Not really about NAPLAN….

Best thing to do with all that chest beating about NAPLAN results? Ignore it. Best thing to do with NAPLAN? Scrap it. Especially the so-called literacy/writing tests.

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Now I have that off my chest, I’ll tell you a bit — I can never recall all anyway — about what I dreamed last night. This book, over 50 years old, is part of it. That was our poetry text in English I at the University of Sydney in 1960. I read every word of it, and some things stay with me still, though the copy I am holding here is one I bought second-hand some years later. My original copy I lost, or it fell to pieces — not sure which. Oh, the dream? It was (of all things) about poetry, about Andrew Marvell in particular. My friend Chris T was in it for some reason, and my former neighbour Persian Danny, last I heard in Germany. But what they were doing in the dream I can’t recall.

Somewhere in the dream I was back in the Wallace Theatre in 1960 listening to (later Professor) Gerry Wilkes reading from Louis MacNeice’s “Bagpipe Music”. It isn’t in that Penguin Book of English Verse, though “August” is.

It’s no go, the Yogi-Man, it’s no go, Blavatsky
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Rather different is Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). The Penguin has quite a good selection: “Bermudas”, “To His Coy Mistress”, “The Definition of Love”, “The Garden”, and an extract from “Upon Appleton House”. I recall “The Garden” being discussed in my tutorial group in 1960, though I didn’t quite know what to make of it at age 16. Later at 20-21 under the tuition of Professor Sam Goldberg and with my little group of women — I was the only male in that Honours group — it made more sense. Goldberg was rather inspiring on the Metaphysical Poets — though the Lit Crit of the day was alarmingly narrow in general.

Now of course I am of an age where the dark turn of “To His Coy Mistress” — the wit betrays an anxiety beyond its surface intention– rather speaks to the heart. I am a bit past the “carpe diem” stage though. And do you also think that final stanza seems a bit desperate? Mind you, that generation lived through the Plague, after all. And a Civil War — Marvell was close to the Commonwealth General Lord Fairfax, and indeed one of his greater poems is “An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland (1650).” That poem is interesting in its ambivalence about power:

THE forward youth that would appear,
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.

’Tis time to leave the books in dust,
And oil the unused armour’s rust,
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.

So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urgèd his active star:

And like the three-fork’d lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
Did thorough his own Side
His fiery way divide…

Now the last two stanzas of “To His Coy Mistress”:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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So Facebook/Instagram take me back 50 years…

To Cronulla High. Here are shots taken very close to my time there — late 1965 to the end of 1969. A couple of samples:

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Mind you, I have changed a tad since then:

Me in 1968 — and I don’t remember this being taken!

See (2010) How young we were!, and (2018) How many HSCs is that now?

Mr Movies — and Cronulla High

Many of us noted Australia’s ‘Mr Movies’, Bill Collins, dies aged 84. When I (and Dick Stratford) were Dip Ed students at Sydney Teachers College, Bill Collins, already well known on TV, was a lecturer — in Latin! He also like all the lecturers supervised student teachers in their prac sessions, and one such he supervised towards the end of 1965 at Cronulla High. I was also in that prac group, but supervised by someone else. (I was on Brendan O’Connor’s classes.) I think there were three of us students. Bill was rather waspish in his comments on one of our number, and we didn’t approve. I recall us ganging up on him one day about the way he was treating that colleague, but it is fair to say he took it well.

In my October 2011 post Meanwhile in Sutherland in 1954… I recalled:

[In 1954] The Odeon was still a flourishing cinema presided over by a dragon in the form of Miss Collins, aunt of  the fabled Bill Collins. Here it is in the 1930s.

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BILL COLLINS: Oh, dear! I was born in a place called Sutherland, south of Sydney, in the Sutherland Shire. And I was born there on December 4, 1934. The house where I was born in is no longer in existence. But it was within easy walking distance of the Sutherland picture show where my Aunty Lil was an usherette and where I became a frequent patron.

In 1934 there was the Depression. I say sometimes in moments of anguish, “I’m a child of the Depression.” And money was not easy. Life was a little tougher. But I think we were a lot happier then. The 1940s was an extraordinary period. The war was on and there were terrible things that were happening. But we also enjoyed ourselves a great deal. There weren’t many of the tensions that exist in Australia today. I can remember so vividly the night the Japanese submarines came into Sydney Harbour. And that was quite an extraordinary experience because by that time we had a trench in our backyard, as most people did in Australia. It was the worst of all times, and the best of all times. My mother’s name was Rita May Collins. Originally her surname was Miller. And my father was William Michael Joseph Collins. That’s why I became William, or Bill. And sometimes I think my father was lacking ambition. He just wanted to be in the police force and he loved being in the police force. My mother, she was a teacher. And I learnt a lot from her. It was my mother incidentally who started my interest really in classical music, for example. And my mother, of course, encouraged my reading and all the other things that I did during those years. When I was young, I would rather go to see adult movies than go to children’s matinees. I guess I was about nine years old when I saw ‘Gone with the Wind’. And I’d never seen anything like it before. I’d seen other big films but ‘Gone with the Wind’ emotionally, I think, got through to me. And I still remember vividly, one of the greatest scenes ever conceived and put on the screen, where she vows never to be hungry again…

This makes Bill Collins just one year older than my brother, by the way. I might also mention that in 1965 Bill Collins, then a lecturer at Sydney Teachers College, was the supervisor of a colleague student teacher at Cronulla High – and we rather gave him hell, I recall, as we thought he was unfair to her…

That has got me thinking about Cronulla High again. I was appointed to the English and History staff there in 1966 and stayed until 1969. I had my first inspection there:

 I have been here in Elizabeth Street Surry Hills since 1992, and I brought quite a bit of unsorted rubbish with me. Some items go back, well, to Noah almost.

