern program. For very many students the NSW government’s Reading Recovery program has been especially effective. I have seen it done, and spent a year some time back in a research project tracking its effects in a number of schools in a more disadvantaged part of the south-eastern suburbs. (See also Research in Reading Recovery.)

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Reading Recovery session at Brookvale Public School Sydney.

One key to both the Redfern program and the Reading Recovery program is individualised intensive tuition. It is a fact too that provision for such individual help after Year 2 in the system is inadequately funded.

All ideology aside, I wish all such programs success.

Forgotten and surprising facts on 21st century religion

02 MAR

That same issue of Atlantic Monthly from which I drew the previous entry also took me to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. There is a fascinating survey there called Spirit and Power: a 10 country survey of Pentecostals. Some definition: “By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.”

Go to the survey report for yourself, but I place below two of several interesting fact boxes.

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A nice dilemma here in the political correctness and cultural relativity department: how to assert principles of universal human rights without cultural imperialism or belittling the right to difference in other cultures and consequently being ignored. Take Nigeria for example:

A proposed Nigerian law banning same-sex marriages is a threat to democracy, says Human Rights Watch. Writing to the Nigerian Senate, they said the legislation, “contravenes the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly”. The rights group urges the Nigerian National Assembly to reject the bill.

If the proposed law is approved, anyone who speaks out or forms a group supporting gay and lesbian rights could be imprisoned.

The bill has divided both chambers of the Nigerian parliament as some MPs see legislation as a move to save Nigerian morals and cultural values. Others legislators who reject it say it say it is anti-freedom and portrays Nigeria’s democracy in bad light…

Naturally I side with Human Rights Watch on this one. You can see the problem though, can’t you? In our focus on the USA and Australia we often forget the rest of humanity, and we forget that Christian fundamentalism is even more alive and well in developing countries than it is in the USA or Australia. We also forget that there is a positive side to this in terms of lives turned around, services delivered, and self-esteem restored; we need to set that against the dark side, the questions of gay rights, AIDS prevention and so on. I see a dilemma. Do you?

What was I up to in March 2001?

Selections via the Internet Archive.

March 6 2001

Thanks Gabriel

Went to the Albury after a busy couple of days; Sirdan was there and eventually PK. The highlight of the evening was meeting a young Aboriginal gay guy from Cairns, Gabriel.

The details I won’t report, but the conversation simply transcended politics, stereotypes (both black and white). It was an eye-opener. Thanks Gabriel, for giving me hope on so many of these thorny issues. 🙂

I wished both the M’s in my life had been there to join in.

Great meatballs M., I should add, enjoying them right now. Life’s not bad.

March 7

Last night’s conversation

I said yesterday I had had a conversation with an Aboriginal man from Cairns/Cooktown. He is in his late 20s or early 30s, I would say; very well spoken, having completed High School to the HSC, and is a self-confessed explorer, having spent some time in New Zealand, where he was embraced by the Maori, and has lived in Sydney for some time now. He had also lived in Melbourne. Last night he was celebrating some good news–starting a job on Monday.

He said he never encountered racism in Cairns or Cooktown; the first time he really encountered it was in Sydney and Melbourne.

He could make no comment on the Hindmarsh Island affair, because they are not his people, so he does not know. The cultural diversity of Aboriginal people was a point he insisted on. His people, for example, are matriarchal and peaceful. That is why they looked after Captain Cook at the Endeavour River; had he landed somewhere else he may have been attacked and killed. Gabriel had no problem with being gay among his own people as it is accepted, but among the desert peoples, who tend to be patriarchal, it may have been a problem. However, at school in Cairns he did encounter homophobia–but not racism.

He hates it when anyone claims to speak for the Aboriginal people as a whole. He is personally “over” this whole “sorry thing”. He says we should just get on with it. He agreed that “reconciliation” means all Australians acknowledging the good and bad in their shared history, with honesty. He still speaks his Aboriginal language and is in touch with his culture. When he first came to Sydney he was shocked by Redfern and sees the people there as broken and their problems admitting no easy solution.

He hates all racism, including Aboriginal racism. If he saw an Asian under attack he would be the first to defend him. As far as he is concerned all are welcome in Australia. He sees the current rise of racism and disillusionment with political parties and institutions as being very dangerous, and drew analogies with Weimar Germany.

He is committed to the cultures of indigenous peoples everywhere, thrilled by his experience in New Zealand. If he went to the United States it would be to explore Native American cultures. He says you don’t have to believe literally in the Dreaming to benefit from it. Speaking of beliefs, he had from 16 to 21 been a Mormon, until his own research revealed that black skin was still regarded as the “mark of Cain” and no black person could hope to reach the highest Heaven. He found this repellent and left the religion.

A wide-ranging conversation indeed. I hope to meet him again.

March 9

Miscellaneous

* Coffee was nice yesterday, though my tone might have been a bit hectoring at times? Put it down to adrenalin…

* Praise for my school Communities page: the District Consultant says it is excellent and has referred it to the editor of Racism No Way (the official Department of Education-endorsed site) and to Multicultural Branch in the Department. Some nice feedback on the guestbook and from some parents. A glitch concerning this stuff did occur at school, but strategies to get around it are in place now.

* Students report that a slight mistake in entering the URL to the Year 10 site leads to a porn site instead! Maybe that is where Magic Mushrooms spends his time now!

* There was a story in the media here about Sydney Girls High Principal Margaret Varady forbidding girls wishing to march in Mardi Gras in school uniform. This report was completely false: I have this on the best authority!

March 14

Mainly on media…

I am reading Getting Justice Wrong by Nicholas Cowdery (Sydney, Allen & Unwin 2001). It turns out Mitchell has met him.

I find myself in agreement with much of it. It is a good introduction to the system and the legal process, absolutely essential as a piece of public education. I should say the average person has little grasp of our political and legal system, a failing of past education that may be addressed in the new Civics course. Cowdery makes abundantly clear just how pernicious the impact of blackand-white thinking on the part of tabloid journalism, low IQ TV and talk-back radio can be, especially when politicians find electoral advantage in exploiting the “issues” in a similarly black-and-white manner. The law, on the other hand, must be unspectacular and deliberative, and not too much should be expected from it, except(!) to safeguard us against the excesses of power and keep crime, which will always be with us, under some degree of control. We are all conditioned by TV versions of law (and perhaps by supermen and caped crusaders) to expect simple solutions and drama. The law is not like that.

I find myself siding with him generally on issues such as drugs, mandatory sentencing, and so on. He seems a sane individual to me, such a change from the ranting I hear from Alan Jones, Brian Wilshire and Howard Sattler–just to name a few.

On other matters: the identity of Magic Mushrooms has been revealed: no surprise there!

The Dowager Empress must have great power, since her recent Interdict on the Flinders Hotel, with the added influence of the Crown Prince, has apparently led to that establishment going up for auction. A block of tasteful units seems likely to emerge from the ashes. In future, let all tremble and obey when the Empress speaks. (See back entry “Offending the Empress”.)

March 19

Ninglun takes a sickie

For those overseas, a “sickie” is a day off. I did go to the doctor for some routine checks, however; I was feeling rather tired, a combination of work piling up and indiscretion on Friday night: the 21st birthday.

In fact I worked very hard today, especially in the PM, updating all my ESL Files and breaking the back of the Year 7 ones which had been accumulating alarmingly, as Year 7 is over 80% NESB. It is now feasible to have the task finished by Wednesday afternoon.

I have also been in retrospective mode I must say, some of it a touch sad, some quite the opposite. It was five years last week since my mother’s funeral, a significant break with the past that was with a long and painful prelude. Also today would have been my sister’s birthday, and it is amazing (since my memory of her is still fresh) to reflect that she died (aged 11) forty-nine years ago. On the other hand, a few weeks back the Ninglun site turned one, and sometime around now or the next week or two (one year ago) another happening opened up a most pleasant episode in my life. I plan to do something about that one next Thursday 🙂

March 25

Full moon?

Having seen a bit of shooting oneself in the foot going on last night at the Albury, I began to wonder! Note to self: light beer in moderation from here on for me for a while. Not that I was roaring drunk by any means: four schooners over the time from 5.00 (when I came up from coaching in Chinatown) until 8ish, and a middy elsewhere with a friend I ran into. But still more than an old person like me should, which is my point. I never drink at home, unless wine with a meal when I have guests. Nor do I use illegal drugs.

Earlier in the day I was in the teller-machine lobby at the ANZ Bank in Chinatown. At the head of the queue was a young Chinese couple. The woman was making a withdrawal and having a furious argument with her boyfriend at the same time–in red-hot Mandarin I think. Next in line was an Anglo-Australian woman of about 40, quite stylishly dressed. After her was a young Chinese girl, then me. The Anglo woman did her transaction. Meantime, to free her hands, the young Chinese girl had put her half-eaten lunch and a drink down on a counter to one side of the machine. As the Anglo woman left, and as the Chinese girl was putting her keycard into the machine, the Anglo woman swept the Chinese girl’s lunch into the garbage! The Chinese girl was stunned! “You think that’s rubbish, do you? You’re so rude!” Actually I suspect the Anglo woman had concluded the Chinese girl intended to leave the stuff there, but it was clear to me that all she had done was put it down to free her hands for the machine. “Weird!” I said. The Anglo woman offered no apology but just stormed out. The Chinese girl was so shaken she told me to use the machine while she recovered.

Meanwhile the female half of the arguing couple had returned to withdraw more money–not looking happy. I, having withdrawn my cash, left.

March 26

Calm returns

There was another tragic case of foot-shooting on Saturday night, but not at the Albury. Someone had perhaps misread someone else, issuing a decree that was not as welcome as it might have been. As a result certain conclusions may have been drawn about Ninglun, conclusions that were wildly inaccurate. A chat with a third person resolved much.

Yes, that is as enigmatic as this diary ever gets, but thank God for Chat I say 🙂

Busy day and peaceful night. God bless all who have assignments due on March 30!

March 28

A dear friend

This entry is dedicated to John Wilkinson, a very dear friend first of M., than of myself (who made it to one Yum Cha). Ten years of friendship. John passed away last night after a long period of illness. He was one of the sweetest, sanest people you could ever meet. To Max and all his friends, especially Morris, my heart goes out.

John, it was a privilege knowing you. Rest easy now.

March 29

Free lunch

Sentimentalist that I am, I had lunch at the Galleria today. The place was much more crowded than it was last week, and the tiny kitchen near the front was a scene of frenetic activity. “Manuel” the gay waiter was on duty again, and slid chummily into the chair opposite mine as he took my order. On the next table a middle-aged lady looked slightly stunned as Manuel smoothly repeated the manoeuvre on the chair opposite her.

Half an hour later my coffee arrived, and her tea.

Forty-five minutes later she said something about this being rather a long time for a sandwich to appear. “I’m just the waiter,” Manuel apologised. Five minutes later her sandwich appeared, and another few minutes later my cheese and tomato on toast.

Now had the company been what it was last time I was there the delay might hardly have been noticed, but this time it was rather noticeable. Fortunately I was in no hurry.

That the Galleria people are really nice became apparent as I took out my wallet at the counter. Yes, I had scored a free lunch, and an apology for the delay. “But… I could see you had a rush.” “Don’t argue,” the English woman who runs the place said; so I didn’t 🙂

Who said there was no such thing as….?

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