  • My first inspection report from Cronulla High School.

Mr W is an enthusiastic and resourceful teacher who is establishing good relationships with his pupils at all levels of the school.

His lessons are thoroughly prepared and informed: he uses a wide range of material and shows enterprise in presenting this material to pupils who respond well.**

Following advice earlier this year he has improved his supervision of pupils’ work, increasing his effectiveness in teaching. The results achieved in recent examinations testify to his successful teaching: the results in Form V History and Third Level groups in English V are especially commendable.

It is recommended that Mr W’s efficiency be determined as meeting the requirements for the award of a Teacher’s Certificate.

— E. Guthrie (Inspector) July 28, 1966

I see I had Forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 English and Form 3 History  — That is Years 7-11 English and Year 9 History. No Year 12 as 1967 was the first Year 12 in NSW, and I took that (bottom) Year 11 class through.

** I am sure Eula Guthrie was not suggesting my lessons only worked with “pupils who respond well”! 😉

So I have been trying to recall my colleagues in the English Department in those years. Here is the list from 1969:

Looking at this list, what do I recall?

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Jack Morrison was a good old guy to have had as my first head of department. Phyllis Wheeler was totally amazing as a person and as a teacher. Soon after she moved on to the famous Frensham School in Mittagong….

Some other names that I also recall: Geoff Borny from Jersey in the Channel Islands — an interesting character, and what a career he went on to, Paul Herlinger — responsible for some great school drama productions, including a Hamlet that starred Robert Graves’s grandson:

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And more: Beth Kimball, an exchange teacher from Colorado who went on to tutor at Macquarie University then, I assume, returning to America.

Such a time it was of social change when I was 24, even in The Shire — where one Beth Kimball, an American teaching at Cronulla High School, introduced me to the following hitherto unknown exotica. Well, maybe not to the rose wine or the cappuccino, but they were new to me around that time.

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Hobbits

 bananacake carrotcake

Banana cake and carrot cake: both seemed quite odd things to do at the time…

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You would be surprised how hard it was for Beth to locate this piece of exotica. What was wrong with Bushells or LanChoo anyway?

60 years ago in Shellharbour

Back when I was 15/16 I attended the centenary of Shellharbour Public School. I was in the company of my parents, Jeff and Jean Whitfield, my grandfather Roy Christison and various Whitfield relatives in Shellharbour, such as Una Gerke. My grandfather was there as the oldest living headmaster of the school. Here are some images I posted last year:

post on Facebook’s Shellharbour History and Pictures has generated this wonderful war-time picture of my uncle Roy Christison Junior, my grandmother Ada Christison, and my grandfather Roy Christison Senior in Sydney. (Note the tram!)  Posted by my cousin Linda Christison.

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In that same Facebook thread someone asked if anyone had seen a photo of Ada and Roy taken in the 1930s when Roy was headmaster of Shellharbour Public School. Well, I have: it is in my collection. That is the headmaster’s residence in Shellharbour.

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So I looked over Trove and found three items. The last one should say Caringbah, not Callimbar! The middle one refers to my aunt Beth, Beth Heard in later life.

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Back in April 2006!

Yes, I was blogging way back then, and even further back! I have repaired the links.

In the city seeing my brother off

25 APR 2006

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It was a bit complicated getting to King Street Wharf as the city was still sealed off pretty much for Anzac Day. The bus deposited me near St James Church, not exactly close, but I got there in time after negotiating Martin Place which was full of people in kilts and/or playing bagpipes. Some Scottish regiment having a remembrance ceremony.

After seeing my brother off, I walked back to Circular Quay via the historic Argyle Cut (see pic) where you may still make out the occasional broad arrow left by the convict roadbuilders.

Easter Sunday in Surry Hills

16 APR 2006

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Just got a phone message from my brother Ian, who lives in Tasmania, from the above ship saying he was now off the town of Shellharbour, where our father was born, and expected to arrive in Sydney Harbour at 11am. So that’s where I am off to shortly.

Then at 1pm it’s off to St Vincent’s Hospital. Sirdan and I are having lunch with Lord Malcolm — I did see him yesterday — at a Thai restaurant near the hospital.

So no church for me today, but a special day nonetheless.

My past catches up

25 APR 2006

Got this email.

Hi Neil,

I was a former student of yours at Sydney Boys High. Perhaps you still remember my name. I certainly remember most of the stories you told us in English class, e.g. the fellow you met as a child named ‘Rear Admiral Sir Leighton Bracegirdle’. I also remember your recital of Caedmon’s hymn with proper old English pronunciation.

To cut a long story short, I am now working as a Computer Systems Engineer in the city and I am still in the office. I decided to do what I do whenever I am bored – an unclaimed money search.

Do you by any chance have ‘Thomas’ as a middle name? If so, the NSW Office of State Revenue has $76.80 of your money. Even if it’s not you, it should mean something that I thought of you when thinking of people to look up.


Indeed it does; but my middle name is not Thomas. Thanks, V.L. This sort of thing happens from time to time. 🙂

And look what intellectual stuff I taught in class, even if at that time — it was during John Howard’s first term — the reactionaries were bleating about dumbed-down syllabuses just as much as they do today! Pests.

Oh, and I didn’t meet the Rear Admiral: he spoke to us at a school assembly, possibly for Anzac Day.

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Leighton Bracegirdle in 1932